193. Memorandum From the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Haig) to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


Attached is Hal’s Summit options paper. There are several other possibilities that are worth considering.

First, as the President mentioned last night, we might wish to consider a blockade of North Vietnamese ports without bombing the Hanoi/Haiphong complex, but by expanding our bombing efforts to include interdiction as far south as possible of the rail lines from China. We might inform the Soviets that this is the only way—given North Vietnamese intransigence—that a Summit would be possible and point out to them that our only other alternative would be the cancellation of the Summit, or a postponement of the Summit and the most stringent aerial activity.

If Hal’s assumptions are right, it is conceivable that a deal of this kind could be worked out which the Soviets would live with, assuming, of course, they could make all the tough noises they wanted about continued support through land-lines.

The second would be a tougher version of the first option, but this would cost us the Summit. It would be premised on the theory that we want to apply maximum conceivable military pressure on Hanoi in an effort to break their back. This would involve announcement of the postponement of the Summit in softest terms, announcement of the establishment of a blockade while avoiding bombing the Hanoi/Haiphong area, but at the same time to extend our bombing to interdict to the degree possible the communication routes leading from China to North Vietnam.

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Memorandum From Helmut Sonnenfeldt of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)2


  • Summit Options

The attached paper, as you requested, examines probable Soviet reactions to a unilateral postponement by us of the summit as well as the considerations, pro and con, of an agreed postponement. I have set it up as a memorandum from you to the President,3 in case you want to forward it.

Meanwhile, I have also thought of some ways of going through with the summit. The underlying assumption for all options—postponement as well as going ahead—is that the trend in the fighting in the South has not been fundamentally reversed by the time of the summit and that we are engaged in major air and naval actions against the North, perhaps including strikes against Haiphong and Hanoi. This last assumption is, in my view, crucial to all options, but especially to those that involve going through with the summit.

All options carry the risk that the Soviets will pre-empt with a postponement or even cancellation of their own. It is hard to judge whether this risk is greater for the postponement options or for the going-ahead options. In the former cases, Brezhnev may want to grab the initiative to demonstrate his “control” of events to all his various audiences. In the latter cases, given heavy US attacks on the North, he may find the situation “morally” tolerable—again, partly for domestic reasons and partly for international communist and prestige reasons.

My net judgment, however, remains that Brezhnev has so much riding on the summit—and on the German treaties, which would almost certainly go down the drain with the summit—that he will prefer to keep the summit alive. From his side this argues for (1) accepting postponement, if proposed by us, or (2) going ahead, if we are prepared to do so.

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Analytically, we must distinguish in our minds between on the one hand the maneuvering in the pre-summit period and around a postponement effort and, on the other, the situation that exists if a summit is actually held.

I will now briefly discuss two ways of holding the summit, assuming we get that far. I repeat, the underlying assumption is that we are acting vigorously against the North. That is the only way we can go to Moscow from strength.

1. A Stripped-Down Summit.

Here we would cut down the length of the visit, say to three days; we would reduce all ceremony to an absolute minimum; we would make it a working visit, with the entourage stripped down accordingly (no wives, for example).

This would be a sort of deglamorized, crisis summit, where two great powers would work responsibly on those areas that are clearly of mutual interest (pre-eminently, SALT). At the same time, based on his strong military actions against the North, then in progress, the President would turn the heat on Brezhnev in regard to Vietnam. He would withhold affirmative action on economic concessions on the grounds that these would not be understood (or, in the case of MFN pass through Congress) while Soviet arms fuel the DRV offensive.

A stripped-down summit would lessen some of the elements of incongruity, indeed hypocrisy, of having the President cavort with the Soviet leaders, toast friendship, issue joint principles, etc. While the war goes on in Vietnam. These aspects might also make such a summit more appealing to the Soviets.

To have a determined, business-like President go to Moscow in the midst of crisis would make him look less like going there at any price. The fact that some important business had been transacted would act as a regulator of domestic US reactions to what is happening in Vietnam—perhaps more than a postponement which could become a cancellation. It may also act as a regulator on wild Soviet responses to our actions in Vietnam.

The major risk is that Brezhnev would try to humiliate the President (true under any going-ahead option). He could send the President packing after three or four days with no or only a few accomplishments, while the Vietnam situation deteriorates and the Soviets continue doing their “socialist duty” to the DRV.

Even if Brezhnev did not take this course, the difficulties could come later, as the situation deteriorates in Vietnam and we may find “compromises” (involving withdrawal and a coalition in Saigon) more attractive. At that point, the Moscow trip will look at best futile and at worst like a deal wherein we agreed to get out of Vietnam for the sake [Page 732] of good US-Soviet relations. The Soviets would claim part of the credit for Communist victory in Vietnam and on top of it have the benefits of US-Soviet détente.

2. A “Cynical” Summit.

Here we would go ahead as planned. We would say that we accept the Soviet position that disturbances like Vietnam (and India–Pakistan) should not get in the way of better US-Soviet relations, which are fundamental to the peace of the world.

But we would still try to go from strength, accentuating this point by, in effect, having the President run the war against the DRV from Moscow for eight days. (A couple of generals in the entourage and a command-post aircraft at the airfield would underline the point.)

The image that we would project would be one of having cool nerves, of being reasonable in regard to anything bearing on US-Soviet relations but wild when it comes to Vietnam. The President would trade on his reputation of “unpredictability”: showing Saigon that he is not selling it out; implying to Hanoi that Moscow is colluding in our assault against the North; telling Moscow that we can play the same game of “compartmentalization” as the Soviets, when it suits our purposes.

The risks here are much as in the previous case. Moreover, the problem of the disparity between the symbolism of US-Soviet cooperation and the reality of proxy-war in Vietnam would be even greater than in the “stripped-down” case.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1330, NSC Unfiled Material, 1972, 5 of 8. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only.
  2. Sent for information.
  3. Attached but not printed is a 6-page memorandum drafted for Kissinger to send to Nixon entitled “Soviet Reaction to the Postponement of the Summit.” This memorandum is unsigned and undated; presumably it was not sent to the President.