187. Memorandum From Secretary of Defense Laird to President Nixon1


  • Trip to Vietnam and CINCPAC, February 10–14, 19702
[Page 580]

Last March, I made the first trip by any member of the new Administration to South Vietnam.3 Since that time, I have devoted a major part of my time to the situation we face there. Not only have I adjusted the Defense organization to concentrate more directly and forcefully on the Vietnam problem, but I have also asked numerous senior Defense officials such as the Deputy Secretary of Defense, the Service Secretaries, the Chiefs of Staff, and Assistant Secretaries to visit South Vietnam and study our problems there directly.

Consistent with the concerted attention to Southeast Asia, General Wheeler and I have, at your direction, just completed a four day trip to Vietnam. Three days were spent in consultation with Ambassador Bunker and his colleagues; General Abrams and his staff; and South Vietnam leaders, including President Thieu, Vice President Ky, Prime Minister Khiem, and Defense Minister Vy.4 In the field, I briefly saw Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces (RVNAF) units, and evidence of the progress being made on pacification. Finally, I spent a day at CINCPAC Headquarters in Hawaii, discussing with Admiral McCain the current status of affairs throughout the Pacific region.

In this report, I shall make, first, some general observations. Thereafter, I shall review in somewhat more detail:

The current military assessment.
The status of the military aspects of Vietnamization.
The status of the non-military aspects of Vietnamization, especially the economic issues, as they affect both the United States and the Republic of Vietnam.
Progress in joint planning among the Free World Forces in South Vietnam, to include military contingencies and planning for the Paris negotiations, and,
The prospects for continuing US troop redeployments.

Finally, I shall draw some conclusions and make some recommendations.

General Observations

When I reported to you last March, I suggested that that trip constituted a beginning. Both symbolically and practically, it was the beginning of new efforts, to come to grips with the complexities and practicalities of the Southeast Asia conflict. The essential purpose of the first trip was to determine, consistent with our manifold national interests, how we could achieve our objectives in Southeast Asia. A key purpose of the recent trip was to see if our objectives in South Vietnam still appear [Page 581] valid and if our strategy, programs, and schedules are tailored correctly to meet those objectives. I wanted to see, too, what specific tasks remain before us. While the progress made in the military aspects of Vietnamization is impressive, the work remaining is of monumental proportions. Furthermore, there are other aspects of the general situation and of our involvement which have not been well defined. I have in mind, especially, the economic issues and the planning for new initiatives in Paris. Despite the impressive gains made in Vietnamization this past year, we have, in some respects, barely started down the new course towards our objectives.

That we have so much work remaining should detract in no way from the outstanding jobs Ambassador Bunker, General Abrams and the South Vietnamese have done so far. The enormity of the remaining job is rather a reflection of the scope and depth not only of the communist threat but also of the US involvement over the past few years.

This trip confirmed for me again that we are pursuing a proper and valuable objective in pressing for self-determination in South Vietnam. The uniform view of the US civilian and military leaders in Vietnam and of the GVN leadership is that we are on a proper course towards that objective.

The best characterization of the atmosphere among top US and GVN officials in South Vietnam is one of cautious optimism. I was told on this visit, just as last March, that we now have and can retain sufficient strength to keep the enemy from achieving any kind of military verdict in South Vietnam. I was also told the South Vietnamese were making satisfactory progress in Vietnamization, especially on the military front. All indicators tend to confirm these judgments.

That, in essence, is what the US and GVN leadership in South Vietnam conveyed to me. What I attempted to convey to them was, in my judgment, likewise important. I emphasized the major constraint on US involvement was now economic. Last year, the principal constraint was diminishing US public support. I assured the people with whom I talked US public support is still vital and should not be taken for granted. But, the actual and prospective diminished US funds available for national security are consistently narrowing our operational latitude in Southeast Asia. Comprehension of that problem is vital to continued progress in Vietnamization. I emphasized the key factor, if we are to (a) operate within the resources available and (b) sustain the support of the American people, is to continue shifting the burden of military combat to the South Vietnamese. The fiscal situation provides an incentive and reinforcement to the Vietnamization policy. It also introduces a new element of risk.

I also emphasized the importance of sound joint planning in all aspects of Vietnamization; of insuring the best possible preparation and [Page 582] use of our negotiating posture in Paris; and of continuing concern for the security of our remaining forces in South Vietnam. All of these facets, I stressed, must be given attention and integrated into the apparatus and policies by which we continue towards our overall objectives. The situation in Vietnam therefore, continues to present a challenge, the dimensions of which are not readily comprehended.

The Current Military Assessments

A continual decline in the intensity of enemy activity occurred, as you know, during 1969. Enemy combat activity continues to be relatively moderate, or even light, in comparison with the experience of 1968 and early 1969. The overall enemy force levels fell from an estimated strength of 260,000 in September 1969 to about 220,000 in December. From information currently available, it appears the enemy’s force levels will continue to decline, at least through the foreseeable future. Furthermore, the composition will continue to shift more and more to a predominantly North Vietnamese force.

The enemy’s force accessions through infiltration from North Vietnam and conscription in South Vietnam, continue to be moderate at best. The NVA arrivals in South Vietnam over the next 4–5 months are expected to average about 4,500 men per month. The enemy losses through known combat losses and defections—not to mention the uncertain losses through wounded and illness—continue to run well in excess of those estimated accessions.

Furthermore, the composition of the enemy forces, especially the combat element, continues, as indicated, to become more North Vietnamese. According to MACV data, the following is the shift in combat strength proportions:

Oct 1965 Jan 1970
NVA 26% 72%
VC 74 28
100% 100%

The conflict is increasingly a North Vietnamese effort on the enemy’s part.

Despite the manpower trends cited, General Abrams and his staff believe the enemy is developing the capability to step up the level of combat activity. The most significant indicator of the enemy’s intentions is the sharp increase in the level of his logistic activities. The North Vietnamese started to push supplies through the Laotian panhandle earlier during the current dry season than usual. The supply effort has been unprecedented in numerous other respects. These include the volume of traffic, the intensive work on diversifying and keeping open the Lines of Communication (LOCs), and the efforts to protect the LOCs [Page 583] against air attack. It is difficult to draw precise conclusions from such activity, but it may reflect:

The need to replace large caches lost or destroyed last year in South Vietnam.
The need to make larger inputs into the supply system to overcome major losses to US air interdiction.
The increasing difficulty in moving supplies through Cambodia.
The need to complete supply movements before the rainy season begins in April or May.
The intention to stockpile adequate supplies for any tactical opportunities which may arise in South Vietnam.

Against the enemy logistics effort, our naval and air elements continue to exert strong pressure. The Navy has erected effective interdiction barriers between Cambodia and the South Vietnamese Delta region. The air components are exerting strong and increasing pressure against the enemy’s logistic operations in Laos, as exemplified by the following record:

US Air Operations in South Laos
Oct 1969 Nov 1969 Dec 1969
Attack Sorties 5,421 8,555 10,201
B52 Sorties 358 569 619
Total 5,779 9,124 10,820

In General Abrams’ and President Thieu’s judgment, the enemy may be expected to look for appropriate “targets of opportunity” in South Vietnam. The massive logistics effort, therefore, does not necessarily portend intensive or widespread military operations in the near future. The logistics push simply gives the enemy the capability to initiate action, if and when he chooses to do so.

The enemy has probably not yet decided, General Abrams believes, where or when to institute combat operations. Most of the enemy units are below strength and are not capable now of any major or sustained effort. General Abrams is uncertain about the enemy’s reasons for waiting, but probably center on prospects for:

A military opportunity in the field,
An exploitable political opportunity, such as riots in Saigon, or
An exploitable opportunity in the Paris negotiations.

The two geographical areas in which enemy activity is most feasible are the Delta and the DMZ. Consistent with the general conclusion that adequate friendly forces are available, General Abrams believes any prospective confrontation in either of these two critical regions is likewise manageable. In the Delta, MACV feels the distribution of RVNAF/US forces is “ideal.” In the DMZ area, our major [Page 584] reserve is air power. Our resources would be readily concentrated, I was told, to squelch any prospective threat.

Of potentially special importance to the war in South Vietnam is the current enemy activity in Northern Laos. I inquired of General Abrams and his Air Force Commanders why so many attack sorties were being flown in Northern Laos when the enemy was pressing so hard to move supplies through the Southern Laotian panhandle towards South Vietnam. In November and December 1969, for example, more than 3,000 sorties per month were flown in North Laos. If those sorties had been redirected to Southern Laos, our interdiction sortie level could have been increased by as much as 30–40 percent.

General Abrams indicated hard choices are involved in making sortie applications. He believes, however, the war in Northern Laos could impact decisively on the war in South Vietnam and on the Vietnamization program. If, for example, the North Vietnamese were to put sufficient pressure on the Royal Laotian Government in North Laos to cause it to be willing to ask for a cessation of all US air operations in Laos, the North Vietnamese would be provided a major new advantage in threatening the South Vietnamese borders. That situation could radically affect, according to General Abrams’ reasoning, the pace and even viability of Vietnamization. I believe we should urgently reassess our general policy vis-à-vis the entire Laotian situation.

Status of Vietnamization from the Military Viewpoint

You made two exceedingly important observations in your November 3, 1969, speech.5 Those points were:

We have a program to Vietnamize the war.
The program is working.

Perhaps the most telling report I can make as a result of my trip is that your November 3 observations are still accurate. I was impressed and gratified with the positive attitude towards the policy. Our leaders talk of the program enthusiastically and point with pride to the South Vietnamese accomplishments in the field. This is an area where figures and physical accomplishment speak loudly. We shall have reduced our authorized forces by 115,500 men by mid-April. Simultaneously, the security in South Vietnam, measured by every available indicator, is improving. That is testimony to the success, to date, of our Vietnamization policy and program.

Of special importance in this regard is the hearty endorsement of the concept by the GVN leadership. President Thieu, Vice President Ky, [Page 585] Prime Minister Khiem and Minister of Defense Vy discussed Vietnamization with enthusiasm and pride. As Ambassador Bunker has reported to you, President Thieu has succeeded in selling the concept as something the Vietnamese want, rather than as something pressed on them by the United States. Though the origins of President Thieu’s convictions are vague, he has volunteered, without prompting by US officials, his government’s determination that the bulk of US combat forces should be replaced in 1970.

The view in Saigon is that the dilemma for Hanoi must be severe. If the enemy waits to test Vietnamization in the field, he stands to lose ground, both militarily and politically. If he tests Vietnamization in the foreseeable future, he stands to take massive military losses. The best the enemy can hope for, therefore, is some localized and short-term tactical military success.

If the NVA/VC were to achieve such a success, e.g., by overrunning and occupying temporarily a village or town or by inflicting sizeable losses on a South Vietnamese unit, the enemy might then seize the opportunity (a) to claim Vietnamization had failed and/or (b) to make a dramatic overture in Paris for something like a localized or even general cease-fire. This potential sequence of events is the one most frequently talked about in South Vietnam. It seems to be the option given most credibility by US and GVN leaders. Strangely enough, it is an option for which little or no planning has been accomplished. I shall discuss that situation later in more detail.

There are other continuing problems, as one would expect, with implementing Vietnamization. The South Vietnamese believe the continued success of Vietnamization depends in large measure on (a) better living standards for the military and their families6 and (b) more weapons, especially for the People’s Self-Defense Forces. Improved living standards would include such items as increased availability and lower prices on food, the access to perquisites such as commissaries, and the availability of adequate dependent shelters or housing. The crucial issue is that virtually all of the elements cited by the South Vietnamese as important to continued Vietnamization progress would, if provided, put serious pressure on either US or SVN resources, or both. In point of fact, neither the US nor the GVN budgets can readily provide the resources requested in the amounts desired. This problem is one to which we and the Mission in Saigon will devote strenuous effort.

The continued success of Vietnamization, in the estimate of US leaders in Vietnam, depends in large measure on the availability of [Page 586] sound GVN leadership. The problem, in General Abrams’ view, evolves not so much around the numbers or rank structure of the leadership, as the quality in a few select positions. General Abrams told me there were 3 or 4 military positions where a change in leadership is required. Conveniently, President Thieu has asked General Abrams for his views and opinions on the leadership problem. This overture has two major pluses, viz, (a) the problem is recognized by the South Vietnamese and

(b) we have a good opportunity to make our views known without overriding concern for South Vietnamese sensitivities. General Abrams assured me he will follow through promptly and forcefully on this opportunity.

Status of Non-Military Aspects of Vietnamization

A significant portion of the discussions with the MACV and Embassy Staffs was devoted to the budget realities which must be faced. These budget realities affect both the US and the GVN. Obvious emphasis centered on the cuts which were made in the FY 1970 US Defense budget and which are contained in the budget proposals for FY 1971.

I did not sense that there had been a full realization of the impact of these cuts. One aspect of the problem, therefore, is the need for a clear concept of the prospective budget implications. It appears the difference between current MACV desires, including GVN support, and available resources is on the order of $1 billion. I explained there could be no reliance on supplemental Vietnam appropriations. This left two feasible alternatives, viz, (a) finding ways to use existing resources more effectively, or (b) increasing US redeployments. I emphasized the essentiality of facing these harsh fiscal facts, as the Administration surveyed the total security requirements of our country.

It would no longer be possible, General Wheeler and I noted, to consider Vietnam outlays separately from our world-wide defense needs. Certainly, we acknowledged, Vietnam would continue to hold a high priority. We made the point that the presentation and defense of the budget before Congress was, of course, our assignment and that we did not wish to burden MACV and Embassy Saigon with additional problems. Yet, we felt that a realistic budget assessment by all concerned was essential.

Our conversations with MACV indicate it would be advisable to provide fiscal guidance to the field well in advance of force planning for Vietnamization. As matters now stand, the SVN requests for improvement and modernization, as approved by MACV, price out at considerably more than the amount provided in the FY 1971 budget. The idea is to be sure all those involved in Vietnamization address priorities and tradeoffs to adjust the program to available resources.

[Page 587]

It was my feeling that the participants in our budget discussions, whatever their frustration about the budget picture, were pleased that we had laid the facts on the line and had not attempted to avoid the problem. This attitude of candor prevailed throughout. I am not certain that in past years attention was given at such meetings to the fact that Vietnam war costs have such a direct relationship to our total national defense needs, or that difficult tradeoffs are involved.

In the course of our discussions on the budget situation, it became clear that other economic aspects of Vietnamization are fraught with potential hazards. The South Vietnamese economy, in its major parameters, is almost totally supported by the United States. This includes sustenance of war costs, a viable foreign exchange position, keeping price instability within manageable bounds, and maintaining some prospect for economic growth. As part of the war effort, designed to attract popular support to the cause, we have followed a policy of raising the standard of living for the SVN populace rather than imposing a regime of austerity.

A prerequisite for Vietnamizing the economic institutions and apparatus is first and foremost some definition of the problem. If a stable and reliable SVN economy is to be insured, we must obtain a clear picture of:

What the war is costing.
How much of the cost is being borne internally and how much externally.
What costs are valid and what are not.
How the cost and its distribution will change with Vietnamization, and,
How the current and future costs should be funded, both internally and externally.

Such a definition does not now exist. It is a matter of the utmost urgency that we obtain this understanding. The South Vietnamese shall be proceeding in the meantime between the Scylla and Charybdis of potentially destructive economic failure, from phenomena such as hyperinflation, and the equally destructive possibility of military failure because of too few resources to accomplish the security mission. This is a matter to which we and the South Vietnamese must devote immediate and concerted attention. Ambassador Bunker has promised the application to the problem of his Mission staff. I shall insure equally concerted attention by my staff.

In other discussions, we reviewed the actions essential to maintain and strengthen the credibility of the Vietnamization program. All agreed your policy of abstinence from public long-range forecasts has been important. The newsmen in South Vietnam, with whom I met on three separate occasions, continue to be skeptical, if not cynically [Page 588] pessimistic, about Vietnamization. The problem is that, given such a viewpoint, the media will be disposed to elaborate on and, perhaps distort, any temporary setbacks in the Vietnamization program. I know of no way to handle the situation except to (a) recognize the situation; (b) try to obtain media access to South Vietnamese units so they can see the progress for themselves; (c) continue to ask the Embassy and MACV to convey their message, which they do convincingly, to the many US visitors to South Vietnam; and (d) continue to admonish in every possible public forum that some temporary tactical setbacks to Vietnamization must be expected.

All of these actions are being taken.

Both Ambassador Bunker and General Abrams told us how pleased they were in the confidence you have demonstrated in them and in their staffs. They commented, particularly, on the fact there was a minimum of “crash management” from Washington. The importance of their positive attitude and the aura of mutual confidence cannot be quantified. Neither, in my view, should it be underestimated. We should continue to cultivate it.

In the same vein, I was impressed with Vice President Ky’s remarks about working relationships between the US officials and the GVN. As I have reported separately to you, the Vice President said that, for the first time in years, there was true mutual understanding between officials of our two countries. “There exists now,” he said, “a real common objective and a real common policy with full understanding between our two nations.” Most importantly, Ky concluded, the necessary elements for “bigger and faster progress” in Vietnamization were present.

Status of Joint Planning

In every discussion I had with our US officials and the GVN leadership, I raised the topic of joint planning. My premise was that, to make Vietnamization meaningful, it was necessary to involve the GVN increasingly. I wanted to know how good our joint planning was and how it could be improved.

I was assured by both General Abrams that from a military standpoint, in both form and substance, joint planning had “advanced tremendously.” The military proposals being tabled now in numerous aspects of Vietnamization are emanating from the Vietnamese. In General Abrams’ words, “that would have been unthinkable as recently as one year ago.”

There are problems, however. One is in the area of contingency planning in the event of significantly increased, albeit localized, enemy activity. General Abrams is confident that any enemy military initiative can be handled. The plan is to use air power as the principal reserve [Page 589] resource. I have the impression, however, that because the reserve resources are principally US, the planning ancillary to situations stemming from major enemy initiatives is also largely US. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and I shall monitor this situation.

A more disturbing problem in the joint planning area involves political or negotiating contingencies which may arise. As I indicated earlier, one of the enemy courses of action deemed most likely by both US and GVN leadership is a sharp enemy military move, followed by a Paris initiative involving some cease-fire feature. Surprisingly, little has been done, or is being done, to think through the handling of such a situation—or of similar situations.7 Ambassador Bunker was candid in rendering this judgment. In fact, he reasoned, Hanoi would be smart to follow the strategy of occupying one or two towns and then appealing for a cease-fire. General Abrams concurred in that conclusion, contending such a tactic would have been prudent for the enemy at various times during and since TET 1968. Ambassador Bunker informed us the GVN Foreign Minister was scheduled to present a paper shortly which might serve as the basis for contingency planning. I believe we must move expeditiously in this area, taking the initiative, if necessary.

Ancillary to the point of initiatives is another bothersome aspect of joint planning. Perhaps the war, and now Vietnamization, have become so routine that new proposals and new initiatives are scarcely feasible. No particularly new or fresh concepts were offered during our visit. I was somewhat surprised and disappointed.8

It seems to me new ideas should be generated—not just at the local level in Vietnam where I am certain there is continuing innovation—but in the broad policy areas as well. I elaborated to our officials and the GVN leadership the recently proposed idea of a large-scale NVA prisoner-of-war release.9 It was an idea that all agreed has merit. There would be little or no probability of Hanoi’s acceptance; but the proposal itself, if made, would put Hanoi on the defensive. It would add new pressure on Hanoi to make concessions concerning US and GVN prisoners they hold. It would detract from Hanoi’s ability to foment US and world opinion against our policies and programs in Southeast Asia. But the point is not the potential merit in this one idea. Rather, the point is that so few ideas and new concepts of that kind are [Page 590] being generated. We must give attention to eliciting, encouraging, and developing fresh new policy and tactical concepts.

A new-concepts area of special significance could be that of guarding against a “wait-and-strike-later” strategy by Hanoi. Faced with the dilemma ascribed to earlier, Hanoi could opt now to lay low, conduct a low-intensity war in South Vietnam, and wait out the US withdrawal. In the wake of that withdrawal, Hanoi might plan to step up its military efforts, seize the initiative, and try to roll up the South Vietnamese forces. The military part of the Vietnamization program is designed to handle such a threat. But there may be other military, political, and economic barriers which would be useful against such an eventuality. Such barriers could be based, for the most part, on involving the national interests of as many other nations as possible in South Vietnam. Among the ideas worthy of consideration might be establishing an international military force along the DMZ and encouraging the earliest possible introduction of foreign capital into public or private ventures in South Vietnam. Confronted with a situation in which renewed attacks would constitute aggression against the military, political, and economic interests of numerous nations, Hanoi might be inhibited in any “wait-and-strike-later” approach.

In any event, these are the kinds of areas in which we should renew our efforts for fresh new initiatives.

Planning for Continued US Redeployments

There is no doubt in Saigon, among US or GVN officials, that US troop redeployments will continue. There is likewise no doubt that the ultimate goal is for a relatively small military assistance group. The question is one of force composition and timing. The South Vietnamese are perhaps more confident on the potential and feasible redeployment rates than our US leadership. Ambassador Bunker made the point cogently when he reasoned that in terms of ARVN combat power “Vietnamization [has]10 proceeded more rapidly than US redeployments.”

General Abrams is more cautious. He makes the point that, despite an “entirely satisfactory” current military situation and an RVNAF modernization program that is “moving well,” the next redeployment increment, i.e., number four, will be the “crunch” increment. He argues that RVNAF leadership is still weak in some areas. He also argues that, if military difficulties ensue in the wake of the redeployment announcement or movement, the psychological impact could be severe. Finally, he notes increasing problems in handling the logistics aspects of redeployment.

[Page 591]

I am not certain I fully understand all of General Abrams’ argument about the gravity of the next increment. While contending the RVNAF leadership is weak in some areas, which it almost certainly is, he also noted that perhaps as few as four major leadership positions now need President Thieu’s attention. Furthermore, General Abrams made a convincing case for the enemy’s inability in the foreseeable future to mount any wide, sustained, or decisive military moves. General Abrams speaks confidently of his ability to use air reserves as an adequate source of reserve power. Presumably, a fourth redeployment increment could be devised which impacted relatively little on that reserve power. Additionally, I have directed a full-scale effort by the logistics staffs at all echelons towards easing the postulated logistics problems. Finally, the GVN leadership spoke with confidence of their ability to fill in behind continuing US redeployments. Ambassador Bunker conveyed to me their confidence is sincere.

Therefore, the prediction the next redeployment increment will be “the crunch,” at least to date, is not entirely consistent with all the other observable factors. Nevertheless, there could be an element of self-fulfillment about feelings of uncertainty and potential psychological reactions to the next US troop movements. We shall be advised, I believe, to weigh the timing, force composition, and risks carefully. I am prepared to believe redeployment increment four will be more difficult than the immediately succeeding increments.

Still another element of redeployment planning which must bear close scrutiny is the concept, at least as expressed publicly, of the role of the so-called security force after our main combat elements have departed.

As you know, there is a common, though misguided, feeling that, when our troop strengths have declined to about the 250,000 level, we shall have few or no combat troops left in South Vietnam. That is not the plan nor has it ever been the plan.11 While major combat elements will have departed by that juncture, the remaining force will be weighted as much as 60 percent with combat troops. They are to provide the security assurance which is absolutely vital for the remaining support elements.

General Abrams makes the valid point, with strong conviction, that such remaining combat elements—called security elements, or whatever—must be free to stay active and aggressive in the field. Without such freedom, they will lose their sharpness. Rather than holding down casualty levels, they will, under such circumstances, be apt to sustain higher casualty levels.

The point is that after our so-called combat elements have redeployed, US units must be free to maintain an active and forceful [Page 592] combat posture. The issue may be one of semantics. It is an important concept, however, on which we must have agreement and a common voice.12 I support General Abrams’ view. Our field commanders should be free to use their resources in whatever way will keep US casualties low. We can and perhaps should portray the operations as “protective reaction,” i.e., using whatever means are necessary to safeguard our troops properly. In any event, I repeat my conviction we should agree on the concept and present it with a common voice.

Another aspect of redeployment planning and technique which I emphasized consistently was the procedure on redeployment announcements. All the officials with whom I talked, including President Thieu and Vice President Ky, agreed we should not make public announcements on Vietnamization schedules more than 4–5 months in advance. The principal reasons are twofold: (a) to create doubt and uncertainty in Hanoi, and (b) to preclude unnecessary risks of credibility problems, especially in the United States.

Conclusions and Recommendations

Our fighting men in Southeast Asia, under the superb leadership of General Abrams, are fully supported and currently have the resources in men, material, and facilities to accomplish their assigned tasks with maximum safety and security. This is the same conclusion I offered last March, have offered consistently since that time, and which I am pleased to repeat now.
Steady progress is being made in the application of military and political pressure on the enemy. There is every indication this pressure and progress will continue.
The combination of US, Republic of Vietnam, and other Free World forces is adequate to meet the prospective enemy threat. We should, however, reassess the nature of the threat in Laos and the options for dealing with that threat.
Our Vietnamization objectives are valid and the military aspects of the program are proceeding satisfactorily. There are serious problems to be faced, however, in finding and allocating the resources now being postulated as the basis for the on-going program. Hard choices will have to be faced and/or new ideas will have to be generated on either getting more from the resources available or accepting the risks associated with faster redeployments.
Progress in the non-military aspects of Vietnamization is less positive. Some glaring, and potentially critical, deficiencies exist in such [Page 593] areas as economic planning.13 We should join with the Vietnamese in attacking this problem with realism and urgency. I shall give the problem my immediate and continuing attention and shall insure that my staff does likewise. Perhaps an interagency economic task force, preferably chaired by the Council of Economic Advisors, should be organized in Washington to coordinate planning and actions in the economic area of Vietnamization.
Major progress has been made in the field of joint planning. It continues to progress satisfactorily in the military area. There are major gaps, however, in our planning for contingencies that involve economic issues or prospective political and negotiation initiatives. In concert with State Department officials—in Washington, Saigon, and Paris—and with the GVN leadership—in Saigon and Paris—we must accelerate and solidify our contingency planning.
Continuing US troop redeployments are now an agreed assumption. The issues are those of force composition and timing. There are tough alternatives among which to choose and there are risks to be faced in the days ahead. Redeployment increment four may involve more problems than we have faced to date or will face in succeeding increments. General Wheeler and I shall address that situation and make appropriate recommendations to you as warranted.
Melvin R. Laird
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 224, Agency Files, DOD, Vol. IV, 1 February 1970–20 April 1970. Secret; Sensitive. Nixon wrote the following note at the top of the page: “K[issinger]—an excellent report. Note RN’s notes.”
  2. Prior to this trip, Laird and Wheeler met with the President and Kissinger from 5:05 p.m. to approximately 6:30 p.m. on February 8 to discuss the trip and related issues. (Ibid., White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary) No memorandum of conversation of this meeting has been found, but Kissinger prepared a briefing memorandum for the President prior to the meeting. (Memorandum from Kissinger to Nixon, February 7; ibid., NSC Files, Box 105, Vietnam Subject Files, [Operating Authorities and Air Operations]) After the trip Nixon met with Laird from 10:51 a.m. to 12:03 p.m. on February 17. (Ibid., White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary) No memorandum of conversation of this meeting has been found, but Kissinger prepared a briefing memorandum for the President prior to the meeting with Laird. (Memorandum from Kissinger to Nixon, February 16; ibid., NSC Files, Box 143, Vietnam Country Files, Vietnam, February 1–18, 1970)
  3. For the report of that trip, see Document 38.
  4. Memoranda of Laird’s conversations with these Vietnamese officials on February 12 are in the National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 27 VIET S.
  5. For text, see Public Papers: Nixon, 1970, pp. 901–909.
  6. Nixon underlined the phrase after (a) and wrote in the margin: “K?”
  7. Nixon underlined this sentence and wrote “K” in the margin.
  8. Nixon underlined the two previous sentences and wrote in the margin: “K. Can we shake them up?”
  9. Nixon underlined the phrase, “a large-scale NVA prisoner-of-war release” and wrote in the margin: “K. follow up.”
  10. Brackets in the source text.
  11. Nixon underlined the previous two sentences and wrote “K” in the margin.
  12. Nixon underlined the first three sentences of this paragraph and wrote “Correct” in the margin.
  13. Nixon underlined and highlighted this sentence and wrote in the margin: “K— we need a new Economic man fast—”