108. Paper Prepared in the Department of Defense1


I. Perspective—the War up to January 1969

A. War of increasing intensity—1965 through 1968

DRV—tried various approaches, including major overall military on-slaught in 1968 (bigger in size/scope/intensity than current attacks by many parameters)

—mil goods and supplies: all from USSR/PRC (80%/20%)

DRV supplied manpower/leadership/will & desire—no way to deprive them of these

—casualties [over 400,000 KIA since 1960—like 4 million in US]

RVN—started from scratch (Forces, all components, about 600,000 in 1965)

—built to 800,000 by end 1968

no capability to handle DRV; some capability to fight VC

US—increasing involvement; troops from 800 to more than 625,000

—objective never truly clear—what US interests to justify over $20B per year and over 14,000 KIA per year?

—tried ground combat; bombing ops @ 35,000 sorties per month (15,000 per month at times over NVN): NGF

—forces in RVN reached 540,000; offshore, 42,000; Thailand 45,000

—casualties [about 30,000 through Dec. 1968. Now nearly 46,000]

3d Nations—Some help, under US pressure, from Australia, N.Z., Philippines, Thais, and ROKs. But mostly, those nations did not see their interests threatened enough to participate

B. US Costs

  • —Continuing escalation, in dollars and lives; and especially US divisiveness
  • —Two Presidents tied all US policy (foreign and domestic) to SEA
  • —Social disruption
  • —Increasingly shrill Vietnam debate (affected all aspects of US life)
  • —Economy put badly out of kilter, as Admin had trouble facing reality of massive SEA costs while maintaining other obligations
  • —National security: Modernization forestalled and USSR allowed to pull abreast

C. US Policy

Essentially hamstrung. No military victory; mining, etc., considered, but rejected; some negotiating progress; but no clear way out. Negotiations had produced (a) bomb halt on US/GVN side, on basis (b) DRV understood they would

  • —not violate DMZ
  • —not shell cities
  • —negotiate with GVN, and
  • —(implicitly) not fire on our unarmed recce over NVN

II. Perspective—the War January 1969–Dec 1971

A. War not of 1968 intensity—but still major conflict

DRV—suffered 350,000 more KIA [like 3.5 million in US]

  • —kept pressure in RVN, Laos, Cambodia, but not enough to prevent progress by RVNAF and GVN
  • —continued to supply manpower/leadership/will & desire
  • —Soviets continued to be main military supplier, though both USSR and PRC aid down

RVN—forces built up from 800,000 to 1.1 million

  • —mission changed. Charged with handling VC plus DRV
  • —make major gains in military, economic, social, and political field
  • —equipment, training, force guidance and advice all given RVN
  • —US could not supply will and desire

US—new course set—dual tracks of Vietnamization and Negotiation

  • —severest prospect of all for Hanoi would be a viable RVN, able to face and stave off DRV
  • —changed MACV’s mission—a risk, but soluble risk
  • —US supplied RVNAF everything but will and desire
  • Gains for US and President Nixon from Vietnamization/Negotiating approach

1. Lessened divisiveness in US—social calm

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2. Opp. to approach other foreign and domestic problems—SALT; Middle East; Biol/Chem Warfare; MBFR; Berlin; trade; adjustment of US economy (DOD budgets cut massively); allowing new uses of resources; modernization within DOD, allow catch-up with USSR; prospects to go zero draft; concentrate on such major initiatives as PRC/USSR trips; handle other crises like Mid East and S. Asia; make generation of peace credible.

B. Lower US costs in lives and dollars

  • US objectives and interests shifted; but hard to tell what they were to justify even $8.0B per year
  • DRV continued essentially to abide by Understandings. Made above approach credible.
  • —Key was still RVNAF and GVN and RVN people will and desire. No way to substitute.

3d Nations—they dropped out, for all intents and purposes

III. Situation—late 1971 to early 1972


• Increased build-up (increased infiltration flow in people and supplies)—undoubtedly had been accumulating stocks for many months on premise of a 1972 major campaign

Alarms. Big push in North Laos

Artillery and armor above DMZ

Roads in DMZ

Troops massed near MR–I and MR–II

Start firing more on US recce aircraft


• Go on alert. Put 3d Div near DMZ, on premise of diplomatic security through Understandings of DMZ.

RVNAF still an “expansion team going against the league champs.” RVNAF well supplied. Key still will and desire on ground.


• Redeployments continue. Forces more than 85 percent out

Bombing increases. Air (B–52s especially) keep DRV timetable off, in all probability. Monthly air tonnage doubles—from 40,000 per month to 80,000

• US Force augmentations start in Jan/Feb with more B–52s, more F–4s, more ships, more authorities

D. 3d Nations

• Not much help—an RVNAF/US show against DRV

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IV. Situation Now

A. Issues

What are the US objectives and interests now? Are there any which justify increased US involvement? Increased US costs in dollars, lives, and lost opportunities?
Should still a third Administration tie everything (foreign and domestic) to SEA?
Is there a policy—or are there policies—which can
  • • Maintain support of US people?
  • • Be within tolerable economic limits?
  • • Not destroy fabric of RVN and rest of SEA?
  • • Not disable us from being able to honor other obligations around the world?
  • • Not result in alienation of friends and allies?
  • • Not precipitate a wider, more costly, and longer conflict?
  • • Put burden where it must—on RVN will and desire?

B. Options

Military victory—no way, without US on ground in SEA, and probably in DRV (no way) to do this—history attests to that)

Help RVNAF in air and sea power—more supplies and advice—moral support; keep negotiations track open with DRV; try to get USSR and PRC to diminish military aid levels.

Note: No way to affect current military campaign in south through strategic bombing/shelling.2

Put pressure on Hanoi through unusual initiatives, like mining, bombing Hanoi/Haiphong, take out dams/dikes/locks—pressure on DRV government and people as the target and objective.
  • • Nothing in history to indicate any likelihood of success.3
  • • Might have some popularity in US temporarily—probably go rapidly to disdain and rejection since impact is not much on war, but rather on civil populace—a starve them out policy.
  • • Key in war is still RVNAF on the ground, and RVN will and desire.4
  • • Key in negotiations is USSR/PRC on mil aid levels from here on.
  • • Risks all the pluses accumulated so far.
  • • Hanoi drags a 3d Administration into total involvement in SEA.
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We have a military course that is viable—or as viable as it can get—RVNAF and GVN the key

  • • We have a negotiation framework—USSR and PRC the keys
  • • We have a minimum—acceptable level of support in US—tenuous, however, at best; can be upset easily.
  • • Actions like mining do not address essentials of the situation or problem. Incremental military, political, economic risks far outweigh incremental military gains (minimal at best), political gains (hard to see at all), or economic gains (none).
  • • Other augmentation actions are sufficient.
  • • No discernible US interests or objectives that justify going further.
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, OSD Files: FRC 330–77–0094, 385, Viet (May 1–15, 1972). No classification marking. Secretary Laird probably saw this point paper since documents on Vietnam generally and routinely crossed his desk. Moreover, the three handwritten sentences referred to in footnotes 2, 3, and 4 are in the hand of Laird’s military assistant, Major General Pursley. A key adviser to Laird on the war in Southeast Asia, Pursley drafted many of the Secretary’s important memoranda and correspondence on Vietnam. Therefore, it is likely that he drafted the paper (or supervised its drafting) and that Laird saw it. All brackets are in the original.
  2. Pursley added the following handwritten sentence: “Impact is to increase military risk in the South because US assets are diverted.”
  3. Pursley added the following handwritten sentences: “Targets are civilians. Hanoi has sufficient assets and time to adjust. US takes assets from battle area.”
  4. Pursley added the following handwritten sentence: “Can be bolstered most by helping them where they need it—in RVN now.”