99. Memorandum From William Stearman of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • CIA Reclamation on Lon Nol Departure

The CIA has sent you two memorandums which urge Lon Nol’s departure as a negotiating gambit (from Mr. Colby at Tab A)2 and suggest contingency plans be made to deal with the possibility that Lon Nol is removed by his own colleagues (from George Carver at Tab B).3 We are not persuaded by Ambassador Colby’s reasoning for the need for the Marshal’s end, but concur with Carver’s suggestion for contingency planning, although we do not think a coup is imminent.

Colby Memo

Colby’s memo at Tab A recommends the following three-step scenario to promote negotiations in Cambodia:

  • —We insist that Lon Nol depart.
  • —We propose to the Chinese a tradeoff—Lon Nol’s departure and an immediate bombing halt in exchange for a cease-fire and negotiations.
  • —We tell the remaining High Council members that they must redress shortcomings and enter negotiations with the “Sihanouk camp.”

In support of these recommendations, Colby argues that Cambodia probably will fall if Lon Nol remains, but that there is a slim chance that with China’s good offices, the Marshal’s departure could begin a negotiating process. He emphasizes that a negotiated solution, “even if paper thin” will enhance our chances of obtaining something less than an outright Communist Cambodia and that it would better preserve our credibility in the eyes of other nations. The paper also lays considerable stress on Chinese desires for a negotiated settlement, and the pressures which Lon Nol’s departure would create on Peking, Hanoi and the insurgents to negotiate.

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We do not concur in Colby’s recommendations for the following reasons:

  • —The Chinese recently have demonstrated little interest in helping us open Cambodian negotiations. Colby, we believe, overestimates their willingness to cooperate.
  • —The recommended tradeoff for negotiations—Lon Nol and a bombing halt—is too little, too late. Our bombing will, of course, halt in 10 days, anyway, and the insurgents are rigidly sticking to their demand for the removal of all High Council members.
  • Swank, Martin and Enders all recommend that Lon Nol remain in place to preserve a bargaining chip and avert a debilitating succession struggle.
  • —In fairness, Colby himself mentions a number of factors which taken together argue against his conclusions. He acknowledges, for example, that the insurgents have little incentive to negotiate and are persevering with a hard line; that Lon Nol’s departure will not necessarily result in a more effective GKR performance and that it could lead to political disruptions. (Colby believes these problems would be manageable and that we could pressure the remaining leaders to work together.) Finally, Colby admits that the results of the negotiations would not necessarily be good, as Sihanouk’s terms would be very stiff.
  • —We question Colby’s assumption that a negotiated “paper-thin” settlement would better serve our general interests. We wonder whether U.S. credibility in Saigon, Bangkok and Peking would be more undermined by a hastily contrived “fig-leaf” settlement imposed on the GKR or by loyal support to the end.
  • —Lastly, we raise a critical consideration not noted in Tab A—whether our chances of Congressional support for Vietnam are better served by a contrived peace or a GKR collapse laid at the Congress’ doorstep. While we are not experts on Congressional attitudes, we would not discount the possibility that a GKR defeat could raise a guilt phenomenon among certain legislators and provide us greater justification to counter Hanoi’s violations by additional assistance to Saigon.

Carver Memo

George Carver’s memo at Tab B argues that the situation in Phnom Penh is steadily deteriorating and that we need contingency plans to deal with the increasing possibilities of Lon Nol’s removal by his own colleagues. Carver’s memo summarizes and encloses several negative reports from Phnom Penh which hint that Sirik Matak may plan to oust the Marshal and indicates that Lon Nol and the FANK G–2 staff still are living in a dream world. Carver adds that an attempt to preserve Lon Nol against determined opposition from his colleagues would probably be doomed to failure.

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While we doubt a coup is imminent, we concur in Carver’s recommendation as a useful preparation and share his apparent view that we not support Lon Nol if any independent, unified attempt is made by the High Council to remove him. However, this does not mean that we should encourage coup plotting in any way, but only that we accept a fait accompli, if and when it occurs. Obviously, we can live with Lon Nol’s departure if his own colleagues effect it but—as noted above—we should not ourselves promote it as the political risks are high and the negotiating dividend minimal.

Concerning Carver’s concern over a coup and the GKR situation, we have the following observations:

  • —Contrary to Carver’s view of coup prospects, a principal troop commander told clandestine sources August 1 that he has backed off from earlier coup plans because such action would be counterproductive and worsen the military situation.
  • —The FANK G–2 paper4—which Carver encloses as an example of naiveté—is remarkably realistic about the consequences of a bombing halt. Its conclusions:

    “It is feared that the halt of United States bombing can only change this state of affairs. The psychological shock will be considerable and the morale of FANK, already not very high, will be affected and there will be many defections. These will be more numerous and the capital may find itself cut off from the outside world and will be faced with an exceptionally grave crisis. . . . It is more and more evident that after 15 August, the GKR and FANK can only and should only count on their own resources. The only salvation resides in the combative ability of the Cambodian armed forces.”

  • FANK scored some gains over the weekend in clearing Route 1 east of Phnom Penh and advancing to the Prek Thnact River south of Phnom Penh.

You may, at the August 7 WSAG, wish to discuss the necessity of contingency planning on the U.S. posture towards any possible anti-Lon Nol coup.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H–Files), Box H–94, WSAG Meeting, Vietnam, August 1973. Secret; Sensitive. Sent for information.
  2. Colby’s memorandum, “Cambodia—Negotiations and New Leadership,” August 2, attached but not printed.
  3. Carver’s memorandum, “Deterioration in Cambodia,” August 4, attached but not printed.
  4. The G–2 paper, “FANK Analysis of Perspectives After 15 August,” July 28, attached to Carver’s memorandum.