87. Memorandum From the President’s Special Consultant (Taylor) to President Johnson1


  • Possible Forms of Negotiation with Hanoi

Walt Rostow recently made available to me his memorandum to you of November 17, 1966 on the above subject (I attach herewith a copy of his paper).2 He has made a very important point, I believe, in concluding that, in any negotiation, we need to seek agreement on an end position and then work back to agreement on a cease-fire.

I have always been impressed with the difficulties of negotiating a satisfactory cease-fire which will really stop the shooting and, at the same time, avoid giving the enemy a respite for refitting and retraining for a bigger and better war. Such a cease-fire would have to include bringing a halt to our bombing of North Viet-Nam and to all breaches of the peace in South Viet-Nam, including the “Big War” (the war against the units of the Viet Cong Main Forces and of the North Vietnamese Army), the “Little War” (the activities of the local guerrillas) and the “Criminal War” (the activities of the terrorists and saboteurs). If the cease-fire is to be in effect for any significant duration prior to reaching a total settlement of the situation, it should also include a verifiable agreement whereby the enemy ceases the infiltration of reinforcements in exchange for our freezing of force levels.

Clearly, to negotiate such a cease-fire would be very difficult; to fail to cover all the elements mentioned would expose us to the possibility of a Panmunjom-type stalemate in the negotiation of the remaining steps required for a normalization of relations and an enduring peace. The latter steps would include such things as the dissolution of the Viet Cong organization, the disposition of the remaining guerrillas and the withdrawal of foreign troops (I mean here the U.S. and Free World Forces and the North Vietnamese forces and cadres infiltrated from North Viet-Nam).

For the purposes of this discussion, I am going to refer to the package of measures necessary for a cease-fire as Package A and the remaining measures for normalization as Package B. We could conceive of negotiating [Page 195] the totality of issues of A plus B in three ways or cases. Case I would be to negotiate A and B separately in that order. Case II would be the simultaneous negotiation of A and B. Case III would be the negotiation of B and A separately in that order. The question to decide is which of these cases is the most advantageous from our point of view.

In evaluating them, there are several points which have to be taken into account. Without suggesting an order of priority, they include the following:

To prevent a Panmunjom, we must either keep the military pressure on during the negotiations or set tight deadlines for getting results at the negotiating table.
South Viet-Nam should always retain the right to exercise its police powers in maintaining law and order and protecting Vietnamese citizens outside of the areas under Viet Cong control.
The infiltration from the North, the withdrawal of North Vietnamese forces and cadres, and the dissolution of the Viet Cong are actions difficult to verify in the short run. On the other hand, the bombing of the North and the military, paramilitary and criminal activities in the South can be verified in a general way and can even be statistically tabulated.
Based upon the experience of several truces, it is doubtful whether a complete cease-fire in South Viet-Nam will be possible prior to the completion of the actions of Package B. Experience suggests that breaches are inevitable.
It is uncertain how long the Main Force Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese units can subsist without supplies from North Viet-Nam and without molesting the local population. It is probable that the local guerrillas must live off the population although local accumulation of stocks may give them a limited capability of self-maintenance.

With these points in mind, now let us consider the pros and cons of the three cases.3

Case I

Case I, if successful, would bring a quick end to the fighting and a sharp reduction of tensions in Viet-Nam and elsewhere. However, it would probably create a sense of euphoria on our side and a feeling that peace is at hand. It would open the possibility of a drawn out negotiation [Page 196] of B which would give the enemy the opportunity to refit and prepare for a longer war. As indicated above, it would probably be impossible to avoid violations of the cease-fire, intentional or accidental. Finally, it would be impossible to negotiate the B Package quietly since the whole world would know that negotiations were in process and our side at least would soon be under pressure to report progress and to soften tough negotiating positions to expedite results.

Case II

Case II would avoid most of the cons of Case I and, if successful, would settle everything in a single operation. The difficulty is that such a negotiation would be highly complex and time-consuming. It is doubtful that it could be kept secret and, if revealed, would expose our side to the pressures mentioned under the cons of Case I. We could count on a major effort at home and abroad to get us to stop the bombing during such negotiations and perhaps to reduce all military activity to the levels of a de facto cease-fire in order to reduce loss of life with peace just around the corner.

Case III

Case III would avoid most of the cons of Case I and has the great advantage of showing each participant how he would come out in the end. Hence, if agreement is reached on B, there should be little difficulty in obtaining agreement on A and little inducement for further stalling. Secrecy should be possible during the negotiation of B and military pressure would be maintained until agreement on A.

It is clear from the foregoing that Case III appears to be by far the most advantageous from our point of view. For success, it requires, first, a carefully prepared negotiating position on our side, then a secret, solid negotiating contact with Hanoi. Our preparations would require an understanding as to the “carrots” which we are prepared to offer for the dissolution of the Viet Cong and disposition of Viet Cong personnel. Such “carrots” might include an amnesty and civil rights for the Viet Cong guaranteed by the GVN and the U.S., the assurance of participation by Viet Cong in political life, economic assistance to aid the ralliers, and the right of honorable repatriation to those who prefer to go north of the 17th parallel. We would also need a position on the phased and verified withdrawal of foreign troops and the kinds of verification procedures which we would consider acceptable to assure ourselves that infiltration had ceased and withdrawal had been completed. We need to make up our own minds on these points well before sitting down at a conference table with our opponents.

For completeness, I might have added consideration of a Case IV, the subsidence termination without formal negotiations. Under certain [Page 197] conditions, it might compete in desirability with Case III. It avoids the requirement for formal negotiations and agreements. It avoids the disadvantages attendant upon the presence of kibitzers and advisors behind the chairs of our negotiators. It permits slow and cautious de-escalation with minimum risks.

On the other hand, there would always be the problem of verifying the threat really had subsided and did not remain latent for an indefinite period in the jungles of South Viet-Nam and in the sanctuaries of Laos and Cambodia. There would always be an uncertainty about the termination of hostilities which could neither be verified, guaranteed or made the subject of public commitments by the adversaries.

A hybrid Case III/Case IV is conceivable which would be partly negotiated, partly tacit—a blend of the negotiation and subsidence approach. As a starter, the field commanders of ARVN and of the VC/NVA forces, following the armistice pattern in 1954, could negotiate a military agreement covering the disposition of the Viet Cong and the “carrots” to be given them. If this succeeded, we could then accept a cease-fire to create the conditions necessary for the carrying out of the agreement. If this appeared successful, we could then freeze our forces and secretly inform Hanoi of the fact with the suggestion that they do likewise. After receiving evidence that infiltration was subsiding, we could then progressively decrease bombing of the North, adjusting it to the behavior of the other side.

If all violence subsided and the Viet Cong resettlement proceeded in accordance with plan, then we could consider a slow withdrawal of forces, watching for corresponding actions by Hanoi.

From this analysis, I come out with the following priority of desirability in negotiation forms:

  • Priority 1 Case III, IV or hybrid III/IV
  • Priority 2 Case II
  • Priority 3 Case I

Maxwell D. Taylor
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Gen. Taylor (2 of 2). Top Secret. At the request of the President, Rostow distributed Taylor’s memorandum to Rusk, McNamara, and Wheeler the next day. (Memorandum from Rostow to Rusk, McNamara, and Wheeler, February 21; ibid.)
  2. Printed in Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. IV, Document 313.
  3. Taylor outlined the cases in an attachment, “Negotiating Sequence Alternatives,” in the form of annotated charts. In Case I, the cease-fire would precede the “measures for normalization,” which, while ending the fighting, could result in protracted negotiations that would benefit the enemy. Case II involved a simultaneous cease-fire and normalization that would be complicated and make any necessary resumption of military pressure difficult. In Case III, the normalization occurred before the cease-fire, thereby causing a situation wherein tension continued to remain high. Case IV consisted of a slow, deliberate de-escalation of the war but without any formal agreement on the termination of hostilities. The attachment is not printed.