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

SUBJECT

  • Ambassador Bunker's Assessment of the Vietnam Situation

Ambassador Bunker has submitted his personal appraisal of the overall Vietnam situation to you in the attached cable (Tab A).2 His assessment is pegged to the total political, military, economic and social climate for successful Vietnamization of the war.

The Ambassador concludes that very substantial progress has been made in many areas, although serious problems and deficiencies remain. Probably the most unsettling problem is apprehension about US intentions. Bunker particularly fears the effect on South Vietnamese morale of a precipitous withdrawal of US forces, or a fixed timetable that would put the reductions on an automatic basis. He believes that carefully paced Vietnamization will work if carried out with enough flexibility to counter any enemy moves.

Ambassador Bunker makes the following major points on the war situation:

The Government

  • Khiem's government is an improvement over its predecessor. It is more of a team, and is focusing hard on major problems.
  • —Organizationally, the GVN has not been very successful in broadening its political base. Nevertheless, it is getting increased grass roots support and is doing a better job of local administration. It is broadening the base from the bottom up, not from the top down.

The Military

  • —Ambassador Bunker echoes General Abrams' view that there has been continuing improvement in the RVNAF, that gains from here on will be more qualitative than quantitative, and that significant problems remain, among them high desertions and poor leadership.
  • —The ARVN casualty rate, and that of the enemy faced by ARVN, has gone up in recent weeks, indicating that the combat load of the ARVN is increasing.
  • US force reductions have so far not hurt ARVN morale. A precipitous US withdrawal would probably totally undercut all the GVN military gains, however. A carefully phased withdrawal, on the other hand, might tend to raise ARVN confidence in its ability to take over and hence raise ARVN morale.

Enemy Intentions

  • —The enemy is definitely trying to provide facilities in Laos for potential infiltration considerably in excess of current rates.
  • —The latest captured enemy resolution on strategy suggests an intent to try and block our piecemeal withdrawals by hitting ARVN and US troops and upsetting redeployment schedules. The objective is to force a complete US withdrawal.
  • —There are other signs, however, that the enemy may be planning only to continue his present, low-posture military efforts. It is possible that he has not yet decided and is leaving his options open.

Pacification

  • —The emphasis is now on consolidation of the substantial gains made this year. The GVN is trying to build depth and breadth into the program.
  • —This is partly reflected in the already sizeable expansion of the territorial security forces and other civil defense elements.
  • —There is a much improved climate throughout the countryside in terms of economic revival and popular livelihood.
  • —The program is still thin and vulnerable, however. The infrastructure has been damaged, but not destroyed.

The Economy

  • —We are at a critical point in which the GVN will have to fill in behind US withdrawals with substantial additional expenditures. Unless [Page 475]the GVN takes strong measures to up its own revenues, and the US adds to our economic aid, inflationary pressures could [worsen].
  • —The GVN is moving hard to do its share, and has taken austerity measures beyond our expectations in raising taxes.

The Future of Vietnamization

  • Bunker supports Thieu's proposal to expand the RVNAF to 1,100,000 by the end of 1970 with special emphasis on territorial forces.
  • —He believes there is a serious question as to whether any fixed schedule for overall US troop replacements should be announced until we have a better reading on enemy military intentions in early 1970.
  • —He mainly fears the psychological blow to the Vietnamese if, in the face of a major enemy offensive, “automatic” US redeployments were to continue.
  • —If a fixed schedule is to be announced, Bunker favors a range tied to a later reassessment of progress.

A Ceasefire

  • —The Ambassador believes we should continue to insist on a ceasefire tied to proper agreements on verification of the withdrawal of NVA forces.
  • —He has not had the opportunity to discuss this question in detail yet with Thieu, but Thieu has generally taken the position that the present allied stance on a ceasefire is a viable one which should be maintained.
  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box TS 56, Geopolitical File, Vietnam, Vietnam Policy Documents, 1969 September–November. Top Secret; Eyes Only. Sent for information. On the first page of this memorandum is the following handwritten notation: “Note page 9 [of Tab A] we must have this base covered in our December assessment.” On page 9 of Tab A, Nixon underlined the following sentence in paragraph 30: “It is important that the public in Viet Nam sees that the GVN has a role in decision making.”
  2. Tab A, attached but not printed, is a re-typed verbatim version of backchannel message 287 from Saigon, October 29, from Bunker to the President. The original copy is in the National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 65, Vietnam Subject Files, 8–A, All Backchannel, Vol. II, 10/69.