318. Memorandum From the Director of the Program Analysis Staff of the National Security Council (Lynn) to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • Cambodia and South Vietnam

At Tab A is an update (as of June 2, 1970) of my earlier memorandum on the Cambodian operation.2 As before it consists of:

  • —an analysis of the military impact of Cambodia operations (the latest numbers are used);
  • —a decision framework for thinking about U.S. options in Vietnam in the future.

However, this version of the paper discusses at some length the main criticism leveled against the earlier version, viz., that I was wrong in asserting that our cross-border operations have led the NVA/VC to be more aggressive and ambitious in Cambodia than they would have been otherwise.3

The contrary view is that we had solid evidence, both from the fact of increasing NVA/VC attacks in Cambodia’s eastern provinces and south of Phnom Penh and from captured documents and COMINT, that Hanoi definitely planned, prior to our operations, to defeat the Lon Nol government militarily and establish a Communist regime in Cambodia. Our Cambodia operations, according to this view, can be credited with dealing a military setback to the Communists, relieving the pressure on Lon Nol, and perhaps buying enough time for the present Cambodia government to survive with Allied assistance.

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I fully realize the uncertainties of estimating what would have happened had we not carried out the Cambodia operations. You probably have evidence that I do not. Based on the evidence available to me, however, I think the above line of argument is probably wrong, and important consequences flow from this conclusion. The conceptual framework and analysis are at pages 14 through 20.

This may seem like a moot argument, but I think it is of great relevance. It is in effect a plea that we undertake the most careful, objective and thorough analysis we possibly can in deciding future policy in Southeast Asia or, for that matter, anywhere else. Unless we are deliberately thorough, we can easily be misled or wrong.

We have improved the paper in other ways, and it is much more readable.

As a follow-up to our recent conversations, I would like to supplement the thoughts in the paper to (a) account more explicitly for Cambodia and (b) describe more concretely steps that have and can be taken to improve our position in Vietnam and thereby the prospects for Vietnamization and negotiations.

Concrete proposals are at the end of this memorandum.


I am convinced that:

  • —(a) the U.S. was compelled by political circumstances to act to assist the Lon Nol government, and
  • —(b) the U.S. had to act in Cambodia to the extent required to protect its strategic and military interests in South Vietnam.

I also believe that the U.S. must now act rationally in response to the new situation in Indo-China. In selecting its course of action the U.S. should:

  • —weigh carefully what U.S. interests in Cambodia imply about the extent to which we should support the Lon Nol government (there is a sharp difference between the necessity to assist a threatened government and the necessity to underwrite the continued existence of that Government no matter what the cost);
  • —analyze the relationship between our Vietnamization and negotiations objectives for South Vietnam and possible actions required to support our interests in Cambodia;
  • —consider possible NVA/VC and other enemy reactions to alternative moves we might make in Cambodia and the risks and opportunities they imply for us.

Cambodia may be on the verge of collapse, militarily and economically, if not politically.

Militarily, I have seen few, if any, reports of determined offensive or defensive ground force actions against enemy forces by Cambodian [Page 1035] army units. Only U.S., ARVN, and Khmer Krom forces can be so credited. As the enemy recovers from the shock of U.S./ARVN operations, the defense of Phnom Penh and its key LOC’s to Kompong Som and Thailand will require a major boost in Cambodian force effectiveness.

Economically, the requirement to pay a force more than five times as large as the pre-March 18th army will almost certainly result in greater government expenditures concomitantly with a decline in government tax and customs revenues caused by the fall in shipping and business activity resulting from the war. Reports indicate foreign exchange reserves have dwindled, meaning imports will not be available to dampen inflation.

Additional military setbacks, coupled with economic difficulties will strain the political relationships within Lon Nol’s government. On top of this, the onus of ARVN’s continued and often harsh actions in Cambodia will probably become more difficult for Lon Nol to live with after U.S. units leave. Meanwhile, Thieu’s, or more likely Ky’s, stake in Cambodia, as well as that of General Tri and others, could make ARVN’s continued presence an explosive political issue in South Vietnam, as well as between Cambodia and Vietnam.

I would not pretend to have sorted these issues out or be certain of their impact on our policies toward Cambodia. However, this government still has the opportunity to examine and make its decisions on the best evidence and judgment it can muster.

I do not know how current Cambodian decisions are being handled. I have tried to get information from the Joint Staff so I could do some analysis, but all attempts have met with failure. I cannot even obtain a copy of the daily NMCC Operational Summary so I can follow military developments in South Vietnam more closely.

If the WSAG is the decision-making forum, my observation of its earlier performance moves me to urge strongly that you consider chartering a special group to do the analytical thinking that must back up intelligent decisions on the new and complex issues raised by Cambodia.

Your earlier recourse to such a group resulted in an excellent paper on assistance options in less than a week.4 I believe that such a group could address the issues I raised above as well as analyze:

  • —the enemy threat to Cambodia: the enemy’s main and insurgent force capabilities, enemy intentions, and the enemy’s strategy;
  • —the capability of Cambodian forces, with various levels of U.S. and U.S.-sponsored assistance to cope with the enemy threat and the outcomes that can be expected;
  • —the role that Thai and GVN forces can play in assisting the Lon Nol government;
  • —the economic situation in Cambodia, the requirement for external assistance, and possible sources of economic aid;
  • —the implications of possible Cambodian developments for the military situation in South Vietnam to include an assessment of:
  • —the effect of enemy and friendly unit diversions from South Vietnam to Cambodia on the situation in South Vietnam;
  • —the effect of Cambodian developments on the logistics capabilities of the enemy to support operations in III and IV Corps;
  • —the strategic significance of the new Cambodian situation for the GVN’s Delta/III Corps strategy, e.g., does this make NVA units in the Delta more vulnerable than before? Will the enemy seek to open new supply corridors through the upper Delta from Northeast Cambodia? Should the U.S. re-consider its abstinence from operations in the Delta in order to achieve lasting gains by ousting NVA main force units? Should DMZ-like barriers or similar arrangements be made to secure South Vietnam’s border with Cambodia?


I recommend you establish an interagency group similar to the one you convened earlier to analyze the major issues bearing on current Cambodian events and develop alternative U.S. courses of action for Cambodia.5

If you approve, I recommend you sign the memorandum at Tab B.6


I believe that as a result of a series of actions you have recently taken, there is a chance that the government is assembling the analytical elements that can provide the basis for decisions leading to a more coherent Vietnam strategy:

  • —On May 27, 1970, you sent Secretary Laird a memorandum asking him to forward proposals for future RVNAF force development [Page 1037] and U.S. support along with an analysis (which you requested in an April 6th memorandum) of the principal alternatives;7
  • —On May 19, 1970, you sent CIA Director Helms a memorandum asking for his assessment of the VC/NVA proselyting and penetration activities, their implications for U.S. goals in Vietnam, and possible GVN/U.S. actions to counter them;8
  • —You recently approved the dispatch of a memorandum to Ambassador Bunker transmitting the Countryside Paper9 and asking for a Mission assessment of the status of the VCI and programs to counter it, the GVN leadership problem, and land reform;
  • —The VSSG is now preparing ceasefire and economic assistance papers, and I have dispatched a first-rate economic study team to Vietnam.10 These actions should provide options for possible decisions on these critical and long-pending policy issues;
  • VSSG work is underway on a main force paper which should result in fundamental insights into the main force war and such issues as ARVN performance, enemy logistics vulnerabilities, the relationship between enemy infiltration and enemy main force options and the enemy’s use of base areas.

In short, I believe the groundwork is being laid for a more sophisticated and possibly more successful Vietnam strategy than this government has ever had.

It would be a great loss if at critical junctures we ignored what we have learned and proceeded instead to decide each move piecemeal, in the relative absence of good analysis, hoping for the best, and without thinking through the consequences.

Very few knowledgeable people on this war accept the assumptions or share the pseudo-empirical assessments of either the war’s leftist opponents or its patriotic-military advocates. Unfortunately, our Vietnam policy to date has vacillated between heeding the fears of the former and embracing the hopes of the latter.

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  • —(a) Your actions listed above have moved us in the right direction, and I believe the quest for good analysis is picking up some momentum. In a very real sense, however, I fear we have thus far failed in our analysis to bring this knowledge to bear in the proper forum at the proper time.

    Earlier, you approved my recommendation that the NSC meet on the VSSG Countryside paper and other VSSG work. I still believe we should have such a meeting, perhaps after we have obtained Ambassador Bunker’s comments and, as you indicated, after the ceasefire paper is done. We should begin surfacing the real issues.

    Later meetings could be held on Secretary Laird’s plans for RVNAF, ARVN performance, and the enemy’s strategy.

    Last week, you asked me to prepare a memorandum for the President on my “Vietnamization concerns.” In the meantime, Secretary Laird has sent the President a memorandum that indicates he has become aware of the threats to Vietnamization described in our trip report in February11 and in the VSSG Countryside paper. If you approve, I will combine these actions in a tour de force memorandum on the war for the President, which recommends that the NSC address the major issues raised above.12

  • —(b) It is important that we act now to follow up the Cambodian operation with decisive action in South Vietnam and along the Cambodian border. At Tab C is a memorandum13 that requests assessments from Secretary Laird and General Abrams on the following possible actions:
    • —large-scale attacks on base areas within South Vietnam;
    • —a blockade of Cambodia with Cambodia’s cooperation to establish a precedent for control of international shipping into Cambodia in the event the enemy attempts to re-supply the areas in Cambodia he controls by sea or if Lon Nol falls;
    • —a new pacification offensive;
    • —expansion of ARVN or South Vietnamese territorial forces to cope with the threat in Cambodia and replace U.S. troops in South Vietnam;
    • —the use of U.S. troops in the Delta to help ARVN clean out still active VC base areas and destroy recently infiltrated and vulnerable NVA regiments;
    • —special border control measures on the South Vietnam– Cambodia border to include establishment of new RF–PF outposts, special river patrol measures, the establishment of natural or technological barriers.

The memorandum asks for views on other measures deemed feasible by Laird or Abrams and the response is due on June 15, 1970.

I recommend that you sign the memorandum at Tab C for Secretary Laird.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–074, WSAG Meeting, Cambodia, 6/8/70. Top Secret; Sensitive. Sent for action. Drafted by Lynn.
  2. The updated memorandum was attached at Tab A but is not printed. The earlier memorandum from Lynn to Kissinger, May 28, was entitled, “Evaluation of Allied Operations in Cambodia.” (Ibid., NSC Files, Box 585, Cambodian Operations, Cambodia/Vietnam, 31 May Meeting)
  3. In a May 30 memorandum to Kissinger, Haig took strong exception to Lynn’s May 28 memorandum claiming it “lacked the kind of objectivity” Haig had come to expect from Lynn. Haig continued, “he has in almost every instance gone to great pains to emphasize the negative aspects of our involvement in Cambodia. In some instances, he does this by mentioning negative statistics while avoiding counter balancing favorable statistics which a minimum of objectivity demands. In other instances, he cites unfavorable data which is tenuous at best and uses it to support the most pessimistic conclusions.” Haig then proceeded to take issue with specific conclusions in the Lynn paper. (Ibid., Box 1009, Haig Special Files, Vietnam Files, Vol. V, [1 of 2])
  4. Reference is to a study prepared by the WSAG Cambodia Working Group on options for U.S. assistance to Cambodia submitted to Kissinger on April 22. (Ibid., Box 506, Country Files, Far East, Cambodia, Vol. III, 10 April 1970–23 April 1970)
  5. Kissinger initialed the approve option and wrote at the top of page 1: “Tab B is not a directive. It has no addressee.” The memorandum from Kissinger reconvening the WSAG Cambodia Working Group was sent to Packard, Johnson, Helms, and Wheeler. (Ibid., NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–074, WSAG Meeting, Cambodia, 6/8/70)
  6. The draft Tab B without the addresses was not attached.
  7. Both are attached to a memorandum from Laird to the President, June 5, announcing to the Chairman of the JCS interim decisions on modernization and Vietnamization. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 146, Vietnam Country Files, Vietnam, May 1, 1970)
  8. Not printed. (Ibid.)
  9. Reference is to the Vietnam Special Studies Group paper of May 13, “The Situation in the Countryside.” (Ibid., NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–2, VSSG Meeting, 5/20/70)
  10. According to telegram 0883270 to Saigon, May 29, the team included Charles Cooper and Albert Williams of the Rand Corporation and Willard Sharp of AID. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 27 VIET S)
  11. A summary of the report, March 11, is ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 144, Vietnam Country Files, Vietnam, March 1970.
  12. Kissinger initialed the approve option.
  13. Tab C is attached but not printed.