92. Backchannel Message From the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Haig) to the Ambassador to Vietnam (Bunker)1

WHS 2314. 1. There follows below the text of a memorandum prepared within one of the Washington agencies2 on immediate measures which would improve the GVN position both before and after any ceasefire is signed. We are providing this as a contribution to whatever background work may be underway within the Mission and this should not be construed as an instruction or as the sole basis for any démarche to the GVN. We would, in fact, prefer that before taking action on any of the major suggestions contained herein, you give us the benefit of your views and your judgment as to the desirability and or feasibility of the suggested steps. If, however, there are measures under category three (steps to be implemented by the GVN) which in your judgment should without question be undertaken immediately, you should not hesitate to take them up with GVN in manner and at [time] you consider appropriate.

2. Begin text:


Subject: Checklist of Immediate Measures Which Would Improve the GVN’s Position Both Before and After Any Cease-fire Is Signed

The following checklist outlines specific measures which, if implemented now, would help to improve the position of the GVN as it jockeys with the Communists during the process of negotiations. It would also improve the GVN’s position in any cease-fire, post-hostilities political struggle environment. The list does not include a number of measures which either the GVN or the U.S. is already undertaking, such as (A) maximum efforts to destroy enemy military units, base areas, and rear service areas contiguous to contested populated areas right up to the instant of a cease-fire; (B) maximum air interdiction operations (at least below the 20th parallel) to slow down Communist efforts to build stocks of “in-place” supplies and equipment inside South Vietnam; (C) provision by the U.S. of the largest possible [Page 359] amount of military equipment to South Vietnam before a cease-fire takes effect; and (D) the formulation of plans which will provide the best possible unilateral U.S. intelligence verification of the terms of the cease-fire.
Also not included in the following checklist is a key prerequisite to all the measures suggested below—successfully inducing President. Thieu to stop expending energy on fighting his major ally and concentrate all his efforts on (1) improving the GVN’s position in the immediate climate and (2) posturing the GVN to translate any negotiated settlement into a de facto Communist surrender. A discussion of factors that might be exploited to get Thieu thinking more positively is contained in a separate, parallel memorandum.3
The following measures should be implemented immediately by the GVN:
Security Measures
Plans should be made now to improve security throughout the countryside to the maximum extent possible. The GVN already has all its forces—the ARVN, the RF and PF, and National Police—on full alert to prevent the Communists from establishing a presence in additional areas in the few days just before and after the signing of a cease-fire. RF and PF units, and the police, should provide a local guard force for all hamlets and villages. To the extent possible ARVN units should be dispersed to locations from which they can provide quick reaction reinforcements to all hamlets and villages. ARVN regiments and battalions will be of limited value in a cease-fire environment if they remain in their base camps.
In addition, rather than merely reacting to Communist initiatives the ARVN should make plans for maximum offensive activity to be carried out in the 72 hours or so before the cease-fire becomes effective. The ARVN should initiate preemptive actions and go on the offensive wherever possible in an effort to roll back the Communists in areas where they are seeking to establish a presence.
One very important offensive action which ARVN should undertake is to air-assault units by helicopter into positions west of Pleiku or Kontum from which they could block all north-south enemy movements. The objective would be to disrupt a potential NVA north-south supply line within South Vietnam. The Communists now control areas in the western part of South Vietnam, along the Lao and Cambodian borders, which could provide them with an in-country supply route running from the DMZ through MR–1 and to the region south of Pleiku in MR–2. By undertaking a fairly modest road-building effort after a [Page 360] cease-fire, they could develop a motorable route wholly within South Vietnam from the DMZ all the way to western MR–3. The proposed ARVN operation would cut Communist held territory into two parts, and would force the enemy’s supply lines, at least near the area of the operation, to remain in Laos or Cambodia where they now are. NVA supply activities in these would presumably more clearly contravene the proposed peace agreement than would the same activities inside the Communist-controlled areas of South Vietnam. For maximum effect, and to prevent Communist counteraction, this ARVN operation should be undertaken in the brief period between the signing of the agreement and the time it goes into effect. The exact location of the operation should be the subject of immediate military planning. The region west of Pleiku along Route 19 might provide the most favorable area, but there may be military or other factors which would make a different area more feasible.
The GVN should establish a reporting system through which a continuous flow of information on implementation of a cease-fire will be funneled to regional headquarters and Saigon from all hamlets and villages. An adaptation of HES reporting channels could be used for this purpose, with all hamlet and village chiefs being required to respond each week to 10 or 12 simple questions on the security and control situations in their areas. A system of independent roving teams (perhaps composed of RD cadres) should also be set up to make on-site inspections in any areas where the situation appears to be deteriorating or where the local reporting is suspect.
All known Viet Cong legal cadres should be immediately arrested and temporarily detained, until the situation following a cease-fire has stabilized. In addition, planning should start now to transfer certain RF units to the National Police field forces, to give the police a greater capability to counter subversion in the new period of political struggle.
President Thieu should use his emergency authority to promulgate an expanded Vietnamese “GI Bill of Rights.” Such a bill should include more veterans’ benefits and better rehabilitation measures for wounded veterans than those now in effect. The immediate value of the bill would be psychological, raising ARVN morale and discouraging desertion of troops who do not want to be the last to die before a cease-fire. Benefits would be limited to honorably discharged veterans. Over the longer term, the bill could have economic benefits in facilitating transition from a war to a quasi-peace economy, both by easing unemployment problems and by augmenting the supply of trained manpower for economic development.
Political Measures and Psychological Warfare Measures
The GVN should make a major effort to expand the Chieu Hoi (Rallier) program by all possible means. The government should embark on a large-scale propaganda campaign to induce Viet Cong troops and cadres to rally, using the theme that the Viet Cong have been abandoned by the NVA. Also, all differences between the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong should be exploited.
The GVN should make an all-out effort to gain the support of nationalist and anti-Communist political groups in South Vietnam who are in opposition to Thieu. Thieu is currently seeking to gain the support of these groups—but against the agreement itself. Once persuaded, however, that an agreement was the best one that could be obtained, he might also be persuaded that his own future interest would be served by taking concrete steps to improve his relations with the non-Communist opposition groups.
The GVN should promote the formation of anti-Communist “coalitions” in legislative bodies at all levels—National Assembly, provincial and village councils. The GVN and leaders of the various “coalitions” (i.e., political alliances) would then denounce the concept of “coalitions” in the legislatures. This tactic would not only furnish an additional propaganda weapon against Communist efforts to upgrade the “Councils of National Concord and Reconciliation” to governmental organisms, but it would also provide a framework to facilitate cooperation among anti-Communist legislators and councillors. Most supporters of the An Quang Buddhists and a few other staunch oppositionists might remain outside the nationalist coalitions, but many independents and moderate oppositionists—such as followers of Senate Chairman Huyen or of the Progressive Nationalist Movement—would probably join.
The GVN should organize a program of briefings for middle and upper echelon administrative officials and cadres. These briefings, to be held in Saigon and lasting a full day, should include a “pep talk” by the President as well as more detailed explanations and instructions from Ministers and other officials. Bringing provincial officials to Saigon has in the past proved effective not only as a means to impart instructions but also to boost morale and convey a sense of purpose—of being “on the team.” The briefings should be tailored to the needs of the different audiences—village and provincial officials, RF and PF officers, GVN administrative cadres, Ministry of Information officials, etc. Subjects to be covered would include explanations of the dangers ahead in a post-cease-fire period; the GVN’s basic strategy for overcoming them; actions, whether administrative, security or political, to be undertaken; and enemy strategems to watch for and ways to counter them. If all briefings cannot be held in Saigon, some might be organized [Page 362] at the military region level. Again, however, Thieu should personally participate where possible.
The GVN should prepare now to assist the international press and other observers to travel anywhere they desire in South Vietnam to inspect the operation of the cease-fire. Plans should be made for the efficient provision of helicopter transport, communications facilities, and accommodations for representatives of the news media. Requests for assistance by such representatives should be welcome and met with full cooperation by the GVN. The GVN should be officially accredited—either by the GVN, the PRG, or by whatever “neutralist” element finally emerges in the National Council for National Reconciliation and Concord. The GVN should also propose that any accredited correspondent be allowed to visit any part of South Vietnam he desires. Whether or not the Communists accept this, the GVN should lean over backwards to ensure that all correspondents whom it accredits may travel to any part of South Vietnam under GVN control.
The GVN should publicly announce that it stands ready to accept and assist refugees from areas which fall under Communist control as a result of the cease-fire. The government should embark on an accelerated program to deal with the whole refugee problem, so that those who “vote with their feet” will be adequately cared for and resettled. Where refugees desire to return to hamlets which have been deserted because of the war (and which are not actually occupied by Communist military forces), the GVN should insist that a free local referendum is held in such hamlets to determine whether the population desires to remain under GVN control.
Economic Measures
President Thieu should publicly renew his October 1971 proposal to establish postal exchanges, family visits, and, above all, commercial relations between Vietnams. The proposal would undoubtedly be a popular one. Northern refugees who came south after 1954 would welcome an opportunity to communicate with their relatives in the North; southern farmers would see possibilities for large and profitable sales of rice (until the 1954 Geneva Accords the North had traditionally imported rice from the South); and Saigon intellectuals would approve as a matter of principle. Both within South Vietnam and abroad, Thieu would appear sure of himself and his position, unburdened by the inferiority complex vis-à-vis North Vietnam which caused Ngo Dinh Diem to reject similar exchanges. By vigorously advocating such proposals, Thieu would gain politically, whatever the North Vietnamese response.
The GVN should announce now that governmental funds will be available for selected public works projects in villages and hamlets which are under GVN control in the last few days before a cease-fire [Page 363] took effect. The implementation of such public works projects after a cease-fire would further strengthen the position of the central government in rural areas. (The funds, of course, would probably have to come largely from the U.S.)
The GVN should work out plans now to emphasize the “free enterprise” aspects of its economy, in contrast to the “controlled economy” of Communist-held areas. New free markets should be opened in villages where possible. GVN planners should set up the methods and channels now to assure that local markets are provided with sufficient supplies not only of necessities such as fertilizer but also of luxuries such as Hondas. Plans should be made now to improve roads between villages and towns where markets are located and the surrounding hamlets. The government should encourage local initiative in building schools, medical dispensaries, etc. In general, the GVN must be able to show that it has better plans to improve the lot of its people than do the Communists.
The GVN should announce plans to accelerate the implementation of its land program. The announcement should emphasize that the conditions for more rapid land reform will be significantly improved after the fighting ends, and that the government intends to give the program top priority in all areas under GVN control.
The following measures should be implemented immediately by the United States:

Security Measures

(1) A U.S. military contingency plan—providing for B–52 backup of ARVN ground units—should be drawn up, to be implemented in case of major cease-fire violations by the Communists. It would perhaps be helpful if hints that the U.S. was working on a contingency plan such as this were deliberately leaked to the Communists.

(2) The U.S. should take whatever steps are necessary to assure that the GVN has sufficient radios and communication equipment to provide direct and continuous contact with hamlets which are contested during the period immediately before and after a cease-fire.


Political Measures and Psychological Warfare Measures

(3) The U.S. should immediately decide what its response should be to the plans of both the GVN and the Communists to carry out assassination programs in the early stages of a cease-fire. At the minimum, the U.S. should denounce such acts and call for true reconciliation. The fact that the U.S. has advance knowledge of the GVN’s assassination plans will almost certainly leak out fairly soon. The U.S. should decide now how to respond to this potential problem.

Warm regards.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 857, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—China Trip/Vietnam, Sensitive Camp David, Vol. XXI (1). Secret; Sensitive.
  2. Carver drafted the original memorandum, November 4, at Kissinger’s request. (Ibid., Box 113, Vietnam Subject Files, Vietnam—Ceasefire 1972) Negroponte recommended the deletion of several paragraphs and Haig approved the deletions. (Memorandum from Negroponte to Haig, November 6; ibid., Box 1135, Jon Howe Trip Files, Negroponte Negotiations File)
  3. Not found.