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

SUBJECT

  • Problems on Vietnamization

As you prepare for your statement on Vietnam,2 I wanted to bring to your attention once more certain problems related to Vietnamization. Some of these problems were treated in the recent reports of General Abrams and the Joint Chiefs of Staff which I highlighted and enclosed as part of your briefing material for your April 13 meeting.3

As you know, I have been concerned for some time about the progress of the Vietnamization program. The recent enemy attacks on various outposts and installations, though not dealing serious military blows, confirm that they continue to maintain a substantial infrastructure and are able to conduct widespread operations. In this connection, civilian and military members of my staff and outside observers like Joe Alsop who have visited Vietnam have pinpointed the problems of our withdrawal rate and the ability of the South Vietnamese to assume increasing responsibilities.

Military Views

General Abrams' assessment (Tab A)4 noted both progress and developing problems in such areas as enemy and allied capabilities, air and logistic support, and RVNAF effectiveness. He argued for a pause in any further troop withdrawal decisions until June 15, citing the following:

  • —Enemy logistical and tactical signs suggest increased VC/NVA offensive activity during the spring and early summer;
  • US withdrawals to date have stretched the South Vietnamese ability to take over new areas of tactical responsibility and maintain adequate general reserves;
  • —South Vietnamese confidence must be maintained if the momentum of Vietnamization and pacification is to be carried forward.

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The JCS analysis (Tab B)5 generally parallels that of General Abrams, and they also recommended a troop withdrawal pause until June 15. They cite favorable trends in the military and civil aspects of Vietnamization but believe that gains to this point are fragile and the next few months crucial. They maintain that allied forces are stretched nearly to the limit of their capability and point to enemy capabilities, the fragility of pacification, and the implication of events in Laos and Cambodia.

You have to date announced three successive withdrawal increments totalling reductions of 115,500 men below the authorized ceiling since you took office. Your projected reduction of an additional 150,000 troops over the next year or so (the bulk in early 1971) will result in an authorized force of 284,000 Americans by late spring of next year.

Air Support and the Budget

Beyond the question of the impact of troop withdrawals on the ground situation is the factor of declining air support which General Abrams highlights in his assessment. Budgetary restraints imposed by Secretary Laird and resulting redeployments of aircraft out of Thailand will have a great impact on B–52 and tactical air support. Imposed budget reductions since July 1 cut by about 22 percent B–52 and Tac Air sorties available to General Abrams. Furthermore, he has been advised of additional budget cuts in FY 71 which will reduce U.S. air forces in Thailand to the degree that B–52 sorties will be cut by another 14 percent and tactical sorties by an additional 20 percent from present levels.

We are in effect asking the South Vietnamese forces to take over some of our past responsibilities while at the same time expecting them to do so with less air support than we have enjoyed to date.

When these reductions are considered in the light of the situation in Laos, the potential situation in Cambodia and your expressed objective of being able to initiate air operations against North Vietnam, the prospects become all the more serious.

I should add that there was a delay in receiving the views of General Abrams which he cabled on March 13. On March 30, Secretary Laird asked for JCS views on the next troop redeployments and on April 7 he forwarded his views (Tab C)6 to you on this subject, incorporating the sense of MACV and JCS judgments. He sent me the full reports of the military on the same date.

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Conclusion

My overall impression from reviewing the reports of the military, Secretary Laird, as well as my own staff, is that we are making budget and troop withdrawal decisions today without fully examining the implications of these decisions for the future. We may not know we are in trouble until it is too late to do anything about it. Moreover, if and when we get into trouble, we may have no budget flexibility to cope with the situation.

For this reason, I am now reviewing in detail the current and FY 71 budget situation relating to our programs in Vietnam. When this is completed within a few days, I will forward recommendations to you concerning these issues. In the interim, I think you should direct Secretary Laird now to hold in abeyance any limitations on levels of tactical air and B–52 support to our forces in Vietnam and to maintain existing air forces—land-based and sea-based—in place despite the financial adjustments this action might require.

Recommendation:7

That you authorize me to inform Secretary Laird to this effect.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 145, Vietnam Country Files, Vietnam, April 1, 1970. Top Secret; Sensitive. Sent for action. The date is handwritten.
  2. On April 20 Nixon announced that he was withdrawing 150,000 troops “to be completed during the spring of next year.” The text of the statement is in Public Papers: Nixon , 1970, pp. 373–377.
  3. See Document 228.
  4. Tab A is not attached, but see footnote 5, Document 228.
  5. Tab B is not attached, but see footnote 6, Document 228.
  6. Tab C is not attached, but see footnote 7, Document 228.
  7. Nixon initialed the approve option.