Source: The Pentagon Papers, Gravel Edition, Volume 3, pp. 524-529
W. P. Bundy
August 11, 1964
NEXT COURSES OF ACTION IN SOUTHEAST ASIA
This memorandum examines the courses of action the US might pursue, commencing in about two weeks, assuming that the Communist side does not react further to the events of last week.
We have agreed that the intervening period will be in effect a short holding phase, in which we would avoid actions that would in any way take the onus off the Communist side for escalation. We will not send the DESOTO patrol back; will hold up on new 34A operations (continuing only essential re-supply of airdropped missions, plus relatively safe leaflet drops); continue intensive reconnaissance of the DRV and the Panhandle (PDJ if necessary) but hold up on U-2s over Communist China at least until we can use Chinat polots and unless we have evidence suggesting major military moves. Within Laos, the attempt to secure Phou Kout would continue, as would consolidation of the Triangle gains, but nothing further would be done or indicated.
We are not yet sure what the Communist side may do in this period. They have introduced aircraft into North Vietnam, and may well send in at least token ground forces. VC activity should step up markedly at any moment. Although the volume of Chicom propaganda and demonstrations is ominous, it does not yet clearly suggest any further moves; if they were made, we would act accordingly. This memorandum assumes the Communist side does not go beyond the above.
II. ESSENTIAL ELEMENTS IN THE SITUATION
A. South Vietnam is not going well. The Mission's monthly report (Saigon 877) expresses the hope that there can be significant gains by the end of the year. But it also says Khanh's chances of staying in power are only 50-50, that the leadership (though not so much the people or the army) has symptoms of defeatism and hates the prospect of slugging it out within the country, that there will be mounting pressures for wider action which, if resisted, will create frictions and irritations which could lead local politicians to serious consideration of a negotiated solution or local soldiers to a military adventure without US "consent." In other words, even if the situation in our own view does go a bit better, we have a major problem of maintaining morale. Our actions of last week lifted that morale temporarily, but it could easily sag back again if the VC have some successes and we do nothing further.
B. Laos, on the other hand has righted itself remarkably--so much so that a Communist retaliatory move is a real possibility. If Phou Kout can be secured, the present military areas of control are if anything better for Souvanna than the line of last April. T-28 operations have been a major factor, and really hurt PL morale. Souvanna's internal position is also stronger, though the right-wing generals could make fools of themselves again at any time.
C. Laos negotiations may well start to move in the near future whatever we do. Souvanna has agreed to a tripartite meeting in Paris, and has suggested August 24th. With his gains in hand, he has already indicated he is likely not to insist on his previous precondition of Communist withdrawal from the PDJ before agreeing to a 14-nation conference. The USSR, India, and France--and the UK and Canada only slightly less so--are pressing for a conference or at least clear motion toward one. While it is not yet clear that Souphanouvang will accept the tripartite as proposed by Souvanna, we must recognize that if he does it will be a real step toward an eventual conference. We can and will urge Souvanna to go slow, but our control will be limited.
D. As of now, Hanoi and Peiping are certainly not persuaded that they must abandon their efforts in South Vietnam and Laos. The US response to the Vietnamese naval attacks has undoubtedly convinced the Communist side that we will act strongly where US force units are directly involved--as they have previously seen in our handling of Laos reconnaissance. But in other respects the Communist side may not be so persuaded that we are prepared to take stronger actions, either in response to infiltration into South Vietnam or VC activity. The Communists probably believe that we might counter air action in Laos quite firmly, but that we would not wish to be drawn into ground action there.
III. ESSENTIAL ELEMENTS OF US POLICY
A. South Vietnam is still the main theater. Morale and momentum there must be maintained. This means:
1. We must devise means of action that get maximum results for minimum risks.
2. We must continue to oppose any Viet-Nam conference and must play the prospect of a Laos conference very carefully. We must particularly avoid any impression of rushing to a Laos conference, and must show a posture of general firmness into which an eventual Laos conference would fit without serious loss.
3. We particularly need to keep our hands free for at least limited measures against the Laos infiltration areas.
B. Laos. It is our interest to stabilize the Laos situation as between the Government forces and the PL/VM, and to reduce the chances of a Communist escalating move on this front. (If such a move comes, we must meet it firmly, of course. We should also be stepping up Thai support to deter and prevent any Communist nibbles.) However, Souvanna should not give up his strong cards, particularly T-28 operations, without getting a full price for them in terms of acceptance of his position and a really satisfactory military status. Moreover, we must seek to reduce as much as possible the inhibiting effect of any Laos talks on actions against the Panhandle.
C. Solution. Basically, a solution in both South Viet-Nam and Laos will require a combination of military pressure and some form of communication under which Hanoi (and Peiping) eventually accept the idea of getting out.* Negotiation without continued pressure, indeed without continued military action, will not achieve our
* We have never defined precisely what we mean by "getting out"--what actions, what proofs, and what future guarantees we would accept. A small group should work on this over the next months.
objectives in the foreseeable future. But military pressure could be accompanied by attempts to communicate with Hanoi and perhaps Peiping- through third-country channels, through side conversations around a Laos conference of any sort--provided always that we make it clear both to the Communists and to South Viet-Nam that the pressure will continue until we have achieved our objectives. After, but only after, we have established a clear pattern of pressure, we could accept a conference broadened to include the Viet-Nam issue. (The UN now looks to be out as a communication forum, though this could conceivably change.)
TIMING AND SEQUENCE OF ACTIONS
A. PHASE ONE-"Military Silence" (through August) [see Sec. I]
PHASE TWO-Limited Pressures (September through December)
There are a number of limited actions we could take that would tend to maintain the initiative and the morale of the GVN and Khanh, but that would not involve major risks of escalation. Such actions could be such as to foreshadow stronger measures to come, though they would not in themselves go far to change Hanoi's basic actions.
1. 34A operations could be overtly acknowledged and justified by the GVN. Marine operations could be strongly defended on the basis of continued DRV sea infiltration, and successes could be publicized. Leaflet operations could also be admitted and defended, again on the grounds of meeting DRV efforts in the South, and their impunity (we hope) would tend to have its own morale value in both Vietnams. Air-drop operations are more doubtful; their justification is good but less clear than the other operations, and their successes have been few. With the others admitted, they could be left to speak for themselves-and of course security would forbid any mention of specific operations before they succeeded.
2. Joint planning* between the US and the GVN already covers possible actions against the DRV and also against the Panhandle. It can be used in itself to maintain
* This is in Phase One also.
morale of the GVN leadership as well as to control and inhibit any unilateral GVN moves. With 34A surfaced, it could be put right into the same framework. We would not ourselves publicize this planning, but it could be leaked (as it probably would anyway) with desirable effects in Hanoi and elsewhere.
3. Stepped-up training of Vietnamese on jet aircraft should now be undertaken in any event in light of the presence of MIG's in North Vietnam. The JCS are preparing a plan, and the existence of training could be publicized both for its morale effect in the GVN and as a signal to Hanoi of possible future action.
4. Cross-border operations into the Panhandle could be conducted on a limited scale. To be successful, ground operations would have to be so large in scale as to be beyond what the GVN can spare, and we should not at this time consider major US or Thai ground action from the Thai side. But on the air side, there are at least a few worthwhile targets in the infiltration areas, and these could be hit by US and/or GVN air. Probably we should use both; probably we should avoid publicity so as not to embarrass Souvanna; the Communist side might squawk, but in the past they have been silent on this area. The strikes should probably be timed and plotted on the map to bring them to the borders of North Vietnam at the end of December.
5. DESOTO patrols could be reintroduced at some point. Both for present purposes and to maintain the credibility of our account of the events of last week, they must be clearly dissociated from 34A operations both in fact and in physical appearance. In terms of course patterns, we should probably avoid penetrations of 11 miles or so and stay at least 30 miles off; whatever the importance of asserting our view of territorial waters, it is less than the international drawbacks of appearing to provoke attack unduly.
6. Specific tit-for-tat actions could be undertaken for any VC or DRV activity suited to the treatment. These would be "actions of opportunity." As Saigon 877 points out, the VC have "unused dirty tricks" such as mining (or attacks) in the Saigon River, sabotage of major POL stocks, and terrorist attacks on US dependents. The first two, at least, would land themselves to prompt and precise reprisal, e.g., by mining the Haiphong channel and attacking the Haiphong POL storage. Terrorism against US dependents would be harder to find the right reprisal target, and reprisal has some disadvantages in that it could be asked why this was different from the regular pattern of terrorism.
C. PHASE THREE-More Serious Pressures (January 1965 and following).
All the above actions would be foreshadowing systematic military action against the DRV, and we might at some point conclude that such action was required either because of incidents arising from the above actions or because of deterioration in the situation in South Vietnam, particularly if there were to be clear evidence of greatly increased infiltration from the north. However, in the absence of such major new developments, we should probably be thinking of a contingency date, as suggested by Ambassador Taylor, of 1 January 1965. Possible categories of action beginning at about that time, are:
1. Action against infiltration routes and facilities is probably the best opening gambit. It would follow logically the actions in the Sept.-Dec. Phase Two. It could be strongly justified by evidence that infiltration was continuing and, in all probability, increasing. The family of infiltration-related targets starts with clear military installations near the borders. It can be extended almost at will northward, to inflict progressive damage that would have a meaningful cumulative effect, and would always be keyed to one rationale.
2. Action in the DRV against selected military-related targets would appear to be the next upward move. POL installations and the mining of Haiphong Harbor (to prevent POL import as its rationale) would be spectacular actions, as would action against key bridges and railroads. All of these could probably be designed so as to avoid major civilian casualties.
3. Beyond these points it is probably not useful to think at the present time.
D. Handling of Laos Negotiations.
1. We would wish to slow down any progress toward a conference and to hold Souvanna to the firmest possible position. Unger's suggestion of tripartite administration for the PDJ is one possibility that would be both advantageous and a useful delaying gambit. Insistence on full recognition of Souvanna's position is another point on which he should insist, and there would also be play in the hand on the question of free ICC operations. As to a cease-fire, we would certainly not want this to be agreed to at the tripartite stage, since it would remove Souvanna's powerful T-28 lever. But since Souvanna has always made a cease-fire one of his preconditions, we must reckon that the other side might insist on it before a conference were convened--which we would hope would not be until January in any case.
2. If, despite our best efforts, Souvanna on his own, or in response to third-country
pressures, started to move rapidly toward a conference, we would have a very
difficult problem. If the timing of the Laos conference, in relation to the
degree of pressures we had then set in motion against the DRV, was such that
our attending or accepting the conference would have major morale drawbacks
in South Viet-Nam, we might well have to refuse to attend ourselves and to accept
the disadvantages of having no direct participation. In the last analysis, GVN
morale would have to be the deciding factor.
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