The Pentagon Papers
Gravel Edition
Volume 1
Document 30, US, National Security Council, Action No. 1074-a, on possible US intervention in Indochina, 5 April 1954, p 462-71.


April 5, 1954

(Revision of Report distributed April 3)


1. To analyze the extent to which, and the circumstances and conditions under which, the United States would be willing to commit its resources in support of the effort to prevent the loss of Indochina to the Communists, in concert with the French or in concert with others or, if necessary, unilaterally.

Issues Involved

2. The answer to this problem involves four issues:

a. Will Indochina be lost to the Communists unless the United States commits combat resources in some form?
b. What are the risks, requirements and consequences of alternative forms of U.S. military intervention?
c. Should the United States adopt one of these forms of intervention rather than allow Indochina to be lost to the Communists and if so which alternative should it choose?
d. When and under what circumstances should this decision be taken and carried into effect?

Prospect of Loss of Indochina

3. The first issue turns on whether the French Union can and will prevent the loss of Indochina and what further actions, if any, the United States can take to bolster or assist the French effort. Some of these questions were covered by the Report of the Special Committee of March 17, 1954. Others are matters of continuous intelligence estimates. At the present time there is clearly a possibility that a trend in the direction of the loss of Indochina to Communist control may become irreversible over the next year in the absence of greater U.S. participation. There is not, however, any certainty that the French have as yet reached the point of being willing to accept a settlement which is unacceptable to U.S. interests or to cease their military efforts. Moreover, regardless of the outcome of the fight at Dienbienphu, there is no indication that a military decision in Indochina is imminent. It is clear that the United States should undertake a maximum diplomatic effort to cause the French and Associated States to continue the fight to a successful conclusion.

Risks, Requirements, and Consequences of U.S. Intervention

4. The attached Annex addresses itself to the second issue: The risks, requirements and consequences of certain alternative forms of U.S. military intervention. In order to permit analysis of military requirements and allied and hostile reactions, this annex assumes that there will be either: (1) a French and Associated States invitation to the United States to participate militarily; or (2) an Associated States invitation to the United States after a French decision to withdraw, and French willingness to cooperate in phasing out French forces as U.S. forces are phased in. If neither of these assumptions proved valid the feasibility of U.S. intervention would be vitiated. If the French, having decided on withdrawal and a negotiated settlement, should oppose U.S. intervention and should carry the Associated States with them in such opposition, U.S. intervention in Indochina would in effect be precluded. If, after a French decision to withdraw, the Associated States should appeal for U.S. military assistance but the French decided not to cooperate in the phasing in of U.S. forces, a successful U.S. intervention would be very difficult.

Desirability and Form of U.S. intervention

5. The third issue is whether the United States should intervene with combat forces rather than allow Indochina to be lost to the Communists, and which alternative it should select?

a. U.S. commitment of combat forces would involve strain on the basic western coalition, increased risk of war with China and of general war, high costs in U.S. manpower and money, and possible adverse domestic political repercusions. Moreover, the United States would be undertaking a commitment which it would have to carry through to victory. In whatever form it might intervene, the U.S. would have to take steps at the outset to guard against the risks inherent in intervention. On the other hand, under the principles laid down in NSC 5405, it is essential to U.S. security that Indochina should not fall under Communist control.

b. Of the alternative courses of action described in the Annex, Course A or B has these advantages over Course C. Neither Course A or B depends on the initial use of U.S. ground forces. For this reason alone, they obviously would be much more acceptable to the American public. For the same reason, they would initially create a less serious drain on existing U.S. military forces. But either Course A or B may turn out to be ineffective without the eventual commitment of U.S. ground forces.

c. A political obstacle to Course A or Course B lies in the fact that the present French effort is considered by many in Southeast Asia and other parts of the world as essentially colonial or imperialist in character. If the United States joined its combat forces in the Indochina conflict, it would be most important to attempt to counteract or modify the present view of this struggle. This would also be essential in order to mobilize maximum support for the war within Indochina.

d. An advantage of Course B over Course A lies in the association of the Asian States in the enterprise which would help to counteract the tendency to view Indochina as a colonial action. There would be advantages in Course B also in that U.S. opinion would be more favorable if the other free nations and the Asian nations were also taking part and bearing their fair share of the burden.

e. As between UN and regional support it appears that regional grouping would be preferable to UN action, on the ground that UN support would be far more difficult to get and less likely to remain solid until the desired objective was reached.

6. In order to make feasible any regional grouping, it will be essential for the United States to define more clearly its own objectives with respect to any such action. In particular, it would be important to make perfectly clear that this action is not intended as a first step of action to destroy or overthrow Communist China. If the other members of a potential regional grouping thought that we had such a broad objective, they would doubtless be hesitant to join in it. The Western powers would not want to increase the risks of general war which would, in their opinion, flow from any such broad purpose. The Asian countries would be equally reluctant to engage in any such broad activity. Both groups would doubtless want to make very clear that we object essentially to the expansionist tendencies of Communist China and that, if those ceased, we would not go fUrther in attempting to carry on military activities in the Far East. Furthermore, to attract the participation of Asian States in a regional grouping, the United States would undoubtedly have to undertake lasting commitments for their defense.

Timing and Circumstances of Decision to Intervene with U.S. Combat Forces

7. The timing of the disclosure or implementation of any U.S. decision to intervene in Indochina would be of particular importance.

a. In the absence of serious military deterioration in Indochina, it is unlikely that France will agree to the arrangements envisaged in Alternatives A, B, or C in light of the hopes widely held in France and elsewhere that an acceptable settlement can be achieved.

b. On the other hand, inaction until after exhaustive discussions at Geneva, without any indication of U.S. intentions, would tend to increase the chance of the French government and people settling, or accepting the inevitability of settling, on unacceptable terms. Hints of possible U.S. participation would tend to fortify French firmness, but might also tend to induce the Communists to put forward more acceptable terms.

c. On balance, it appears that the United States should now reach a decision whether or not to intervene with combat forces, if that is necessary to save Indochina from Communist control, and, tentatively, the form and conditions of any such intervention. The timing for communication to the French of such decision, or for its implementation, should be decided in the light of future developments.

8. If the United States should now decide to intervene at some stage, the United States should now take these steps:

a. Obtain Congressional approval of intervention.

b. Initiate planning of the military and mobilization measures to enable

c. Make publicized U.S. military moves designed to make the necessary U.S. air and naval forces readily available for use on short notice.

d. Make maximum diplomatic efforts to make it clear, as rapidly as possible, that no acceptable settlement can be reached in the absence of far greater Communist concessions than are now envisaged.

e. Explore with major U.S. allies--notably the UK, Australia, and New Zealand, and with as many Asian nations as possible, such as Thailand and the Philippines, and possibly Nationalist China, the Republic of Korea, and Burma--the formation of a regional grouping.

WEB Note: There is no f., g., or h. in the original text.

i. Exert maximum diplomatic efforts with France and the Associated States designed to (1) bring about full agreement between them, if possible prior to Geneva, on the future status of the Associated States; (2) prepare them to invite U.S. and if possible group participation in Indochina, if necessary.

NSC Action # 1074a
April 5, 1954



Scope of This Annex

1. This Annex seeks to assess the risks, requirements, and consequences of alternative forms of U.S. military intervention in Indochina.

Objective of U.S. Intervention in indochina

2. The immediate objective of U.S. military intervention in any form would be the destruction of organized Vietminh forces by military action limited to the area of Indochina, in the absence of overt Chinese Communist intervention. However, whether or not the action can be limited to Indochina once U.S. forces and prestige have been committed, disengagement will not be possible short of victory.

Risk of Expanding the War

3. The increased risk of such Chinese Communist intervention is assessed under each alternative form of U.S. military intervention. U.S. action in the event that the Chinese Communists overtly intervene in Indochina is covered by existing policy (NSC 5405).

4. The implications of U.S. intervention go far beyond the commitment and support of the military requirements identified below under the several alternative courses. To meet the increased risk of Chinese Communist intervention and possibly of general war, measures must be taken inside the United States and in areas other than Indochina to improve the defense posture of the United States. Military measures would include the increased readiness of the existing forces and the re-positioning of U.S. forces outside the United States. Domestic measures would include those outlined below under "Mobilization Implications." A reexamination and possibly complete revision of U.S. budgetary and fiscal policies would be required.

Availability of Military Forces

5. The military forecs required to implement the various courses of action described in this paper are presently assigned missions in support of other U.S. objectives. A decision to implement any of these courses would necessitate a diversion of forces from present missions. It would also require the mobilization of additional forces to assume the functions of the diverted forces and to meet the increased risk of general war. The foregoing is particularly true with respect to U.S. ground forces.

Mobilization Implications

6. All the domestic consequences of U.S. intervention cannot be forecast, being dependent on such factors as the degree of opposition encountered, the duration of the conflict and the extent to which other countries may participate, but in varying degree some or all of the following steps may become necessary:

a. Increase in force levels and draft quotas.
b. Increase and acceleration of military production.
c. Acceleration of stockpile programs.
d. Reimposition of materials and stabilization controls.
e. Speed-up of readiness measures for all continental defense programs.

Whether or not general mobilization should be initiated, either at the outset or in the course of U.S. intervention, is a major question for determination.

Use of Nuclear Weapons

7. Nuclear weapons will be available for use as required by the tactical situation and as approved by the President. The estimated forces initially to be supplied by the United States under the alternatives in this paper are based on the assumption of availability. If such weapons are not available, the force require-
ments may have to be modified. The political factors involved in the use of nuclear weapons are assessed under the various alternatives.*

* State considers the military effect of use or non-use of nuclear weapons should be made clear in the estimates of military requirements to assist in making a decision.

Political Conditions

8. U.S. military intervention in concert with the French should be conditioned upon satisfactory political cooperation from the French and French agreement to grant independence to the Associated States in a form that will contribute to their maximum participation in the war. The Associated States undoubtedly would not invite U.S. or allied intervention without lasting guarantees of territorial integrity. U.S. contribution to a full-scale reconstruction and development program in Indochina must also be anticipated.

(No paragraphs 9 and 10)




11. The Associated States and France invite the military participation of the United States.

12. It is impracticable to organize a UN or regional military effort.

13. The military situation in Indochina is approximately as at present, i.e., stalemate with elements of deterioration.

14. France and the Associated States will carry forward the scale of military effort envisaged in the Laniel-Navarre Plan.

Military Requirements

15. Estimated forces to be supplied by U.S. initially.

a. Ground forces--(None, provided French Union forces afford adequate security for local defense of U.S. forces in Indochina.)
b. Naval forces--(Total personnel strength of 35,000).

(1) 1 carrier task group plus additional units consisting of:

Amphibious lift for 1 RCT
Underway replenishment group

c. Air Force forces--(Total personnel strength of 8,600)

(1) 1 fighter wing (3 sqdns. with integral air defense capability)
(2) 1 light bomber wing
(3) 1 troop carrier wing
(4) 1 tactical control sqdn.
(5) 1 tactical recon. sqdn.

16. Command Arrangements: Theater Command

a. This should be U.S., since this command must be a combined as well as a joint command and U.S. commanders have had considerably more experience in commanding combined and joint commands. Further, should it become necessary to introduce U.S. ground forces, it would be much better to have a U.S. commander already operating as theater commander rather than effect a change at the time U.S. ground forces become involved. All services of the United States, France, and the Associated States will have representatives at the combined headquarters. Similar representation will be necessary at the Joint Operations Center (JOC) to be established.

b. Political considerations and the preponderance of French Union forces may dictate the assignment of theater command to the French, at least during the early phase of U.S. participation.

17. Logistic Requirements: This course of action can be logistically supported with the following effects:

a. No delay to NATO deliveries.

b. No drain on Army logistic reserves, negligible drain on Air Force logistic reserves, a partial drain on certain logistic reserves of the Navy, particularly aircraft and ammunition.

c. Some Navy production schedule increases in aircraft and ammunition (depending on extent of operations), some increases in Air Force production schedule with emphasis on ammunition, no effect on Army production schedules.

d. No additional facilities at bases in Indochina required.

18. The training of indigenous forces is crucial to the success of the operation. The United States should therefore insist on an understanding with the French which will insure the effective training of the necessary indigenous forces required including commanders and staff personnel at all levels. The United States must be prepared to make contributions of funds, materials, instructors and training devices as agreed with the French. A United States program for the development of indigenous forces would stress the organization of divisional size units. The battalion organization does not particularly well fit the approved concept for operations formulated by General Navarre, nor does it represent the best return in striking power for the manpower investment made. A reasonable, attainable goal in Associated States forces which the United States might develop and train is on the order of 330,000 (an increase of 100,000 over the present forces.) This would be accomplished by a re-organization of the presently formed battalions into divisions followed by further training stressing regimental and divisional exercises. New units would be developed as necessary to complete the program.

Political Aspects

19. French Reaction: The French would expect U.S. military participation in Indochina:

a. To relieve them from the prospect of defeat or failure in Indochina and to this extent they would welcome U.S. intervention.

b. To highlight the inability of the French to handle the situation alone, with resultant weakening of the general international position of France.

c. To lead to a strengthening of the position of the Associated States as against the French, and a weakening of the French Union concept.

d. To tend to result in channeling U.S. support for the Indochina war directly to the theater of operations, thus reducing the financial benefits to metropolitan France.

e. To increase the risk of Chinese Communist intervention and, through a series of actions and counteractions, to increase the risk of general war with the USSR.

On balance, the French would prefer to find a solution of the Indochina problem which did not involve U.S. military participation, although such solution might in our opinion risk the ultimate loss of Indochina. In the event of U.S. military participation the French could be expected to attempt progressively to shift the military burden of the war to the United States, either by withdrawing their forces or failing to make good attrition.

20. Associated States Reaction: The Associated States would not be interested in U.S. intervention unless they were satisfied (1) such intervention would be on a scale which seemed adequate to assure defeat of the Vietminh organized military forces and to deter Chinese Communist aggression, and (2) the United States would assume lasting responsibility for their political independence and territorial integrity. On these terms non-Communist Indochinese leaders would welcome U.S. intervention, and would be unlikely to succumb to Communist peace proposals. The war-weary Indochinese people, however, might be less favorable, particularly if U.S. intervention came at a time when an end to the fighting seemed otherwise in sight. The Associated States would expect to profit from U.S. intervention in terms of increased independence from the French, and would constantly seek to enlist U.S. influence in bolstering their position vis-a-vis France. The Indochinese, however, would be worried over the possibility that U.S. intervention might invite Chinese Communist reaction and make Indochina a battleground of destruction on the Korean scale. Accordingly, they would be expected to oppose the use of nuclear weapons in Indochina.

21. Free World Reaction: The U.K., apprehensive of the possibility of war with Communist China, would approve a U.S. intervention in Indochina only if convinced that it was necessary for the prevention of further expansion of Communist power in Asia. Australia and New Zealand would fully support such a U.S. action, and Canada to a lesser extent. Nationalist China and the Republic of Korea would welcome U.S. intervention in Indochina, since both would hope that this would lead to general war between the United States and Communist China. President Rhee, in particular, might be tempted to believe that his chances of involving the United States in a renewal of Korean hostilities were greatly enhanced. Thailand, if assured of U.S. guarantees of adequate permanence would probably permit the use of Thai territory and facilities. The Philippines would support U.S. intervention. Japan would lend unenthusiastic diplomatic support. India and Indonesia strongly, and Ceylon and Burma to a lesser extent, would disapprove U.S. intervention. Other members of the Arab-Asian bloc would be unsympathetic especially because of seeming U.S. support for French colonialism. The NATO countries, other than those mentioned above, would generally support U.S. military action, but their support would be tempered by fear of expansion of the hostilities and the effect on the NATO build-up. The attitude of most of the Latin American countries would tend to be noncommittal.

22. Free World Reaction in the Event of U.S. Tactical Use of Nuclear Weapons: U.S. allies would almost certainly consider that use by the U.S. of nuclear weapons in Indochina (a) would remove the last hope that these weapons would not be used again in war, and (b) would substantially increase the risk of general war. Our allies would, therefore, doubt the wisdom of the use of nuclear weapons in Indochina and this doubt would develop into strong disapproval if nuclear weapons were used without their being consulted or against their wishes. On the other hand, France and, if consulted, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and possibly the Netherlands, might support such action but only if convinced by the U.S. that such action was essential to keep Southeast Asia from falling under Communist control and to preserve the principle of collective security. Other NATO governments, if similarly consulted would probably not publicly disapprove of such U.S. action, if they were persuaded during consultation that such action was essential to prevent collapse of the collective security system. Nationalist China and the Republic of Korea would probably approve such action in the hope that this would result in general war between the U.S. and Communist China. Japan would almost certainly publicly disapprove. Most Asian states and those of the Arab Bloc would probably object strongly to such U.S. action. Certain of these nations led by India, would almost certainly seek to have the UN censure the U.S.

23. Soviet Bloc Reaction:

a. The Communist Bloc would almost certainly seek to create differences between the United States and the French, and for this purpose would probably put forward "plausible" peace offers to the greatest extent possible in the light of the Geneva Conference. It is unlikely, in the first instance, that the USSR would take any direct military action in response to U.S. participation in the Indochina war. The Soviet Union would, however, continue to furnish to the Chinese Communists military assistance for Vietminh utilization in Indochina.

b. The Chinese Communists probably would not immediately intervene openly, either with regular or "volunteer" forces, but would substantially increase all other kinds of support. However, if confronted by impending Vietminh defeat, Communist China would tend toward intervention because of the prospect that Communist prestige throughout the world would suffer a severe blow, and that the area of U.S. military influence would be brought to the southern border of China. On the other hand, Communist China's desire to concentrate on domestic problems, plus fear of what must appear to Peiping as the virtual certainty of U.S. counteraction against Communist China itself, would tend to deter overt intervention. The chances are about even that in this situation Communist China would decide upon overt intervention rather than accept the defeat of the Vietminh.*

* For fuller discussion of the split of opinion within the IAC on this question, see SE-53, "Probable Communist Reactions to Certain Possible U.S. Courses of Action in Indochina through 1954" (published December 18, 1953).

c. Soviet Bloc Reaction in the Event of U.S. Tactical Use of Nuclear Weapons. Initial Communist military reactions would probably be substantially the same as in the case of no nuclear weapons. Politically, the Communists would intensify their world-wide campaign to brand the U.S. as an aggressor, with the expectation that considerable political capital could be realized out of the adverse world reactions to U.S. use of nuclear weaporis. If U.S. use of nuclear weapons should lead to impending Vietminh defeat, there is a split of opinion within the Intelligence Advisory Committee as to whether the Chinese Communists would accept the risk involved and intervene overtly to save the Communist position in Indo China: three members believe the chances they would not openly intervene are greater than assessed in par. 23-b above; three members believe the chances are better than even they would openly intervene.

24. Foreign Aid Consideration: Military assistance to finance the French and Associated States military effort and to supply military hardware would continue at approximately current rates (FY 1954 = $800 million; FY 1955 = $1130 million). Expenditures for economic assistance in Indochina would be substantially increased over the present rate of expenditure ($25 million). These figures do not take into account the cost of U.S. military participation or the possible cost of post-war rehabilitation in Indochina.

[material missing]



37. France refuses to continue participation in the war in Indochina.

38. The Associated States invite the military participation of the United States with others or alone.

39. There has been no serious deterioration in the French Union military situation prior to U.S. take-over.

40. The French will so phase their withdrawal as to permit orderly replacement of their forces.

41. The Associated States will cooperate fully with the United States in developing indigenous forces.

42. It may be practicable to organize a UN or regional military effort.

Military Requirements

43. a. Ground forces. (Total personnel strength of 605,000)

(1) Indigenous forces of 330,000.
(2) U.S. or allied forces of six infantry and one airborne division (each the equivalent of a U.S. division in strength and composition) plus necessary support personnel totaling 275,000.

b. Air Force forces. (Total personnel strength of 12,000)

1 air defense fighter wing
1 light bomb wing

Go Back to Volume 1, Chapter I of the Pentagon Papers

Go Back to Volume 1, Chapter 2 of the Pentagon Papers

Go Back to Volume 1, Chapter 3 of the Pentagon Papers

Go Back to Volume 1, Chapter 4 of the Pentagon Papers

Go Back to Volume 1, Chapter 5 of the Pentagon Papers

Return to Vinnie's Home Page

Return to Vietnam War Page