219. Letter From the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Wheeler) to the Ambassador at Large (Harriman)1
This is in response to your letter of 26 April suggesting that a study be made of those deescalatory steps which we could afford to do in return for some illustrative restraints on the part of NVA/VC forces.2
I am enclosing three attachments which explore this subject. The first is a “shopping list” of possible deescalatory steps by both sides with no attempt to match or equate individual actions (Enclosure A). The second attachment contains some two-sided deescalatory steps (Enclosure B). My evaluation of the contents in these two attachments is that deescalation probably would be feasible only in the DMZ area. Beyond those specific actions related to “no advantage” validation, neutralization of the DMZ, and POW exchanges (thru US Step 10, Enclosure B), the risks become high due to the difficulty of validating compliance by the enemy in most cases. For example, if he agrees to withdraw certain units from a specified area, how can we be sure that he has not augmented remaining VC units with NVA filler personnel? If he agrees that NVA will not attack certain areas or LOCs, how would we know whether a subsequent attack was carried out by the VC or the NVA? These are some of the practical problems in validation that would cause us difficulty.
My view of deescalation centers on three points: (1) Deescalation of military pressure will not be operationally feasible until negotiations reach a productive stage; (2) The objective of any deescalatory step should be the verified withdrawal of NVA forces from SVN. Otherwise, we can become entangled in piecemeal deescalatory steps that would only buy time for the enemy and provide him the capability to cheat; (3) Initial deescalation should focus on the DMZ to test the good faith of North Vietnam.
I recently exchanged views with Westy on the subject.3 He pointed out quite correctly that a negotiated deescalation is manageable only if NVN approaches the problem with complete sincerity, since monitoring [Page 622] withdrawals accurately would be virtually impossible. If areas for mutual withdrawal result from negotiations, he identified five areas, in order of priority, which promise the greatest gain in relation to the risks involved: (1) Any or all of II CTZ, less the coastal provinces; (2) Northern III CTZ—specifically Tay Ninh, Binh Long and Phuoc Long provinces; (3) Western I CTZ, less Quang Ngai province; (4) Coastal areas in II CTZ, less major bases and installations; (5) Quang Tri province.
In his view, the enemy would likely select the following areas for mutual withdrawal calculated to cause the greatest difficulty to friendly forces at the least expense to North Vietnam: (1) Capital Military District (CMD) Central III CTZ; (2) IV CTZ; (3) Quang Tri/Thua Thien provinces; (4) Remainder of I CTZ; (5) Coastal provinces, II CTZ; (6) Kontum and Pleiku provinces.
I’m sure you understand that these are preliminary assessments for the current time frame. Without doubt, we will continue to see considerable shifting of NVA/VC forces. Such assessments will, of necessity, continue to be reviewed. Some additional comments by Westy are also attached to this memorandum (Enclosure C).4[Page 623] [Page 626]
- Source: Department of Defense, Official Records of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, 911/305 (26 April 68), IR 3867. Top Secret; Sensitive.↩
- Document 210.↩
- This exchange is contained in telegrams CJCS 4270 to Westmoreland, April 19, and MAC 5388 to Wheeler, April 23. (U.S. Army Center for Military History, William C. Westmoreland Papers, Eyes Only Message Files, 1–30 April 1968)↩
- Printed from an unsigned copy. Enclosure C, attached but not printed, summarized Westmoreland’s views on the negative aspects of mutual withdrawal, the mechanics of implementing such a withdrawal, and preferable alternatives.↩