The War in Vietnam: Escalation Phase   

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228 - Memorandum by the President's Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy)1
April 1st, 1965

Washington, April 1, 1965.

1Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President, McGeorge Bundy, Vol. IX. Top Secret. Printed in part in Pentagon Papers: Gravel Edition, vol. III, pp. 346-347. The source text was attached to a brief memorandum of April 1 from McGeorge Bundy to the President, in which Bundy wrote:

"If you have a chance to read this memorandum before our meeting today, I think it will save time. I have deliberately put the political problems up near the front because they are the harder ones. The military and non-military action programs summarized in later parts of the memo do not seem as controversial or difficult today.

When he was doing research in his files at the Department of State in the early 1970s, William Bundy typed a note to the effect that this memorandum was essentially the same as his March 31 memorandum entitled "Key Elements in Strategy for South Vietnam." This memorandum and Bundy's later note are in Department of State, Bundy Files: Lot 85 D 240. WPB Chron.


1. The Situation

Morale has improved in South Vietnam. The government has not really settled down, but seems to be hopeful both in its capacity and in its sense of political forces. The armed forces continue in reasonably good shape, though top leadership is not really effective and the ratio of armed forces to the VC buildup is not good enough.

The situation in many areas of the countryside continues to go in favor of the VC, although there is now a temporary lull. The threat is particularly serious in the central provinces, and the VC forces may be regrouping for major efforts there in the near future.

Hanoi has shown no signs of give, and Peiping has stiffened its position within the last week. We still believe that attacks near Hanoi might substantially raise the odds of Peiping coming in with air. Meanwhile, we expect Hanoi to continue and step up its infiltration both by land through Laos and by sea. There are clear indications of different viewpoints in Hanoi, Peiping, and Moscow (and even in the so-called Liberation Front), and continued sharp friction between Moscow and Peiping. However, neither such frictions nor the pressure of our present slowly ascending pace of air attack on North Vietnam can be expected to produce a real change in Hanoi's position for some time, probably 2-3 months, at best.

A key question for Hanoi is whether they continue to make real headway in the south, or whether the conflict there starts to move against them or at least appear increasingly tough. If the former, even a major step-up in our air attacks would probably not cause them to become much more reasonable; if the latter, the situation might begin to move on a political track--but again in not less than 2-3 months, in our present judgment.

2. Immediate International Moves

There are two initiatives from third parties which require US decisions. U Thant has proposed a three-month period in which there would be "a temporary cessation of all hostile military activity, whether overt or covert, across the 17th parallel in Vietnam." The 17 "neutrals" which met in Belgrade have proposed negotiations "without preconditions."2

2For text of the appeal adopted at a meeting of 17 non-aligned nations meeting in Belgrade March 13-15, see Department of State Bulletin, April 26, 1965, pp. 611-612. The appeal was given to Rusk on April 1 by a delegation of the Ambassadors of Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Ghana, and Yugoslavia. A memorandum of the conversation on this occasion is in Washington National Records Center, RG 59, Secretary's Memcons: FRC 83-0057, April 1965.

We think the U Thant proposal should be turned off. (Bunche tells us U Thant will not float it publicly if we reject it privately.) It is not clear that the trade-off would be to our advantage, even if it could be arranged, and in any case, we prefer to use U Thant for private feelers rather than public proposals. We can tell U Thant that we have no objection on his sounding out Hanoi on this same point, however, and that if he gets a response, we would be glad to comment on it.

The 17-nation proposal is more attractive. We are inclined to propose to Quat that both South Vietnam and the US should accept it with a covering statement of our good, firm, clear objectives in any such negotiation. The President has already made it clear that he will go anywhere to talk with anyone, and we think the 17-nation proposal is one to which we can make a pretty clear response. Tactically, it will probably not lead to an early conference, because the position of Hanoi and Peking will be that they will not attend any meeting until our bombings stop. The Secretary of State will elaborate on these propositions.

3. More General Political Posture

The more general political question, which still needs refinement, is the order and content of the eventual tradeoff. We have three cards of some value: our bombing of North Vietnam, our military presence in South Vietnam, and the political and economic carrots that can be offered to Hanoi. We want to trade these cards for just as much as possible of the following: an end to infiltration of men and supplies, an end of Hanoi's direction, control, and encouragement of the Viet Cong, a removal of cadres under direct Hanoi control, and a dissolution of the organized Viet Cong military and political forces. We do not need to decide today just how we wish to mesh our high cards against Communist concessions. But we will need to be in such a position soon, if only to exchange views with Quat. On this more general point, we believe more exploratory conversation with the President is needed today.

4. Actions within South Vietnam

It remains crucial that the South Vietnamese and we put every possible useful resource into the effort in the South. Specifically, the promising elements of the following programs should be carried out energetically in accordance with appropriate priorities:

a. The 41-point program of non-military measures. (A separate first status report3 on these measures has been prepared.) The Mission, as well as all agencies in Washington, should develop additional points, and a major US program for the supply and distribution of food should be urgently considered. Mr. McCone's twelve suggestions for covert and other actions4 should be explored urgently.

3The 41-point program of non-military measures was transmitted to the President under cover of a memorandum of March 31 from Taylor. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, 41-Point Program) A status report on the program was sent to Rusk as an attachment to a memorandum of April 2 from Unger. (Department of State, S/S Files: Lot 72 D 316, NSAM 328)

4See the attachment to Document 222.

b. The Rowan recommendations,5 with USIA in charge.

5See Document 203.

c. The 21-point Johnson program of military actions,6 expanded to include every possible measure and effective use of US resources against sea infiltration.

6See Document 197.

d. An 18,000-20,000-man increase in US military support forces to fill out existing units and supply needed logistic personnel.

e. The GVN manpower increase programs, using increased pay scales or any other inducement regardless of monetary cost.

5. US and Third Country Combat Forces in South Vietnam

In view of the inadequate ratio of government forces to the likely pace of VC buildup during 1965, consideration has been given to (and the JCS would recommend) the addition of 2 or 3 division forces to take on limited missions, to release government forces for wider use, and to deter large-scale DRV attacks on South Vietnam. Deployment of the forces would proceed in a series of steps, the first of which would require sixty days and would involve the deployment of 2 additional Marine battalions, one Marine air squadron, and the logistical forces referred to in d above.

Because the reaction of the GVN and the South Vietnamese people to any major US combat deployment is uncertain, as is the likely net effectiveness of US and third country combat forces in the Vietnamese environment, the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense recommend that action at this time be limited to approval of the first step. The second and remaining steps could be reviewed approximately 60 days from now.

Major third country participation would be a big asset to the program. We may get some small Australian and New Zealand participation, with staff talks going on this week. However, major forces could come only from South Korea. The Secretary of Defense thinks we should seek deployment of Korean "offensive enclave/mobile combat reserve" forces (in the form of a 3500-man regimental combat team) concurrently with deployment of additional US Marines. The Secretary of State points out that the political situation in Korea is touchy, but he believes that we can quietly explore with the Korean Government the possibility of bringing in Korean combat troops on a quiet basis to reinforce and support the 2,000 Koreans now in South Vietnam.

We should defer any decision on any larger-scale program. However, detailed plans should be made for the logistics to support the possible later introduction of the remainder of the Marine Expeditionary Force (30,000 additional Marines), a US Army Division (30,000 men, including logistics), a possible Korean force bringing their total to a division, and at least one Commonwealth Brigade.

6. Actions Against North Vietnam and in Laos

We should continue roughly the present slowly ascending tempo of Rolling Thunder operations, being prepared to add strikes in response to a higher rate of VC operations, or conceivably to slow the pace in the unlikely event VC action slacked off sharply for what appeared to be more than a temporary operational lull.

The target systems should continue to avoid the effective GCI range of MIGs. We should continue to vary the types of targets, stepping up attacks on lines of communication in the near future, and possibly moving in a few weeks, to attacks on the rail lines north and northeast of Hanoi.

Leaflet operations with warning and propaganda themes should be initiated to add to the psychological effect on the North Vietnamese population.

Blockade or aerial mining of North Vietnamese ports need further study and should be considered for future operations. It would have major political complications, especially in relation to the Soviets and certain third countries, but also offers many advantages.

Air operation in Laos, particularly route blocking operations in the Panhandle area, should be stepped up to the maximum remunerative rate.

7. A Regional Economic Initiative

If there is time, Mr. McGeorge Bundy will present briefly the current results of further steps on the President's Point 5 of last week.7

7Regarding the planning for a regional development program for Southeast Asia, see Cooper's Talking Paper of April 1 for McGeorge Bundy (Johnson Library, National Security File, Files of McGeorge Bundy, SE Asia Regional Development) and McGeorge Bundy's memorandum of April 1 to the President. (Ibid., Memos to the President, McGeorge Bundy, Vol. IX)