Working Group Draft, "Probable Reactions to Options B and C," 6 November 1964

Source: The Pentagon Papers, Gravel Edition, Volume 3, pp. 596-598

6 November 1964




(We refer the reader to SNIE 10-3-64, "Probable Reactions to Certain Possible US/GVN Courses of Action," of 9 October 1964. We feel that the judgments of this SNIE apply to the general levels of US military actions against the DRV which might be taken under the broad Options B or C of our present project outline--note especially the similarity with Category IV generalized US actions in pages 7-12 of the SNIE. Once Options B and C have been defined more precisely, the intelligence community, or intelligence community personnel, can estimate how Communist reactions would differ, if at all, from those in response to the assumed general US categories of action of SNIE 10-3-64.)


We believe that the USSR would be sufficiently concerned over the prospect of escalation of the crisis and of possible general war that it would not risk trying the American temper by provoking major crises in Berlin, Cuba, or elsewhere. We similarly doubt that Communist China would seek to create any major diversions outside of Southeast Asia during a US-DRV confrontation for fear of US nuclear retaliation.


1. The initial reaction would probably be one of elation, in the belief that the US was at last bringing its great power to bear against the enemy. Such attitudes would persist in the event that VC activity noticeably diminished or if the DRV soon indicated a serious interest in a cease-fire and negotiations. The South Vietnamese would be given a great psychological boost, and we would probably see at least a spurt of much more effective GVN military and administrative performance. Initial South Vietnamese elation and support would almost certainly quickly wane, however, if the war seemed to drag on despite the new US moves, and especially if the VC were able to increase their military and terrorist pressures.

2. In such event, the belief would almost certainly rapidly spread that eventual DRV/VC victory was inevitable, that the US was unable or unwilling to save the situation, and that prudence dictated an early accommodation. In such an atmosphere, VC exploitive efforts would bear considerable fruit. There would doubtless be some protest among South Vietnamese at the "inhuman" US actions against their kinsmen in the North. Deteriorating South Vietnamese morale, VC pressures, and perhaps French political action in South Vietnam could probably succeed in soon casting up a new government committed to a cease-fire and a negotiated end to the war on almost any terms. The US would probably have the capability to install and protect a GVN subservient to US wishes, but the scene would have deteriorated to such an extent that there would be little nation-wide support for this government.

3. VC tactics and capabilities. The general level of VC activity--whether more, less, or about as at present--would of course be the result of Hanoi's basic decision of the moment as to how to respond to the US attacks. Involved in such decision would be Hanoi's estimate of the fragility of the political situation in the South and whether "victory" might be quickly attained by a short, sudden burst. Available intelligence data do not warrant a confident estimate of VC "burst" capabilities, but we incline to the view that the VC does have military capabilities it has not yet committed. This may also be the case with VC terrorism, subversion, and political action, though we feel that any "unused" capabilities in these fields are less than in the case of the military. In any event, the VC would be hesitant to commit large-scale VC forces for fear that the GVN, with US assistance, could chew up such military units much more effectively than it has small VC groups. The VC, accordingly, would probably not attempt to administer such a coup de grace unless the demise of Saigon's authority appeared to be imminent.


1. The reactions of the non-aligned states, and even of some US allies, to increased US military initiatives would tend to be adverse. The more severe the attacks were, and the longer they lasted, the greater and more articulate the the adverse reaction would be. Such reactions would be mitigated considerably if the moves appeared to achieve US objectives, and in any case some governments would be privately more sympathetic to the US than would appear in their public stance or in public opinion media.

2. The most important non-Communist reactions would be those of the Asian states and of France and the UK.

a. In the Rep. of Korea, the Rep. of China, the Philippines, and Thailand there would be considerable elation that the US had adopted a tough new line which might check or cut back Communist expansion. These allies could probably be counted upon to lend some active support, use of bases, etc., to the US effort, but to balk at any US efforts to enlist their support for a negotiated settlement. The Japanese government, and considerable informed opinion in Japan, would be quietly pleased by the US action against the DRy. The Japanese government would probably attempt to stay fairly aloof from the question, however, for fear of provoking extreme domestic pressures or possible Chinese Communist action against Japan. In such process, the Japanese government, especially one headed by Kono, might seek to restrict certain US base rights in Japan.

b. The Indian government, and considerable informed opinion in India, would probably be quietly pleased by the US toughness, but the official Indian line would doubtless be one pressing for a quick end to hostilities and for US entry into negotiations. Prince Sihanouk would probably be the most troublesome neutralist, but his position would largely depend on his estimate of which was the stronger side. Sukarno can be confidently expected to lend at least verbal support to the Communist cause.

c. In the event US actions against the DRV were accompanied by an apparent US willingness to negotiate, the UK would probably prove our firmest political aide at this point, pressing for negotiations but resisting Cmmunist efforts to make a mockery of them. The French would probably condemn US military action and associate themselves with Communist demands for negotiations without preconditions.

3. Longer-term world reactions would be influenced by success of the US sanctions: if they halted Communist expansion in Indochina and led to an easing of tensions, US firmness would be retrospectively admired, as in the Chinese offshore islands and Cuba missile showdowns.

4. The US would probably find itself progressively isolated in the event the US sanctions did not soon achieve either a Communist reduction of pressures in South Vietnam or some progress toward meaningful negotiations, and would almost certainly find itself isolated in the event that the crisis developed to the point where a US-Communist Chinese war seemed imminent. Some US allies, such as the GRC, the Philippines, and Thailand, would probably back the US wholeheartedly, with the GRC, at least, demanding to participate. Reactions of other US allies would depend in part upon the manner in which the situation had developed.

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