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


  • The Situation in Vietnam

The NSC will meet on Vietnam at 10:00 a.m., Wednesday, February 2, 1972. The primary object is to discuss the current situation, ongoing actions to meet the threat and ensure that whatever further steps are needed are in fact implemented.

The Enemy Threat

We face a rapidly increasing enemy threat to South Vietnam. Specifically, the enemy has:

  • —Infiltrated 20% more men than at this time last year. Infiltration this year will be the greatest since Tet 1968, although well below that level.
  • —Moved in at least three NVA divisions to threaten the northern region of South Vietnam. For example, the 320th NVA division is now in Laos, positioned to launch an attack on the highlands of MR 2.
  • —Accelerated the movement of supplies into Laos and started preparing for battle in South Vietnam. While the overall flow of supplies into Vietnam is still below last year’s level, it is rapidly rising and will be sufficient to support offensive activities.

Based on these preparations, the intelligence community is convinced that the enemy will launch significant offensive operations in northern South Vietnam combined with increased activity in other areas.2 It seems likely that the attacks will start on or about February 15 and could continue for one to two months. The enemy clearly intends to make a major effort timed to precede and coincide with your trip to Peking. His purpose is to weaken your position in talks there if he can and to rekindle domestic opposition in the U.S.

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In addition, the enemy has continued to press in North Laos and maintains a considerable offensive capability in Cambodia. Vietnam will almost certainly be the focus of his effort, but the enemy will probably try to tie us down by attacks elsewhere.

The Situation in South Vietnam

While the enemy threat deserves serious concern, we and the GVN are in a position of relative strength in South Vietnam. For example:

  • —Allied combat forces outnumber the NVA/VC three to one throughout South Vietnam. In northern South Vietnam, our relative advantage is less, but still significant.
  • GVN control over the countryside continues to improve but at a slower rate than last year, particularly in the northern regions. Nationwide, the GVN now controls over 70% of the rural population.

Moreover, our position has been improved by measures taken recently in anticipation of a Communist offensive. In particular:

  • —The formation of new RVNAF units in MRs 1 and 2 and preparations to move reserves northward have significantly increased our capability to blunt an offensive. While isolated defeats cannot be avoided, we should have sufficient forces to deal with the problem.
  • —The long overdue improvement of GVN leadership. Until very recently, little had been done to provide better leadership of the combat units directly in the path of the expected attack. Last week, Thieu replaced three division commanders and 10 province chiefs in a major reshuffling that promises to improve the situation.

The capability of U.S. forces, especially air units, to support our allies has been increased, within the limits of our planned withdrawals. DOD has revised the redeployment plans to leave more helicopters in SVN. Steps are being taken to increase the readiness of our forces in SEA, strengthen our air units in Thailand and move another attack carrier into the Tonkin Gulf. In addition:

  • —Broadened air authority has been granted General Abrams to handle the threat to our air operations and respond to the buildup in northern South Vietnam. The new authorities are spelled out at Tab B.3
  • —Plans have been prepared for one to three-day bombing campaigns to counter enemy threats near the DMZ. Plans to strike enemy air defenses and airfields in southern North Vietnam are also available.

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Given our basic strength and these improvements, the consensus is that the allies can handle the major NVA offensive against South Vietnam without a major setback. The enemy’s capability to launch sizeable attacks, perhaps even seizing a province capital, is not doubted but this will not win the war for them.

In fact, based on existing estimates of the situation, the aftermath of any new major offensive could indeed leave the enemy even worse off than he is now, depending on the effectiveness of the RVNAF response. RVNAF has the means, and the crucial variable now is whether or not they have the will. The real test will be in the battle.

The Meeting

While our position is strong, we must prudently anticipate a major enemy effort to discredit Vietnamization and undermine Thieu and the GVN and thereby weaken our position both at home and vis-à-vis Peking. To minimize the chance Hanoi will be successful, we must press the GVN to further strengthen its forces and ensure that our remaining forces provide maximum assistance to the South Vietnamese.

The timing of some actions we might take such as increased air attacks in North Vietnam is crucial. We can’t delay too long in responding to major attacks or buildups if our actions are to have maximum effect. But we must not undertake major actions such as air strikes close to or during your Peking visit.

Your Talking Points at Tab A4 stress that, while we are basically in a strong position, we must act to solve remaining problems.

Director Helms is prepared to follow your opening remarks with a threat briefing. Admiral Moorer is ready to outline the friendly military situation and the actions to strengthen our position.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–032, National Security Council Meetings, NSC Meeting Vietnam 2/2/72. Top Secret; Sensitive. A stamped notation on the memorandum indicates the President saw it. On February 1, Haig transmitted a nearly identical memorandum to Mitchell to assist him in his preparation for the February 2 NSC meeting; ibid., Alexander M. Haig Special File, Box 1001, Haig (General Files), 1972.
  2. An unattributed CIA analyst commented on Abrams’s message: “By and large, General Abrams’assessment appears to be an accurate rendition of the Communist threat, although we might quibble with some aspects of it.” (Central Intelligence Agency, Files of the Deputy Director for Intelligence, Job 80–B01630R)
  3. Attached but not printed is an undated list of the air authorities granted. A notation on the list indicates the President saw it. Laird granted the authorities to Abrams. See footnote 2, Document 10.
  4. Attached but not printed is an undated copy of the talking points. A notation on the document indicates the President saw it.