National Security Study Memorandum 11, Washington, January 21, 1969

The Secretary of State
The Secretary of Defense
The Director of Central Intelligence
Situation in Vietnam
4 Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, Volume VI
1 Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 365, Subject
Files, NSSMs 1–42. Secret.
In an effort to develop an agreed evaluation of the situation in
Vietnam as a basis for making policy decisions, the President has directed
that each addressee of this memorandum, the U.S. Ambassador
in Saigon, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and MACV prepare a separate response
to the attached questions. The answers should include a discussion
of uncertainties and possible alternative interpretations of existing
The President wishes to receive, as well, the Secretary of State’s
comments on the Ambassador’s response, and the comments of the
Secretary of Defense on the responses of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and
All replies should be forwarded to the President by February 10,
Henry A. Kissinger
Environment of Negotiations
1. Why is the DRV in Paris? What is the evidence?
(Among the hypotheses:
a. Out of weakness, to accept a face-saving formula for defeat.
b. To negotiate the withdrawal of U.S. (and NVA) forces, and/or
a compromise political settlement, giving a chance for NLF victory in
the South.
c. To give the U.S. a face-saving way to withdraw.
d. To undermine the GVN and U.S./GVN relations, and to relieve
U.S. military pressure in both North and South Vietnam.
e. Out of desire to end the losses and costs of war on the best terms
2. What is the nature of evidence, and how adequate is it, underlying
competing views (as in the most recent NIE on this subject,2 with
its dissenting footnotes) of the impact of various outcomes in Vietnam
within Southeast Asia?
3. How soundly-based is the common belief that Hanoi is under
active pressure with respect to the Paris negotiations from Moscow
(for) and Peking (against)? Is it clear that either Moscow or Peking believe
they have, or are willing to use, significant leverage on Hanoi’s
Vietnam, January 1969–July 1970 5
2 Reference is to NIE 50–68, “Southeast Asia After Vietnam,” November 14, 1968;
see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. VII, Document 220.
policies? What is the nature of evidence, other than public or private
official statements?
4. How sound is our knowledge of the existence and significance
of stable “Moscow” and “Peking” factions within the Hanoi leadership,
as distinct, for example, from shifting factions, all of whom recognize
the need to balance off both allies? How much do we know, in
general, of intraparty disputes and personalities within Hanoi?
5. What is the evidence supporting various hypotheses, and the
overall adequacy of evidence, relating to the following questions:
a. Why did NVA units leave South Vietnam last summer and fall?
b. Did the predicted “third-wave offensive” by the NVA/VC actually
take place? If so, why did it not achieve greater success?
c. Why are VC guerrillas and local forces now relatively dormant?
(Among the hypotheses: 1) response to VC/NVAbattle losses,
forcing withdrawal or passivity; 2) to put diplomatic pressure on
U.S. to move to substantive talks in Paris; 3) to prepare for future
operations; and/or 4) pressure of U.S. and allied operations.)
6. What rate of NVA/VC attrition would outrun their ability to
replenish by infiltration and recruitment, as currently calculated? Do
present operations achieve this? If not, what force levels and other conditions
would be necessary? Is there any evidence they are concerned
about continuing heavy losses?
7. To what relative extent do the U.S./RVNAF and the NVA/VC
share in the control and the rate of VC/NVA attrition; i.e., to what extent,
in terms of our tactical experience, can heavy losses persistently
be imposed on VC/NVAforces, despite their possible intention to limit
casualties by avoiding contact?
(Among the hypotheses:
a. Contact is predominantly at VC tactical initiative, and we cannot
reverse this; VC need suffer high casualties only so long as they
are willing to accept them, in seeking contact; or
b. Current VC/NVA loss rates can be maintained by present
forces—as increased X% by Y additional forces—whatever the
DRV/VC choose to do, short of further major withdrawal.)
8. What controversies persist on the estimate of VC Order of Battle;
in particular, on the various categories of guerrilla forces and infrastructure?
On VC recruiting, and manpower pool? What is the evidence for
different estimates, and what is the overall adequacy of evidence?
9. What are NVA/VC capabilities for launching a large-scale offensive,
with “dramatic” results (even if taking high casualties and
without holding objectives long), in the next six months? (e.g., an offensive
against one or more cities, or against most newly “pacified”
hamlets.) How adequate is the evidence?
6 Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, Volume VI
10. What are the main channels for military supplies for the
NVA/VC forces in SVN, (e.g., Cambodia and/or the Laotion panhandle)?
What portion of these supplies come in through Sihanoukville?
10A. What differences of opinion exist concerning extent of
RVNAF improvement, and what is evidence underlying different views?
(e.g., compare recent CIA memo with MACV views.)3 For example:
a. Which is the level of effective, mobile, offensive operations?
What results are they achieving?
b. What is the actual level of “genuine” small-unit actions and
night actions in ARVN, RF and PF: i.e., actions that would typically be
classed as such within the U.S. Army, and in particular, offensive ambushes
and patrols? How much has this changed?
c. How much has the officer selection and promotion system, and
the quality of leadership, actually changed over the years (as distinct
from changes in paper “programs”)? How many junior officers hold
commissions (in particular, battlefield commissions from NCO rank)
despite lack of a high school diploma?
d. What known disciplinary action has resulted from ARVN looting
of civilians in the past year (for example, the widespread looting
that took place last spring)?
e. To what extent have past “anti-desertion” decrees and efforts
lessened the rate of desertion; why has the rate recently been increasing
to new highs?
f. What success are the RF and PF having in providing local security
and reducing VC control and influence in rural populations?
11. To what extent could RVNAF—as it is now—handle the VC
(Main Force, local forces, guerrillas), with or without U.S. combat support
to fill RVNAF deficiencies, if all VNA units were withdrawn:
a. If VC still had Northern fillers.
b. If all Northerners (but not regroupees) were withdrawn.
12. To what extent could RVNAF—as it is now—also handle a
sizeable level of NVA forces:
a. With U.S. air and artillery support.
b. With above and also U.S. ground forces in reserve.
Vietnam, January 1969–July 1970 7
3 Reference to “recent CIA memo” is apparently to Document 1. MACV’s recent
views are in COMUSMCV telegram 3247 to CINCPAC, January 16, in which
COMUSMACV concluded that the accelerated pacification program “continues to show
good progress as all levels of the GVN maintain interest and exert considerable pressure
for results.” At the end of December 1968, the Hamlet Evaluation System showed a rise
of 3 percent in relatively secure population to 76.3 percent of the total GVN population.
“More than any other factor,” MACV concluded, the “low level of enemy opposition has
allowed the campaign to proceed at an encouraging pace.” (National Archives, Nixon
Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 62, Vietnam Subject Files, 1–B Revolutionary Development
c. Without U.S. direct support, but with increased RVNAF artillery
and air capacity?
13. What, in various views, are the required changes—in RVNAF
command, organization, equipment, training and incentives, in political
environment, in logistical support, in U.S. modes of influence—for making
RVNAF adequate to the tasks cited in questions 9 and 10 above? How
long would this take? What are the practical obstacles to these changes,
and what new U.S. moves would be needed to overcome these?
14. How much, and where, has the security situation and the balance
of influence between the VC and GVN actually changed in the
countryside over time, contrasting the present to such benchmarks as
end-61, end-63, end-65, end-67? What are the best indicators of such
change, or lack of it? What factors have been mainly responsible for
such change as has occurred? Why has there not been more?
15. What are the reasons for expecting more change in the countryside
in the next two years than in past intervals? What are the reasons
for not expecting more? What changes in RVNAF, GVN, U.S., and
VC practices and adaptiveness would be needed to increase favorable
change in security and control? How likely are such changes, individually
and together; what are the obstacles?
16. What proportion of the rural population must be regarded as
“subject to significant VC presence and influence”? (How should hamlets
rated as “C” in the Hamlet Evaluation System—the largest category—
be regarded in this respect?) In particular, what proportion in
the provinces surrounding Saigon? How much has this changed?
17. What number or verified numbers of the Communist political
apparatus (i.e., People’s Revolutionary Party members, the hard-core
“infrastructure”) have been arrested or killed in the past year? How
many of these were cadre of higher than village level? What proportion
do these represent of total PRP membership, and how much—and
how long—had the apparatus been disrupted?
18. What are the reasons for believing that current and future efforts
at “rooting out” hard-core infrastructure will be—or will not be—
more successful than past efforts? For example, for believing that collaboration
among the numerous Vietnamese intelligence agencies will
be markedly more thorough than in the past? What are the side-effects,
e.g., on Vietnamese opinion, of anti-infrastructure campaigns such as
the current “accelerated effort,” along with their lasting effect on hardcore
19. How adequate is our information on the overall scale and incidence
of damage to civilians by air and artillery, and looting and misbehavior
8 Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, Volume VI
20. To what extent do recent changes in command and administration
affecting the country-side represent moves to improve competence,
as distinct from replacement of one clique by another? What is
the basis of judgment? What is the impact of the recent removal of
minority-group province and district officials (Hoa Hao, Cao Dai, Montagnard)
in their respective areas?
21. How adequate is our information, and what is it based upon,
a. Attitudes of Vietnamese elites not now closely aligned with
the GVN (e.g., religious leaders, professors, youth leaders, professionals,
union leaders, village notables) towards: Participation—if
offered—in the GVN; the current legitimacy and acceptability of the
GVN; likewise (given “peace”) for the NLF or various “neutralist”
coalitions; towards U.S. intent, as they interpret it (e.g., U.S. plans for
ending the war, perceived U.S. alignments with particular individuals
and forces within Vietnam, U.S. concern for various Vietnamese
b. Patterns of existent political alignments within GVN/RVNAF
and outside it—reflecting family ties, corruption, officers’ class, secret
organizations and parties, religious and regional background—
as these bear upon behavior with respect to the war, the NLF, reform
and broadening of the GVN, and responses to U.S. influence and
22. What is the evidence on the prospects—and on what changes
in conditions and U.S. policies would increase or decrease them—for
changes in the GVN toward: (a) broadening of the government to include
participation of all significant non-Communist regional and religious
groupings (at province and district levels, as well as cabinet); (b)
stronger emphasis, in selection and promotion of officers and officials,
on competence and performance (as in the Communist Vietnamese system)
as distinct from considerations of family, corruption, and social
(e.g., educational) background; and (c) political mobilization of non-
Communist sympathies and energies in support of the GVN, as evidenced,
e.g., by reduced desertion, by willing alignment of religious,
provincial and other leaders with the GVN, by wide cooperation with
anti-corruption and pro-efficiency drives.
23. How critical, in various views, is each of the changes in
question 22 above to prospects of attaining—at current, reduced or increased
levels of U.S. military effort—either “victory,” or a strong non-
Communist political role after a compromise settlement of hostilities?
What are views of the risks attendant to making these changes, or attempting
them; and, to the extent that U.S. influence is required, on
U.S. practical ability to move prudently and effectively in this direction?
What is the evidence?
Vietnam, January 1969–July 1970 9
U.S. Operations
24. How do military deployment and tactics today differ from
those of 6–12 months ago? What are reasons for changes, and what has
this impact been?
25. In what different ways (including innovations in organization)
might U.S. force-levels be reduced to various levels, while minimizing
impact on combat capability?
26. What is the evidence on the scale of effect of B–52 attacks in
producing VC/NVA casualties? In disrupting VC/NVA operations?
How valid are estimates of overall effect?
27. What effect is the Laotian interdiction bombing having:
a. In reducing the capacity of the enemy logistic system?
b. In destroying matériel in transit?
28. With regard to the bombing of North Vietnam:
a. What evidence was there on the significance of the principal
strains imposed on the DRV (e.g., in economic disruption, extra manpower
demands, transportation blockages, population morale)?
b. What was the level of logistical through-put through the Southern
provinces of NVN just prior to the November bombing halt?
To what extent did this level reflect the results of the U.S. bombing
c. To what extent did Chinese and Soviet aid relieve pressure on
d. What are current views on the proportion of war-essential imports
that could come into NVN over the rail or road lines from China,
even if all imports by sea were denied and a strong effort even made
to interdict ground transport? What is the evidence?
e. What action has the DRV taken to reduce the vulnerability and
importance of Hanoi as a population and economic center (e.g., through
population evacuation and economic dispersal)?
5. Editorial Note
On January 21, 1969, from 2 to 3:30 p.m., President Nixon met in
the Cabinet Room of the White House with the National Security Council.
(President’s Daily Diary; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials,
White House Central Files) At this inaugural meeting, President
Nixon asked Director of Central Intelligence Richard Helms to prepare
for the second National Security Council Meeting (see Document 10)
“a good job on the situation in Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam, adding
that he also wanted an overview from State and CIA on the views of
10 Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, Volume VI
other Asian nations on the situation and stating that much of what we
will do depends on the effect that these actions will have on the peoples
of the area, not only on the leaders but on the people themselves.”
The Council then discussed events in East Asia, Nigeria, Peru, and procedural
and administrative issues.
Toward the end of the meeting, the President’s Assistant for National
Security Affairs, Henry Kissinger, stated that the Council would
address at the next meeting the situation in Vietnam and “alternative
courses of action open to us.” At this point, the following discussion
“. . . the President emphasized that while he did not believe in
changing policy for change sake alone that he felt with respect to Vietnam
that we must rethink all of our policy tracks by reviewing all past
instructions and determining whether or not we are proceeding down
the correct tracks. He stated we do not want the enemy to assume that
we are locked on the same old tracks as the previous Administration,
emphasizing that we will change if the situation dictates.
“Secretary of State emphasized that the U.S. has not really made
any commitments in this regard, pointing out that Ambassador Harriman
informed him that we really had no policy with respect to negotiating
“General Wheeler said that both Harriman and Vance had only been
provided preliminary instructions to get the talks started in Paris but
that they had not been provided any finite objectives from Washington.
“The President stated, ‘I was very disturbed about this since it was
obvious from the conduct of the negotiations.’ He stated that he had
discussed the problem with Lodge and Walsh, emphasizing that he did
not want any coercive action with respect to the South Vietnamese,
pointing out that while they may be difficult to deal with they are our
allies and this was the basis for the selection of Lodge and one of his
principal missions is to rebuild South Vietnam’s confidence and trust
in the U.S.
“Dr. Kissinger stated that they had been operating in Paris with a
laundry list of objectives which served as probing vehicles with the
other side.
“Secretary Rogers stated that this was the Administration’s effort
to get something started before the election.
“The President said he was very much aware of the domestic issues
but that he would rather take the heat now and achieve a sound
settlement subsequently. He emphasized that he does not want a lot of
promising press pizazz which we may not be able to deliver on later.
He told Lodge to avoid the type of over optimism which had characterized
past press treatment. He stated that while it looks fairly rosy
now, we may not be able to achieve acceptable agreements.
Vietnam, January 1969–July 1970 11
“The President added that he instructed Lodge not to be quite so
friendly with the North Vietnamese and assured him that if he made
the President look a little tougher, that was just fine.
“The President stated that we cannot panic by moving the wrong
“Mr. Kissinger stated that the most difficult problem on Vietnam
can be traced to fundamental disagreements on facts and that is why we
are inventorying the facts to insure that we have them in hand before
considering our basic objectives, referring to the questions on Vietnam
which are to be developed interdepartmentally with a short deadline.”
The discussion then turned again to procedural matters. (Minutes
of NSC Meeting, January 21; Library of Congress, Manuscript Division,
Kissinger Papers, Box TS–82, NSC, NSC Meetings, January–March 1969)