24. National Security Decision Memorandum 1521


  • The Secretary of State
  • The Secretary of Defense


  • Herbicides in Vietnam and NSDM 141

The President has reviewed the Secretary of Defense’s appeal, as set forth in his memorandum of December 3, 1971, for reconsideration of certain decisions in NSDM 141 regarding the Vietnamization of herbicide capabilities.2 The President has also reviewed the views of the Secretary of State as contained in his memorandum of February 4, 1972.3

The President has decided that the U.S. will not make an open-ended commitment to supply additional stocks of herbicides to the GVN, but will encourage the GVN to establish alternate, commercial supply channels for herbicides fitting their requirements. However, in the event that additional stocks are required by the GVN prior to the establishment of an alternate supply channel, authority is hereby granted to resupply such herbicides. Such GVN requirements will be determined in conjunction with COMUSMACV and American Embassy Saigon under the guidelines of base and installation perimeter operations and limited operations for important lines of communication [Page 99] only. As the GVN establishes an alternate, commercial supply channel, the U.S. will establish its own system for the supply of herbicides used by the U.S. under the guidelines prescribed by NSDM 141.

When advising the GVN to establish an alternate, commercial supply channel, the U.S. will also inform them that it is prepared to provide that in-country equipment as clarified below. Given a requirement from the GVN, authority is hereby granted COMUSMACV and American Embassy Saigon to provide the helicopter spray systems presently possessed by U.S. forces in South Vietnam necessary to ensure a GVN capability for base and installation perimeter operations with the understanding that they be used for such operations only. (Given a requirement from the GVN, NSDM 141 already grants authority to provide the ground spray equipment presently possessed by U.S. forces in South Vietnam.)

There should be no stimulation of the GVN to acquire or develop herbicide capabilities other than mentioned herein.

The President has directed that instructions to the field, consistent with the directives in this memorandum, be prepared immediately for White House approval.4

Henry A. Kissinger
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, OSD Files: FRC 330–77–0094, 370.64, Viet. Secret. A copy was sent to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. A notation on the document reads: “Sec Def has seen.” In a telephone conversation between Kissinger and Laird at 3:05 p.m., February 2, Laird said: “Another thing you can help me on over there. Herbicides. I can’t give authority to SVN—.” Kissinger then asked: “Have you sent a memo?” Laird replied: “It’s been over 5 months,” which prompted Kissinger to say: “I will move it this week.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, Kissinger Telephone Conversations, Box 13, Chronological File, February 11–29, 1972)
  2. In his memorandum Laird argued against the prohibition in NSDM 141, dated November 26, 1971, on resupplying certain herbicides to the South Vietnamese when their current supply was exhausted. The herbicides were used to inhibit the growth of vegetation around firebases and other military installations. (Ibid., NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–229, National Security Decision Memoranda, NSDM 141) NSDM 141 is printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume VII, Vietnam, July 1970–January 1972, Document 279.
  3. Next to this date, written in an unknown hand, is the word “secret.” In his memorandum Rogers argued that: “Because of the political liabilities of our association with this program, we believe that the GVN should move as rapidly as possible to begin direct procurement of stocks through commercial channels should it wish to continue to employ them for base perimeter defense.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–231, National Security Decision Memoranda, NSDM 152 [1 of 3])
  4. A marginal note in an unknown hand at the end of this paragraph reads: “Henry isn’t sure we can read.”