330. Memorandum From Richard Smyser of the Operations Staff of the National Security Council to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • The Conclusions of the VSSG Cease-fire Analysis

One of the committees (panel 2) formed by the VSSG to review cease-fire options has produced what I—as well as others—consider a rather drastically pessimistic conclusion regarding the possible outcome of a cease-fire under stand-still or regroupment conditions. (A copy of this conclusion is attached at Tab A.) Basically, it concludes that the GVN under those conditions would have suffered “major and serious losses in control” which are “likely to be irreversible without the reinsertion of massive U.S. troops.” 25 or 18 out of 44 provinces would allegedly be lost in a year under the respective proposals. This is because of the great strength of the VCI as compared to the GVN administrative structure. On the other hand, under conditions involving NVA withdrawal, the GVN would emerge largely on the winning side after a year.

Unfortunately, I am not able to argue this in the same context in which it is presented. I do not have myself or on my staff the expertise or material at hand to challenge the detailed studies of each individual district and province. You may therefore wish to dismiss my reservations, but I would at least urge that you pose the following problems to those responsible for the analysis:

  • —How can the VCI itself, without Main Force support, sweep in to gain control of 25 or 18 provinces in a year, unless the terms of the cease-fire are very loose or unless we and the GVN are prepared to sit by with complete passivity while they violate those terms?
  • —What assumptions are being made about Viet Cong activity, about U.S. withdrawals, about Vietnamization, and about the relative impact of a cease-fire on the morale and effectives not just of the GVN but also of the VC?
  • —If the VCI is such a formidable instrument with the Main Force in place or regrouped, how do they suddenly become so helpless that the GVN can prevail when the NVA and the U.S. forces are withdrawn?
  • —If this is such a good proposition for the Viet Cong, why does Hanoi not go for it?

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I do not favor a cease-fire proposal, and I have favored a VSSG analysis of what it would produce on the ground before we even considered it seriously. I even believe that we will suffer some loss in security under the conditions posed. But I wonder whether we have not loaded the assumptions or the conclusions too much.

Tab A

Conclusions of the Vietnam Special Studies Group Paper on a Cease-Fire Option

We believe that the detailed analysis of the broad range of data available for our province assessments support several major overall conclusions:

  • —A ceasefire now in accordance with packages 1 or 2, i.e. without NVA withdrawals, would create a situation a year from now in which the GVN would have suffered major and serious losses in control. Package 1 (in place) is least favorable, resulting in predominant GVN control in only 19 provinces compared with 44 today. These GVN provinces would encompass 44% of the rural population compared with 40%, in provinces controlled by the VC. Package 2 (regroupment) would favor the GVN in only 26 provinces a year from now. The GVN share of the rural population would be 62% versus the VC’s 26%.2 In both of these cases, the losses suffered by the GVN are likely to be irreversible without the reinsertion of massive U.S. troops; and barring that, the enemy’s prospects for a military victory would be greatly enhanced. At best South Vietnam would be a divided country with the enemy in control of I and II Corps and the control of GVN in III and probably IV Corps. However, this situation might not be stable, making further GVN deterioration a possibility. At worst the GVN would grow weaker and fall, by political or military means, to the Communists. As bad as these outcomes may appear from the perspective of the situation in the countryside, the enemy, who seeks to gain control in Saigon, may not be satisfied with these outcomes because of the risk that GVN forces may be able to defend the major centers of political power in South Vietnam.
  • —With genuine NVA withdrawal (Package 3), the GVN could eventually overcome the residual VC forces, providing the significant [Page 1076] underlying social and economic problems were solved. The final outcome would depend on the eventual political settlement reached. However, the GVN would retain the option of defending itself if the enemy reverted to a military strategy.3
  • —A year of continued hostilities (assuming continued U.S. redeployment) will:
  • —Not result in major changes in the control situation, although the VC/NVA will probably be in a better position to continue hostilities at the end of that year.
  • —Likely see marginal improvements a year from now for the GVN vis-à-vis its present ceasefire position. However, these gains would not significantly change the ceasefire outcomes from what they would be if a ceasefire were agreed to now. Because of the significant decline in allied forces, the VC/NVA will have less incentive to agree to a cease-fire a year from now then they would today.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 118, Vietnam Subject Files, Vietnam Special Studies Group. Top Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only. Sent for information.
  2. A handwritten note at this point, apparently by Smyser, reads: “Is it much higher now under the new HES [Hamlet Evaluation System]?”
  3. A note in the same handwriting at this point reads: “Not under 1 and 2?”