46. Information Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson1

Mr. President:

As you were talking to Richard Nixon the other evening2—and putting our three points on Vietnam to him—there seemed to me to be a certain ambiguity which required clarification. You recall he asked you if any one of the three conditions would satisfy us—or all three. Your answer was purposefully fuzzy. I Don’t think we’ve made up our minds exactly what the “fact of life’ formula you gave Harriman means operationally. And it is conceivable that some clarification is required in our conversations with the North Vietnamese in Paris.

In the argument that follows we would deal with all three conditions, but in different ways.

1. GVN Participation

It is absolutely essential that we have prior agreement that the serious talks that would follow a bombing cessation should include the GVN. I believe you now have unanimous agreement among your advisers that nothing could be more dangerous than for us to have a bombing cessation and then a prolonged wrangle with Hanoi as to whether the GVN could participate. For Hanoi to have a veto, under the circumstances of a bombing cessation, over GVN participation could produce a major political and military crisis in Saigon. Therefore, the participation issue must be nailed down before the event.

2. On the DMZ, in the Vance-Lau talk of July 16,3 Lau said the DRV “will know what to do” about shelling across the DMZ in the case of a bombing cessation. The point of Oslo was to go further on shelling and say they would not shell across the DMZ if we stopped bombing. This is obviously insufficient. But it is doubtful that we can negotiate a full detailed DMZ deal before a bombing cessation, at least at the present time. You have formulated your position—for example, to Harriman—in the form not of prior agreement but “facts of life.” Specifically, Hanoi must be made to understand that the violation of the DMZ would meet [Page 123] an instant response. And we must mean that. For example, if they shelled across the DMZ, the post-bombing rules of engagement would have to require that we fire back instantly, at, say, three times the level of the incoming. And Abrams should have that right, before the event. If they began to mass major forces at the DMZ, we should be prepared to bomb them with B52’s or anything else. If they tried to send across the DMZ—as they have been doing—substantial military units, we would have to return, in my judgment, to full-scale bombing of their supply routes through the panhandle.

Therefore, on the DMZ, we might live with:

  • —a “fact of life” statement;
  • —a very clear definition of the DMZ behavior we would require to maintain a bombing cessation;
  • —rules of engagement agreed between Saigon and Washington in case of violation.

Personally, I have never ruled out some retaliatory bombing of the North during negotiations if they cheated; and I Don’t think they would blow serious talks, if they ever started.

3. With respect to attacks on the cities, Hanoi takes the view that this is a matter for the NLF. With 80% of the main forces North Vietnamese, this is clearly nonsense. But again, that is an item in which they should know, as a “fact of life,” that substantial attacks on cities, especially Saigon, would meet with prompt response. And we would have to mean it to maintain our credibility in Moscow as well as Hanoi.

4. Therefore, you may wish to consider with Cy, for the next round in Paris, a formula in which we seek an absolutely firm assurance of GVN participation before the bombing stops plus “fact of life” statements by us on the DMZ and the cities, with all preparations made to back our play if they violate.

5. Although I am not enamoured of the device for a one-day bombing cessation, to give them a chance formally to agree to GVN participation on that day, that device might also be considered in your talks with Vance. (A clear paper will be coming to you on the two devices later in the day.)4

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Files of Walt Rostow, Nixon, Richard—Vietnam. Secret; Sensitive. A notation on the memorandum by the President reads: “Walt—Call me about last paragraph. L.”
  2. See Document 38.
  3. See Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. VI, Document 299.
  4. Paper, by Bob Ginsburgh, attached, at Tab A. [Handwritten footnote in the source text by Rostow. In the attached October 2 memorandum to Rostow, Ginsburgh expressed reservations about the so-called Bundy plan of enacting a stand-down to gain DRV acceptance of GVN participation, including the necessity to resume bombing if the effort failed to bring in the GVN and the need to consult with allies beforehand. Ginsburgh expanded upon his assertions in a memorandum to Rostow of October 3. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, HARVAN Misc. & Memos, Vol. VI)]