253. Memorandum From President Nixon to Secretary of Defense Laird 1

SUBJECT

  • Force Redeployments from Vietnam

I have read with great interest your memorandum of August 19, 1972 concerning force redeployments from Vietnam.2 As you know, we are presently in a critical stage of the negotiations with the North Vietnamese. Troop levels, as well as the strength of our forces sent to the area in response to the enemy offensive, are important bargaining chips in these negotiations. Therefore, until the negotiating situation is further clarified, I do not believe we can afford to reduce our air or naval forces or make a precipitous cut in troop levels. I also note that COMUSMACV, CINCPAC and the JCS feel that a 29,000-man ceiling is the absolute minimum force required until the level and character of combat activity changes significantly.3 In view of these considerations, I have decided on a troop ceiling of 27,000 men as of December 1, 1972.4 I will, however, continue to assess progress in negotiations.5 [Page 933] Should they succeed, I would consider a more dramatic reduction in troop levels.

I know I can count on your continuing strong leadership and skillful management of Defense assets to cope effectively with the difficulties caused by maintaining our current naval and air effort and a troop level of this magnitude.

Richard Nixon
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 115, Vietnam Subject Files, Vietnam Troop Withdrawals. Top Secret; Sensitive.
  2. The memorandum is in the Washington National Records Center, OSD Files: FRC 330–77–0094, 370.02 Viet (May–December) 1972.
  3. In his August 19 memorandum to Nixon, Laird recommended that the year-end troop level be 12,500, for the following reason: “The present stability of the ground combat situation in South Vietnam is working in favor of RVNAF. Our air efforts, both in support of GVN ground forces and against the enemy’s logistics base have unquestionably contributed to the failure of the enemy offensive to date and will make it even more difficult for him to renew his efforts in the future. The onset of the rainy season in MR 1 will contribute to the enemy’s difficulties.

    “At the same time, the impact of sustaining the current level of US air and naval activity, the anticipation of fiscal 1973 funding reductions, and the possibility that the Vietnamese may become overly reliant on US combat support all argue in favor of reducing the augmentation force. I believe you have an opportunity here to take advantage of such a reduction by announcing it since I believe it to be an inevitability in the very near future.”

  4. On August 29 at the Western White House in San Clemente, Ziegler read a statement that the number of U.S. troops in Vietnam would drop to 27,000 by December 1. See The New York Times, August 30, 1972, p. 1.
  5. According to a transcript of a telephone conversation between Laird and Kissinger on August 25, the two men discussed the Secretary of Defense’s memorandum. Kissinger characterized the White House position in the following terms: “Our problem is frankly that given the negotiations in the phase they are in now we shouldn’t do any jiggering [with the troop numbers] even if it’s on military grounds.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, Kissinger Telephone Conversations, Box 15, Chronological File, Aug 11–30, 1972)