NSC Working Group, Comment on Draft Section I, "Courses of Action in Southeast Asia," 10 November 1964

Source: The Pentagon Papers, Gravel Edition, Volume 3, pp. 619-621

ENCLOSURE (to Joint Staff memo, 10 Nov 64)


Subject: Comments on CIA-DIA-INR Panel Draft Section I-The Situation

1. Introductory Note: The subject draft, dated 6 Nov. 1964, has been circulated as a proposed Section I of the NSC Working Group project, subject as above. In the following paragraphs are comments on the draft which have been developed as the result of Joint Staff judgments assisted by DIA advice in premises.

2. Para 3, last sentence: This sentence notes that "pressures and open criticism" of the new government have already appeared, stated in a context such that this seems intended as an additional sign of weakness in the situation. We suggest that the fact that these matters are open may instead be a favorable sign--the pressures and criticisms in our own country are certainly open.

3. Para 6, last sentence: This sentence takes note of the view that hopes for government stability now appear to have improved somewhat, though the chances for real stability are still less than even. This is one of the key factors behind the recommendations by the Joint Chiefs of Staff for early and positive actions in SVN. It would appear that the point should be made more prominent in this paper than it is in its present rather obscure position.

4. Para 7: This paragraph appears to address the wrong point. The new government may help improve GVN esprit and thus effectiveness, but its principal task is to afford the platform upon which the RVN armed forces, with US assistance, prosecute the war. Its capabilities in this area have not been tested, but appear reasonably favorable. The paragraph as written appears to pre-judge contrarily. We recognize there are substantial internal political interactions in the question of over-all counterinsurgency success; there seems to be a valid question about governmental capacities in that regard, which do not appear to be addressed by the paragraph.

5. Para 8: This paragraph appears to overstate the basic problem, in that it identifies the minimum essential US achievement as total destruction of both the DRV will and capabilities to support the VC insurrection, and then proceeds to develop estimates of our capability to accomplish these ends. We believe that a better expression of the problem would result from an examination which included the following considerations:

a. The actual US requirement with respect to the DRV is reduction of the rate of delivery of support to the VC, to levels below their minimum necessary sustaining level. After that is accomplished, effective corollary actions in SVN can end the insurgency, which is the US objective.

b. In the present unstable situation something far less than total destruction may be all that is required to accomplish the above. A very modest change in the government's favor, accomplished through positive measures with US assistance, may be enough to turn the tide and lead to a successful solution. Of course it is not possible to predict in advance with complete assurance the precise level of measures which will be required to achieve the above. This is the reason for designing a program of progressively increasing squeeze.

c. Obviously that program may have to continue through substantial levels of military, industrial, and governmental destruction in the DRV.

d. It is informative to estimate the influence of progressive levels of the above destruction upon the will and capabilities of the DRV internally in their own country. It is more pertinent to our problem, however, to estimate the corresponding rates of delivery of support in South Vietnam, which remain attainable after US attacks, in relation to what the VC require. Even this cannot be estimated with high precision in advance, so that judgments would have to be applied progressively during the development of the squeeze program, a point which appears to merit recognition in this paragraph:

6. Para 8d, fourth sentence: Here is another example of what appears to be unwarranted emphasis on the negative side of the problem. DRV capability to continue to operate from the bush, as against the French, is not a valid basis for estimation. What is pertinent, instead, would be continued VC capability to operate against a national population (a different problem from operating against foreign colonialists).

7. Para 9b, last sentence: This notes that Hanoi and Peiping are probably anxious not to become involved in a war in which greatly superior US weaponry would be brought to bear against them; and that they almost certainly feel that they can win without having to undertake the risk of that occurring. The sentence includes two important thoughts bearing upon proposals for US action:

a. Its first thought forms the basis for the effectiveness of our deterrence to Communist adventures, through powerful visible deployments of the kind of weaponry they should indeed fear. We believe that this deterrent factor has a substantial probability of success. The draft, however, appears to include no reckonings with respect either to deterrence or the chances it will work.

b. The second thought is the Communist judgment that they can continue a winning program without much risk of having to feel the weight of US response. To revise their thinking in this respect is among the main reasons for the recommended program of military pressures. Hence it seems that the thought should be brought out more prominently amongst the pertinent basic considerations.

8. Para l0a, last sentence: It is unclear what is meant by expressing Hanoi's estimate that the election results give Washington greater policy "flexibility." If this means that Hanoi thinks we are now in position to accept world-wide humiliation, with respect to our formerly stated objectives in Vietnam, this is another reason why it is desirable that we take early measures to disabuse their thinking.

9. Para l0c, last sentence: This expression of judgment, negative in implications, appears to be beyond the scope of the paper and an unwarranted inference with which we do not concur.

10. Para 11: This paragraph, on the subject of DRV ability and willingness to sustain damage, does not provide a valid measure of their capability to support the necessary level of VC action against the government and people of SVN. It should be substantially revised to refocus upon the problem at hand. In particular, its illusion to the results of aerial operations in the Korean and FrenchViet Minh wars is invalid.

11. Para 13: (DRV judgment of the weight to attach to world pressures against the United States). It could be postulated that the DRV believe that pressures might be developed from quarters we would respect (as distinguished from the familiar communist-neutralist bray), and that the United States would back down and sacrifice its vital world issues in response to these pressures. Such an image of a United States which will back down from defense of its vital interests in response to mere words (the paper tiger) would be one of the strongest encouragements to further communist adventures, in Southeast Asia and everywhere else. If this estimate of Hanoi views is valid, it emphasizes the importance of our taking actions to insure against the spread of such a notion.

12. Para 15: This paragraph appears to overstate the implications of Chicom capabilities to support NVN in respects which concern the United States. Chicom air defense and naval capabilities are inadequate in their entirety against existing PACOM resources (a circumstance which we believe is understood in Peiping). Foreseeable diversions of these inadequate resources to the assistance of North Vietnam should have little significant bearing upon the situation. Thus we believe there should be added to this paragraph a sentence to the effect "These changes will not alter significantly the communist defensive posture against potential US actions."

Return to Vinnie's Home Page

Return to Vietnam War Page