Draft Paper by William Bundy, "III: The Broad Options," 7 November 1964

Source: The Pentagon Papers, Gravel Edition, Volume 3, pp. 604-606

WPBundy :mk

III. The Broad Options

We believe there are three broad options as to our future course of action in reference to South VN.

Option A would be to continue present policies indefinitely. This would involve maximum assistance within South VN, together with limited external actions in Laos and by the GVN covertly against North VN. We would continue to seek every possible additional measure for expansion of the present effort that would fit within the present policy framework. We would also take specific individual reprisal actions not only against such incidents as the Gulf of Tonkin attack but also against any recurrence of VC "spectaculars" in South VN (particularly but not solely if such spectaculars were aimed at US installations). Under this option, the aim of such reprisal actions would be to deter and punish such 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 negotiation in the hope that the situation will improve.

As to the basic forms of negotiation that might arise under this course of action there are two possibilities:

1. We would accept the risk that South Vietnamese elements would themselves open negotiations with the Liberation Front or with Hanoi directed probably to a cease-fire and a coalition government that would admit the Liberation Front.

2. We might ourselves initiate, or acquiesce in having others initiate, a negotiating track, probably through the convening of a Geneva Conference on VN or--if a Laos conference had otherwise come about--letting such a conference in practice extend itself to cover VN.

Option B would call for continuing present policies as above, but its key ingredient would be 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 present objective of getting Hanoi completely out of South VN and an independent and secure South VN reestablished. This option can be labelled a "fast/ full squeeze." Basic to it is that we would approach any discussions for negotiation with absolutely inflexible insistence on our present objectives.

Option C might be labelled "progressive squeeze and talk." It would consist of present policies, plus an orchestration of (1) communication with Hanoi and/or Peiping, and (2) additional graduated military moves against infiltration targets, first in Laos and then in the DRy, and then against other targets in North VN. The military scenario should give the impression of a steady deliberate approach, and should be designed to give the US the option at any time 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.

The negotiating part of this course of action would have to be played largely by ear. But in essence we would be indicating from the outset a willingness to negotiate in an affirmative sense. We would at the outset clearly be sticking to our full present objectives, but we would have to accept the possibility that, as the whole situation developed, we might not achieve these full objectives unless we were prepared to take the greater risks envisaged under Option B. In essence, Option C is a medium risk/medium hope of accomplishment option.

A decision to go no further than Option A as our ultimate course of action would in itself rule out Option B or Option C. However, the opening military actions for Option B and Option C have much in common and it is theoretically possible to initiate these actions without having made a decision as to which option would ultimately be followed.

Nonetheless, we believe that in practice a breakpoint would very quickly be reached, at which we would have to make clear whether we did in fact mean to pursue our military actions in an unrelenting fashion, and whether we were prepared to negotiate in any sense other than inflexible insistence on our present full objectives. Hence, it is our view that a clear decision would in fact have to be made at the outset whether we were pursuing Option B or Option C. A decision favor of Option C would not foreclose the taking of some additional military measures as the situation unfolded, but the whole spirit and thrust of these operations would be different than under Option B.

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