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


  • Ambassador Bunker’s Assessment

Attached at Tab A is an encouraging assessment from Ambassador Bunker concerning recent developments in South Vietnam.2 He considers your decision to mine to have been pivotal in the improved posture of the South Vietnamese. It has restored confidence at all levels. Ten days ago there was fear that by now An Loc might have fallen and that battles for Hue and Kontum would be raging. Instead, the enemy appears to be having some difficulty in each area. General Abrams and Ambassador Bunker believe that, thanks to your actions and subsequent steps taken by the GVN, we can view the future with greater confidence than we could after the fall of Quang Tri.

Military Developments

  • —General Abrams believes that the enemy has suffered very heavy personnel and matériel losses.
  • —The enemy is obviously having difficulty in moving supplies and replacements in the face of air interdiction and worsening road conditions in the Laotian Panhandle.
  • —The enemy has had only minimal assistance from local force units and guerrillas, evidenced by the fact that since the beginning of the offensive there has been significant activity in only 16 of the 44 provinces.
  • —South Vietnamese forces have a good chance of holding Hue and inflicting a major defeat on the enemy.
  • —Preparations for defense of Kontum are sound and the defenders there have a reasonable chance of holding the city, given the massive air support they will receive.
  • —Although ARVN efforts to relieve An Loc have continued to be disappointing, the critical point appears to have passed. The leadership of the MR–3 commander, General Minh, has been disappointing.
  • —Although hard fighting is expected in MR–4, it is not expected that recent enemy activity in the area will prove decisive.
  • —It may soon be possible to shift some of the air effort away from immediate support of ARVN forces and concentrate it on the enemy logistic system.
  • —General Abrams perceives a noticeable improvement in the fighting spirit in MR–1 and a degree of improvement in MR–2. He believes that we are approaching a turning point in the battle and that with the air and fire support we can provide we can now commence to persuade the South Vietnamese that the time is near when they can go on the offensive.

U.S. Actions

  • —The President’s decision to mine North Vietnamese harbors has had a tremendous psychological impact in South Vietnam.3 It underlined U.S. determination and resolve and created a climate in which the GVN could and did take significant steps to improve its defense posture. Your bold decision has heightened the resolve of the Vietnamese leadership and the population.
  • —The Vice President’s visit has also provided a positive and tangible manifestation of U.S. interest and support.4
  • —U.S. bombing of North Vietnam is being carried out in a thoroughly professional manner.
  • —The U.S. Military Airlift Command is doing a particularly effective job in flying in supplies.
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South Vietnamese Actions

  • —After addressing the nation following your speech, President Thieu declared martial law throughout the country and has taken additional steps to mobilize South Vietnamese resources. He is seeking emergency powers to legislate by decree in most areas of government.5
  • —This weekend or by early next week the GVN is expected to announce an emergency taxing program. It has already announced that price controls will be strictly enforced.
  • —The nation has responded well on the whole to Thieu’s call for unity and belt-tightening. He has effectively asserted his leadership and brought home to the population the seriousness of the situation.


—There has been a continuing erosion of local security in many areas and the enemy is maintaining a high level of terrorism and proselytizing. Many areas are virtually untouched by this problem but the enemy has succeeded in others almost by default.

Economic Conditions

—The GVN over the short term faces a serious business recession but it is not now at a crisis point. If military activity remains high unemployment problems could become critical.


—Having seen what his new commanders have been able to do in MR–1 and MR–2, President Thieu will probably be more aggressive in cleaning out dead wood.6

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 130, Vietnam Subject Files, HAK/Pres Memos (NVA) Situation in Vietnam (May 72). Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. Sent for information. A stamped notation on the memorandum indicates the President saw it. At the top of the page Haig wrote: “Kennedy see me.”
  2. Not attached. Bunker’s backchannel message 94 to Kissinger, May 19, is ibid., Box 414, Backchannel, Backchannel Messages, From Amb. Bunker—Saigon, 1972.
  3. The President underlined this sentence and wrote in the margin: “H—Find a way to get this out. Bunker could help do it.”
  4. Vice President Spiro T. Agnew traveled to Tokyo to represent the United States at a ceremony on May 15 to return Okinawa to Japan. Then Agnew flew to Bangkok and from there made a day-trip to Saigon on May 17. During the morning Agnew met with President Thieu, the President’s senior political and military advisers, and senior Americans, including Ambassador Bunker and General Abrams. (Message Vipto 30 from CINCPAC, May 18; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1086, Jon Howe, Vietnam Chronology File, May 8, 1972) In the afternoon, Agnew and Thieu met privately for 20 minutes. (Message Vipto 29; ibid.)
  5. On May 10, after a Presidential declaration of emergency, Thieu imposed martial law in South Vietnam.
  6. The President highlighted this sentence, underlined part of it, and wrote: “Haig—push him hard on this.”