111. National Intelligence Estimate1

NIE 53/14.3–73



The major judgments in this Estimate are:

Hanoi’s actions are clearly designed to insure that it can again resort to major military action at some point to gain its objectives if other means fail. The chances of the communists gaining power through the political provisions of the Paris agreement are negligible; nor are their prospects good for achieving the GVN’s collapse through a combination of political and clandestine warfare backed up by only moderate military pressure. Hanoi may not have made a final decision as to the timing of a major offensive. It must, however, believe that it will ultimately have to return to the battlefield to seek its objective of reunifying Vietnam. (Paras. 3, 54.)
The current military balance in South Vietnam is only slightly in favor of the GVN; with heavy infiltration and supply movements, it may have shifted to the communists’ advantage by mid-1974. The political balance, however, is clearly in the GVN’s favor and will remain so. (Paras. 6–19, 31–53.)
The forward positioning of communist forces and supplies and the improved road system give Hanoi the capability to kick off a major military campaign with little additional preparation, perhaps less than a month. (Paras. 13–15, 55.)
It is a close choice whether Hanoi will opt for a major military offensive during the current dry season (October 1973–May 1974). In making its decision Hanoi must assess the following factors:
  • —The likelihood and extent of a US response; the positions of Moscow and Peking, particularly the consequences to the North Vietnamese position if they can not be certain of enough material support to cover losses that would accompany prolonged heavy combat; the [Page 449]military balance between its forces and the RVNAF; and the overall political and military situation in the South. (Para. 56.)
  • —The arguments for and against an offensive this dry season are presented in paragraphs 57–64.2
If there is not an offensive this dry season, Hanoi will continue to launch and no doubt accelerate carefully orchestrated significant localized, and limited-objective attacks in various regions of South Vietnam to seize territory and test the GVN’s resolution. (Paras 67–68.)
In the event of a major communist military effort this dry season, however, the communists would initially make substantial territorial gains in MR–1 where they would probably commit their own air assets. If the fighting were prolonged, RVNAF’s continued resistance in MR–1 would be in doubt without renewed US air support. Communist gains in the rest of South Vietnam would be less dramatic, and RVNAF should be able to blunt the communist assault. (Paras. 44, 65–66.)
Beyond this dry season, we believe the odds favoring a major communist offensive will increase significantly in the following dry season. (Para. 76.)

—Over the long run, Hanoi may place greater weight on trends it observes in the South than on the external restraints imposed by Moscow, Peking, and Washington. (Paras. 69–75.)

[Omitted here is the body of the estimate.]

  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, NIC Files, Job 79–R01012A, Box 469, National Intelligence Estimates, Folder 1, NIE 53/14.3–73. Secret. The Central Intelligence Agency and the intelligence organizations of the Departments of State, Defense, and Treasury and the National Security Agency participated in the preparation of this estimate. The Director of Central Intelligence submitted the estimate with the concurrence of all members of the USIB except the FBI representative, who abstained on the ground that it was outside FBI jurisdiction. For the full text of the estimate, see National Intelligence Council, Estimative Products on Vietnam, 1948–1975 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2005), pp. 597–617.
  2. The Assistant Chief of Staff, Intelligence, USAF, believes that the case postulated in favor of a North Vietnamese offensive in 1974, earlier rather than later, merits greater weight than the case against such an offensive. His arguments in support of this position are presented in his footnote on page 16. [Footnote in the original.]