12. Memorandum of Meeting Between the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger), Secretary of Defense Laird, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Wheeler)1

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to Vietnam.]

The discussion turned to contingency plans for Vietnam. The Special Assistant asked what could be done in South Vietnam which could convey to the North that there is a new firm hand at the helm, adding we should investigate what lower level, in-country activities could be devised to signal this change.2 General Wheeler replied that we have plans for operations in the DMZ and we have plans for offensive air action in the North. He stated that prior to November 1, U.S. forces were authorized to operate freely in the southern portion of the DMZ, and noted further that the North has violated the Northern portion of the DMZ by patrol action, stockpiling of supplies and by fire. On the other hand, the U.S. has abided by its word within the Southern portion. The Chairman suggested some offensive action in the Southern portion of the DMZ as a signal of change in U.S. leadership. General [Page 45] Wheeler emphasized that U.S. forces in South Vietnam were fully committed and he could foresee no real hope of a significant step-up within the confines of South Vietnam proper. Secretary Laird pointed out that the pressures in the U.S. since the Paris negotiations were for deescalation. He added perhaps we could complain a little more about the enemy’s DMZ violations at Paris. General Wheeler added we have had mortar attacks on two occasions from the DMZ on Marine units South of the DMZ, suggesting that we should start reporting these violations.

Dr. Kissinger inquired as to our capability of stepping up B–52 strikes. General Wheeler replied that we have been running at a rate of 60 sorties per day. If we were to go beyond that level, it would result in a loss of efficiency due to force fatigue. General Wheeler suggested that some operations in Laos might achieve the desired results.

The group then discussed the possibility of reconnaissance over China and Dr. Kissinger said that the 303 should recommend the reinitiation of reconnaissance by SR–71s and drones. The Chairman stated that he was dubious that the U–2 flights manned by ChiNats could be cranked up again due to their earlier loss rates. Mention was then made of the upcoming talks with the ChiComs in Warsaw. It was speculated that these talks would probably last about one day.

Dr. Kissinger stated that the Defense Department should prepare a menu of reconnaissance operations over China, based on actual requirements but initiated primarily for political objectives.

Dr. Kissinger then asked whether or not there was some type of planning activities that could be initiated which would signal to the North that we might be considering a step-up or escalation of operations.

The group suggested the following possibilities:

  • —Assembly of amphibious shipping at some Southern port.
  • —Increased aerial reconnaissance.
  • —Movement of carriers and naval fire support back to Yankee Station.
  • —The convening of high level commanders to planning conferences in Saigon.
  • —A possible high level visit to Taiwan.

General Wheeler again emphasized that perhaps some additional offensive operations in Laos or Cambodia would be appropriate. For example, we might deploy CS gas along the Laotian supply routes at specific choke points, pointing out that in the past this had proven quite effective and stating that since September the use of CS has been restricted outside of Vietnam except in aircraft rescue operations.

General Wheeler also suggested that a foray by ground forces into North Vietnamese base areas, sanctuaries or logistics installations might prove very effective. He said that a plan had been developed [Page 46] recommending the authorization of hot pursuit into Cambodia which would include attack on base areas and last approximately 3 to 5 days. General Wheeler also suggested a U.S. attack across the Fish Hook west of Tay Ninh and Zone C, stating that he estimated such an attack could be completed in approximately one day. Secretary Laird cautioned that increased activity in Cambodia would represent a difficult political problem.

Dr. Kissinger then asked what will we do in the event of a major attack on Saigon? General Wheeler referred to the contingency plan which provided for 48-hour air and naval attacks between the 17th and 19th parallels, emphasizing that this plan might not be executed instantaneously after a violation but at a time when weather conditions were most appropriate. Dr. Kissinger emphasized that he would raise this point with the President to be sure that he understood that our reaction time in implementing this plan would be dependent upon the weather.

Discussions were then held on the possibility of covert attacks within Cambodia or the harassment of vessels enroute to Sihanoukville. Dr. Kissinger stated he would discuss stepped up Asian activity in Cambodia, specifically Sihanoukville, with the Director, CIA.

General Wheeler suggested that we step up our reconnaissance activities along the Cambodian roadnets. Discussion was then held on how a menu of pressure tactics could be presented to the President. It was agreed that when the options were developed, the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman and Dr. Kissinger would arrange for an appointment with the President to discuss the menu. Concurrently, the group agreed that the SIOP briefing scheduled for the following Wednesday at the Council meeting should be cancelled since most of the principals will have heard it individually.

First, a general picture of Saigon’s defenses should be presented. Secondly, the menu of in-country actions should be presented and, finally, actions against the North.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to Vietnam.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 955, Haig Chronological Files, February 1–15, 1969. Top Secret; Sensitive. Haig also attended this meeting, which was held in the Secretary of Defense’s conference room at the Pentagon. Haig sent a copy of this memorandum to Kissinger on February 6, and to a February 6 covering memorandum, Haig attached a list of the specific actions agreed to at the meeting and a letter from Kissinger to Laird. This letter enclosed a copy of the above list for Laird’s use in preparation for a meeting with Nixon on February 11. (Ibid.)
  2. On February 5 Haig sent Kissinger a February 3 memorandum from the Chairman of the JCS to Laird, CM–3903–69, outlining options for military responses to attacks on population centers in South Vietnam. In his covering memorandum, Haig suggested that although “flexible to the target selection, type of strike and duration of strike, they do not constitute an adequate response to what I believe you and the President are seeking.” Haig believed contingency plans should constitute “a menu of actions within South Vietnam which could signal the U.S. intent to escalate while avoiding the type of public noise in the United States and in Paris which a strike north of the DMZ would generate.” (Ibid., Box 136, Vietnam Country Files, Vietnam, Vol. I, Through 3/19/69)