114. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon 1


  • Memorandum from the Secretary of State

Secretary Rogers has forwarded to you a memorandum which deals with the criticism made by your Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board concerning the lack of an overall military, economic and political plan for Southeast Asia (Tab B).2 The Secretary quite rightly emphasizes that the Administration has in fact done a great deal of planning for Asia both within and outside of the NSSM series. At the same time he correctly makes the point that an additional mechanism is required to pull together the proliferation of contexts and forums currently involved in Southeast Asian planning.

To solve this problem, the Secretary has recommended that the Under Secretaries Committee (chaired by State), supported by a small interdepartmental group chaired by Ambassador Green, be given responsibility for planning for Southeast Asia and that they be charged with the preparation of a five-year strategic plan for the implementation of the Nixon Doctrine. This is an attempt to undo the NSC system set up in January 1969 by, in effect, reinstituting the previous Administration’s Senior Interdepartmental Group which headed a State-dominated system for national security policy. I therefore would like to put the issue before you in some detail.

Studies Underway

As I informed you by memorandum of July 20, our planning efforts for Southeast Asia have been extensive and include:3

  • NSSM 37, Vietnam Negotiating Plans
  • NSSM 38, Post-Vietnam Asian Policy
  • NSSM 94, Diplomatic Initiatives in Indo-China (considered in July 21 NSC Meeting)
  • NSSM 95, Alternative Courses in Cambodia
  • —Study of Various Vietnam Ceasefire Proposals (also considered at NSC Meeting)
  • NSSMs on Thailand Program Analysis, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore
  • NSSM 69 on Asian Nuclear Policy
  • —Strategy for Southeast Asia (being prepared by the JCS at the request of the Secretary of Defense and the White House)
  • —Vietnam Studies on Vietnamization, Pacification, and Economic Problems


We have followed our usual “building bloc” approach that we applied to SALT. This gives us an opportunity:

to isolate the issues;
keeps the bureaucracy from log-rolling;
forces a sharp statement of the issues; and
makes bureaucratic sabotage harder.

The principal forum for the conduct of the foregoing planning effort has been the National Security Council structure and, more specifically, the Washington Special Actions Group which met daily throughout the Cambodian crisis and has met at least weekly since. We have also utilized the Vietnam Special Studies Group with a subsidiary working group to investigate a host of more technical problems including ceasefire, pacification and air sortie levels. Both of these forums are constituted at the Under Secretary level under my Chairmanship. Where needed, preliminary work has been done through interdepartmental working groups chaired as appropriate by State or Defense, or from within the NSC staff.

However, having now drawn together the essential facts associated with our day-to-day operations and long-term interests in Southeast Asia we need to pull pieces of the puzzle together with the view towards developing a comprehensive political, military and economic strategy for the long haul. I have already had an informal working group looking at this strategic perspective.

The basic question raised in the Secretary’s memorandum is who will control the policy planning process. Thus far you have consistently insisted that policy formulation belongs within the NSC system where all agencies have a fair opportunity to present their views. Within this framework you have rejected the concept of a vicarship role for any agency, including the Department of State, which would be strongly resented by both Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In this system State nevertheless plays a central role reflecting its prime interest, including Chairmanship of Interdepartmental Groups at the Assistant Secretary level and of the Under Secretaries Committee which is primarily charged with operational questions and policy implementation.

The approach recommended by Secretary Rogers for the crucial area of Southeast Asian planning would seriously undermine the NSC framework. [Page 251] His proposal to place the most important current U.S. policy planning effort under State Chairmanship simply constitutes another of the frequent challenges to the system which has worked so effectively in such complex policy issues as SALT negotiations, Japanese base negotiations, the Korean drawdown, and chemical and biological warfare. It would reopen the issues that were debated vigorously back in 1969 when the NSC system was established and would result in the following consequences:

Would put machinery under State.
Give State an opportunity to block recommendations.
Destroy the impact of my office and the NSC staff.

We already have experienced some problems in implementing your policies in the existing framework—the Secretary’s proposal would compound these problems by giving State control of staffing arrangements and chairmanship of working groups for Southeast Asian planning. (In addition, the Under Secretaries Committee was specifically established as an operating body and not as a planning group).

For these reasons I would be strongly opposed to the implementation of Secretary Rogers’ recommendation which could in the long run constitute a death blow to the National Security Council system itself and could represent a fundamental shift back to the previous Administration’s system which delegated to the Secretary of State the vicarship role for national security policy formulation.

I strongly recommend instead that you take the approach outlined in the proposed memorandum to the Secretary of State at Tab A.4 This memorandum agrees with his stated need to establish a framework for the synthesization of the various ongoing planning efforts involving Southeast Asia. It states, however, that you wish to do so in a framework analogous to the other policy planning groups, such as that for the Middle East, which have been convened at the Under Secretary level under the chairmanship of your Assistant for National Security Affairs, and points out that subsidiary working groups will be established and chaired by the Department of State where political considerations are paramount.


That you sign the memorandum to the Secretary of State at Tab A.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Agency Files, Box 282, Dept of State, Vol. VIII, 1 Jul 70–Aug 70. Top Secret; Sensitive.
  2. Document 113.
  3. For text of the July 20 memorandum, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume VI, Vietnam, January 1969–July 1970, Document 347. Copies of NSSMs cited below and the resulting papers are in National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files) Boxes 122–207, National Security Study Memoranda.
  4. Not printed. The August 5 memorandum, which Nixon signed after adding a sentence, advised Rogers that the planning framework for Southeast Asia should be analogous to other special groups, such as the Special Review Group for the Middle East, with Kissinger as chairman. This would allow for equal participation by Defense and other agencies where they have a major interest. Nixon also informed Rogers about the establishment of the Special Review Group for Southeast Asia (see Document 117). (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Agency Files, Box 282, Dept of State, Vol. VIII, 1 Jul 70– Aug 70)