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


  • North Vietnamese Military Strategy

Defense Minister Giap’s recent article on Hanoi military strategy2 has drawn considerable attention, both in the press and in U.S. intelligence reports. The following is a review and analysis of its key features.

Basically, the Giap piece is a general strategic primer for use in briefing party cadres, which carefully gives a nod to every military tactic the Communists have ever found useful in the long course of the war. As such, it does not contain a clear blueprint of future enemy military plans, although from the emphasis given to certain strategic and [Page 530] tactical principles, it is possible to discern the probable general course Hanoi hopes to follow.

Waiting Out U.S. Withdrawal

Giap’s article is probably the clearest evidence yet that the Communists no longer seriously believe they can win the war by direct military means against the present allied military lineup in South Vietnam, with its heavy complement of U.S. combat forces. This comes through in Giap’s call for the development of an enemy force thoroughly capable of protracting the conflict, of playing for time, of holding ground, and, hopefully, of consolidating it until the day enough Americans are gone to allow a more even challenge of the GVN’s armed forces. Giap thus urges economy in the use of manpower and the building of strong special and guerrilla units which can maintain the VC position without constituting an unbearable burden on the Communists’ manpower and material resources.

At the same time, Giap calls for vigorous efforts to cling to the enemy footholds in the countryside, where he notes that the manpower and physical resources necessary to determine the eventual winner in the war are located. This would seem to be an implicit admission of the danger Hanoi sees in continued GVN expansion of its foothold in the rural area via the pacification and Vietnamization programs. Thus, Giap appears to be acknowledging the effectiveness of these programs so far.

Giap also places emphasis on maintaining a strong pace of offensive operations with the initiative remaining on the Communist side. This seems to provide the strategic justification for a strong spring offensive if the enemy believes he can carry it off.

North Vietnam’s Role

The role of North Vietnam in this effort, according to Giap, continues to be that of the “great rear area” supplying needed physical support and serving as the channel for bloc assistance. Curiously, there is little to suggest even obliquely that any major new infusion of manpower is planned from North Vietnam. Giap hints, in fact, that Hanoi may be having increasing trouble in adequately maintaining its compulsory draft system.

Some analysts of the Giap piece have professed to see in it evidence of a split in the Hanoi leadership. One is also struck, however, by the very careful balance and mix of tactics developed by Giap, suggesting that no single or extreme military dictum has gained the upper hand in Hanoi, apart from the emphasis on the gradual, step-by-step approach to the war which has been promoted by the North Vietnamese and applied in military tactics in South Vietnam since shortly after the costly Tet 1968 campaign.

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In sum, the article gives good reason to believe that there will be no major, unanticipated shift in Communist military tactics during the coming months and that we can anticipate a continuation, along current lines, of the Communist effort to test the success of Vietnamization.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 142, Vietnam Country Files, Vietnam, Vol. XIV–1, January 1–15, 1970. Confidential. Sent for information. Received January 10. This memorandum was based on a “Holdridge/Moor analysis” that the NSC Secretariat sent as telegram WHO00108, January 6, to Nixon in San Clemente. (Ibid.) This memorandum is cited in Kissinger, White House Years (p. 435). The CIA prepared an intelligence memorandum analyzing Giap’s article and Hanoi’s intentions, No. 064/70, on January 14. On February 27 Kissinger sent a copy of the intelligence memorandum to Nixon under a memorandum containing a summary similar to the one in this memorandum. Nixon wrote the following note on the February 27 memorandum: “K. It is important for us to inflict maximum casualties on them now—to engage them not avoid.”
  2. Giap published a series of articles in Hanoi between December 14–21, 1969.