Document 37. MEMORANDUM FOR THE SECRETARY OF DEFENSE

Date: June 30, 1965

This memorandum is designed to raise questions and not to answer them, and I am afraid it may sound unhelpful.

The draft memorandum to the President of June 26 seems to me to have grave limitations.

1. It proposes a doubling of our presently planned strength in South Vietnam, a tripling of air effort in the north, and a new and very important program of naval quarantine. It proposes this new land commitment at a time when our troops are entirely untested in the kind of warfare projected. It proposes greatly extended air action when the value of the air action we have taken is sharply disputed. It proposes naval quarantine by mining at a time when nearly everyone agrees the real question is not in Hanoi but in South Vietnam. My first reaction is that his program is rash to the point of folly.

2. The memorandum itself points out that the test of the success of any program in the near future will be in South Vietnam. I agree with this view. But I think it far from clear that these drastic changes will have commensurate significance in the decisive field. In particular, I see no reason to suppose that the Viet Cong will accommodate us by fighting the kind of war we desire. Fragmentary evidence so far suggests that they intend to avoid direct contact with major US forces and concentrate their efforts against the Vietnamese Army. I think the odds are that if we put in 40-50 battalions with the missions here proposed, we shall find them only lightly engaged and ineffective in hot pursuit.

3. The paper does not discuss the question of agreement with the Vietnamese Government before we move to a 200 thousand-man level. The apparent basis for doing this is simply the increasing weakness of Vietnamese forces. But this is a slippery slope toward total US responsibility and corresponding feckleness on the Vietnamese side.

4. The paper also omits examination of the upper limit of US liability. If we need 200 thousand men now for these quite limited missions, may we not need 400 thousand later? Is this a rational course of action? Is there any real prospect that US regular forces can conduct the anti-guerrilla operations which would probably remain the central problem in South Vietnam?

5. The suggestion of a naval quarantine is particularly drastic and highly important. I think it should be separated from the rest of the paper. A blockade by mining would have both greater risks and much greater impact. It needs a kind of study it has not had (as far as I know) before it is seriously proposed.

6. This paper omits certain additional possibilities that should be considered before a specific program of pressure if adopted:

(1) It is within our power to give much more drastic warnings to Hanoi than any we have yet given. If General Eisenhower is right in his belief that it was the prospect of nuclear attack which brought an armistice in Korea, we should at least consider the realistic threat of larger action is available to us for communication to Hanoi. A full interdiction of supplies to North Vietnam by air and sea is a possible candidate for such an ultimatum. These are weapons which may be more useful to us if we do not have to use them.

(2) The paper passes by the possibility that stronger interdiction of north-south traffic might be possible by combining land, sea, and air action. I am not persuaded by what I have heard in casual comments of impossibility of tightening these pressures by combined action. Is there no prospect that special forces could hold critical strong points in Laos along the Ho Chi Minh Trail? It is impossible to tighten controls along the DMZ? Have we really done all we can in naval patrol?

7. The timing of an expanded effort needs examination. It is not at all clear that we should make these kinds of decisions early in July with the very fragmentary evidence available to us now on a number of critical points: the tactics of the VC, the prospects of the Ky Government, and the effectiveness of the US forces in these new roles.

8. Any expanded program needs to have a clear sense of its own internal momentum. The paper does not face this problem. If US casualties group sharply, what further actions do we propose to take or not to take? More broadly still, what is the real object of the exercise? If it is to get to the conference table, what results do we seek there? Still more brutally, do we want to invest 200 thousand men to cover an eventual retreat? Can we not do that just as well where we are?

McGeorge Bundy

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