Working Group Draft, "Action for South Vietnam," 3rd Draft, McNaughton, 7 November 1964

Source: The Pentagon Papers, Gravel Edition, Volume 3, pp. 601-604

3rd Draft--11/7/64--McNaughton


1. US aims:

(a) To protect US reputation as a counter-subversion guarantor.
(b) To avoid domino effect especially in Southeast Asia.
(c) To keep South Vietnamese territory from Red hands.
(d) To emerge from crisis without unacceptable taint from methods used.

2. Present situation: The situation in South Vietnam is deteriorating. "Bien Hoas" cannot be prevented; the new government will probably be unstable and ineffectual, and the VC will probably continue to extend their hold over the population and territory. It can be expected that soon (6 months? two years?) (a) government officials at all levels will adjust their behavior to an eventual VC take-over, (b) defections of significant military forces will take place, (c) whole integrated regions of the country will enter as totally denied to the GVN, (d) neutral and/or left-wing elements will enter the government, (e) a popular-front regime will emerge which will invite the US out, and (f) fundamental concessions to the VC and accommodations to the DRV will put South Vietnam behind the Curtain.

3. Urgency:

(a) For GVN morale, risky US action needed now (post-11/3) to prove mettle.
(b) Reprisal for new DRV or VC "spectacular" would require urgent decision.
(c) General deteriorating situation in SVN requires decision soon.

4. Inside South Vietnam: Progress inside SVN is important, but it is unlikely despite our best ideas and efforts (and progress, if made, will take at least several months). Nevertheless, whatever other actions might be taken, great efforts should be made within South Vietnam: (a) to strengthen the government, its bureaucracy, and its civil-military coordination and planning, (b) to dampen ethnic, religious, urban and civil-military strife by a broad and positive GVN program designed (with US Team help) to enlist the support of important groups, and (c) to press the pacification program in the countryside. [Separate paper on this subject needed.]

5. Options against DRV: Action against North Vietnam is to some extent a substitute for strengthening the government in South Vietnam. That is, a less active VC (on orders from DRV) can be handled by a less efficient GVN (which we expect to have). We have three options open to us (all envision reprisals in the DRV for DRV/VC "spectaculars" against GVN as well as US assets in South Vietnam):

OPTION A. Continue present policies. Maximum assistance within SVN and limited external actions in Laos and by the GVN covertly against North Vietnam. The aim of any reprisal actions would be to deter and punish large VC actions in the South (but not to a degree that would create strong international negotiating pressures). Basic to this option is the continued rejection of negotiating in the hope that the situation will improve.

OPTION B. Fast/full squeeze. Present policies plus a systematic program of military pressures against the North, meshing at some point with negotiation, but with pressure actions to be continued at a fairly rapid pace and without interruption until we achieve our central present objectives.

OPTION C. Progressive squeeze-and-talk. Present policies plus an orchestration of (a) communications with Hanoi and (b) a crescendo of additional military moves against infiltration targets, first in Laos and then in the DRV, and then against other targets in North Vietnam. The scenario should give the impression of a steady deliberate approach. It would be designed to give the US the option at any point to proceed or not, to escalate or not, and to quicken the pace or not. These decisions would be made from time to time in view of all relevant factors.

Analysis of OPTION A. [To be provided.]
Analysis of OPTION B. [To be provided.]
Analysis of OPTION C.

(a) Military actions. (South Vietnamese should play as large a role as possible.)

PRESENT (in addition to reprisals in DRV for DRV actions against US assets):
(1) High-level reconnaissance of North Vietnam.
(2) 34A Marops and Airops (legitimated? including "black bomber"?).
(3) DeSoto patrols, for intelligence purposes.
(4) South Vietnamese shallow ground actions in Laos when practicable.
(5) T28 strikes against infiltration-associated targets in Laos.

PHASE ONE (in addition to reprisals in DRV for VC "spectaculars" in South Vietnam):
(6) US armed-recce strikes against infiltration-associated targets in Laos.

PHASE TWO (in addition to reprisals in DRV against broader range of VC actions):
(7) Low-level reconnaissance in southern DRV.
(8) US/VNAF strikes against infiltration-associated targets in southern DRV.

PHASE THREE: Continue only the above actions or add one or more of the following, making timely evacuation of dependents and deployment of US forces:
(9) Aerial mining of DRV ports.
(10) Naval quarantine of DRV.
(11) US/VNAF, in "crescendo," strike additional targets on "94 target list."

(b) Political side:

(1) After OPTION C decision, Taylor "noisily" to Washington.
(2) Before PHASE ONE, set up covert US-DRV talking channel.
(3) As larger forums (US, Geneva) pressed on us, judge them.

(c) Terms:

(1) We do not seek to destroy North Vietnam or to acquire a base,
(2) We will arrange a rice-barter deal between the two Vietnams, and
(3) We will stop squeeze on DRV (no promise to withdraw from SVN),
but (4) DRV must stop training and sending personnel to SVN and Laos,
(5) DRV must stop sending arms and supplies into SVN and Laos,
(6) DRV must stop directing military actions in SVN and Laos,
(7) DRVmust order the VC and PL to stop their insurgencies,
(8) DRVmust stop propaganda broadcasts to South Vietnam,
(9) DRV must remove VM forces and cadres from SVN and Laos,
[(10) DRV must see that VC and PL stop incidents in SVN and Laos?]
[(11)DRV must see that VC and PL cease resistance?]
[(12)DRV must see that VC and PL turn in weapons and bases?]
[(13)DRV must see that VC and PL surrender for amnesty of expatriation?]

(d) Information actions. The start of military actions against the DRV will have to be accompanied by a convincing world-wide public information program. Briefings of responsible newspaper people along "Jorden Report" lines (without disclosing sensitive information) should start before PHASE ONE. Our actions then would clearly be reactions to an established Communist perfidy, but the scenario would be under our control.

(e) VC/DRV/Chicom/USSR reactions. [to be elaborated later.] The DRV and China almost certainly will not invade South Vietnam, Laos or Burma, or conduct air strikes on these countries in response to PHASES ONE and TWO; and the same is probably true in response to PHASE THREE. The USSR will almost certainly confine herself to political actions. If the DRV or China strike or invade South Vietnam, US forces will be sufficient to handle the problem.

(f) GVN reactions. Military action against the DRV could be counter-productive in South Vietnam because (1) the VC could step up its activities, (2) the South Vietnamese could panic, (3) they could resent our striking their "brothers," and (4) they could tire of waiting for results. Should South Vietnam disintegrate completely beneath us, we should try to hold it together long enough to permit us to try to evacuate our forces and to convince the world to accept the uniqueness (and congenital impossibility) of the South Vietnamese case.

(g) Allied and neutral reactions. [To be elaborated later.] (1) Even if OPTION C failed, it would, by demonstrating US willingness to go to the mat, tend to bolster allied confidence in the US as an ally. (2) US military action against the DRV will probably prompt military actions elsewhere in the world-e.g., Indonesia against Malaysia or Timor, or Turkey against Cyprus.

(h) Evaluation. OPTION C, as compared with OPTION A, stands a better chance of coming out better (though, involving a somewhat larger chance of big escalation than OPTION A, it stands some chance of coming out very badly). If OPTION C is tried and fails, we are in no worse position than we would be under OPTION A; but whatever form a failure took, OPTION C would leave behind a better odor than OPTION A: It would demonstrate that US was a "good doctor" willing to keep promises, be tough, take risks, get bloodied, and hurt the enemy badly. OPTION C stands a better chance of avoiding appearances which will affect judgments by, and provide pretexts to, other nations regarding US power, resolve and competence, and regarding how the US will behave in future cases of particular interest to those nations.

Return to Vinnie's Home Page

Return to Vietnam War Page