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


  • Sir Robert Thompson Comments on Vietnam

Sir Robert Thompson recently spent several weeks in South Vietnam making a survey of the Vietnamese police. He also wrote me a letter2 in which he made the following observations:

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Situation in South Vietnam

  • —There is a great disparity between the situation in South Vietnam and what many in the U.S. believe it to be. This is no longer a credibility gap but a “comprehensibility gap.”
  • —The internal situation is “steadily improving” with pacification, land reform and other civil programs apparently going well.
  • —President Thieu is virtually certain to win re-election.
  • —The place where most help is now needed is in revamping the institutional framework of the country—the Judiciary, the recodification of law, the technical departments and the whole administrative machine and its antiquated procedures.3
  • —This will help restore standards of social justice which have been degraded by the war.4
  • —Militarily, the most worrisome area of the country is the “B–3 front” in the central highlands, primarily because the South Vietnamese are weakest there. Elsewhere, the situation has developed to the point that providing security for individuals is the chief objective, rather than for whole villages as before.5

The Effects of Lam Son

  • —It appears there is now no possibility of the NVA mounting or sustaining any offensive against South Vietnam through 1972 except in the immediate vicinity of the DMZ. As in last year’s Cambodian operation, the full effects of Lam Son will not be seen for several months.
  • —It already seems clear that two long-term strategic objectives have been achieved. First, the GVN has succeeded in reversing the Communist concept of securing their own bases while attacking their enemy’s; second, the operation has been a test for South Vietnam as a whole and has been successfully passed.
  • —However, there is no indication that Hanoi’s intentions have changed.
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The U.S. Withdrawal Schedule

  • —The major factor in this war is now psychological and one of South Vietnamese confidence.
  • —The U.S. domestic debate over Vietnam and the continuing uncertainty about U.S. policy is an obvious problem in this respect. Not only does it cause Hanoi to stall in Paris, but it creates among the South Vietnamese a desire for more U.S. troops to remain than are physically necessary.6
  • —The extent of the U.S. withdrawal by mid-1972 must be a finely adjusted balance between the maximum allowable by U.S. domestic pressures and the minimum required “to demonstrate visibly to the Vietnamese that U.S. support is still available.” We should not become too committed to a fixed rate of withdrawal.

Comment: Sir Robert’s observations strike me as being quite useful. Regarding the “comprehensibility gap,” he has been helping out by doing some work with the press. U.S. News and World Report recently printed an interview with him, and a Japanese magazine ran one of his articles. He also wrote a piece for Life which has not been printed, apparently because it runs counter to Life’s editorial policy. Finally, Sir Robert told me that he intends to urge Sir Alec Douglas Home to give U.S. policy more support during the coming year. Sir Robert will be here next month to discuss his report on the South Vietnamese police.7

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 92, Vietnam Subject Files, Sir Robert Thompson (71). Secret. Sent for information. A stamped notation on the memorandum reads, “The President has seen.” Holdridge forwarded it to Kissinger under an April 23 covering memorandum, indicating that it was a revised text of an April 16 memorandum from Smyser to Kissinger, which Kissinger had asked be prepared for the President. (Ibid.)
  2. Thompson’s letter, April 1, attached but not printed, was written in London.
  3. Thompson wrote in his letter that the South Vietnamese salary structure was “an over-complicated mess and basically men are being paid to breed and not to work.” He further noted that revenue was markedly below its potential, adding that wealthier peasants paid virtually no taxes and that the United States was helping the GVN meet the gap between revenue and expenditure.
  4. Nixon highlighted these two paragraphs and wrote in the margin, “K. Be sure our bureaucracy follows up on his recommendations.”
  5. Thompson wrote that the enemy seemed to be adhering to a policy of “political subversion, terrorism and penetration, while at the same time trying to hold onto his remaining traditional base areas in the country.”
  6. Nixon underlined most of this paragraph.
  7. Nixon highlighted this paragraph and wrote the following, “K. See if Scali can get his report out and get some press attention for him also.”