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Foreign Relations of the United States, 1969–1976, Volume VII, Vietnam, July 1970–January 1972

David Goldman
Erin Mahan
General Editor:
Edward C. Keefer

United States Government Printing Office

Department of State
Office of the Historian
Bureau of Public Affairs


During the period covered by this volume, July 1970–January 1972, the Nixon administration expanded the Vietnam war into Cambodia and Laos as part of its strategy. This volume covers South Vietnam in the context of this larger war in Southeast Asia; therefore, the volume begins in July 1970 in the aftermath of the Cambodian incursion. At the time, a variety of topics dominated the policy discussions of President Nixon and his principal advisers. Among these topics were U.S. troop withdrawals, Vietnamization, negotiations in Paris (both the public plenary sessions and the secret talks between Kissinger and North Vietnamese Politburo member Le Duc Tho), and possible South Vietnamese operations in Cambodia, Laos, and North Vietnam. Throughout the rest of 1970 these themes moved forward on separate paths that occasionally intersected with one another. South Vietnamese operations, first in Cambodia and then in Laos, were seen in policy terms as providing South Vietnam additional time to develop a more effective military, to generate economic growth, and to achieve some degree of political stability. The operations were also to demonstrate the success of Vietnamization and justify the continuing withdrawal of U.S. troops.

In late 1970 and early 1971, the focus shifted to decision making regarding plans to implement a major South Vietnamese out-of-country operation called Lam Son 719, launched in early February 1971. The strategic purpose of the operation was to halt or slow the flow of military supplies to Communist forces in South Vietnam via the panhandle of Laos. At the same time, it would demonstrate the growing military prowess of the South Vietnamese Army. On the negotiating front, Kissinger continued in 1970 and throughout1971 to meet periodically in Paris with Le Duc Tho and other senior Vietnamese Communist functionaries, but made no progress. At the same time, representatives of both sides also met publicly in the plenary meetings. Each side used the public Paris meetings to exchange carefully calibrated propaganda, making the meetings, if possible, less productive than the secret talks. The volume focuses on the Kissinger–Le Duc Tho talks with only occasional documentary coverage of the public talks.

This volume also documents President Nixon’s penchant for secret operations and covert warfare: his continued support for secret bombing campaigns in Cambodia and Laos and his approval of the November 1971 Son Tay raid into North Vietnam to rescue American prisoners of war. Nixon also signed off on new and continuing information gathering initiatives and propaganda that supported intelligence operations against Communist forces, organizations, and governments in South Vietnam, North Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. Additionally, he approved clandestine support for South Vietnamese political entities friendly to the United States. These operations are documented in some detail to demonstrate the role of covert actions in support of overt political and military operations.

In the waning months of the period covered by this volume, deadlock had set in. Neither side appeared able to win militarily, or even to weaken his adversary sufficiently to make him negotiate in good faith. There were signs, however, that Hanoi might be preparing to mount a major military effort in 1972. Its purpose would be to break through this impasse without having to travel a diplomatic path. The volume concludes at this point.

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