260. Memorandum From the Joint Chiefs of Staff to Secretary of Defense Clifford 1



  • US Policy With Respect to Negotiations With North Vietnam (U)
(U) Reference is made to JCSM–343–68, dated 29 May 1968, subject: “Possible Courses of Action and Alternatives in Vietnam Under Certain Conditions (U),” which addressed specific courses of action rather than the broader problem of policy.2 This memorandum provides additional comments and recommendations on the broader subject of US policy.
(U) In a major policy statement in September 1967 and repeated in October of that year, General Giap stated that the North Vietnam (NVN) objectives were:
Protect NVN.
Overthrow the present Government of Vietnam (GVN) and seize its apparatus.
Unite all of Vietnam under communist control.3
(C) North Vietnam has achieved a major portion of the first of these objectives by our action in partially halting the bombing. This has provided immunity to about 90 percent of the people and 70 percent of the territory of NVN. The current hard-line negotiating position of that Government in Paris is designed to attain the remainder of this objective.
(C) To attain the second objective (overthrow the GVN and seize its apparatus), NVN had engaged in overt military aggression in South Vietnam (SVN), is providing support and direction to the Viet Cong/National Liberation Front Insurgency, and has attempted to gain support of world opinion by a concerted propaganda attack against US actions in Southeast Asia and concurrently to demonstrate that the GVN with allied assistance is incapable of protecting its citizens. The following actions by NVN support the basic NVN objectives: assassination and kidnapping of public officials, random assaults on population centers, disruption of commerce, infliction of casualties on US and South Vietnamese forces—all designed to alter progressively public attitudes within the United States, SVN, and the world at large. Were NVN successful in achieving the first two objectives, they would likely take the view that time would take care of the third. Communist ideology disregards time as a major consideration in developing strategic and tactical objectives.
(TS) To date, military operations in Southeast Asia have been conducted within a framework of policy guidelines established to achieve US objectives. Principal among these policy guidelines are:
We seek to avoid widening the war into a conflict with Communist China or the USSR.
We have no present intention of invading NVN.
We do not seek the overthrow of the Government of NVN.
We are guided by the principles set forth in the Geneva Accords of 1954 and 1962.
(TS) The Joint Chiefs of Staff consider that these guidelines are valid. However, although progress is being made within the above framework, it has not been commensurate with the military power available in Southeast Asia, largely because constraints on the employment of this power have resulted in a program of graduated application of military pressure. NVN has the advantage of the use of certain sanctuaries for retreat and regroupment without fear of attack. The enemy has the advantage of uninterrupted importation of war material. He knows that certain restrictions on US military operations will give him tactical advantage. He also has the advantage of being able to gauge his own military efforts against the announced US military force buildup. He knows that we will not destroy his country or his Government because we have publicly so stated. Because of these advantages, more than 3 years of gradually increasing pressures have not caused the enemy to cease his aggression. On the contrary, NVN has been able to maintain its capability to support an ever-increasing intensity of conflict, with the resulting greater expenditure of US resources and increase in US casualties.
(S) A continuation of the restraints associated with the current policies during protracted negotiations of the type experienced so far can result only in progressive deterioration of the allied capability to block attainment of the North Vietnamese objectives as they relate to SVN. It appears, therefore, that considerable intensification of direct pressure on NVN is needed.
(TS) In the event that current negotiations fail to produce early and substantial progress or break down, the Joint Chiefs of Staff believe that the air and naval attacks on all of NVN should be resumed and that restraints in such attacks heretofore imposed within the current policies should be removed. At a suitable time, the Joint Chiefs of Staff will make appropriate recommendations, dependent upon developments.
For the Joint Chiefs of Staff:
Earle G. Wheeler 4
Joint Chiefs of Staff
  1. Source: Department of Defense, Official Records of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, 911/305 (24 May 68), IR 4055–4057. Top Secret.
  2. Document 256.
  3. Giap made this statement in the North Vietnamese newspaper Quang Doi Nhan Dan, September 14–16, 1967, and in the Soviet newspaper Krasnaya Zvezda, October 21, 1967.
  4. Printed from a copy that indicates General Wheeler signed the original.