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


  • Ambassador Bunker’s Report on The Situation in Vietnam

Ambassador Bunker’s most recent periodic report on Vietnam is attached at Tab A.2 A summary of its more important points follows.

Improvement in the economic situation. The economic reform program put into effect in early October has been remarkably successful.

  • —Trends in prices, bank deposits, and import licensing indicate that a considerable amount of confidence has been restored, and the prospect of an excellent rice harvest during the next two months reinforces the generally favorable short term outlook.
  • —But inflationary problems could begin to build again by next summer, when the effects of increased benefits for disabled veterans, payments to landlords under the land reform program, and another government wage increase will be felt.
  • —We and the South Vietnamese Government are already reviewing ways to counter these longer term problems, and we believe that they should be manageable.

Thieu moves on peace proposals. President Thieu moved quickly to endorse your peace proposal of October 7.3

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  • —It evoked a remarkably widespread and favorable response in South Vietnam, similar to the reaction in the U.S. and elsewhere.
  • —The feared side effects of a let-down in the ARVN did not materialize, and observers here agree that the initiative placed the enemy at a further psychological disadvantage.
  • —Recent public attitude surveys clearly reveal that Vietnamese view the continuation of the war as the major national problem, and this issue will undoubtedly receive special attention in the coming months before the elections.
  • —We are discussing with President Thieu ways to spell out his proposal for elections in more forthcoming and specific terms. Any such restatement would be well received both in South Vietnam and in world opinion, and would be taken as a sign of confidence and strength.

Political trends. The elections next year and a growing awareness of the increasingly important political nature of the contest with the Communists are combining to focus attention on politics in South Vietnam.

  • —The enemy is attempting to take advantage of what he calls the contradictions of Vietnamese society by penetrating local protest groups and increasing divisive pressures.
  • —The potential also exists for a strong non-Communist opposition movement in view of continuing corruption and inequalities, especially in urban areas.
  • Thieu, as President and a candidate for re-election, occupies a key position in relation to both Communist and non-Communist political opposition. He is already acting on a number of fronts to improve his political position vis-à-vis the Communists and his non-Communist critics.
  • Duong Van “Big” Minh, the popular ex-general, could present a major challenge to Thieu’s re-election.4 It is not yet clear, however, whether Minh can organize disparate opposition groups; indeed, the relative organizational abilities of the two men could be a vital factor in the outcome of the election.5
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Pacification and Land Reform. While enemy military activity continues at a low level, pacification is moving ahead.

  • —The situation in southern South Vietnam is particularly encouraging. The five northernmost provinces are also doing well, despite a continuing enemy main force threat.
  • —There are soft spots, however, in the central coastal region of MR II, where Communist terrorist campaigns have had a real impact. The new regional commander there is a great improvement over his predecessor, but he faces many problems.
  • —The land reform program is gaining momentum. Land titles distributed to tenant farmers jumped from 5,000 in October to 15,000 in November. In the future, the government plans to distribute about 30,000 titles per month, and has also begun to make compensatory payments to landlords.
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 151, Vietnam Country Files, Vietnam 1 Dec 70. Secret; Nodis. Sent for information. A stamped notation on the memorandum reads, “The President has seen.” Haig signed it for Kissinger.
  2. Attached but not printed is telegram 20010 from Saigon, October 3. The text is printed in full in The Bunker Papers, Reports to the President From Vietnam, 1967–1973, Vol. 3, pp. 796–805.
  3. See Document 46.
  4. In a memorandum to Kissinger, December 22, Holdridge noted that Minh commented to an American observer that he was confident about being elected and desired to unite the people. Minh expected good support from northern and central South Vietnam and parts of the south including Saigon, southern Catholics, the Hoa Hao and Cao Dai religious sects, and mid-level Army officers. He hoped to build a broad coalition that would include moderate members of Thieu’s group and non-Communist members of the NLF. He felt that the people did not trust Thieu because he was “devious” and “lacked sincerity.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 151, Vietnam Country Files, Vietnam, 1 Dec 70)
  5. The President wrote the following in the margin: “Bunker should explore immediately with Thieu the possibility of his enveloping Big Minh by giving him a title in a ‘coalition’ (non-Communist) slate.”