139. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Secretary of Defense Meeting with Honorable Graham A. Martin, US Ambassador to the Republic of Vietnam (U)


  • Department of Defense
  • Honorable James R. Schlesinger, Secretary of Defense
  • Honorable William P. Clements, Deputy Secretary of Defense
  • Honorable Robert Ellsworth, Assistant Secretary of Defense (ISA)
  • Honorable Terence E. McClary, Assistant Secretary of Defense (Compt)
  • Mr. Erich von Marbod, PDASD (Compt)
  • Mr. Morton I. Abramowitz, DASD (ISA)
  • MGen Howard M. Fish, Acting Director, DSAA
  • MGen John A. Wickham, Jr., Military Assistant to the Secretary of Defense
  • Colonel Jack R. Pilk, Assistant for Vietnam, OASD (ISA)
  • Mr. Raymond F. DuBois, Jr., OSD
  • Others
  • Honorable Graham A. Martin, US Ambassador to the Republic of Vietnam
  • Mr. James Devine, Political–Military Advisor, US Embassy, Saigon [Page 548]
    (S) Ambassador Martin noted that it was not coincidental that the New York Times series of critical articles on Vietnam appeared when the Senate was considering appropriations for military assistance for Vietnam.2 The anti-Vietnam propaganda effort is well coordinated and orchestrated, whereas counter-efforts to portray the true picture suffered from a lack of central direction. In response to Secretary Schlesinger’s query as to what could be done in this area, the Ambassador indicated the American Council for Vietnam was becoming increasingly effective. He was disturbed that CBS ran “The Sins of Their Fathers” again in July. It was a further example of a carefully designed plan to persuade the audience that we should not give any further assistance to the South Vietnamese. The turn-around of the Washington Post’s editorial stance on assistance to RVN was helpful. The Ambassador had asked their editorial board to reconsider their views on the issue in the light of their recent editorials asking for intellectual honesty. Their soul-searching had a favorable result. The Ambassador also noted that this month would mark the 20th Anniversary of Operation Exodus, the evacuation of refugees from the Red River Delta to South Vietnam. Appropriate publicity should be given to the event. The Secretary asked MG Wickham to alert Mr. Friedheim. It was agreed that we all must continue to work for a more objective public relations effort.
    (S) Secretary Schlesinger observed that Senator Pastore’s position on aid to Vietnam would influence three or four other senators. He suggested that the Ambassador’s efforts to persuade Pastore would be helpful. Ambassador Martin agreed but said that he meticulously avoided contact on the Hill unless he was informed that it might be useful. The Secretary stated that Senators McClellan, Stennis, Young and Thurmond would support a supplemental appropriation for Vietnam later in the year, but that we should not submit a request before the fall elections. Mr. Clements observed that a major pitfall for a supplemental would be heavy front-end spending of this year’s appropriation. We must be able to demonstrate to the Congress that we have more control over the program. The Secretary pointed out that a supplemental would have to be based on well-supported clearly essential requirements. Defense should get Senator McClellan and Congressman Mahon to agree on our spending rate of this year’s monies.
    (S) Ambassador Martin agreed and observed that in the past we have had a communication gap concerning expenditures of MASF funds, confusion over what has been charged or spent. He praised the [Page 549]South Vietnamese for their enormous progress in tightening up their logistics system and noted that we must be able to identify for them, with precision, what levels of support they can expect from us. They will then be able to come to us with their requirements on a priority basis. Once they have identified their priorities, a high-level Defense team should review them. In response to the Secretary’s question on whether he was referring to a CINCPAC team, the Ambassador stated that it didn’t matter to him whether the team was composed of CINCPAC or Washington representatives, but that it was important that the Vietnamese take the first cut at establishing priorities with a subsequent Defense review.
    (S) The Ambassador said there was an obvious necessity for reorganization of the RVNAF force structure and that the Vietnamese are perfectly aware of the need. He discussed the subject with President Thieu last December. Thieu feels strongly that force structure revisions should appear to be a Vietnamese initiative, for internal acceptance purposes, and Martin agrees. Once again, after the Vietnamese have addressed the force structure issue, it should be reviewed by us. The Secretary agreed and asked if they would face the hard issues by cutting the forces which are most expensive to support, e.g., their Air Force. The Ambassador believed they would do just that because they are becoming very dollar conscious. They now measure ammunition on a value basis rather than by rounds. The Ambassador observed that the Vietnamese expend 10% of the amount of ammunition that US forces would use in comparable tactical situations. Mr. Clements said that documentation of facts such as these would be very helpful in presenting our case for a supplemental. The Ambassador said that he would cooperate to that end. The Secretary noted that the Ambassador would have a difficult task persuading President Thieu to live within the $700 million support level without disheartening him. The Ambassador responded that he was sure that Thieu will be well aware of the problem. The toughest job would be in not permitting a sense of abandonment to filter through the RVNAF, to minimize the psychological impact.
    (S) The Secretary stated that “grey area” costs, which were not clearly intended by the Congress to be charged to Defense Assistance to Vietnam, would be taken out of DOD’s hide. We will wish to talk over with the appropriate Congressional Committees exactly how we intend to handle these costs. In this manner, we would gain their concurrence in the manner in which we intend to handle Vietnamese monies. The Ambassador stated that the statutes did not clearly define how defense dollars were to be used for Vietnam assistance. It seemed appropriate to him also that we should work it out with the Committee so as not to jeopardize future appropriations for Vietnam. He also [Page 550]agreed that their complete concurrence was necessary. Mr. Ellsworth stated that we can have lawyers argue five or six sides of any case and that Defense should present a positive case to the Committee so that the Committee understands and agrees with what we are doing. Ambassador Martin suggested that perhaps we could get clarifications in the Conference Report. Mr. von Marbod noted that we have other options which are also being looked at. Mr. Clements pointed out that there were dangers involved in going before the Committee—that Defense might be painted into a corner. Ambassador Martin deferred to the judgment of DOD, while noting that we cannot live with both a greatly diminished program level plus the additional costs which were being levied on the program. Mr. Ellsworth stated that it was everyone’s attitude in this room, plus the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that we would get as much mileage as possible out of the Vietnam fund.
    (S) The Secretary asked how Hanoi may react to our diminished assistance level. The Ambassador replied that Hanoi is uncertain of its position vis-à-vis the USSR and PRC. He stated that while Hanoi’s economic assistance is relatively high ($1.2–$1.4 billion annually), its military assistance support is diminishing. He was not sure that Hanoi would “go for broke” militarily, but rather they might opt to keep the military pressure on at the present scale and let economics catch up with South Vietnam. They may not wish to expend their present military assets in a large scale effort because they are not sure they will receive continuing high aid levels and they may not wish to waste what they already have. The Ambassador stated that he was convinced that South Vietnam could carry the burden militarily so long as we provide the necessary matériel support. For example, he noted that while North Vietnamese forces might be able to overrun population centers such as Hue, that if the South Vietnamese had proper matériel assets they could recapture Hue without reentry of US forces. The Secretary noted that this was a politically attractive scenario. We should document such possibilities, highlighting that the tough political decision on reintervention of US forces will not have to be faced if the Congress provides support at the required levels.
    (S) The Ambassador stated that if we maintain adequate support levels now, that future support requirements will be greatly diminished. The Secretary asked that a Vietnam Fact Book be initiated, centering around support levels and the ability to present our case to the Hill. The Ambassador stated that the Vietnamese economy had great potential but that our aid will be necessary for a while longer. He noted that we have to counter the concerted efforts being made to thwart our budget requests. He said there is no doubt that Vietnam can make it, but that the only way we’re going to lose is back here in Washington [Page 551]The Secretary stated that we ought to explore establishment of a new Vietnam Task Force. In this regard, we need to know how much money we really do need for Vietnam. Ambassador Martin estimated that an effective $1 billion delivery program into Vietnam would do the job both for this fiscal year and next year. Given these amounts, we would be able to markedly decrease our support levels thereafter because the North Vietnamese would recognize the futility of continuing their military efforts in South Vietnam.
    (S) Mr. Abramowitz stated that CIA has no evidence that Chinese and Soviet military assistance has significantly declined. They just don’t know what levels of military assistance are received. He observed that the North could opt to maintain high levels of combat activity so that they might make a case for larger amounts of military assistance. The Ambassador said this was possible but the fact was that there is no evidence available of large-scale military assistance. The Ambassador stated that North Vietnam was still under the control of hard-line old-time communist leaders. Younger men with a more constructive outlook are in the second echelon of communist leadership. If we can convince that second echelon leadership that continued hostilities in South Vietnam are futile, we can be more hopeful about their future courses of action.
    (S) In regard to the South Vietnamese economy, the Ambassador noted that they were somewhat chauvinistic concerning outside investments but that, nevertheless, there was an inherent dynamism in the South Vietnamese economy. In response to a question from Mr. Abramowitz on how the South Vietnamese would deal with the problem of North Vietnam’s continued ability to disrupt the economy, the Ambassador replied that North Vietnam could not completely disrupt the economy. The Secretary asked about the prospects for oil development in South Vietnam. The Ambassador stated that the prospects looked good according to all the geologists. He said however, that he was not considering potential oil revenues in his calculations about the Vietnamese economy. Mr. Clements noted that significant oil revenues would not be achieved in any near time frame.
    (S) Ambassador Martin concluded the meeting noting that it was his goal to get the United States out of Vietnam as quickly as possible, and that we should fulfill our commitments for support to the Vietnamese so they could stand on their own feet. At that time, if they couldn’t hack it vis-à-vis the North, the US will have honored its assurances to an ally and the final results need not too seriously hurt us.
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, OSD Files: FRC 330–78–0011, Viet 091, 1974. Secret; Sensitive. The meeting was held in the office of the Secretary of Defense. Prepared by Jack Pilk, ISA, on August 31; approved by Ellsworth.
  2. Apparent reference to articles in The New York Times on August 6 on a report by the staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that was critical of the Embassy in Saigon.