48. Intelligence Note From the Director of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (Hughes) to Secretary of State Rusk 1

No. 97


  • Vietnam: Estimated Communist Strategy in the Coming Months

The events of the last several days suggest that the Communists are well-embarked upon a carefully planned campaign of mutually-supporting military, political, and diplomatic efforts directed toward a massive [Page 109] deterioration in the GVN position and an erosion of the political basis for a US presence in Vietnam. If this were to develop, negotiations could become the seal of success rather than the path to a situation in which, in due course, success could be attained. Meanwhile, they will continue to hold open the possibility of talks.

Intent on Creating Revolutionary Situation. Hanoi’s primary intent appears to be to create the revolutionary situation, in towns and countryside alike, which doctrinally must precede final victory in the South. The accelerated effort, dramatically emphasized by recent events, to destroy the authority of the GVN and the credibility of the US/South Vietnamese alliance could be intended to reach the point where war-weariness and defeatism throughout the country become overwhelmingly strong and where non-Communist South Vietnamese political elements might be prepared to join with the Front in the establishment of coalitions at the center and at lower administrative levels. The resulting organization could claim to have supplanted the authority of the GVN and to have assumed the mantle of the “coalition government.” If it could be attained, this “coalition government” would become the condition precedent to or simultaneous with negotiations rather than the goal to which negotiations might lead.

Flexing and Applying Military Muscle. To reinforce the political/military effort to destroy the authority of the GVN, Hanoi also appears intent on using the threat of major military victories to manipulate the deployment and redeployment of the allied forces.2 This effort, by establishing a capacity for set-piece victories in remote locations of the country, appears designed to whipsaw allied forces and to place a heavy strain on allied capabilities to engage in “conventional” war against the main enemy force or to support GVN military efforts against Communist guerrilla and political forces in the countryside. Hanoi may, if the proper opportunity presents itself, also use these build-ups to inflict heavy casualties on US forces and, if possible or appropriate, to attempt to gain spectacular victories. But the main force military threat will be maintained and employed primarily for its political impact and for its diversion and dispersion of allied resources rather than for the attainment of military victories per se.

Communists Assess their Position as Strong but Risky. The Communists probably believe that they are operating in the South from a position of considerable strength. They have already demonstrated a three-fold capability—to deploy large forces at various remote points; to carry on simultaneously with these deployments an intensified campaign of harassment in the countryside; and to augment their political effort in the urban areas [Page 110] with an unprecedented wave of coordinated attacks throughout the country without apparently drawing very significantly from their major troop concentrations. They probably recognize also that they have embarked upon a high-risk course. They are clearly exposing themselves to very heavy casualties. By enlarging their campaign, broadening the impact of their attacks, and imposing additional resource requirements on themselves, they risk not only intolerable strains on their own structure but also stronger reactions against them. By moving so rapidly and with so much propaganda and indoctrinational stress on “decisive victories” and the opening of the “revolutionary phase”, they risk the creation among the cadres of high expectations of quick results which, if disappointed, could severely affect morale.

They probably expect, however, that they can make tactical adjustments which will compensate for difficulties encountered, a capability they have especially demonstrated during the past two years. They could be counting on going a long way in keeping up morale and willingness to persist by contending that their spectaculars—such as those of recent days—even though they cannot be of long duration or of frequent occurrence, are in themselves “decisive victories” that have moved the war into a new and close to ultimate phase. Heavy as their losses may be as the result of such actions, they may believe that they can recover from them more rapidly than the GVN can recover from the administrative disruption, necessity for redeployment, and loss of confidence and momentum which it has undergone.

The Communists would accept the heavy casualties that result from their major actions believing that the cost of such actions are more than compensated for by heavy strains imposed on the allied side, which, on balance, facilitate the persistent campaign of local harassment, small-scale action, and political organization. It is through these actions that the Communists have long sought to destroy the GVN socio-political framework in the countryside; and they will increasingly seek to do the same in urban areas. They would anticipate also increasing friction within the GVN and between the GVN and the United States which will work to their advantage. While they will undoubtedly attempt to create the impression that they are being increasingly supported by the enthusiastic revolutionary masses, their genuine interest will lie not so much in winning major accretions of mass support as in inducing a widespread conviction that the Communist drive cannot be stopped and must be accommodated to.3

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The Talks/Negotiations Posture

While we believe that the Communists have adopted a strategy in the South which they will not quickly alter (that is, within the next month or two), even in the face of particular failures or set-backs, we anticipate that they will continue to hold open the prospect of talks. Though they may not expect to get a bombing pause, they would hope thereby to deter the United States from harsher measures against the North, the resources of which must continue to flow to the South in support of the accelerated campaign there. Anxious as they are for a bombing pause, their campaign in the South will assume precedence in their thinking for the time being. Accordingly, we do not anticipate that Hanoi will be prepared in the near future to promise that it will not “take advantage,” though there is a chance that it may haggle on the subject if it believes that some degree of compromise (as a hypothetical example, an understanding not to use the DMZ but no restriction on infiltration rates) can gain a bombing halt.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 VIET S. Secret; No Foreign Dissem.
  2. Hughes reported in Intelligence Note No. 117 to Rusk, February 8, that Hanoi had begun to invoke the memory of Dien Bien Phu for the first time since the Tet offensive began. (Ibid.)
  3. In Intelligence Note No. 121 to Rusk, February 8, Hughes commented: “Despite heavy casualties, Communist forces retain the capability to launch new attacks against urban centers while the bulk of the North Vietnamese Army main force, still uncommitted, poses the threat of larger-scale assaults in the remote or outlying areas.” (Ibid.)