306. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon1


  • Situation in Cambodia

Attached are two cables2 from General Haig describing the military and political situation in Cambodia, his conversations with Cambodian leaders and recommendations for actions which should be taken to shore-up the Cambodians.

Haig reports (Tab A)3 that the military situation is not bright and that:

  • —Most of the Northeast is under NVA/VC control and the enemy is infiltrating west across the Mekong. Only in the south has the situation stabilized as a result of ARVN cross-border operations.
  • —The Cambodian army is faced with conducting a war while at the same time developing a command and control structure, training existing forces, and equipping and training additional forces without a source for logistics.
  • —The inexperienced Cambodian army:
    • • consists of some 60 battalions of which about 2/3 are marginally effective.
    • • critically needs tactical communications equipment, small arms, and trucks.
    • • has an extremely weak intelligence capability, logistic system and training capacity.

Although political weaknesses exist the situation is not as immediately threatening as the military one. Haig reports (Tab B)4 that:

  • —There is no solid political opposition yet. The pro-Hanoi movement has not gotten off the ground. However, there is potential for conflict between younger reformers and the older political leadership, as well as the potential for factionalism within the army.
  • —Few individuals in the government realize that the war will be long and there is false optimism that massive American help and a few months training will allow the Cambodians to route the invaders.
  • —Cambodians at all levels distrust the Vietnamese.
  • —The basic political deficiencies stem from uncertainty of purpose and inexperience in governing.

As a result of his meetings with Lon Nol, General Pokse (Nol’s Chief of Operations) and with General Matak and his assessment of the military and political situation (Tab E),5 Haig believes that:

  • —The situation is grave but not altogether hopeless.
  • —We must recognize the seriousness of the Cambodian plight with an even greater sense of urgency.
  • —We should take the following steps:
    • • Move Colonel Ladd to Phnom Penh as soon as possible to assist the government of Cambodia in establishing priorities for shipments of additional equipment, to coordinate with MACV and a representative of the GVN who should be sent to Phnom Penh, and to serve as our liaison with a combined coordinating staff from donor Asian states.
    • • Begin shipment of light weapons and individual equipment up to a total of 30,000 and ship all remaining 1,000 man packs immediately.
    • • Begin tactical and B–52 sorties in North East Cambodia (Lon Nol would warmly welcome this and the area for the most part is sparsely settled).
    • • Commence periodic GVN convoys and patrols along the Mekong River to Phnom Penh.
    • • Expedite the rehabilitation of Cambodian T–28s and urge Thailand to furnish up to 10 T–28s on a loan basis with a US replacement guarantee. The planes could initially be based in Thailand.
    • • Urge the South Vietnamese and Thais to send as many Khmer battalions as possible.
    • • Provide an observation aircraft for the US Defense Attaché in Phnom Penh.
    • • Send a high level US delegation to friendly Asian capitals to urge increased military and economic assistance.6

On the basis of his trip thus far, Haig concludes that:

  • —Without all or most of the above recommended steps the Lon Nol government’s chances of surviving are dim at best.
  • —The Cambodian government can be expected to fight the NVA/VC to the best of its limited capability.
  • —The enemy appears to be taking a desperate gamble designed to offset blows to his sanctuaries by setting up a liberated area in the northeast or by liberating the entire country. The enemy is undertaking a campaign without prepositioning supplies or utilizing preestablished political cadres and political themes to motivate its forces.
  • —The enemy will remain inactive for an extended period in II, III and IV Corps. We should complicate his problems in Cambodia by helping the Cambodian government as much as possible while we press in South Vietnam to take advantage of the improved security situation.
  • —The conflict in Southeast Asia has changed fundamentally. Hanoi’s deep involvement in Cambodia has seriously weakened its capacity to exert main force pressure on the South Vietnamese.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 509, Country Files, Far East, Cambodia, Vol. VI, 23 May 1970–4 June 1970. Top Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only. Umbra. Initialed by Kissinger.
  2. The attached cables were undated and retyped.
  3. Tab A was a summary of the military situation as of May 23.
  4. Tab B was the political assessment contained in the first telegram which also contained the military situation.
  5. Tab C was an account of Haig’s separate meetings with Lon Nol, Pakse Mon, and Sirik Matak on the morning, afternoon, and evening of May 23.
  6. Nixon highlighted the lists of recommended steps and wrote the following notes: “K—go ahead” and “K, follow up on all these items.”