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

SUBJECT

  • Assumptions Underlying Vietnamization
[Page 476]

We have seen so many Vietnam programs fail after being announced with great fanfare, that I thought I should put before you in summary form my questions about the assumptions underlying Vietnamization. To believe that this course is viable, we must make favorable assumptions about a number of factors, and must believe that Hanoi as well will come to accept them.

U.S. calculations about the success of Vietnamization—and Hanoi's calculations, in turn, about the success of their strategy—rely on our respective judgments of:

  • the pace of public opposition in the U.S. to our continuing the fight in any form. (Past experience indicates that Vietnamization will not significantly slow it down.)
  • the ability of the U.S. Government to maintain its own discipline in carrying out this policy. (As public pressures grow, you may face increasing governmental disarray with a growing number of press leaks, etc.)2
  • the actual ability of the South Vietnamese Government and armed forces to replace American withdrawals—both physically and psychologically. (Conclusive evidence is lacking here; this fact in itself, and past experience, argue against optimism.)
  • the degree to which Hanoi's current losses affect its ability to fight later—i.e., losses of military cadre, political infra-structure, etc. (Again, the evidence is not definitive. Most reports of progress have concerned security gains by U.S. forces—not a lasting erosion of enemy political strength.)3
  • the ability of the GVN to gain solid political benefit from its current pacification progress. (Again, reports of progress have been largely about security gains behind the U.S. shield.)

Our Vietnamization policy thus rests on a series of favorable assumptions which may not be accurate—although no one can be certain on the basis of current analyses.

I am asking the Vietnam Special Studies Group to see what can be done to minimize the dangers involved.

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box CL 252, Geopolitical File, Vietnam, Vietnam Policy Documents, 1969 July–December. Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only. Sent for information. Kissinger prints almost all of this memorandum in White House Years, pp. 285–286.
  2. Nixon highlighted the first two subparagraphs and wrote: “Nov 9 We seem to have a better chance now on these points than before Nov 3.” Reference is to Nixon's speech of November 3; see Document 144.
  3. Nixon underlined the last 5 words of this sentence and wrote: “Ask Thompson [Sir Robert] what he predicts on this score.”