96. Memorandum From the Acting Director of the Office of Research and Analysis for East Asia and the Pacific (Holdridge) to the Director for Intelligence and Research (Hughes)1

SUBJECT

  • NIE 50–68: Southeast Asia After Vietnam2

This Estimate was requested last summer by Secretary of Defense Clifford. It focuses on the likely impact in Southeast Asia as a result of a settlement of the Vietnam situation. As its basic terms of reference, the Estimate (1) excludes the possibility of an outright military victory or a precipitous withdrawal by the Allies or the Communists, (2) assumes a compromise settlement which, in a year or two, leads either to Communist control or to the continuation of a pro-US regime in South Vietnam, and (3) does not prejudge future US policies or courses of action in Southeast Asia, regardless of the outcome in South Vietnam.

As you recall, USIB remanded the Estimate on October 31 because of ACSI objections to the conclusions on Section II, A Settlement Favorable to the Communists, the main part of the Estimate. In the two ensuing lengthy meetings by the USIB representatives, it became clear, as had been expected, that DIA, the DOD services, and NSA continued to find serious difficulties with the draft and in effect were joining ACSI in an effort to rewrite the Estimate. The present draft reflects considerable effort by CIA to incorporate DOD views in the hope of arriving at a broadly acceptable Estimate. On the other hand, despite a large number of editorial and organizational, as well as some substantive, changes, the net effect has been to recast the conclusions to include specific judgments in the text but without conceding any major compromise by CIA or INR.

Therefore, regarding a settlement favorable to the Communists, the Estimateʼs main conclusions remain: (1) Communist political and military assets in the region probably would not be immediately strengthened, nor would the Communists be likely to rely more heavily on armed violence than at present; (2) Cambodia and particularly Laos might well become fairly early casualties although initially at least Hanoi would probably rely on political rather than military pressure to alter the situation in its favor in both countries; (3) neutralist sentiment would increase in several countries, and throughout the region there would be damage to US prestige and serious doubts about the validity of US power and commitments; and (4) Southeast Asian leaders would nevertheless continue [Page 233]to be influenced to an important extent by US actions elsewhere in the area during and after the settlement, and they “would not be panicked into precipitous changes in policy or posture” and “would probably suspend any definitive policy decision” until there had been time to appraise US intentions. In short, a settlement in Vietnam favorable to the Communists in itself would not necessarily unhinge Southeast Asia.

There were very few changes in the second scenario, a situation unfavorable to the Communists. The Estimate continues to hold that there would be a sense of relief throughout the region, US prestige would increase, Communist morale would sag, and the “peoplesʼ war” concepts of Mao and Ho Chi Minh would be seriously questioned. However, few countries would conclude that the Communists had been permanently stopped in Vietnam or that the future of the Saigon regime had been assured, nor would doubts be removed about the willingness of the US to engage on a substantial scale in any new military conflict in Southeast Asia.

DIA and the Services retain reservations on all or various parts of Section II and its conclusions. Army and Air Force reserve on the entire Section and all its conclusions (A through F); DIA on Conclusions C, E, and F and on Paragraph 32; and Navy on Conclusion E and Paragraph 32. The NSA representative, although dissatisfied with the Estimate, could not say confidently whether his principal would reserve although he ventured to guess that he would do so if DIA or the Services put forth a “persuasive” position at USIB. In the meantime, I have learned that DIA and the Services are considering a joint footnote on the entirety of Section II and its relevant conclusions. As before, the main thrust of the DOD objections are in a nutshell, that the Estimate understates the adverse impact throughout Southeast Asia of a settlement in Vietnam favorable to the Communists. In this respect, DOD argues that, in contrast to the judgment in the Estimate, the Southeast Asian governments, including Thailand, would proceed to reorient their policies immediately and would not wait to see what actions or policies the US would take in the area. (Paragraphs 26 and 32.)

As noted earlier, neither we nor EA have any major problems with the Estimate. We would have preferred the draft submitted to USIB last month on the grounds that some of the conclusions were more clearly stated. Indeed, we recommended during the last round of discussions that, in view of the problems still existing between CIA-INR and DOD, we should return to the previous draft. This would at least have the virtue of clarifying the differences in the various points of view. For a while, CIA considered this possibility but decided against it apparently in the hope of pulling DIA off its reservations and at least presenting a united DIA-CIA-INR front against the Services.

We recommend that you approve the Estimate in its present form.

  1. Source: Department of State, INR/ERA Files: Lot 90 D 165, NIE 50–68. Secret. Drafted by Sarris.
  2. Approved by the USIB on November 14. (Ibid.)