111. Editorial Note

On April 16, 1972, Deputy Assistant to the President Alexander Haig arrived in Saigon to prepare a personal assessment of the military situation in Vietnam for President Nixon. During the 3-day visit, Haig focused not only on the North Vietnamese offensive but also on Soviet diplomacy, linking the two in meetings with General Abrams, the Commander of the U.S. Military Assistance Command in Vietnam (MACV), and Ambassador Bunker. Assistant to the President Kissinger informed Haig on April 15 that he had told the Soviets that his secret trip to Moscow was up in the air unless they played a “helpful role” on Vietnam. (Backchannel Message WHS 2045 from Kissinger to Haig, April 15; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 414, Backchannel Files, Backchannel Messages, 1972 To: AMB Bunker—Saigon). Haig replied on April 17 that, while “the fat [was] in the fire” in Washington, Abrams had finally agreed to support the “diplomatic hand” against Moscow by diverting the necessary military resources—including long-range heavy bombers (B–52’s)—to Hanoi. (Message 0065 from Haig to Kissinger; ibid., From: AMB Bunker—Saigon [Part 2])

Haig further emphasized the Soviet side to U.S. strategy on Vietnam in talking points for a meeting with Bunker. Although no record has been found of the meeting, Haig’s talking points reflect the consideration [Page 351]of strategic issues within the White House at the time. “One of the prime reasons for massive movements of ships and planes and our gradually escalated bombing of the North,” Haig noted, “is to make the Russians think that we are capable of drastic actions. They are particularly sensitive about the possibility of blockading Haiphong and our movements are designed to spook them on that contingency as well.” After reviewing how Nixon and Kissinger had recently played the “Soviet card,” Haig outlined the linkage they made between the policies of the Soviet Union and North Vietnam. “We do have reason to believe that Moscow is genuinely concerned about the implications of the current military activity, and our strong response to the North Vietnamese offensive,” he explained. “They have great stakes in the Summit and in other areas such as the German Treaties, not only because of their relations with us and concern with the European front, but also because of the Chinese factor.” Haig also planned to inform Bunker of Kissinger’s secret trip, which—coming as the bombing of North Vietnam continued—would likely unsettle leaders in Moscow as well as Hanoi. According to Haig, Kissinger intended to remind the Soviet leadership of the “serious implications for their interests, both in terms of bilateral relations and their global perspective, of the North Vietnamese attempt to win a military victory.” In the process, Kissinger would probe Soviet willingness to encourage negotiations, and then guarantee an agreement, possibly by enforcing elements of the settlement or by agreeing to limit arms shipments in the future. (Ibid., Box 1014, Haig Special Files, Haig Trip Papers—4/14–4/19/72 [1 of 2])

In a message to Haig on April 17, Kissinger picked up on the latter issue, possibly in response to the discussion at a meeting of the Washington Special Actions Group earlier in the day (see Document 118). After requesting an urgent assessment of the military equipment South Vietnam would require over the next year, Kissinger asked: “In light of those needs, could we accept some limitation on replacement deliveries if the Soviets agreed to a similar limitation for a like period[?]” (Backchannel Message WHS 2050 from Kissinger to Haig, April 17; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1014, Haig Special Files, Haig Trip Papers—4/14–4/19/72 [2 of 2]) Haig replied in detail on April 18, estimating that, although the data was still incomplete, “a moratorium would permit us to cash in on our decision to overstock [South Vietnam] and it would capitalize on [North Vietnamese] errors in becoming enmeshed in a war of attrition of the types of equipment with which they are most dependent on the Soviet Union.” (Backchannel Message 0069 from Haig to Kissinger, April 18; ibid.)

As soon as he returned to Washington on April 19, Haig delivered written and oral reports on his trip to the President: the former is ibid.; for a brief account of the latter, see Haldeman, The Haldeman Diaries, page 442. See also Haig, Inner Circles, pages 282–283.