124. Memorandum for the Record1
- Meeting of Dr. Kissinger, Admiral Moorer, Deputy Secretary of Defense Rush, Mr. Haldeman, General Alexander M. Haig and Commander Jonathan T. Howe
The purpose of the meeting was for Admiral Moorer to present a plan for mining North Vietnamese ports. Dr. Kissinger asked to have a liaison officer who was familiar with the plan and could work with members of Dr. Kissinger’s staff. Admiral Moorer readily agreed and [Page 451] said someone would be assigned. Dr. Kissinger remarked that on the following day he would like to have a master scenario outlining the actions which everyone should take.
Admiral Moorer then began his briefing which he said would cover, inter alia, the concepts, intelligence, indications of threat, mining operations, blockade and legal opinions.
With regard to the status of ships heading toward North Vietnam, he stated that 17 were enroute. This was the normal monthly average and the ships came from Cuba, Soviet Union, East Germany, UK, and Somalia. He pointed out the ways the ships approach North Vietnam, which is usually to come around Hainan Island. Two-thirds of the Soviet ships come from the Black Sea and the other one-third from Petropovlovsk.
The North Vietnamese have some mining capabilities but the U.S. does not believe this will present any real problem for our ships. The Soviet fleet’s major threat to our ships is their cruise missile submarines armed with the SSN–3 missile. Mr. Kissinger asked if we would have a sufficient ASW capability to cope with this threat and Admiral Moorer said that we would. In discussing the Chinese forces he stated that they have 40 boats with the Styx missile. He noted that the position of the Chinese would be important and if the PRC did not let the Soviets use Chinese bases or over fly Chinese territory, this would put the Soviets at a great strategic disadvantage. Dr. Kissinger asked what we would do if the Chinese did in fact provide these facilities to the Soviets and Admiral Moorer replied that he would get to this point later in the briefing.
Admiral Moorer then discussed the Chinese and Soviet air threat, pointing out that the Soviets could use their air-to-surface missile equipped aircraft (TU–16s and Bears) and pose more of a threat. This would make defense of our ships a little more difficult.
In considering the possible reactions open to hostile countries, Admiral Moorer stated that the North Vietnamese did not have much they could do although we would want to strike their aircraft facilities. He indicated that the Soviets could make a covert attack on our ships, harass them, escort their ships, etc. Dr. Kissinger asked what we would do if they decided to escort a ship. Admiral Moorer replied that if it were a merchant ship, they wouldn’t directly attack our ships. He pointed out that the PRC would have the option of obstructing our ships and that others could also harass our ships.
Admiral Moorer then described the mines which would be used. The large mines would be dropped in Haiphong Harbor by aircraft. These mines had selected delays of one and three days before activation. They could also be sterilized within a certain period of time. They were influence fused. We could also use pressure activation mines but we have difficulty sweeping these. It would also be planned to use [Page 452] MK–36 destructors in shallow water, ports and rivers. These would be dropped in the channels two days after the mines were placed in Haiphong Harbor since they are armed after only 24 hours. Besides Haiphong it was also planned to drop larger mines in Hon Gai.
Dr. Kissinger remarked that the whole approach should of course be to do the operation ferociously. Admiral Moorer indicated that most of the ships were located in Haiphong. Dr. Kissinger asked that if this were the case, why were we doing both ports and Admiral Moorer answered that he would explain that later in the presentation.
Admiral Moorer then stated that if the mining were done right then with the current settings, the ships in Haiphong would have 72 hours to leave port. The 42 ships there would have two alternatives, either to get out or stay there for the duration. We could then either sink them or leave them alone since the docks would not be available if the harbor were mined. Dr. Kissinger commented that if the ships left, the first thing we would do would be to eliminate the docks with B–52s. Admiral Moorer added that we could mine to a depth of 80 or 90 feet and that Haiphong Harbor was excellent for mining.
In discussing a possible blockade, Admiral Moorer noted that there would be four patrol areas for destroyers, with one carrier to provide surveillance and protection against torpedo boats. They might place two destroyers in each of four slices that would be defined by arcs drawn at 60 and 160 miles from Haiphong. Aircraft surveillance would also be laid on to track ships enroute to North Vietnam.
With regard to instructions which would be given to the ships involved, Admiral Moorer explained that the concept would be to use minimum force to do the mission and to minimize interference and personnel casualties. An effort would be made to divert approaching ships to another port. Dr. Kissinger commented that a review in much greater detail would have to be made of the rules of engagements, especially the instructions which would be given to the captains of U.S. ships. Admiral Moorer explained that once the rules were worked out, he intended to send a special briefing officer to each ship to ensure that the rules were understood. He noted that the normal sequence is visit and search, seizure, and if necessary destruction of ships violating a blockade.
In explaining the air operations which would be employed for the mining, he explained that air defenses in the area would have to be suppressed whether the air operation was done in daylight or at night. At night less aircraft would be required; however, it would probably be better in the day because then the North Vietnamese could see the mines going into the water.
Dr. Kissinger then asked if Admiral Moorer saw mining as an alternative to blockade or whether both would be required. Admiral [Page 453] Moorer replied that mining alone had the political advantage that it would not bring a direct physical confrontation. If they chose to run the mine field, it was their decision. If they blew up, they would have done it to themselves. Dr. Kissinger questioned what we would do if they were able to sweep our mines, and Admiral Moorer answered that we would simply drop more mines. He commented that Soviet survival was not at stake in this operation.
Dr. Kissinger then asked how reliable the mines were. Admiral Moorer responded that the mines were very reliable and that ships were not going to take a chance of running through the mine field. He explained that the first ship that sunk would close the channel. Dr. Kissinger asked what would happen if they stayed out of the mine field and used lighters? Admiral Moorer explained that both Secretaries Laird and McNamara had been concerned about lightering being used to circumvent a blockade. However, it was a difficult and a slow process to move fuel this way. We would be able to take on the lighters with our ships and aircraft. Dr. Kissinger commented that we were going to pay the price for mining anyway and if they lightered we would have to stop them. Admiral Moorer indicated that he felt it would take some three weeks for the North Vietnamese to get organized.
Dr. Kissinger then commented that if the President chose to go this route he would do nothing less. If the mines didn’t stop the supplies coming in, the Navy could. There were advantages of course in preventing a U.S.-Soviet ship confrontation and in that sense it was useful to execute the blockade by the use of mines. If this could all be done with mining, it was better. Admiral Moorer remarked that it would be best to do both. We could always add on other actions later. Dr. Kissinger then asked if Admiral Moorer would want to announce the blockade and mining and Deputy Secretary Rush interjected that the ships simply could be used to warn away those that were approaching the mine field. Dr. Kissinger asserted that we would not allow any other ships to go into North Vietnam and Mr. Haldeman warned against gradual escalation. Dr. Kissinger indicated that we would say that we were mining, warning ships and taking measures to keep ships way from North Vietnam. There would be no more shipping into North Vietnam. We would stick to mining to the extent that we could get away with it.
Admiral Moorer then showed a chart of where various ships were located and explained how control of the Tonkin Gulf would be maintained. Submarine barriers would be established off the coast of the Soviet Union to observe any ships exiting from those areas and a U.S. anti-submarine warfare barrier would be established with aircraft as a matter of prudence. Nuclear submarines would be positioned at the entrances to the Tonkin Gulf and one submarine would be located off [Page 454] Petropovlovsk. Dr. Kissinger asked if we could have all ships in place by Monday evening2 and Admiral Moorer responded that we could do it even before that if necessary. This included positioning the ships for blockading purposes.
Admiral Moorer then discussed some of the legal aspects including the various international forms of coercion. He explained that with a blockade it is assumed that the parties are at war. A specific blockade would be one imposed only against the ships of North Vietnam. Since they only had about six ships, this was ruled out. There was also the Cuban quarantine concept. An important aspect was that you must be able to enforce the measures and they must be reasonable. Any lawyer can justify them under the law. Factors might include that fact that the North Vietnamese have violated the 1968 understanding, have been unproductive in peace talks, and have committed a grave provocation against the South Vietnamese people by their invasion. We, of course, do not have the missile threat against the United States as we did in the case of Cuba.
Mr. Haldeman then asked if mining raised any legal problems. Admiral Moorer responded that mining in territorial waters was similar to bombing. Dr. Kissinger asked why we did not use mining in Cuba, and Admiral Moorer replied that there were Soviet missiles in Cuba and we were trying to get them to remove them. To mine would have been counterproductive.
Mr. Haldeman argued how this might be so, but recalled that the quarantine was based on the ships coming in. Admiral Moorer pointed out that in the Cuban case, it was the missiles that were treated as contraband. In this case, food and arms, in effect everything, would be treated as contraband. Dr. Kissinger commented that the advantage to mining was that there was no question what was prohibited. The U.S. ship captain did not have to worry about what to exclude. He noted, however, that the adversaries might figure out ways to defeat the mining. Therefore, we would have to take all other steps necessary to prevent ships at sea from entering North Vietnam. Mr. Haldeman stated that our policy should be that there would be no shipping into any port and Dr. Kissinger commented that the President could say that he had ordered the mining of all ports. In addition, the Navy was to take all other measures necessary to prevent ships from delivering supplies to North Vietnam. He pointed out that by emphasizing mining alone we could take away some of the negative impact but still explain what we would really do. No supplies could come in from sea. Admiral Moorer agreed that the President could simply say that no supplies [Page 455] would come in by sea and that we would not have to use a rationale which would make us more vulnerable.
Dr. Kissinger noted that within several days of the mining there should be strikes against the railroad facilities at Vinh and Hanoi. Admiral Moorer asserted that all military targets would be hit. However, Dr. Kissinger cautioned that he would want to look at all targets and then we could see what could be hit. Admiral Moorer explained that there was an ideal place in the middle of Hanoi which would be particularly good for interdicting railroad traffic. He said he would like to show the targets to Dr. Kissinger. He also predicted that third country nationals would leave Haiphong. Dr. Kissinger asked if we could make the rail system inoperative with bombs. Admiral Moorer answered that they had tried before with the restriction that they had to keep away from the ships. They bombed in the circle around Haiphong.
Dr. Kissinger then commented that he would want a planning group to get together that afternoon and that starting Sunday morning other departments should be brought in. Admiral Moorer commented that directives should go out to the forces by the following morning. He cautioned that mines were almost human and had to be carefully prepared. Dr. Kissinger remarked that we would have to decide when to bring Secretary Laird into the problem.
A discussion then ensued as to whether there was sufficient time for third countries to order their ships out of Haiphong. Dr. Kissinger wondered whether it would take more time for the ships to get out of Haiphong and noted that in the Cuban crisis it took the Soviets three days to turn their ships around. Dr. Kissinger asked General Haig if 72 hours was enough. Admiral Moorer interjected that the mines could be set to activate within three days or one week. General Haig responded that what counted was the rate of getting ships in and out. Admiral Moorer observed that if it took the Soviets 48 hours to make a decision they might have a problem. He said that it was a technical problem which they would look into. They certainly could have their boilers fired out immediately so that they could exit the area quickly. He also noted that if the USSR waited until last, they probably would not be obstructed by the other ships, which would already have left.
At this point the meeting concluded.3
- Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box TS 45, Geopolitical File Vietnam, Easter Offensive, 1971–1972. Top Secret; Sensitive. The meeting was held in Kissinger’s office. The time of the meeting on the original, 11:30, is incorrect; according to Kissinger’s Record of Schedule, it began at 10:31 and ended at 11:15 a.m. (Ibid., Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–76)↩
- May 8.↩
- According to the minutes of the Washington Special Actions Group meeting, which began at 11:16 and continued until 11:41 a.m., the WSAG discussed the military situation in Vietnam and Kissinger instructed the participants that U.S. officials should not discuss a potential cease-fire with the news media. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–116, Washington Special Actions Group, WSAG Minutes (Originals) 1–3–72 to 7–24–72)↩