144. Memorandum From the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Wheeler) to Secretary of Defense Clifford1



  • Answers to Certain Questions

What would be the military effect of a cessation for a specific period of time of offensive air operations which include the delivery of air munitions in (a) the Hanoi and Haiphong areas; (b) north of 20! North Latitude?

Answer: The weather begins to improve in the northern part of North Vietnam about 15 April; usually the change is complete by about 1 May. Past experience indicates that we can expect about four days of weather suitable for visual air attacks in the month of April. Militarily, our air operations north of 20! N. Latitude at this time of year are harassing in nature, not destructive; i.e., the few radar controlled air strikes exert psychological pressure primarily on the people and the Hanoi government, rather than destroying military supplies and facilities.

Conclusion: If a cessation of offensive air operations involving the delivery of air munitions north of 20! N. Latitude were implemented during the period from now through 15 April 1968, we would be giving up relatively little military effect on the enemy.


What quid pro quo could be asked in return for the cessation of bombing operations as specified above?

Comment: Any quid pro quo sought should be tangible and measurable. For those reasons, vague specifications such as the reduction of infiltration of North Vietnamese troops into the south would be meaningless. Moreover, while a proposal for cessation of VC/NVA rocket and mortar attacks against urban areas in South Vietnam might seem attractive, the fact that we would propose to continue air and naval offensive operations south of 20! N. Latitude and in Laos would give the opposition to U.S. policy an opportunity to demand as equitable the cessation of all offensive operations against all of North Vietnam; i.e., the quid pro quo could be and would be characterized as insincere and deliberately unacceptable to the Hanoi regime. In the same way, any [Page 423] proposal which would modify the San Antonio formula and link a limited cessation of offensive air operations to prompt and productive talks would seem to be dangerous. In the first place, such a proposal would be proclaimed by the opposition as a withdrawal from the San Antonio formula; in the second place, we are in our poorest negotiating position since the summer of 1965. A formulation which meets the tests of tangibility and measurement, but without the dangers involved in other proposals mentioned, would seem to be the following:

In reciprocation the North Vietnamese would be expected to cease the delivery of artillery, rocket and mortar fire from positions in North Vietnam and within the DMZ against U.S., ARVN, and free-world military positions south of the DMZ; and
Enemy forces would be withdrawn from the neutral DMZ established by the Geneva Accords of 1954.

Conclusion: Any quid pro quo sought should be tangible and measurable, and not susceptible to being twisted by the opposition to our policies in Southeast Asia. Therefore, a suitable quid pro quo could be: a. a proposal that the North Vietnamese cease artillery, rocket and mortar fire against Allied positions south of the DMZ from locations in North Vietnam and within the DMZ; and b. enemy would be withdrawn from the neutral DMZ established by the Geneva Accords of 1954.


What would be the military effect of proposing a cease fire if the proposal were accepted by the enemy?

Comment: The effect would be disastrous. As an example, there are now 53 enemy battalions located in the two northern provinces of South Vietnam. Of these, 16 battalions are in the vicinity of Khe Sanh; 13 battalions are in the eastern portion of the DMZ; 24 battalions are located in the Hue area, apparently positioning themselves for renewed attacks on that city. This same situation is found in many other areas of South Vietnam. This means that there are at present substantial areas of the country occupied by VC/NVA forces. If a cease fire were offered and accepted, these areas would remain under control of the enemy. He could resupply these forces and augment them with impunity in order to expand his control over the countryside and/or prepare for renewed offensive operations at a time and at places of his choosing. Moreover, in such a situation, the South Vietnamese Armed Forces would probably lose all offensive spirit and could not be relied upon to withstand renewed widespread attacks as they did during the Tet offensive. In sum, a cease fire, militarily, is simply a more dangerous form of the enclave concept.

Conclusion: A proposal for a cease fire, if accepted by the enemy, would place Allied forces in a position of maximum military disadvantage.

The foregoing comments in response to your questions address only the military factors involved. There are, of course, many political factors, both foreign and domestic, which should be weighed. On balance, it would not seem that any political factor would support a proposal for a cease fire.
I have not consulted with the other members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the preparation of these answers.
Earle G. Wheeler
  1. Source: Johnson Library, Clark M. Clifford Papers, Memos on Vietnam: February–March 1968. Top Secret; Sensitive. Received at OSD at 10:53 a.m. on March 21. There is a notation that Clifford saw the memorandum. That same day, Clifford also received a memorandum from Enthoven in which the U.S. position vis-a-vis the air war was likened to the NVA/VC position in the ground war; namely, that both sides could control the rate of losses in these respective arenas. (Ibid., Alain Enthoven Papers, Strategy)