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


  • Vietnam Authorities

Secretary Laird has sent me his views on General Abrams’assessment of the situation in Vietnam. He also advises that he has granted certain broadened air operating authorities requested by General Abrams. (Tab B)2

As to the situation, in brief, Abrams believes the North Vietnamese are preparing for major offensive action in the northern half of South Vietnam, particularly in the highlands of Military Region II and Military Region I.3 The North Vietnamese have substantial forces available and if they employ their 320th Division, which has been brought down to Southern Laos, they can develop a 1-1/2 to 1 force advantage in the area. The North Vietnamese also have significantly increased the threat to our air operations. They have moved additional SAM battalions and antiaircraft artillery into the southern part of North Vietnam and Laos and their MIGs are increasingly willing to challenge our aircraft.

The Senior Review Group principals discussed General Abrams’ assessment and his requests for additional air operating authorities to meet these threats at a special meeting on January 24, 1972.4 Secretary Laird’s memo to me advises that he has:

  • —Authorized emplacement of sensor by air throughout the DMZ (we previously had confined them to the southern half of the DMZ).
  • —Authorized fixed and rotary wing aircraft, logistic troop lift and medevac support for South Vietnamese cross border operations along the Laotian and Cambodian border.
  • —Advised General Abrams to consider hostile any MIGs which are airborne from Dong Hoi, Vinh and Quan Lang during the expected enemy ground offensive; they may be engaged when encountered below the 18th parallel.
  • —Authorized a more vigorous protective reaction posture (reflected in recent strikes against the Quan Lang and Dong Hoi airfields in defense of unarmed reconnaissance aircraft observing those fields).
  • —Authorized employment of anti-radiation missiles against the ground control intercept (GCI) radar sites outside of the Hanoi–Haiphone area when MIGs are airborne and demonstrate hostile intent. (Tactics will assure that any missiles fired will not impact in the Hanoi–Haiphong area or the PRC.)

All of these authorities were requested by General Abrams. It was the consensus of the Senior Review Group that the authorities for the sensor coverage of the DMZ and the aircraft lift support for the cross border operations should be granted immediately.5 As for the broadened authorities to attack airborne MIGs and GCI radar sites, the SRG expressed no objection but withheld judgment pending a more specific definition of the authority and the manner in which it would be implemented. It was felt that the objectives sought with these authorities might be achieved in the context of a larger strike conducted simultaneously on a number of potentially lucrative targets. Secretary Laird’s memorandum has described these authorities concretely.

The SRG believed that attacks on the airfields themselves should be considered in the context of broader plans which should be developed for execution of larger scale strikes directed at logistics targets and SAM facilities over limited time periods. Secretary Laird has not granted authority to attack logistics targets or broadened authority to attack SAM sites but has requested that plans be developed to do so. The SRG’s reasoning for considering including the airfield attacks within such plans was to limit the number of daily reports of attacks, thereby lessening the likelihood of a growing public relations problem of “renewed bombing of the North.” I am persuaded that protective reaction attacks on the airfields in the context of reconnaissance of those fields is a logical extension of our protective reaction posture and will not generate excessive public comment.

Accordingly, I recommend you approve the authorities which Secretary Laird has given General Abrams.6 In granting these authorities without your prior approval, however, Secretary Laird has set a dangerous [Page 39] precedent. In the critical period ahead we will need to consider carefully the timing and character of our operating authorities, taking into account operational need as well as likely domestic and international reaction. I further recommend therefore that you advise Secretary Laird that all modifications or extensions of existing authorities and granting of new authorities in the future must be approved by you.7

A memorandum to Secretary Laird, giving your approval for the authorities he has already granted but directing that in the future all authorities must be approved by you is at Tab A.8

I recommend you sign the memorandum to Secretary Laird.

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box TS 84, National Security Council, Meetings, January 1972. Top Secret; Sensitive. Sent for action. A note at the top of the first page by Butterfield reads: “Mr. President, Henry believes that you should at least read this memo prior to the NSC mtg at 3 pm.” A stamped notation on the memorandum indicates the President saw it. On January 27, Odeen and Kennedy sent a draft of this memorandum to Kissinger urging that he send it to the President. (Ibid.)
  2. Tab B is a January 26 memorandum from Laird to Kissinger informing Kissinger that he had approved some of the authorities requested by Abrams to counter the coming offensive.
  3. Moorer concurred. In JCS message 2002 to McCain, January 26 (information copy sent to Abrams), Moorer observed: “All concerned realize that if and when major attacks develop in the northern sectors of South Vietnam, it will be recognized as a major test of Vietnamization and everything possible must be done to insure the successful outcome of the ensuing campaign.” (National Archives, RG 218, Records of the Chairman, Records of Thomas Moorer, Box 68, JCS Out General Service Messages, January 1972)
  4. See Document 4.
  5. Nixon placed a check in the margin next to this sentence.
  6. Nixon placed a check in the margin next to this sentence.
  7. Nixon placed a check in the margin next to this sentence.
  8. Not printed. Tab A is the memorandum to Laird, which the President signed on February 1.