91. Memorandum From the Chairman of the Ad Hoc Group on Vietnam (Sullivan) to the Chairman of the National Security Council Review Group (Kissinger)1


  • NSSM 372

In accordance with NSSM 37 I submit herewith, on behalf of the NSC Ad Hoc Group on Viet-Nam, final draft papers on internal political settlement, phased mutual withdrawal, verification of mutual withdrawal and international guarantees.3 In order to assist the NSC Review Group in focussing its attention on the principal issues raised by these papers, we have prepared a broad analysis of the major issues, together with individual summaries of each paper.

Major Issues


The central question of all those presented by these papers concerns the future internal political system of South Viet-Nam. The type [Page 276] of political settlement achieved in South Viet-Nam will, to a great degree, determine how mutual withdrawals will take place, how effective verification will be, and the factors to which international guarantees will be applicable or required.

In these papers, two types of political outcomes are discussed:

Maintenance of the present constitution essentially intact, retention of essentially the present GVN leadership, with NLF participation in elections as a political party.
An interim distribution of local political power which would offer the Viet Cong, without necessarily having to stand for elections, a degree of territorial and political control in those areas of the countryside where their present strength is primarily concentrated, in exchange for at least interim Viet Cong acceptance (agreed or de facto) of GVN national authority.

The principle recommendation emerging from the paper is that we continue to examine all the feasible options, but focus our consideration on a possible settlement which lies between Alternatives A and B, i.e., one which emphasizes division of political power at the local rather than the national level, but which requires such division to be made on the basis of elections (probably local elections). For negotiating purposes we should start from the position of Alternative A, but recognize that positions already taken more or less publicly by President Thieu lead in the direction indicated in the preceding sentence.
The alternative political outcomes have different implications for mutual withdrawals, supervision, and international guarantees.
The first case (paragraph 1 a) would be most advantageous to the US/GVN. It would offer a reasonable prospect for continuing political stability through a settlement based on self-determination and framed in terms that would give the Viet Cong a fair chance to compete for office under elections in whose administration they might have a part. Mutual withdrawals could proceed under optimum conditions. An international supervisory organization could be established and would be assured of maximum freedom of movement within South Viet-Nam. International guarantees would relate primarily to insuring that the political elements of the settlement were faithfully executed and that there were no repressive measures taken against NLF members who took part in the political process.
Because such an outcome would appear to be so favorable to the US/GVN, it is unlikely that the DRV/PRG would accept it. On the other hand, the case described in paragraph 1 b omits the element of elections, to which we and the GVN are committed.
It is likely, therefore, that the United States will have to consider an option which involves an interim distribution of local political power on the basis of elections as described in paragraph 2. This solution [Page 277] would legitimatize areas of Viet Cong control so as to involve the Viet Cong in the political process and still preserve the overall structure of the GVN. The major emphasis would be on local level political competition and accommodation; the question of ultimate political participation at the national level could be left unresolved for the time being.
Assuming this situation, it is almost certain that the Viet Cong would not accept, initially at least, GVN officials or services in their areas. The GVN intent as to extension of control of territory during this period would be to extend GVN political control by administrative procedures, economic integration, local arrangements within the GVN political context, and eventual consolidation. This, of course, would be a long-term process.
Such a solution would complicate the other issues of a settlement. There would have to be regroupment of forces to conform with the results of local elections. It is unlikely that we would be able to verify by unilateral methods North Vietnamese withdrawals from these Viet Cong areas, particularly if they were along withdrawal routes or contiguous to the borders of South Viet-Nam. Similarly any international verification machinery would probably be denied access to these areas and could therefore not detect or confirm violations of any withdrawal agreement in those areas. In the absence of this verification of North Vietnamese withdrawals, the completion of our own withdrawals would be called into question. Any international system established to guarantee the political settlement could also be expected to be less effective in NLF controlled areas than in the territory directly controlled by the GVN.


1. Political Settlement

This paper outlines the basic factors involved in an internal political settlement, including U.S. troop withdrawals, elections, the constitutional process, assurances and guarantees of personal security, political participation, international supervision, territorial accommodation, integration of forces, and national political leadership. It discusses the substantive and tactical positions of the United States the GVN, and the DRV/NLF. (This paper was prepared before the announcement of the Provisional Revolutionary Government and hence uses the term NLF throughout. The specific issues posed by the emergence of the PRG will be addressed in a separate paper.)

The paper analyses three broad alternative means of settlement. Alternative A would maintain the present constitution essentially intact, retain essentially the present GVN leadership, provide for elections within general constitutional limits, and permit the NLF to participate [Page 278] as a political party, with NLF representation on a joint electoral commission as a possibility. There would be no explicit territorial accommodation, although some de facto division of local political power might result from local elections held under the GVN electoral system. The advantages of this alternative include offering a reasonable prospect for continuing political stability in South Viet-Nam and proposing a settlement based on self-determination and in terms that would allow Viet Cong participation in the electoral process with a fair chance to compete for office. Its major disadvantage is that it would probably be unacceptable to the other side since it falls far short of Communist demands of replacement of the present top GVN leadership and formation of a peace cabinet or coalition government, within the NLF Ten Point framework.

Alternative B would involve an interim distribution of local political power. In exchange for the NLF’s acceptance, agreed or de facto, of GVN national authority, the NLF would be offered a degree of territorial and political control in the countryside without necessarily having to stand for elections. The major emphasis would be on local level political competition and accommodation; the question of ultimate political participation at the national level could be left unresolved for the time being. The advantages of this alternative are that the GVN would retain its national authority and constitutional legitimacy, and that it might serve as a flexible basis for negotiations, since the Viet Cong would be offered a large measure of local control of at least part of the country. Its disadvantages are that it risks de facto partition of the country and thus could undermine the GVN’s national authority from the start.

Alternative C, a peace cabinet, would involve changing the present GVN leadership and substituting non-Communist figures who would be more acceptable to the other side. This peace cabinet would negotiate directly with the NLF and, depending on the outcome of these negotiations, the new government might hold new elections and set up a new constitutional system of its own. This alternative has the advantage of flexibility, including the chance of gaining the support of certain South Vietnamese groups who are not now aligned with the GVN, and it might attract some international support as a more “representative” government interested in negotiations. Its disadvantage is that it would run an extremely high risk of creating serious political instability in South Viet-Nam and would be opposed by major organized non-Communist groups as well as by the armed forces. By conceding to the Communists their major immediate political demand, it would result in weakening the GVN, risking overt anti-Americanism, and reversing our long-standing support of the constitutional process in South Viet-Nam.

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The principal recommendation emerging from the paper is that we continue to examine all the feasible options, but focus our consideration on a possible settlement which lies between Alternatives A and B, i.e., one which emphasizes division of political power at the local rather than the national level, but which requires such division to be made on the basis of elections (probably local elections). For negotiating purposes we should start from the position of Alternative A, but recognize that positions already taken more or less publicly by President Thieu lead in the direction indicated in the preceding sentence.

2. Phased Mutual Withdrawal

This paper examines North Vietnamese and GVN attitudes toward withdrawal, the eight major considerations affecting withdrawal decisions, and then evaluates four specific alternative scenarios for phased mutual withdrawal. The paper is essentially a technical paper flowing from the policy decisions set forth in the basic NSC decision.

Of the alternative scenarios examined, Scenario A, assuming the most favorable conditions, envisages a 19-month withdrawal period following negotiations of a publicly announced agreement for phased mutual withdrawal and agreement on either general or local cease-fires, disengagement and regroupment of forces, and safe conduct of forces in the process of withdrawal. It also provides for an international mechanism to verify and supervise the disengagement, supervision, assembly and withdrawal of forces. This scenario, however, recognizes that in one respect the assumed conditions are less than optimum: the improvement and modernization program for the RVNAF. If withdrawal were begun much before December 1970, we would be faced with the choice of either leaving an inadequately balanced force in South Viet-Nam or completing our withdrawals within the 19-month period knowing that the RVNAF might not yet be capable of handling the residual threat.

Under Scenario B, assuming minimum acceptable conditions, we would specify that all U.S. and allied forces would be withdrawn within one year providing that North Vietnamese forces were withdrawn within 9 months. This scenario has the advantage of a rapid withdrawal of forces on both sides, but because of the speed of our withdrawal it would give little assurance that the other side was complying, and it would seriously risk the stability of the government.

Scenario C, providing for tacit or reciprocal de facto withdrawal, has major advantages in that we would have freedom to schedule our own withdrawals and we could apply military pressure on the enemy should his performance be deficient, without provoking major public criticism. Moreover, theoretically at least, South Viet-Nam might not have to trade political concessions for North Vietnamese withdrawals. Its disadvantages are that Hanoi would not be committed to any [Page 280] specific timetable, nor would there be provision for adequate verification or supervision of withdrawal. Moreover, the implementation of such an arrangement, because of its secret or de facto nature, might create differences between the United States and the GVN.

Alternative D, agreed mutual withdrawal of major portions of non-South Vietnamese forces over a 12-month period, expands upon that element of the President’s proposals of May 14. At the end of the 12month withdrawal period there would be a force equivalent to two divisions numbering approximately 100,000 and a MAAG support element of about 60,000 remaining in South Viet-Nam. The decision to withdraw these forces would depend upon such factors as an analysis of enemy withdrawal into North Viet-Nam, the level of hostilities in South Viet-Nam, and the status of the RVNAF improvement and modernization program. As an integral part of the President’s May 14 proposal, an international supervisory body would also include participation in arranging supervised cease-fires and in supervising elections—functions which lie outside the scope of this paper and hence have not been addressed here.

3. Verification of Mutual Withdrawal

Given the limitations on our unilateral capability to verify North Vietnamese withdrawals—in the best case a 25% margin of error; in the worst circumstances, at least 50%—we should seek agreement on effective verification machinery. The major value of such machinery in both the withdrawal and post-withdrawal periods will be its ability to investigate, confirm, and give public credibility to complaints by host governments of North Vietnamese violations of agreements. (The host governments themselves must be primarily responsible for detecting violations.) The numbers required to man such an international organization would vary from 400–600 personnel in South Viet-Nam and a similar number in Laos, for a minimum sized organization, to as many as 5,000–10,000 men for a largely self-sufficient organization capable of extensive patrolling of all key border areas of South Viet-Nam. The three major options for international verification in South Viet-Nam, Laos, and Cambodia are:

a UN-sponsored body, which would have some advantages but little prospect of being accepted by Hanoi, Peking, or Moscow and, if it required the admission of both Viet-Nams to the UN, would be strongly opposed by the ROK, the GRC, and the FRG;
a new body established by an international conference, with a “line” organization under a single commander on the UN pattern and with stronger Asian representation, e.g., India, Japan, and Indonesia; and
an improved ICC with a council of interested states to replace the co-chairman, additional members (e.g., Japan, Indonesia), majority [Page 281] vote, rotating chairmanship, increased personnel, and a new operational charter spelling out such matters as freedom of movement and access to territory.

The difficulties of verification in Viet-Nam and the obstacles to getting agreement on an international verification organization acceptable to both sides suggests that we should not rely too heavily on such an organization to insure a stable settlement. Consequently, we should employ more of our negotiating chips toward attaining a settlement which provides for strong governments in Viet-Nam, Laos, and Cambodia which are not inhibited in the exercise of the right of self-defense or in the right to call on outside assistance, rather than expending these negotiating assets on getting a fully satisfactory verification body.

4. International Guarantees

International guarantees, as defined in this paper, are those supporting undertakings by international organizations, or by one or more states, which would improve the chances that the basic obligations assumed by the parties would be carried out. South Vietnamese leaders consider international guarantees to be an important element of an overall settlement, but in their consultations with us they have not been precise as to what specific arrangements they envisage. The GVN has stressed international recognition of South Viet-Nam’s unlimited right to call for outside assistance and if necessary for the placement of international military forces in Viet-Nam to prevent the resumption of hostilities. However, it seems likely that in the eyes of the GVN leaders the most important kind of international guarantee would be a full military commitment by the United States to assist South Viet-Nam with armed forces should the other side resume hostilities. However, since we would not be willing to undertake any commitment which would obligate the United States in advance to use our military forces, we should point out to the GVN that the concept of international guarantees includes a wide range of undertakings not involving direct military commitments, such as:

  • —Endorsement of the basic settlement agreements by a conference of interested states along the lines of the 1954 Geneva Conference.
  • —Endorsement of these arrangements by the United Nations.
  • —International commitments to consult on appropriate measures to be taken in the event of violations.
  • —Creation of an international body with the powers to impose sanctions.
  • UN membership for both zones of Viet-Nam.
  • —Other UN involvement in implementation of a settlement.

These possibilities call for serious study as negotiations proceed, particularly the concept of UN membership for both zones of Viet-Nam. Nevertheless, we should recognize that the protection and additional [Page 282] stability such alternatives might contribute to a settlement would be subject to the difficulties inherent in all international decision making.

William H. Sullivan
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–039, Review Group/Senior Review Group Meeting Folder, 7/10/69. Top Secret; Sensitive.
  2. Document 59.
  3. Not printed. (Department of State, S/S–I Files: Lot 80 D 212, NSSM 37)