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182. Memorandum for the 40 Committee1

SUBJECT

  • Periodic Report on the National Social Democratic Front

1. Summary

This is the fourth report in response to the Committee's request for periodic progress reports on the development of the National Social Democratic Front (NSDF), a South Vietnamese political front under the leadership of President Nguyen Van Thieu. It covers the period 1 October–31 December 1969.

The NSDF made little progress during the reporting period, and one of the six original member parties withdrew.2 The remaining five parties continue to demonstrate little interest in common programs. On Thieu's recommendation, the Front has abandoned the goal of establishing NSDF organizations in the provinces in favor of building up the separate parties. A special NSDF electoral commission has been set up to develop plans for the 1970/71 provincial and national elections. President Thieu has commenced paying a monthly subsidy directly to each member party and this and certain other overtures by Thieu have helped to ease the earlier strained relations between the President and the party leaders. For the future, Thieu will probably continue to give the Front occasional attention but devote most of his efforts to his domestic programs and to developing his governmental apparatus as a political vehicle. All funds previously authorized for President Thieu's [Page 570]political mobilization efforts have been passed to him. This report was concurred in by Ambassador Bunker on 26 January 1970.3

[Omitted here is the remainder of the report.]

  1. Source: National Security Council, Nixon Intelligence Files, Subject Files, Vietnam, 1970. Secret; Eyes Only.
  2. In backchannel message 681 from Saigon, January 28, Bunker informed Kissinger that he had recommended on January 26 continued U.S. covert assistance to Thieu's National Social Democratic Front (NSDF) for the next 6 months at the level of [text not declassified] per month. Bunker appreciated “that there is some discouragement in Washington with the NSDF” and that he and Thieu shared that disappointment. Since Thieu considered himself the leader of the NSDF, Bunker maintained that Thieu's image would be damaged if the front disintegrated for lack of money. Bunker observed that the front was only 8 months old, and there was little tradition in South Vietnam of “free popular political parties.” The NSDF was playing a “catalytic role” in developing democratic political institutions in Vietnam. Bunker asked Kissinger to focus on this issue in 303 Committee consideration, suggesting that the NSDF was a “delicate plant which needs tender care if it is to have a chance to mature and bloom in the historically non-fertile soil of Vietnamese politics.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 410, Backchannel Messages, Southeast Asia, 1970)
  3. On February 25 the 40 Committee discussed extending the program of support of the NSDF. Johnson suggested that Thieu's campaign against dissident Assemblyman Tran Ngoc Chau changed the situation and raised the danger that Thieu would use the support to “buy votes in the legislature in support of his case against Chau.” After a long discussion, Attorney General Mitchell convinced the Committee to approve the extension provided that Bunker and the Department of State agreed on pressure and leverage to be brought on Thieu to modify his actions against Chau. The final decision on whether to grant or withhold the assistance would be Bunker's. (National Security Council, 303/40 Committee Records, Minutes, 1970) On March 16 Bunker reported in backchannel message 1134 from Saigon that “I am convinced that the funds we have given Thieu in the past have not wound up in Nguyen Cao Thang's pocket for bribes,” but went to the Lien Minh. Bunker requested that he be authorized to start passing the [text not declassified] to Thieu. (Ibid., Subject Files, Vietnam, 1970) The passage of funds was authorized according to later records of the 303/40 Committee.