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

SUBJECT

  • Interdepartmental Meeting on Fourth Redeployment Increment from South Vietnam, 5:00 p.m., April 132
[Page 806]

Purpose of the Meeting

The Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and I are scheduled to meet with you this afternoon to discuss the fourth redeployment increment from South Vietnam. The following is pertinent:

  • —You have decided to announce the withdrawal of 150,000 additional U.S. forces over the next year or so. You have also decided to keep this decision from the members of the Cabinet and the bureaucracy, as well as the troop contributing countries, exclusive of Thieu and Ambassador Bunker.
  • —At today's meeting you will convey the impression that you are leaning towards approving the withdrawal of between 35,000 and 40,000 additional U.S. forces between April 15 and August 15 of this year. In the interim we will consult with the troop contributing countries on the basis of this decision and only at the last moment modify this simulated decision to correspond to the facts.
  • —Therefore, the best approach at this afternoon's meeting will be to discuss your decision in the context of proceeding with a fourth incremental redeployment between April 15 and August 15. You should concentrate on the magnitude of the withdrawal increment and its implications in light of what has developed into a substantial disagreement between General Abrams and the Joint Chiefs of Staff on one hand and the Secretary of Defense on the other.

Likely Positions

Laird: Withdraw 40,000 troops by August 15.

Wheeler: Postpone any decision until June 15.

Rogers: Unknown, but likely to favor continued withdrawals at least at Laird's recommended pace.

We have sent back channel messages to Bunker to obtain his and General Abrams' views and to start consultations with Thieu on a strictly close-hold basis, discussing the year-long bite of 150,000 in conceptual terms.3 Bunker and Abrams prefer the year-long 150,000 withdrawal [Page 807]to the option of 40,000 the next three months. They cite the military advantages of holding the bulk of these withdrawals to the first half of 1971 and believe Thieu will accept this route. Bunker's cable is at Tab A.4

Current Situation

As we have approached the fourth increment withdrawal decision, differences of view have surfaced within the Defense Department structure:

  • —On March 13 General Abrams forwarded an analysis of the situation to the Secretary of Defense. He recommended that the uncertainties in the enemy's activities and the current state of ARVN and local force improvement favored a temporary hiatus in further redeployments from South Vietnam. General Abrams specifically recommended that you withhold any decision on further withdrawals for ninety days, at which time you should reassess the situation. (His position is at Tab B.)5
  • —In view of General Abrams' March 13 proposal, Secretary Laird requested the views of the Joint Chiefs of Staff regarding the fourth redeployment increment. In a memorandum to the Secretary they recommended that a decision and announcement on further troop redeployments be deferred to June 15, 1970, i.e., 60 days. (The JCS position is at Tab C.)6
  • In sum, General Abrams and the Joint Chiefs see the coming months as critical in maintaining Vietnamese confidence. They are concerned:
    • • that the enemy logistic build-up in South Vietnam and Laos, the shifting of five regiments from III Corps to IV Corps, and the presence of substantial caches in II and III Corps suggest a possible increase in VC/NVA offensive activity during the spring and early summer of 1970;
    • • that additional redeployments will exceed the South Vietnamese ability to take over new areas of tactical responsibility and maintain adequate general reserves;
    • • that continued, uninterrupted U.S. redeployments could upset further progress in pacification;
    • • about the uncertainties in Laos and Cambodia.
  • —The military's views closely parallel those of the members of my staff as the result of their visit to Vietnam in late January and early February.
    • • Dr. Lynn, who looked at pacification, was concerned that the rate of U.S. withdrawal could have a serious impact on this program which had progressed substantially but which was still spotty and leveling off, if not regressing, in certain critical areas.
    • • General Haig, who concentrated on the military situation, concluded that the first three withdrawal increments had deprived General Abrams of the necessary flexibility to meet a step-up in enemy activity over the late spring and summer. He judged that the improvement of the ARVN forces under the Vietnamization program has not yet provided the necessary capability to fill the gap. Haig was especially concerned about Southern I Corps and II Corps, which have already been seriously depleted and which would be further depleted during the fourth withdrawal phase. Haig's view was that the chances of success for the Vietnamization program would be improved measurably if we could keep the bulk of our remaining combat forces in place until the fall rainy season.
  • —On April 7, Secretary Laird forwarded to you a memorandum (Tab D)7 which discussed the military's concerns, but which nevertheless concluded that there are strong arguments for continuing our redeployments. Secretary Laird presented the following arguments:
    • • It is true that there have been large movements of supplies from Laos towards South Vietnam. However, it could be that this has occurred in the past and that improved intelligence has merely pinpointed the fact this year.
    • • Although the enemy's logistic activity may foreshadow an offensive, there are equally plausible interpretations. Recent improvements in South Vietnamese security may be forcing the enemy to rely more heavily on external sources of supply. Sihanouk's partial embargo last fall on supplies moving through Sihanoukville may have caused Hanoi to increase shipments from Laos in anticipation of trouble in Cambodia. Finally, the enemy may be attempting to preposition stockpiles to maintain his flexibility so that he can take advantage of any tactical or political target of opportunity in South Vietnam.
    • Laird notes that the logistic build-up has not been matched by a corresponding build-up in personnel. Enemy strength is at least 40,000 below June 1969 levels.
    • • The movement of five enemy regiments from III to IV Corps has not increased the net enemy force.
    • • Recent events in Cambodia complicate the enemy's problems.
  • —Secretary Laird has offered three basic options.
    (1)
    Delay further redeployment until 15 June pending further reassessment by the JCS.
    (2)
    Redeploy about 40,000 troops between April 15 and August 15 at a reduced rate of 10,000 per month compared to the 12,500 per month we have been maintaining up to now.
    (3)
    Redeploy about 50,000 between April 15 and August 15, maintaining the present 12,500 per month average.
  • —Secretary Laird recommends Option (2), which would bring us from an authorized troop ceiling of 434,000 on April 15 to a new authorized ceiling of 394,000 on August 15.

Talking Points

In order to keep the discussion focused on the small bite course of action and to give the military an opportunity to fully express its views, I recommend that you attempt to center today's discussion on the military situation as seen from the perspective of General Abrams and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In doing so, you should also permit Secretary Laird to discuss fully the political/military considerations that have influenced him to overrule the recommendation of the JCS with respect to the fourth tranche. Finally, your discussion should include some of the steps which should be taken immediately with our allies to prepare for your announcement on Thursday, April 16.8

In order to do this, you should suggest at the conclusion of the discussion that you are leaning towards proceeding with the withdrawal of between 35,000 and 40,000 additional U.S. troops between April 15 and August 15. This decision will likely prove to be a great disappointment to the military and will set the stage for your actual subsequent decision, which will not be made known until just before your announcement.

  • —Ask Mr. Kissinger to summarize the current situation and the respective views of General Abrams, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Secretary of Defense.
  • —Following the brief résumé by Mr. Kissinger, ask General Wheeler to outline the views of General Abrams and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
  • —Ask Secretary Laird to summarize his views in the light of General Wheeler's presentation.
  • —Ask Secretary Rogers to present his views, in the light of earlier arguments.
  • —Emphasize that you are fully sympathetic with the risks which have been outlined by General Wheeler and General Abrams, while pointing out that there are a host of political as well as military considerations which must be taken into account. These include a [Page 810]resurgence of Congressional opposition to the war, which has been intensified by recent developments in Laos and Cambodia and which could be manifested by imposed fiscal constraints on our activities in Laos.
  • —Emphasize that you consider the situation in Laos, Cambodia and South Vietnam to be one ball of wax and that our actions in each area could have a major impact on Hanoi's calculations with respect to a negotiated settlement.
  • —In your view, some of the most pertinent considerations with respect to the next withdrawal decision are:
    (1)
    The overall patterns of combat activity continue to trend downwards.
    (2)
    The reduction of U.S. forces has constituted the principal incentive to the GVN to maintain the momentum of Vietnamization.
    (3)
    The reduction of U.S. forces is a major factor contributing to public and Congressional support for Vietnamization.
    (4)
    The economics of additional delays in withdrawals will place severe burdens on other Defense expenditures.
  • —In view of the foregoing you are leaning towards proceeding with an announcement next Thursday to withdraw additional forces of between 35,000 and 40,000 by August 15.
  • —Ask Dr. Kissinger to coordinate with State and Defense in preparing the required scenario for necessary consultation and notification to the troop contributing countries and other appropriate allies.
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 95, Vietnam Subject Files, Vietnam, Troop Replacements, 1970. Top Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only.
  2. The President's meeting with Rogers, Laird, Wheeler, and Kissinger lasted from 5:08 to 6:05 p.m.; Kissinger arrived at 5:05 and remained alone with the President until 6:17 p.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files, President's Daily Diary) No other record of this meeting has been found.
  3. In backchannel message WHS0016, April 6, Kissinger informed Bunker of the President's thinking about the 150,000 troops to be withdrawn within the next year, but with only token withdrawals over the next few months to permit the military situation to dictate the rate of withdrawal and allow Abrams flexibility. (Ibid., NSC Files, Box 410, Backchannel Messages, Southeast Asia, 1970) In backchannel message WHS0019, April 8, Kissinger asked for Bunker's “definitive views on whether he preferred the 150,000 plan discussed in backchannel message 0016 or Laird's plan to withdraw 40,000 troops between April 15 and August 15.” (Ibid.) In backchannel message 949 from Saigon, April 8, Bunker informed Kissinger that he and Abrams preferred the former. (Ibid.) In backchannel message WHS0022, April 11, Kissinger informed Bunker that the President “was leaning toward the larger bite” and asked Bunker to discuss it with Thieu on a conceptual basis without precise figures. (Ibid.) In backchannel message 00030 from Saigon, April 13, Bunker informed Kissinger that he told Thieu of the plan to withdraw 150,000 troops and Thieu agreed with that plan. (Ibid.)
  4. Tab A, a retyped copy of backchannel message 948 from Saigon, April 12, is attached but not printed. The original copy is ibid.
  5. Tab B, MACV telegram 3303, March 13, Abrams to CINCPAC and Wheeler, is attached but not printed.
  6. Tab C, JCSM–150–70, April 3 memorandum from JCS to Laird, is attached but not printed.
  7. Tab D is attached but not printed.
  8. The announcement was postponed until April 20; see footnote 2, Document 236.