219. Letter From the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Wheeler) to the Ambassador at Large (Harriman)1

Dear Averell:

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]

Enclosure A


[Page 624][Page 625]
1. Stop artillery or other fire into or across the DMZ. 1. Stop artillery or other fire from or across the DMZ.
2. Agree to neutralization of DMZ. 2. Stop ground attacks across the DMZ or the massing of additional forces or supplies in North Vietnam or the DMZ in a manner which poses a direct threat to Allied forces in South Vietnam.
3. Agree to inspection and verification procedures in DMZ: (a) ICC; (b) Joint Commission. 3. Desist from any increase in the movement of North Vietnamese troops and supplies into South Vietnam.
4. Take one or more of the following actions:
a. Publish names of POWs.
b. Permit Red Cross to visit prisoners.
c. Permit Red Cross to inspect POW camps.
d. Permit mail and packages to POWs.
e. Return bodies of deceased POWs.
f. Exchange sick and wounded POWs.
g. Exchange all POWs.
Note: The above items could be further broken down into sub-items.
5. Offer safe conduct to exfiltrating units. 4. Remove forces from southern portion of DMZ.
6. Provide transportation to enemy desiring transit north. 5. Remove supplies from southern portion of DMZ.
7. Pull back US troops from DMZ a certain distance. 6. Remove forces from northern portion of DMZ.
8. Remove US troops from a specified area. 7. Remove supplies from northern portion of DMZ.
9. Cease leaflet operations. 8. Agree to neutralization of DMZ.
10. Place ceiling on in-country reinforcements. 9. Agree to inspection and verification procedures in DMZ: (a) ICC; (b) Joint Commission; (c) non-interference with unilateral inspection.
11. Discontinue use of newer type weapons. 10. Take one or more of the following actions:
a. Publish names of POWs.
b. Permit Red Cross to visit prisoners.
c. Permit Red Cross to inspect POW camps.
d. Permit mail and packages to POWs.
e. Return bodies of deceased POWs.
f. Exchange sick and wounded POWs.
g. Release prisoners of VC.
h. Exchange all POWs.
12. Relinquish low level recce. 11. Cease attacks on US bases.
13. Discontinue ground operations in border area. 12. Cease use of heavy mortars/rockets against province and district capitals.
14. Limit size of ground operations to battalion size force. 13. Cease ground attacks on province and district capitals.
15. Cease construction/operation of the obstacle barrier. 14. Cease attacks on specified roads, railways, and water-borne traffic.
16. Stop use of (pick one):
a. defoliation and crop destruction weapons.
b. 105mm or larger artillery.
c. Anti-personnel mines.
d. Riot control agents.
e. Napalm.
f. CBU–24s.
g. Tanks.
15. Conduct no operations larger than battalion size.
17. Cease operations from out-of-country: CVAs, patrol ships, air operations from Guam, Thailand. 16. Withdraw some NVA forces to a specified area in SVN.
18. Stop use of B–52s. 17. Withdraw some NVA forces to sanctuaries in Laos and Cambodia.
19. Stop use of armed helos. 18. Withdraw some NVA units from SVN to NVN.
20. Provide amnesty for the VC. 19. Cease incidents of terrorism and sabotage.
21. Stop close tactical air support in SVN. 20. Force VC to cease tax collections.
22. Stop providing equipment in-country to TCCs. 21. Remove NVA forces to a specified distance north of the DMZ.
23. Cease-fire. 22. Remove SAMs from area north of DMZ.
24. Disestablish certain logistic bases. 23. Announce and observe a cease-fire.
25. Implement provisions of Manila Communique for withdrawal. 24. Comply with Geneva Accords of 1962 (remove NVA troops from Laos).
25. Make command and control communications in the clear.
26. Cease propaganda broadcasts.
27. Negotiate with GVN.
28. Recognize the GVN as legal government.
29. Recognize the 17th parallel and two Vietnams.
[Page 626]

Enclosure B


(Listed in Desired Order of Accomplishment)

[Page 627][Page 628]
Mutual Deescalatory Step Impact on NVN Impact on US Impact on SVN Remarks
1 Neutralization of the DMZ by removal of all military forces. Includes prohibition of artillery fire across the DMZ. —test of intentions.
—reduces infiltration.
—reduces offensive capability.
—probably removes support base for majority of NVN forces in northern I CTZ.
—remove some pressure on I CTZ.
—permits some redeployment of forces.
—reconnais-sance should be able to verify.
—no risks to SVN security. Neither side has a legal right to be in the DMZ. True neutralization of the DMZ should precede consideration of sub-sequent sequential deescalatory steps. A Joint Commission arrangement might be negotiated. Otherwise, unilateral inspection and verification will be necessary. Another possibility would be to revitalize the ICC to include giving unrestricted access to inspection points.
2 Exchange POWs. —test of good faith and intentions.
—indication of interest in further cooling down of pressures.
—psycholog-ical boost if successful; added resolve if turned down. —willing to ex-change.
—involves little risk.
If NVN is seriously interested in mutual steps to deescalate, the exchange of POWs should be early step in this process.
3 NVA/US withdrawal from a geographic area (e.g., a province). —would remove pressure from NVA and permit regroupment.
—could pro-vide a sanc-tuary from US/FW firepower.
—most likely to turn over areas where VC strength is maximum.
—could for-feit use of bases.
—verification would depend on nature of terrain.
—agreement would have to be broken if ARVN had military reverses.
—would require diversion of ARVN forces from other missions.
—the ARVN could be exposed to superior enemy forces.
—the cap-ability of the ARVN to provide security will be a deciding factor in the stability of the GVN.
The specific areas that would be the subject of a negotiated withdrawal should be determined by COMUSMACV based on the then existing tactical situation. In general, I CTZ and highlands are probably the most appropriate areas to try this plan. If the results are satisfactory in one province, adjacent provinces could be considered for the same type of deescalation.
4 Cease offensive air/ground operations in a specified area. NVN would accept if own forces were threatened; not likely to agree in area where its strength is superior.
—provides sanctuary for respite and tactical regroupment.
—provides propaganda for con-sumption in the local area.
—intelligence collection would suffer.
—could result in a freeze in place.
—would sustain pockets of territory under VC control.
—could result in wavering morale of the local people if ARVN were not in position of mil-itary strength.
The effectiveness of this type of deescalation would depend largely on the progress of negotiations toward a final settlement. It should not be undertaken in the early stages of talks. This step is completely unacceptable from a military point of view unless accompanied by substantial NVA withdrawals. A fully agreed and supervised cease-fire should be associated with and follow a substantial withdrawal of NVN forces from SVN.
  1. Source: Department of Defense, Official Records of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, 911/305 (26 April 68), IR 3867. Top Secret; Sensitive.
  2. Document 210.
  3. 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)
  4. 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.