10. Paper Prepared by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Wheeler)1


It has been proposed that, in the near future, the President would make a nationally-televised speech in which he would state:
Effective one week later, he was directing the cessation of all offensive actions against NVN.
He assumed that the DRV would refrain from certain military actions and would, within 2-3 days after the cessation of US operations against NVN, engage in fruitful discussions leading to a just and honorable peace. (See para 2 below for a hard-core listing of these actions.)
He assumed also that, during the intervening week, if the DRV found his assumptions unacceptable, they would so state. He would construe silence on their part to indicate consent.
The following is a listing of the hard-core items of Phase II of the Phase I-II package which have been mentioned to the North Vietnamese in Paris:
Restore the DMZ. No massing of troops or supplies in or near DMZ.
No increase in US or DRV force levels in South Vietnam after cessation of bombing.
No attacks on major population centers in South Vietnam, such as Saigon, Hue, and Danang.

Substantive discussions, on a “our-side your-side” basis to commence as soon as bombing stops, with either side free to raise any topics relevant to a peaceful settlement.

Note: Aerial reconnaissance over NVN is implicit in the foregoing.

The principal arguments advanced in favor of this procedure are:
It removes the element of reciprocity which the North Vietnamese have declared to be not acceptable to them.
The North Vietnamese do not have to say anything; they need only to refrain from doing certain things. (Except sub-paragraph 2d.)
Unlike earlier, more simple proposals for unilateral cessation of offensive operations against NVN, the President is protected; i.e., if the North Vietnamese respond that the proposal is not to their liking, the order to cease US operations would not be issued.
Acceptance (silence) by NVN would lead promptly to substantive discussions. Rejection would coalesce world opinion against them and in our favor.
The foregoing formulation is better in several respects than others put forward earlier. However, there are certain aspects which deserve further and deeper examination. Among these are:

The attitude of the North Vietnamese leaders.

Comment: Ambassador Vance stated during his last visit that, at the outset of the negotiating sessions, the North Vietnamese were arrogant, obviously expectant that the US representatives had come prepared to negotiate a face-saving turnover of SVN to NVN. They were surprised and apparently shocked that such was not the case. His views are borne out by frequent statements in NVN propaganda, exhortations to VC/NVA forces, private comments to individuals, etc., regarding the “stubbornness” of the Americans.

It seems reasonably clear that Hanoi rejects reciprocity in order to get something for nothing rather than any obscure considerations of “face.”

This leads to a question: Would a further unilateral restriction on our offensive actions lead to any move to peace by NVN leaders, or would it serve to confirm that our “stubbornness” can be broken and further concessions gained if they stand their ground?


The reality of the US construing silence on the part of the NVN delegation as acceptance of our assumptions.

Comment: I am informed that there are ample and sound legal precedents for construing silence as consent. However, it is not clear to me that this is necessarily true in international law and, even if it is, there is no court to so construe, find, and take corrective action. Of course, there is world opinion, for what it may be worth, in dealing with NVN. I surmise it would have little force in Hanoi.

In other words, I conjecture that NVN could, and probably would, remain silent, permit us to cease all combat operations against NVN, and count upon world opinion (which has more impact in Washington than Hanoi) to inhibit us from resuming offensive operations north of 17!.

Furthermore, arguing legalistically, the North Vietnamese could maintain that (1) these were our assumptions, not theirs; they had never [Page 28]agreed to reciprocal actions, and our assumptions were reciprocity in another guise; (2) since they had not agreed to the US assumptions, they were not bound to proceed on any or all of them, e.g., an “our-side your-side” formula; (3) however, now that the US had ceased offensive operations against NVN, which was the central reason for negotiators convening, we should now proceed to the next item on their agenda: which is probably the withdrawal of US forces from SVN.

Question: Could we realistically reverse our course should NVN adopt the above, or a comparable position?


Assuming silence from NVN, the soundness of the assumption that prompt and substantive discussions leading to peace would be forthcoming.

Comment: Three points are pertinent. The North Vietnamese have adamantly rejected the “our-side your-side” formula, saying that they will not deal with the “puppets” Thieu and Ky. They have stated repeatedly that restoration of the DMZ would be equivalent to permanent partition of Vietnam. And, like other Communists, they believe in the “talk-fight, fight-talk” tactic.

I think it reasonable to expect that, in the postulated situation, talks might begin promptly. On the other hand, they might well not be substantive and productive. Free of all military pressure against NVN, they could (and, I believe, would) settle down for protracted negotiations (with us—not the GVN), fully expectant that US war-weariness would prevent us from insisting on GVN participation, inevitably produce further concessions, and ultimately give them a Paris-type victory.

I base the foregoing judgments on these considerations: (1) following the “talk-fight” formula, they could control the tempo and resultant costs of combat in SVN; (2) they could expect, over time, a deterioration in the RVNAF due to weariness, losses and knowledge that NVN was not suffering while they and their country were under attack; and (3) they could expect with high confidence that, so long as the talks continued, we would not resume our offensive against the North even under circumstances of serious provocation.

Question: Assuming silence from NVN relative to the proposed assumptions, would the resultant situation be advantageous or disadvantageous to the US?


The reality of the implicit assumption that we could and would resume offensive operations against NVN should negotiations prove to be non-productive.

Comment: Our experience with unilateral cessations of operations against NVN has been illuminating, but not happy. Since the facts are well-known, no purpose is served by belaboring the point. Moreover, this aspect has been discussed partially in 4c. above.

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However, I am convinced that once we cease our offensive against NVN, the chances of resumption are most remote.

Question: Under what circumstances, assuming that talks following this formulation have been undertaken, would the US resume offensive operations against NVN?


The value of our air and naval campaign against NVN.

Comment: As pointed out earlier, our limited air and naval operations against NVN comprise the only pressure which self-imposed constraints permit us to apply against NVN. Within the limits we have established for ourselves, we have the initiative, and we can control the tempo and destructiveness of our attacks regardless of defensive measures taken by NVN.

The contrary is true in SVN. There—at a cost and within limits—NVN can control the level of combat activity and the destruction created.

I believe that both proponents and opponents of air and naval operations against NVN have, to varying degrees and far too often, expressed their differing views in extremes. Certainly, to maintain that the air and naval campaign is the single most important factor of the war is as illogical as to maintain that the campaign is militarily valueless. In essence, war is force applied to achieve an end. The more violently and the faster force is applied, the sooner the end is achieved.

I believe the following factors are pertinent to our air and naval campaign against NVN and, moreover, are undeniably true:

Our limited air and naval campaign is the only means available to us, within self-imposed constraints, to bring pressure on NVN.
Without attempting to quantify physical results, our operations are disrupting the enemy's war effort and hurting him.
Complete cessation of offensive operations north of 17! will permit the enemy to move with impunity forces, military matériel and supplies to areas contiguous to the combat zone, thereby increasing the hazard to US and Allied forces and installations. Under these circumstances, should the enemy so choose, US and Allied casualties will increase to a level largely determinable by the enemy.
The morale of US and Allied troops, and that of the SVN populace, would suffer.
Friend and enemy alike, military and civilian, would construe the imposition of further unilateral restraint on our forces as a victory for NVN, supporting the thesis that, if the NVN remain intransigent, they can achieve their full objectives in SVN.

Question: Would a total cessation of military operations against NVN create a situation, political and military, more favorable or less favorable for the achievement of US objectives?

Of course, people will answer the foregoing questions in different ways. My own answers can be summed up as follows: [Page 30]
I know that it is militarily wrong to make concessions from a position of strength to an enemy showing signs of increasing strain and weakness; and
On balance, I believe such a course to be equally unsound politically.
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, Department of Defense, OSD Files: FRC 330 73 A 1250, VIET 092.2 (September-October 1968). Confidential. A notation on the paper reads: “Dep. Sec. has seen.” An attached note dated September 11 reads: “Clark—Some days ago you asked me to think over an idea of yours relative to a cessation of bombing north of 17!. I have done so. The attached paper, which I wrote personally, sets forth the doubts & problems it raises for me. Bus.” Another attached note to Clifford from his military aide Robert Pursely dated October 17 reads: “Mr. Clifford: You handed the attached paper to Mr. Warnke some time ago. He now returns it, with the comment that he feels no action is indicated at this time. REP"