The Navy Department Library
Bombing As a Policy Tool in Vietnam
92nd Congress, 2nd Session
BOMBING AS A POLICY TOOL IN VIETNAM: EFFECTIVENESS
A STAFF STUDY
BASED ON THE PENTAGON PAPERS
Prepared for the Use of the
Committee on Foreign Relations
United States Senate
Study No. 5
October 12, 1972
Printed for the use of the Committee on Foreign Relations
U.S. Government Printing Office
COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN RELATIONS
John Sparkman, Alabama
George D. Aiken, Vermont
|Carl Marcy, Chief of Staff
Arthur M. Kuhl, Chief Clerk
Objectives and Methods
The POL Debate
Evaluation of Interdiction
Bombing an underdeveloped country
Bombing vs. foreign aid
Adapting to bombing
Punishing the North
Breaking Hanoi’s Will
Bombing as an Aid to Negotiations
Appendix: “Negotiations, 1964-1968: The Half-Hearted Search for Peace in Vietnam.” Preface, Table of Contents and Correspondence Relating to Study No. 4
PREFACE BY SENATOR J.W. FULBRIGHT, CHAIRMAN, COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN RELATIONS
In 1968 the Department of Defense completed an eighteen-month study of “United States-Vietnam Relations, 1945-1967,” popularly known as the “Pentagon Papers.” The existence of this classified 47 volume study became known to the public through newspaper reports in June 1971. In September the Defense Department declassified large portions of the first 43 volumes. The other four volumes remained classified on the grounds that disclosure of the materials they cover—the history of negotiations—would be detrimental to national interest.
In September 1971 the Committee on Foreign Relations began a detailed study of the Pentagon history and related materials. The study was initiated under the authority of S. Res. 140, agreed to July 24, 1971, for the purpose of inquiring into the origins and evolution of US involvement in Vietnam, with particular reference to lessons for US foreign policy making that might be drawn from the Pentagon history. Three staff researchers, Robert E. Biles, Robert M. Blum, and Ann L. Hollick, have been engaged in a careful review of the 7,000 pages of documents and analysis included in “United States-Vietnam Relations.” They have had at their disposal both the classified and unclassified versions of the Pentagon Papers. In addition, they have drawn upon corroborative printed materials and interviews with individuals involved in the events under study.
Study Number 4 of this series, “Negotiations, 1964-1968,” by Robert E. Biles was based on the still classified diplomatic volumes of the Pentagon Papers and, hence, was itself classified “Top Secret.” But because of the importance of the events covered in this study, I requested the cooperation of the Department of State in declassifying the staff study in whole or in part. After a frustrating exchange of letters and telephone calls covering more than five months, the State Department refused to cooperate in even partial declassification of the study. The Department’s position remains adamant today, even after the publication of the substance of the diplomatic volumes in national newspapers. The unclassified preface and table of contents to “Negotiations, 1964-1968” are provided in the appendix to this study.
“Bombing as a Policy Tool in Vietnam” by Robert E. Biles examines the effectiveness of the bombing of North Vietnam in achieving the goals set for it by those involved in making the air war policy. Focusing on the period of intense bombing from 1965 to 1968, the study examines the intelligence and defense community’s own “in-house” studies of the air war. It finds that of the five major goals set for the bombing only one has been achieved. The bombing has succeeded in making North Vietnam pay a high price for her support of the war in the South. But the air war has not stopped the flow of supplies to the South, broken Hanoi’s will, or forced the North Vietnamese to negotiate an end to the war. The gains in US and South Vietnamese morale from escalation of the bombing have always proved fleeting. There are several reasons for the failure of the bombing to achieve its goals. North Vietnam, an agricultural country with little industry, provides few major targets for air attack; the North Vietnamese have proved highly determined and extremely resourceful in adapting to the damage done by the bombing; and North Vietnam’s allies have provided sufficient aid to more than offset the losses from the bombing.
Throughout the war, the claims made for strategic and interdiction bombing have consistently exceeded their accomplishments, and the extravagance of the rhetoric supporting the current air offensive against the North has a familiar ring. The bombing of North Vietnam has been a costly one in terms of pilots lost, civilian casualties, damage to our international standing, and riches expended. The failure of the bombing to achieve the goals set for it makes that high cost a very sad waste.
The material which appears in this study does not necessarily reflect the views of the Committee or any member thereof.
BOMBING AS A POLICY TOOL IN VIETNAM: EFFECTIVENESS
Bombing has served several functions during the course of the Vietnam war: close support of troops engaged in combat, interdiction of enemy supplies and reinforcements, and strategic bombing to reduce enemy capabilities. By far the most controversial aspect of United States bombing policy has been the interdiction and strategic bombing. In their name, the United States has bombed South Vietnam, North Vietnam, and supply lines in neighboring Cambodia and Laos. Critics have contended that interdiction and strategic bombing have been unsuccessful and immoral acts, that they cost too much, and that they do violence to America’s reputation abroad. Supporters of the bombing reply that it has at the very least made it very costly for North Vietnam to support the war in the South and has saved American lives. If it has not been as successful as expected, it is because of restrictions on targets and the graduated increase in the bombing, which gave North Vietnam time to adapt. The purpose of this study is to evaluate these arguments and thereby to improve our understanding of strategic and interdiction bombing as a policy tool in the Vietnam war. The study covers the period from 1965 when the regular bombing of North Vietnam began, to 1968 when it was halted in an attempt to promote a negotiated settlement.
The objectives to be gained by bombing North Vietnam have varied during the course of the war, but they can be summarized as follows: (1) to reduce the infiltration of men and supplies into South Vietnam, (2) to make North Vietnam pay a high cost for supporting the war in the South, (3) to break the will of North Vietnam, (4) to affect negotiations for an end to the war, and (5) to raise US and South Vietnamese morale. Individual objectives have been combined, downgraded, and re-emphasized. At times the official, public objective has differed from the Government’s private objective. But each of these goals has played an important role in the debate over bombing policy.
When the bombing of North Vietnam began in early 1965, the public rationale was the reduction of the flow of supplies and men to the South. In the words of the Pentagon history of the war:
The public was told that NVN [North Vietnam] was being bombed because it was infiltrating men and supplies into SVN [South Vietnam]; the targets of the bombing were directly or indirectly related to that infiltration; and the purpose of attacking them was to reduce the flow and/or to increase the costs of that infiltration. Such a rationale was consistent with the overall position which morally justified US intervention in the war in terms of NVN’s own intervention; and it specifically put the bombing in a politically acceptable military idiom of interdiction.1
In private, however, the rationale for the bombing was a mixture of complex and often conflicting objectives. The situation in South Vietnam seemed to be falling apart. The bombing of the North, it was hoped, would boost morale in the South, show the determination of the United States, and break the will of the North to continue its aggression. Again in the words of the Pentagon history:
Target selection had been completely dominated by political and psychological considerations… Relatively little weight was given to the purely physical or more directly military and economic implications of whatever target destruction might be achieved.
With the gradual acceptance, beginning in March , of the need for a militarily more significant, sustained bombing program, serious attention began to be paid to the development of a target system or systems that would have a more tangible and coherent military rationale. The first and most obvious candidate for such a target concept was that of interdicting the flow of men and supplies into South Vietnam by striking the lines of communication.2
The objective of an interdiction program, of course, would be to reduce the capability of the Communist forces to operate in South Vietnam. Guesses as to the effect of the interdiction of aid from North Vietnam varied widely. Admiral Sharp, commander of Pacific forces, predicted in a January 12, 1966, message to the Joint Chiefs of Staff that a properly executed bombing program “will bring the enemy to the conference table or cause the insurgency to wither from lack of support.”3 A more moderate but still optimistic view was taken in a Special National Intelligence Estimate (SNIE) of July 23, 1965. The SNIE estimated that a bombing program which included destruction of the petroleum facilities and military targets in the Hanoi-Haiphong area together with sustained interdiction of the lines of communication from China could reduce communist capabilities in the South. It reasoned that:
If additional PAVN [North Vietnamese Army] forces were employed in South Vietnam on a scale sufficient to counter increased U.S. troop strength [which the SNIE said was “almost certain” to happen] this would substantially increase the amount of supplies needed in the South. The Viet Cong also depend on supplies from the North to maintain their present level of large-scale operations. The accumulated strains of a prolonged curtailment of supplies received from North Vietnam would obviously have an impact on the Communist effort in the South. They would certainly inhibit and might even prevent an increase in large-scale Viet Cong military activity, though they would probably not force any significant reduction in Viet Cong terrorist tactics of harassment and sabotage.4
The physical reduction of North Vietnam’s support for the war in the South could be accomplished by four methods: (1) the destruction of war-related industry and war-supporting facilities such as weapons production and petroleum storage facilities; (2) general debilitation of the North Vietnamese economy and thereby its ability to support the war effort; (3) attacking the lines of communication so that supplies are slowed, stopped, or destroyed; and (4) destruction of the North Vietnamese military. During the course of the war, all four methods were tried, but as will be seen none proved successful in accomplishing the goal of reduced support for the war in the South.
In the early stages of the bombing of the North, some critics claimed that the program had failed to achieve its objectives because of restrictions on the targets that could be struck and the piece-meal nature of the escalation. It was argued that because the increase in the bombing was gradual, North Vietnam had time to adapt itself to the bombing, replenish and disperse its stock, diversify its transportation system and improve its defenses.5 One CIA report, for example, noted in early 1966 that—
almost 80 percent of North Vietnam’s limited modern industrial economy, 75 percent of the nation’s population, and the most lucrative military supply and LOC targets have been effectively insulated from air attack.6
Most of this line of criticism of the bombing program stemmed, in the words of the Pentagon history—
from basic disagreement with an air campaign centered upon a tactical interdiction rationale rather than a punitive rationale more in keeping with strategic uses of air power, a campaign in which the apparent target was the infiltration system rather than the economy as a whole…This kind of criticism of the bombing concentrated on the most conspicuous aspect of the program for failing to focus on the kinds of targets which strategic bombing had made familiar in World War II—power plants, oil depots, harbor facilities, and factories.7
In response to this criticism, Secretary of Defense McNamara at first questioned the effect strategic bombing would have on the infiltration effort and stressed the risks of widening the war if such targets were hit.8 Eventually, however, he agreed to the bombing of North Vietnam’s petroleum facilities. According to the Pentagon history, the failure of these attacks to reduce either infiltration or logistical support from the North apparently tipped the balance in McNamara’s mind against any further escalation of air attacks against North Vietnam. "The attack on North Vietnam’s POL [petroleum] system was the last major escalation of the air war recommended by Secretary McNamara.”9
The Joint Chiefs of Staff were strong proponents of bombing North Vietnam’s POL system. In November 1965, they proposed a major program of air attacks against it. "Attack of this system,” they argued, “would be more damaging to the DRV [Democratic Republic of (North) Vietnam] capability to move war-supporting resources…than an attack against any other single target system.”10 As the Pentagon history explains:
It is not surprising that the JCS singled out the POL target system for special attention. NVN had no oil fields or refineries, and had to import all of its petroleum products, in refined form…Nearly all of it came from…the USSR and arrived by sea at Haiphong, the only port capable of conveniently receiving and handling bulk POL brought in by large tankers. From large tank farms at Haiphong with a capacity of about one-fourth of the annual imports, the POL was transported by road, rail, and water to other large storage sites at Hanoi and elsewhere in the country. Ninety-seven percent of the NVA POL storage capacity was concentrated in 13 sites, 4 of which had already been hit. The other 9 were still off limits. They were, of course, highly vulnerable to air attacks.11
In making their recommendation that North Vietnam’s POL system be attacked, the Joint Chiefs emphasized the interdiction effects. “POL-fueled carriers,” they said, were the “principal vehicles” for transporting supplies to South Vietnam and Laos. Moreover, POL was becoming increasingly important to the effort in the South. With five confirmed and two suspected North Vietnamese regiments in South Vietnam, there was an increasing load on the supply system. Roads were being improved and increasing numbers of trucks were being imported. Finally, “recuperability of the DRV POL system from the effects of an attack is very poor.”12
The record in the Pentagon history of what the intelligence community was telling policy makers during the POL debate is incomplete. Thus, we do not know the full range of debate nor the impact that intelligence may have had on the decision to increase the scale of bombing. Nevertheless, examination of the information available in the Pentagon history does provide some insights. The intelligence community was initially skeptical of the Joint Chiefs’ claim that attacking North Vietnam’s POL facilities as part of an intensified program would substantially reduce the North’s capacity to support the war.13 There was some dispute within the intelligence community as to just how effective the proposed bombing would be in interdicting the flow of men and supplies. But it appears t hat there was a tendency on the part of the intelligence agencies to accommodate their estimates to the growing pressure to increase the level of bombing.14
There is no indication in the Pentagon history that any of the major intelligence agencies believed that the bombing of the North could or would reduce the level of support for the war in the South below its then current level. Rather, the agencies placed their hopes in punishing North Vietnam and in possibly breaking her will. The most optimistic view of interdiction bombing was that the damage to North Vietnam’s economy and transportation capacity might set an upper limit on the amount of support she could provide for the war in the South. Such a hope was predicated upon intensified air attacks, destruction of POL facilities, bombing both military and industrial targets in the Hanoi/Haiphong area, and mining North Vietnam’s harbors. But even such a heavy program of attacks, the intelligence agencies concluded, would not prevent North Vietnam from providing levels of support for the war substantially higher than those in 1965.15
What, specifically, did the intelligence agencies feel could be accomplished by a more intensive bombing campaign? First, Hanoi would have to pay a high penalty for her support of the war. She would suffer considerable economic disruption and destruction. The Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, and the three service intelligence agencies even held out the hope at one point that the intensified air strikes combined with the increased US troop commitment might eventually break Hanoi’s will.16
While all the intelligence agencies seemed to agree that the air attacks would increase the burden and costs of supporting the war, there was no agreement that they would break Hanoi’s will. In December 1965, the Board of National Estimates characterized Hanoi’s will to persevere in the South as virtually unshakeable in the short run and extremely tough even in the long run. In the words of the Board, “They continue to believe that time is their ally and that there own staying power is superior.”17 The Bureau of Intelligence and Research in the State Department argued that “Hanoi would be less and less likely to soften its opposition to negotiations and at some point it would come to feel that it had little left to lose by continuing the fighting.”18
The POL strikes finally began on June 29, 1966, and continued into the fall. They were initially hailed as highly successful. During the first month, for example they reportedly destroyed 70 percent of North Vietnam’s bulk petroleum storage capacity.19 However, as the Pentagon history relates, by September both the CIA and DIA were in general agreement as to the failure of the POL strikes.”20
What became clearer and clearer as the summer wore on was that while we had destroyed a major portion of North Vietnam’s storage capacity, she retained enough dispersed capacity, supplemented by continuing imports (increasingly in easily dispersable drums, not bulk), to meet her ongoing requirements. The greater invulnerability of dispersed POL meant an ever mounting US cost in munitions, fuel, aircraft losses, and men. By August we were reaching the pint at which these costs were prohibitive.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
It was clear in retrospect that the POL strikes had been a failure. Apart from the possibility of inconveniences, interruptions, and local shortages of a temporary nature, there was no evidence that NVN had at anytime been pinched for POL.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
The real and immediate failure of the POL strikes was reflected…in the undiminished flow of men and supplies down the Ho Chi Minh trail to the war in the South.21
There were several reasons for the failure. First, “NVN’s dependence on the unloading facilities at Haiphong and large storage sites in the rest of the country had been greatly overestimated.”22 Bulk imports continued; tankers simply stood off shore and unloaded onto barges. More oil was also brought in already drummed; thus, it was convenient for dispersed handling and storage. Second, “the difficulties of switching to a much less vulnerable but perfectly workable storage and distribution system, not an unbearable strain when the volume to be handled was not really very great, had also been overestimated.”23 The key point was that “NVN’s adaptability and resourcefulness had been greatly underestimated.”24 The effectiveness of the strikes was further offset by an unanticipated result of the bombing: the North Vietnamese were highly successful in using the strikes to extract larger commitments of economic, military, and financial assistance from the Russians and Chinese.25
Secretary McNamara, according to the Pentagon history, “made no effort to conceal his dissatisfaction and disappointment at the failure of the POL attacks.”26 In January 1967 he testified before a joint session of the Senate Armed Services and Appropriations Committee that—
I don’t believe that the bombing up to the present has significantly reduced, nor any bombing that I could contemplate in the future would significantly reduce, actual flow of men and materiel to the South.27
During the course of the bombing of North Vietnam, a number of studies of its effectiveness were made. Two of the most important were carried out in 1966 and 1967 by a group of leading government-oriented scientists under the auspices of the JASON Division of the Institute for Defense Analyses.28 According to the Pentagon history, the first study had a “powerful and perhaps decisive influence in McNamara’s mind”.29 Both studies strongly criticized the effectiveness of bombing as a policy tool in the war effort. The 1967 JASON study, for example, concluded that “the US bombing of North Vietnam has had no measurable effect on Hanoi’s ability to mount and support military operations in the South.”30
The studies found that the bombing had not reduced the flow of supplies to the Communists in South Vietnam. In fact—
Since the beginning of the Rolling Thunder air strikes on NVN, the flow of men and materiel from NVN to SVN has greatly increased, and present evidence provides no basis for concluding that the damage inflicted on North Vietnam by the bombing program has had any significant effect on this flow. In short, the flow of men and materiel from North Vietnam to the South appears to reflect Hanoi’s intentions rather than capabilities even in the face of bombing.31
Moreover, Hanoi’s ability to support the war had not been decreased by the bombing. Rather, “its ability to sustain the war in the South has increased.”32
The failure of bombing to interdict the flow of men and supplies to the South is attributable to at least three factors. First, North Vietnam is an underdeveloped country, which makes her far less susceptible to the strategic effects of bombing. Second, the vast majority of material support for the war originates not in North Vietnam but in Russia and China. North Vietnam serves essentially as a conduit for the supplies. Third, the Communists have shown great resourcefulness and determination, while we have tended to overestimate the capability of our bombing.
BOMBING AN UNDERDEVELOPED COUNTRY
As an agricultural country, North Vietnam provides an extremely poor target for an air attack. In the words of the Pentagon history analyst—
The theory of either strategic or interdiction bombing assumed highly developed industrial nations producing large quantities of military goods to sustain mass armies engaged in intensive warfare. NVN, as US intelligence agencies knew, was an agricultural country with a rudimentary transportation system and little industry of any kind. Nearly all of the people were rice farmers who worked the land with water buffaloes and hand tools, and whose well-being at a subsistence level was almost entirely dependent on what they grew or made themselves. What intelligence agencies liked to call the “modern industrial sector” of the economy was tiny even by Asian standards, producing only about 12 percent of a GNP of $1.6 billion in 1965. There were only a handful of “major industrial facilities.” When NVN was first targeted the JCS found only 8 industrial installations worth listing on a par with airfields, military supply dumps, barracks complexes, port facilities, bridges, and oil tanks. Even by the end of 1965, after the JCS had lowered the standards and more than doubled the number of important targets, the list included only 24 industrial installations, 18 of them power plants which were as important for such humble uses as lighting streets and pumping water as for operating any real factories.
Apart from one explosives plant (which had already been demolished), NVN’s limited industry made little contribution to its military capabilities. NVN forces, in intelligence terminology, placed “little direct reliance on the domestic economy for material.” NVN in fact produced only limited quantities of simple military items, such as mortars, grenades, mines, small arms, and bullets.33
Moreover, such arms and munitions as were produced in North Vietnam were made in small workshops, which provided poor targets, rather than in larger, more vulnerable arsenals. "The great bulk of its military equipment, and all of the heavier and more sophisticated items, had to be imported.”34
In short, North Vietnam’s industry did not provide a rewarding target for an air attack. Meaningful targets were few, and those that existed were critical to neither the viability of the economy nor the prosecution of the war in the South.
Much of the damage was to installations that the North Vietnamese did not need to sustain the military effort. The regime made no attempt to restore storage facilities and little to repair damage to power stations, evidently because of the existence of adequate excess capacity and because the facilities were not of vital importance.35
“The idea that destroying, or threatening to destroy, NVN’s industry would pressure Hanoi into calling it quits seems, in retrospect a colossal misjudgment.”36 The idea, however, was based on an apparently plausible assumption about the rationality of North Vietnam’s leaders, which according to the Pentagon history analyst, the US intelligence community appeared to share.
This was that the value of what little industrial plant NVN possessed was disproportionately great. That plant was purchased by an extremely poor nation at the price of considerable sacrifice, over many years. Even though it did not amount to much, it no doubt symbolized the regime’s hopes and desires for national status, power, and wealth, and was probably a source of considerable pride. It did not seem unreasonable to believe that NVN leaders would not wish to risk the destruction of such assets, especially when that risk seemed (to us) easily avoidable by cutting down the insurgency and deferring the takeover of SVN until another day and perhaps in another manner -- which Ho Chi Minh had apparently decided to do once before, in 1954.37
Experience, however, did not bear out this assumption. The North improved its air defenses, laid aside its economic development plans, and made necessary adjustments. Imports were increased to offset production losses; bombed facilities were in most cases simply abandoned; and large vulnerable targets such as barracks and storage depots were dispersed and concealed. The North Vietnamese appeared willing to accept the loss of the small industrial base rather than reduce their support for the war in the South.
The bombing and the strain of supporting the war in the South have caused considerable dislocation in the labor force of North Vietnam. By 1968, as many as 475,000 to 600,000 civilians including women and children were working to repair the damage done by the airstrikes, while another 110,000 military personnel were assigned to air defense duties.38 Military induction standards were apparently also lowered, and there were reports of 15 year old villagers being conscripted to fight in the South.
It appears, however, that the North has been able to meets its manpower needs. A study by the Systems Analysis Office of the Department of Defense reported that 90% of the North’s manpower needs were met by normal population growth.39 The same study found that the bombing also increased the supply of labor. Thirty-three thousand workers were released from their work by the destruction of North Vietnamese industry, and another 48,000 women were made available for work on roads and bridges in the countryside by their evacuation from the cities. Similarly, North Vietnam as an underdeveloped country had many underemployed who could be used to repair war damage without reducing production. Finally, an estimated 40,000 Communist Chinese were thought to be employed in maintaining North Vietnam’s road and rail net. The Systems Analysis Office study concluded “it appears that the North Vietnamese government is not likely to be hampered by aggregate manpower shortages.” 40 The Pentagon contribution to the NSSM 1 also held that “In spite of these extra demands, it appears that NVN has enough manpower to continue the war at the high casualty rates sustained in 1968.”41 The State Department contribution was more optimistic but concluded that “there is no evidence that manpower shortages in themselves were becoming acute enough to prevent Hanoi from continuing its policies.”42
The second factor contributing to North Vietnam’s ability to continue aiding the war in the south is the largest amount of military and economic aid received from Communist China and the Soviet Union. The second JASON study, submitted in December 1967, concluded:
NVN has transmitted many of the material costs imposed by the bombing back to its allies. Since the bombing began, NVN’s allies have provided almost $600 million in economic aid and another $1 billion in military aid—more than four times what NVN has lost in bombing damage. If economic criteria were the only consideration, NVN would show a substantial net gain from the bombing, primarily in military equipment.
Because of this aid, and the effectiveness of its countermeasures, NVN’s economy continues to function. NVN’s adjustments to the physical damage, disruption, and other difficulties brought on by the bombing have been sufficiently effective to maintain living standards, meet transportation requirements, and improve its military capabilities. NVN is now a stronger military power than before the bombing.43
A study by the Systems Analysis Office of the Department of Defense reached a similar conclusion. "Over the entire period of the bombing, the value of economic resources gained through foreign aid has been greater than that lost because of the bombing”.44 The study concluded that North Vietnamese standards of living may have declined but that food supplies had been maintained with only a slight decline. Overall, “the North Vietnamese are not badly off by past North Vietnamese standards or the standards of other Asian countries.”45 With respect to the capital stock destroyed by the bombing—
It is not certain that Russia and China will replace North Vietnam’s destroyed capital assets through aid programs, thus absorbing part of the bombing cost themselves. However, they could do so in a short period of time at relatively small cost; if economic aid remained at its wartime yearly rate of $340 million and half were used to replace capital stock, North Vietnam’s losses could be replaced in a year.46
Similar conclusions were also reached in the 1969 National Security Study Memorandum 1. "It is generally agreed that the bombing did not significantly raise the cost of the war to NVN. This was because production facilities outside of NVN were not targetable.”47 Estimates as of January 1969 placed North Vietnam’s losses of capital stock, military facilities, and current production at $770 million. But economic and military aid from Communist allies totaled $3 billion.48
The key consideration so far as bombing policy is concerned, then, is the fact that North Vietnam serves as a funnel for the transit of military aid from other Communist countries to the Communist forces in the South. Attention should thus be focused on North Vietnam’s capability to transport men and supplies to the South rather than on its ability to support the war economically.
The North Vietnamese transportation system is primitive and superficially appears highly vulnerable to air attack. But it has proved to be highly flexible and its capacity to air attack. But it has proved to be highly flexible and its capacity has greatly exceeded the demands placed upon it.49 Because the North Vietnamese transportation system is based to a large degree on crude roads, trails, and waterways rather than on highways and railroads, it provides relatively few lucrative targets for air bombardment. This is particularly true of the southern half of North Vietnam and the trails through Laos. A March 1966 report by the CIA argued:
The rudimentary nature of the logistic targets in the southern part of North Vietnam, the small volume of traffic moving over them in relation to route capacities, the relative ease and speed with which they are repaired, the extremely high frequency with which they would have to be restruck—once every three days—all combined to make the logistic network in this region a relatively unattractive target system, except as a supplement to a larger program. A significant lesson from the Rolling Thunder program to date is that the goals of sustained interdictions of the rudimentary road and trail networks in southern North Vietnam and Laos will be extremely difficult and probably impossible to obtain in 1966, given the conventional ordnance and strike capabilities likely to exist.50
The debate as to the effectiveness of bombing in interdicting the flow of supplies from the North was reflected in the 1969 National Security Study Memorandum 1. The US military command in Saigon (MACV) and the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) felt that the bombing had succeeded, while the Department of State, CIA, and the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) felt that it had failed. The debate over the attempt by MACV to block two key roads near the passes from North Vietnam into Laos in late 1968 illustrates the differences between the two views. According to the summary of NSSM 1—
MACV finds it has effectively blocked these roads 80% of the time and therefore caused less traffic to get through. OSD/CIA/State agree that enemy traffic on the roads attacked has been disrupted. However, they point out that the enemy uses less than 15% of the available road capacity, is constantly expanding that capacity through new roads and bypasses, and our air strikes do not block but only delay traffic.
Besides blocking the roads, our bombing destroys material in transit on them. JCS/MACV and OSD/CIA agree that we destroy 12% to 14% of the trucks observed moving through Laos and 20% to 35% of the total flow of supplies in Laos. To MACV/JCS, the material destroyed cannot be replaced so that our air effort denies it to the VC/NVA forces in South Vietnam. In complete disagreement, OSD and CIA find that the enemy needs in SVN (10 to 15 trucks of supplies per day) are so small and his supply of war material so large that the enemy can replace his losses easily, increase his traffic flows slightly, and get through as much supplies to SVN as he wants to in spite of the bombing.51
It seems that on balance the interdiction bombing southern North Vietnam and Laos has made the North Vietnamese logistical effort more difficult, costly, and time consuming but that it has not prevented Hanoi from meeting the supply needs of the Communist forces in the South.
The northern half of North Vietnam, however, would seem to offer more lucrative transportation targets, particularly railroads and harbors. In 1966, approximately two-thirds of North Vietnam’s imports arrived by sea and the bulk of the remaining third by rail from China.52 Again, there was a sharp split between MACV and the Joint Chiefs on the one hand and the CIA and the Office of the Secretary of Defense on the other. MACV/JCS believed that if all imports by sea were denied and land routes through Laos and Cambodia were attacked vigorously, the North Vietnamese would be unable to obtain enough war supplies to continue. OSD and CIA, however, felt that the overland routes alone could provide North Vietnam enough material to carry on even in the face of an unlimited bombing campaign.53
The mining of North Vietnamese harbors and the current intensive bombing of the North should provide a test of these arguments. Because no reliable data is yet publicly available, it is impossible to judge the interdiction effects of this bombing. However, considering the previous adaptability of the North Vietnamese, it seems probable that they will adjust to the bombing and continue to support the war in the South, albeit at higher cost and with greater delay in the movement of supplies. The capability to wage large scale conventional warfare with armor and heavy artillery, as in the spring 1972 offensive, may be considerably reduced.
The third factor reducing the effectiveness of the bombing of the North has been the resourcefulness and determination of the North Vietnamese. During the massive bombing of their petroleum facilities, for example, they proved quite resourceful. Distribution was switch from bulk to barrels and decentralized without a major reduction in capabilities. The North has also adapted well to the continuing attacks on the transportation system. According to the Pentagon history—
Several hundred thousand workers were mobilized to keep the transportation system operating. Miles of by-pass roads were built around choke-points to make the system redundant. Knocked-out bridges were replaced by fords, ferries, or alternate structures, and methods were adopted to protect them from attack. Traffic shifted to night time, poor weather, and camouflage. Shuttling and transshipment practices were instituted. Construction material, equipment, and workers were prepositioned along key routes in order to effect quick repairs. Imports of railroad cars and trucks were increased to offset equipment losses.54
The second JASON study concluded that because of such countermeasures, North Vietnam “has become increasingly less vulnerable to aerial interdiction aimed at reducing the flow of men and material from the North to the South.”55
Coupled with the adaptability of the North Vietnamese has been a tendency to over-estimate the capability of US bombing. The first JASON study concluded in 1966:
Initial plans and assessments for the Rolling Thunder program clearly tended to overestimate the persuasive and disruptive effects of the US air strikes and, correspondingly, to underestimate the tenacity and recuperative capabilities of the North Vietnamese. This tendency, in turn, appears to reflect a general failure to appreciate the fact, well-documented in the historical and social scientific literature, that a direct, frontal attack on a society tends strengthen the social fabric of the nation, to increase popular support of the existing government, to improve the determination of both the leadership and the populace to fight back, to induce a variety of protective measures that reduce the society’s vulnerability to future attack, and to develop and increased capacity for quick repair and restoration of essential functions. The great variety of physical and social countermeasures that North Vietnam has taken in response to the bombing is now well documented in current intelligence reports, but the potential effectiveness of these countermeasures was not stressed in the early planning or intelligence studies.56
The second JASON study concluded in 1967 that because of foreign—
aid, and the effectiveness of its countermeasures, NVN’s economy continues to function. NVN’s adjustments to the physical damage, disruption, and other difficulties brought on by the bombing have been sufficiently effective to maintain living standards, meet transportation requirements, and improve its military capabilities. NVN is now a stronger military power than before the bombing and its remaining economy is more able to withstand bombing.57
Although seldom stated explicitly in either memoranda or official statements, an implicit goal of the bombing has been the punishment of the North for its support of the war in the South. A relatively explicit statement of the goal was given by Secretary of Defense McNamara in 1967 in a list of what he considered to be the three objectives of the bombing campaign against North Vietnam: "To make clear to the North Vietnamese political leadership that so long as they continued their aggression against the South, they would have to pay a price in the North.”58
The goal is often stated in terms of increasing the cost of the war for the North. A March 1966 CIA report argued for increased bombing of northern North Vietnam because it would inflict more pain on the regime and increase the cost of the war. They key argument was:
The flow of military logistics supplies from the USSR and China cannot be cut off, but the movement could be made considerably more expensive and unreliable if authorization is granted to attack intensively the rail connections to Communist China and if the three major ports are effectively mined.59
As has been shown above, the bombing has caused severe damage and disruption to the domestic economy of North Vietnam. Many thousands of civilians have been evacuated from the cities or diverted to repairing damage done by the airstrikes. The civilian population has suffered considerably. National Security Study Memorandum 1 reports that—
Individual citizens suffered many hardships. While the total supply of goods in NVN increased, individual standards of living declined. Food was rationed and consumer goods were scarce; and air raid warnings disrupted the lives of the populace and forced many to leave their homes. Moreover, it has been estimated that approximately 52,000 civilians were killed in NVN by US air strikes.60
While there is a natural desire to impose hardship on an enemy, such a goal seems unsupportable on either moral or policy grounds. The moral implications of mere retribution should require no explanation. By the same token, the high cost of the bombing to the United States in terms of lives and materiel makes such a policy undesirable. Simply raising the cost of the war to the North serves on policy end unless it has a pay-off in terms of impeding the ability of the North to support the war or increases the likelihood of the North’s deciding to end the war. Hence, retribution is usually linked to interdiction or putting pressure on Hanoi’s will. The preceding discussion has indicated, however, that the bombing has not stopped the flow of supplies to the South. The question then becomes what effect the bombing has had on Hanoi’s will to continue the war.
One of the most pervasive justifications for the bombing of the North is the belief that in some degree the bombing will put pressure on the Hanoi leadership to terminate the war. According to the Pentagon history of the conflict, this was the original purpose of the sustained bombing of the North, although the public rationale was generally put in terms of North Vietnam’s capability to continue the war.61 An interagency task force known as the NSC Working Group concluded in late 1964 that—
The nature of the war in Vietnam is such that US ability to compel the DRV to end or reduce the VC insurrection rests essentially upon the effect of the US sanctions on the will of DRV leadership to sustain and enlarge that insurrection, and to a lesser extent upon the effect of sanctions on the capabilities of the DRV to do so.62
The contention that bombing would put increased pressure on Hanoi’s will played a major role in the arguments of the JCS for the highly unsuccessful attacks on North Vietnam’s petroleum facilities in 1966.63 With the relative failure of bombing to achieve the goal of interdicting the flow of supplies south, the goal of breaking Hanoi’s will became more prominent. In arguing for continued bombing, presidential assistant for national security, Walt Rostow wrote in a 1967 memorandum—
We have never held the view that bombing could stop infiltration…We have held the view that the degree of military and civilian cost felt in the North and the diversion of resources to deal with our bombing could contribute marginally—and perhaps significantly—to the timing of a decision to end the war.64
Although the reasoning is seldom explicit, the argument that the bombing would affect the will of Hanoi’s leadership is generally based on three suppositions. First, the bombing would so reduce North Vietnam’s capability to successfully prosecute the war that Hanoi would either sue for peace or substantially reduce the level of warfare. Second, the leadership would decide that the level of destruction visited upon the North Vietnamese economy was greater than the gain from supporting the revolution in the South. Or third, that the morale of the North Vietnamese population would so deteriorate that the leadership would be forced to seek relief from the bombing through negotiations or reduced support for the forces in the South.
Examination of the results of the bombing indicates that none of these suppositions have been borne out in practice. The bombing has made support of the war in the South more difficult and costly but has not reduced North Vietnam’s ability to prosecute it. The damage to the North Vietnamese economy has been substantial and development plans have been postponed. But aid from Russia and China has more than offset the damage inflicted by bombing. In such a situation, it seems probable that Hanoi’s relationship with her allies is more important than the bombing in the leadership’s determination to continue the war. And according to the 1966 JASON study by government–oriented scientists—
Hanoi’s political relations with its allies were in some respects strengthened by the bombing. The attacks had the effect of encouraging greater material and political support from the Soviet Union than might otherwise have been the case. While the Soviet aid complicated Hanoi’s relationship with Peking, it reduced North Vietnam’s dependence on China and thereby gave Hanoi more room for maneuver on its own behalf.65
Available evidence indicates that the great hardships placed upon North Vietnam’s population by the bombing and the cost of the war in the South have lowered popular morale but not to the degree that support for the war is threatened. Evidence of the deterioration of popular morale as of early 1968 came from reports of Spanish repatriates who lived in North Vietnam from 13 to 19 years, a decree on the “punishment of counterrevolutionary crimes,” and the appearance of a widespread black market.66 According to the CIA contribution to the 1969 National Security Study Memorandum 1—
There were some indications in late 1967 and in 1968 that morale was wavering, but not to a degree that influenced the regime’s policies on the war. The regime was quite successful, however, in using the bombing threat as an instrument to mobilize people behind the Communist war effort. There is substantial evidence, for instance, that the general populace found the hardships of the war more tolerable when it faced daily dangers from the bombing than when this threat was removed and many of the same hardships persisted. Concern about maintaining popular morale, and, in particular, discipline and unwavering support for the needs of the war appears to have grown markedly in the past year when most of the country was no longer subjected to bombing. Since the 1 November bombing halt over the entire country, Hanoi has put great stress on countering the widespread tendency of the people to relax their efforts. Concern of this kind is reflected almost daily in North Vietnamese publications and broadcasts as the regime has used exhortation, criticism, and the threat of coercion to sustain support for the needs of the war in South Vietnam.67
Similarly, in commenting on civilian hardships in North Vietnam, the military contribution to NSSM 1 stated:
There is no evidence to suggest that these hardships reduced to a critical level NVN’s willingness or resolve to continue the conflict. On the contrary, the bombing actually may have hardened the attitude of the people and rallied them behind the government’s programs. Firm population controls and a steady flow of propaganda from Hanoi have been credited with helping to maintain support for the regime. There is some evidence, however, indicating that morale and support for the war in NVN has declined significantly since the bombing halt.68
The experience in bombing North Vietnam, then, appears to once again demonstrate that an attack by a clearly foreign power tends to increase support for the indigenous government and to increase social cohesion in spite of the hardships created by the war.
The persistence of the view that Hanoi’s will can be broken by bombing seems inconsistent with what is known of the North Vietnamese leadership. Most of Hanoi’s top leadership is composed of long-time revolutionaries who were intimately involved with Vietnam’s struggle for independence from the French. Their struggle lasting over 30 years indicates tenacity and will not easily [be] broken. Moreover, as both communists and nationalists, they apparently believe that they have a mission to liberate what they consider to be the southern half of their country. Their statements during the long period of negotiations leave little doubt that they think that time, international opinion, the weight of history, and their own commitment will bring them victory.
A convincing perspective on the effect of the bombing on Hanoi’s will was provided by the 1966 JASON study:
The indirect effects of the bombing on the will of the North Vietnamese to continue fighting and on their leaders’ appraisal of the prospective gains and costs of maintaining the present policy have not shown themselves in any tangible way. Furthermore, we have not discovered any basis for concluding that the indirect punitive effects of bombing will prove decisive in these respects.
It may be argued on a speculative basis that continued or increased bombing must eventually affect Hanoi’s will to continue, particularly as a component of the total US military pressures being exerted throughout Southeast Asia. However, it is not a conclusion that necessarily follows from the available evidence, given the character of North Vietnam’s economy and society, the present and prospective low levels of casualties and the amount of aid available to Hanoi. It would appear to be equally logical to assume that the major influences on Hanoi’s will to continue are most likely to be the course of the war in the South and the degree to which the USSR and China support the policy of continuing the war and that the punitive impact of US bombing may have but a marginal effect in this broader context.69
BOMBING AS AN AID TO NEGOTIATIONS
Related to the belief that bombing would break the will of Hanoi’s leadership is the belief that bombing would aid in negotiations with the North. Bombing was expected to play essentially two roles with respect to negotiations. These were expressed by Assistant Secretary of Defense John McNaughton in a 1966 memorandum: "The purposes of the bombing are mainly…b. To bring about negotiations (by indirect third-party pressure flowing from fear of escalation and by direct pressure on Hanoi). c. To provide a bargaining counter in negotiations (or in a tacit ’minuet’).”70
The preceding discussion makes clear that the bombing of North Vietnam has not brought about a willingness of the North Vietnamese leadership to make fundamental negotiating concessions. Moreover, bombing appears to take second place to the military situation in the South in Hanoi’s calculations. However, it appears probable that the desire to end the bombing played some role in the decision of Hanoi to accept the US offer of negotiations in 1968. Such was the consensus of the national security agencies in the 1969 NSSM 1.71 The bombing may, however, have contributed to the failure of other negotiating tracks, such as the 1966 contacts through the Polish representative to the International Control Commission, the direct contacts in Moscow in 1967, and the direct contacts in Rangoon December 1965-February 1966.72 It thus remains a moot point whether the bombing contributed to the possibility of formal talks between the two sides.
No doubt, the bombing of the North represents a bargaining chip in negotiations, but its value is uncertain. In spite of its prominence in public statements by both sides, the uncertain role of bombing in the course of negotiations from 1965 onward, the relative ineffectiveness of bombing in either stemming infiltration or breaking the will of the North, and the predominance of concern with the course of the war in the South indicate that in terms of extracting major concessions, bombing is a bargaining chip of relatively low value.
A final purpose of the bombing of North Vietnam, according to Assistant Secretary of Defense McNaughton, was to sustain US and South Vietnamese morale.73 A similar view was echoed by Secretary McNamara in 1967.74 To a degree this objective was achieved. The retaliatory strikes in 1964 and the sustained bombing begun in early 1965 probably contributed to some degree to boosting the morale of the hard pressed South Vietnamese government. As the second JASON study found in 1967—
There had been an appreciable improvement in South Vietnamese morale immediately after the bombing began and subsequent buoyancy always accompanied major new escalations of the air war. But the effect was always transient, fading, as a particular pattern of attack became a part of the routine of the war. There was no indication that bombing could ever constitute a permanent support for South Vietnamese morale if the situation in the South itself was adverse.75 (emphasis added.)
This study of the effectiveness of the air war against North Vietnam in achieving the goals set for it by those involved in making the bombing policy necessarily neglects many relevant considerations. These include civilian casualties, the international impact of the bombing, the risks of escalation and provoking Chinese or Soviet intervention, the costs of the bombing, captured airmen, and the consequences within the United States. But in so doing, the study places in a starker light the high hopes held out for the bombing and the small results actually achieved.
Throughout the war, the results of the bombing of North Vietnam have consistently fallen far short of the claims made for it. The bombing began with the expectation that it would break the will of the enemy—although many questioned its capability to do so. When Hanoi showed no signs of weakening, the rationale shifted toward interdiction, but this goal, too, proved unobtainable. Many suggested that this failure was because there were too many restrictions. If such targets as the North’s petroleum facilities were attacked, it was argued, Hanoi’s capabilities would be sharply reduced. But again North Vietnam proved capable of adapting; the will of the Hanoi leadership held strong. Again bombing failed to fulfill the promises made for it.
This study should contain two warning notes. First, the focus of this study has been on interdiction and strategic bombing of North Vietnam during the period 1965-1968. It does not consider tactical air support, which has been relatively successful in achieving its goals. Neither does it consider the current air war against North Vietnam, which is far heavier than previous offensives. No reliable information is yet available on its success or failure.
Second, the experience in Vietnam cannot be readily transferred to other situations. In overcoming the effects of the bombing, the North Vietnamese have had certain advantages which may not apply to other cases. The leadership has shown great tenacity and high motivation, as well as exceptional ingenuity and adaptability in coping with the effects of the bombing. The evident control and organization of the society, together with apparently high popular support have made possible this tenacity and adaptability. Equally important has been the willingness and ability of other Communist countries to provide sufficient military and economic aid. The location of North Vietnam has also been of considerable importance. Bordering on an ally, China, North Vietnam could not be blockaded; land transportation routes were available. Moreover, the proximity to China long tended to moderate US escalation of the air war because of the fear of Chinese intervention. The common border with South Vietnam and the relatively unpopulated and heavily foliated border area with Laos facilitate infiltration and make interdiction bombing more difficult. The original guerrilla nature of the war long reduced the amount of supplies which had to be infiltrated, thus reducing the burden on the North. And finally, the underdeveloped nature of the Vietnamese economy has provided relatively few valuable targets for bombing.
These caveats notwithstanding, this study calls into serious question the efficacy of strategic and interdiction bombing against a highly motivated guerilla enemy in an underdeveloped country. Bombing appears capable of raising the costs of war to an enemy in such a situation, but it cannot be depended on to weaken his will or to substantially reduce his activity by interdicting his supplies. Compared to the damage to US prestige and the internal division created by the bombing policy, its meager gain must be seriously questioned.
1. US Department of Defense, Office of the Secretary of Defense Task Force, Vietnam, United States Vietnam Relations, 1945-1967 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1971), IV.C.7. (a), “Volume I The Air War in North Vietnam,” p.3 (hereafter cited as US-Vietnam Relations).
2. Ibid., IV.C.3., “Evolution of the War: The Rolling Thunder Program Begins,” p.74.
3. CINCPAC 120205Z Jan. 1966, ibid., IV.C.7.(a), p.32. Sources are frequently not shown in the GPO edition of US-Vietnam Relations. But because the footnotes were recently declassified by the Department of Defense, they are cited in this study.
4. SNIE 10-9-65, 23 July 1965, “Communist and Free World Reactions to a Possible US Course of Action,” ibid., pp.10-11.
5. JCSM 41-66, 18 Jan. 1966, ibid. p.32.
6. CIA SC No. 0828/66, “The Role of Air Strikes in Attaining Objectives in North Vietnam,” ibid., p.17.
7. Analyst’s comments, ibid.
8. Testimony before Senate Committees on Armed Services and Appropriations, Aug. 4, 1965, and House Committee on Armed Services, Aug. 6, 1965, and Background briefing for the press, Oct. 21, 1965, ibid., pp.18-19.
9. Pentagon historian’s comments, ibid., p.138.
10. JCSM 810-65, “Air Operations Against the North Vietnam POL System,” 10 Nov. 1965, ibid., p.65.
11. Pentagon historian, ibid., pp.65-66, citing J-3 in collaboration with DIA, “Attack on the North Vietnam Petroleum Storage System—A Study,” 23 April 1965 revised 22 Dec. 1965.
12. JCSM 810-65, 10 Nov. 1965, ibid., pp.66-67.
13. Memorandum for the Director, CIA, from Sherman Kent, for the Board of National Estimates, “Probable Reactions of the DRV, Communist China, and the USSR to US Air Attacks on Petroleum Storage Facilities in North Vietnam,” Nov. 27, 1965, ibid., p.68.
14. Pentagon historian’s commentary and citations, ibid., pp.68-123.
15. SNIE 10-2-65, Dec. 10, 1965, “Probable Communist Reactions to a US Course of Action,” ibid., p 72. SNIE 10-1-66, “Possible Effects of a Proposed US Course of Action on DRV Capability to Support the Insurgency in South Vietnam,” Feb. 4, 1966, ibid., p.76; and CIA SC No. 08440/66, “The Effect of Destruction of NVN Petroleum Storage Facilities on the War in SVN,” June 8, 1966, ibid., p.123.
16. SNIE 10-2-65, Dec. 10, 1965, ibid., pp.72-73.
17. Memorandum for the Director, CIA, from Sherman Kent, Dec. 2, 1965, ibid., p.69.
18. SNIE 10-2-65, Dec. 10, 1965, ibid., p.73.
19. DIA Special Intelligence Summary, NVN POL Status Report,” 1 Aug. 1966, ibid., p.141.
20. Ibid., p.143.
21. Pentagon historian’s analysis, ibid., pp.141-42.
22. Pentagon historian’s analysis citing CIA SC No. 04442/67, “The Rolling Thunder Program, Present, and Potential Target Systems,” Appendix A, January 1967, ibid., p.142.
25. Ibid. Also citing SNIE 13-66, “Current Chinese Communist Intentions in the Vietnam Situation,” Aug. 4, 1966.
26. USAF Historical Division Liaison Office, “USAF Plans and Operations: The Air Campaign Against North Vietnam, 1966,” ibid., p.144.
27. Quoted in The Washington Post, Feb. 15, 1967, ibid., p.145.
28. Institute for Defense Analyses Report, IDA TS/HQ66-49, “The Effects of US Bombing on North Vietnam’s Ability to Support Military Operations in South Vietnam and Laos: Retrospect and Prospect,” Aug. 29, 1966, and IDA JASON Division, “The Bombing of North Vietnam,” Vol. I, “Summary,” IDA Log No. TS/HQ 67-217, Dec. 16, 1967, ibid., pp.149-55 and US-Vietnam Relations, IV.C.7.(b), “Volume II: The Air War in North Vietnam,” pp.122-27.
29. US-Vietnam Relations, IV.C.7.(a), p.149.
30. IDA, “The Bombing of North Vietnam,” Dec. 16, 1967, ibid., IV.C.7.(b), p.123.
31. Ibid., p.124.
33. Ibid., IV.C.7.(a), pp.54-55.
34. Ibid., p. 55.
35. IDA TS/HQ66-49, “The Effects of US Bombing,” Aug. 29, 1966, ibid., pp.152-53.
36. Pentagon historian’s commentary, ibid., p.56.
37. Ibid., citing CIA/DIA, “An Appraisal of the Effects of the First Year of Bombing in North Vietnam,” SC No. 08437/66, June 1, 1966.
38. Draft of National Security Council, “National Security Study Memorandum 1,” 1969, in Congressional Record, Vol. 118, No. 77 (May 11, 1972), p.E5010 (hereafter cited as NSSM1). Another study put the total manpower diversion over a three year period at 750,000. OASD (SA) Economics & Mobility Forces paper, “The Bombing—Its Economic Costs and Benefits to North Vietnam,” Jan.2, 1968, attached to Alain Enthoven Memorandum for the Secretary of Defense, Subject: “The Economic Effects of Bombing North Vietnam,” Jan. 2, 1968, in US-Vietnam Relations, IV.C.7. (b), p.130.
39. OASD (SA) Economics & Mobility Forces paper, “The Bombing,” Jan. 2, 1968, in US-Vietnam Relations, IV.C.7.(b), p.130.
40. Ibid., pp.130-31.
41. NSSM 1 in Congressional Record, Vol. 118, No. 77 (May 11, 1972) p.E5063.
42. Ibid., No. 76 (May 10, 1972), p.E5000. Emphasis in original.
43. IDA, “The Bombing of North Vietnam,” Dec. 16, 1967, in US-Vietnam Relations, IV.C.7.(b), p.125.
44. OASD (SA) Economics & Mobility Forces paper, “The Bombing,” Jan. 2, 1968. Ibid., p.128.
45. Ibid., p.129.
46. “If the capital stock, is replaced, the economic cost to North Vietnam of the bombing will be the cumulative loss of output from the time the bombing began until the capital stock is fully replaced. Even this probably overstates the cost, however. Even if the pre-bombing capital stock were only replaced, it would be more modern and productive than it otherwise would have been.” Ibid.
47. NSSM 1, in Congressional Record, Vol. 118, No. 77 (May 11, 1972), p.E5063.
49. Pentagon historian’s commentary, US-Vietnam Relations, IV.C.7.(a), p.55.
50. CIA SC No. 0828/66, “The Role of Air Strikes in Attaining Objectives in North Vietnam,” March 1966, ibid., p.82.
51. National Security Council, NSSM 1, “Summary of Responses to NSSM 1—The Situation in Vietnam,” in Congressional Record, Vol. 118, No. 76 (May 10, 1972), p.E4981.
52. CIA SC No. 0828/66, “The Role of Air Strikes,” March 1966, in. US-Vietnam Relations, IV.C.7.(a), p.82.
53. NSSM 1, in Congressional Record, Vol. 118, No. 76 (May 10, 1972), p.E4981.
54. US-Vietnam Relations, IV.C.7.(a), pp.56-57.
55. IDA, “The Bombing of North Vietnam,” Dec. 16, 1967, ibid. IV.C.7.(b), p.124.
56. IDA TS/HQ66-49, “The Effects of U.S. Bombing,” Aug. 29, 1966, ibid., IV.C.7.(a), p.154.
57. IDA, “The Bombing of North Vietnam,” Dec. 16, 1967, ibid., IV.C.7.(b), p.125.
58. Ibid., p.123.
59. CIA SC No. 0828-66, “The Role of Air Strikes,” March 1966, ibid., IV.C.7. (a), p.82.
60. NSSM 1 in Congressional Record, Vol. 118, No. 77 (May 11, 1972), p.E5063.
61. US-Vietnam Relations, IV.C.7.(a), p.3.
62. NSC Working Group on Vietnam (Southeast Asia), “Section I: Intelligence Assessment: The Situation in Vietnam,” Nov. 24, 1964, pp.6-8 (in State Department Materials, Vol. IV), ibid., IV.C.2.(c), p.10.
63. Pentagon historian, ibid., IV.C.7.(a), p.65.
64. Memorandum to Secretary of State Dean Rusk and Others from Walt W. Rostow, “U.S. Strategy in Vietnam,” May 6, 1967, in New York Times, The Pentagon Papers (New York: Bantam Books, 1971), p.574.
65. IDA TS/HQ66-49, “The Effects of US Bombing,” Aug 29, 1966, US-Vietnam Relations, IV.C.7. (a) p. 153.
66. NSSM 1 in Congressional Record, Vol. 118. No. 76 (May 10, 1972), p.E4999.
67. Ibid., No. 77 (May 11, 1972), p.E5010.
68. Ibid., p.E5063.
69. IDA TS/HQ66-49, “The Effects of US Bombing,” Aug. 29, 1966, US-Vietnam Relations, IV.C.7.(a) p.152.
70. McNaughton 2nd Draft, “Some Observations about Bombing North Vietnam,” Jan.18, 1966, in McNaughton Book II, Tab DD, ibid., p.34.
71. NSSM 1 in Congressional Record, Vol. 118, No. 76 (May 10, 1972), pp.E4977 and E4986, and No. 77 (May 11, 1972), p.E5012.
72. “Negotiations, 1964-1968,” a staff study based on the Pentagon Papers prepared for the use of the Committee on Foreign Relations, Study No. 4 (Washington, Aug. 9, 1972).
73. McNaughton 2nd Draft, “Some Observations about Bombing North Vietnam,” Jan. 18, 1966, US-Vietnam Relations, IV.C.7. (a), p.34.
74. IDA, “The Bombing of North Vietnam,” Dec. 16, 1967, ibid., IV.C.7. (b), p.123.
75. Ibid., p.126.
NEGOTIATIONS, 1964-1968: The Half-Hearted Search for Peace in Vietnam
A Staff Study Based on the Pentagon Papers
Prepared for the Uses of the Committee on Foreign Relations
United States Senate
Study No. 4
August 9, 1972
PREFACE BY SENATOR J.W. FULBRIGHT, CHAIRMAN, COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN RELATIONS
In 1968 the Department of Defense completed an eighteen-month study of “US-Vietnam Relations, 1945-1967,” popularly known as the “Pentagon Papers.” The existence of this classified 47volume study became known to the public through newspaper reports in June 1971. In September the Defense Department declassified large portions of the first 43 volumes. The other four volumes remained classified on the grounds that disclosure of the materials they cover—the history of negotiations—would be detrimental to the national interest.
In September 1971 the Committee on Foreign Relations began a detailed study of the Pentagon history and related materials. The study was initiated under the authority of S. Res. 140, agreed to July 24, 1971, for the purpose of inquiring into the origins and evolution of the US involvement in Vietnam, with particular reference to lessons for US foreign policy making that might be drawn from the Pentagon history. Three staff researchers, Robert E. Biles, Robert M. Blum, and Ann L. Hollick, have been engaged in a careful review of the 7,000 pages of documents and analysis included in US-Vietnam Relations. They have had at their disposal both the classified and unclassified versions of the Pentagon Papers. In addition, they have drawn upon corroborative printed materials and interviews with individuals involved in the events under study.
“Negotiations, 1964-1968: The Half-Hearted Search for Peace in Vietnam” by Robert E. Biles is an analysis of the efforts of the United States to achieve a negotiated settlement of the Vietnam war during a critical period of military escalation. Although the study utilized unclassified sources wherever possible, it of necessity drew heavily upon the four still-classified volumes of the “Pentagon Papers.” Therefore, it too had to be classified. But because the lessons which this history provides are important and should be available to the American public, I requested the cooperation of the Department of State in declassifying the staff study in whole or in part. This request was originally made on January 10, 1972. In a letter to Secretary of State William Rogers, I said that the study “contains information about which the public should be informed, and I note nothing in it which would in any way endanger national security if it were disclosed.” On February 17, 1972, I wrote Assistant Secretary of State David Abshire that “In view of the increasing frequency of disclosure of details of the negotiations by former administration officials, there is an ever decreasing justification for the continued classification of this material.”
After considerable delay, the Department of State replied that it could not concur in the declassification of this staff study. Assistant Secretary Abshire wrote on March 9, 1972 that
To disclose these secret channels and official communications relating to them would constitute a unilateral violation of confidentiality in diplomatic intercourse without which the diplomatic process cannot function effectively.
I found the position of the Department unacceptable. On March 27, 1972, I wrote Secretary Rogers that
By contrast with the secret negotiations between Mr. Kissinger and the North Vietnamese, which President Nixon saw fit to announce on national television, the material in the Committee’s study is from four to eight years old and would not endanger current or foreseeable negotiations. The lessons which this history provides, however, are important and should be available to the American public. Moreover, declassification of this material would be in keeping with the spirit of the President’s recently announced program of reduced government secrecy.
I therefore requested that the Secretary designate a responsible individual from the Department to discuss its specific objections with the Committee staff. "If there are sound reasons for the continued classification of portions of the study,” I concluded, “it should be possible to delete or rewrite those specific items.”
After almost three months’ delay and several telephone calls from the Committee staff, the Department of State replied on June 20, 1972, that all portions of the study based on the four classified volumes of the “Pentagon Papers” remained classified. In view of this position by the Department of State, this study is being made available only to Committee Members as a classified Committee Print. It should be noted for the record, however, that the Washington Post on June 26 published large portions of the classified portion of the four volumes which form the basis of this study. The press also reported that the Justice Department apparently has no intention of prosecuting the Post.
The study shows that both the United States and North Vietnam sought military victory and placed little faith in negotiations. There was a gradual and erratic movement toward compromise and a lessening of demands by both sides during the period 1964-68. But the basic stumbling block—who was to control South Vietnam—remained unsettled, just as it is still unsettled today. The study points up the mutual suspicions, the misinterpretations, and the missed opportunities which marked the course of negotiations. It makes clear that both sides used the negotiating tricks for propaganda purposes while placing their major hopes in military victory.
The material which appears in this study does not necessarily reflect the views of the Committee or any member thereof.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Mayflower (First Bombing Pause)
XYZ (Mai Van Bo Contacts in Paris)
La Pira’s Trip to Hanoi
Pinta: The Rangoon Contact
The Public Peace Offensive
The Ronning Missions
Marigold (Polish Initiative in Saigon)
Sunflower (Direct Contacts in Moscow), Wilson-Kosygin Talks in
London, Johnson-Ho Letters
Private Trips to Hanoi (Three Clerics, Ashmore-Baggs, and Others)
The Setting for Negotiations
Packers (Rumanian-North Vietnamese Contacts)
Aspen (Swedish-North Vietnamese Contacts
Ohio (Norwegian-North Vietnamese Contacts)
Pennsylvania (Kissinger, Mai Van Bo, Marcovitch, and Aubrac in Paris)
Killy (Italian-North Vietnamese)
Convergence of the Conditions for Talks
Representation of South Vietnam
International Guarantees and Inspections
Why is the DRV in Paris?
Soviet and Chinese Influence
Appendix I: Hanoi’s Four Points
Appendix II: Washington’s Fourteen Points
Appendix III: Chronology
CHRONOLOGY: DEALINGS WITH DEPARTMETN OF STATE ON DECLASSIFICATION OF NEGOTIATIONS STUDY
January 10, 1972: Letter to State requesting declassification.
January 26: Called State to check on status of declassification.
February 1: Interim reply from State—letter.
February 11: Telephone conversation with State.
February 17: Letter to State noting continuing releases by former officials.
February 25: Marcy telephone conversation with Symmes of State.
March 7: Marcy telephone conversations with Symmes of State.
March 9: Letter from State refusing cooperation in declassification.
March 14: Marcy telephoned Symmes to discuss possibility of line-by-line declassification.
March 22: Marcy telephoned Symmes, who said he had put the matter before Abshire.
March 27: Letter sent to State suggesting line-by-line declassification.
April 20: Marcy telephoned Wright and then sent letter informally.
April 28: Marcy telephoned Wright to check status of request.
June 19: Marcy telephoned Wright to check status of request.
June 20: Letter from State again refusing declassification.
August 14: Mr. Schnee of State returned call to say diplomatic volumes and study are still classified.
January 10, 1972
Hon. William P. Rogers,
Secretary of State,
DEAR MR. SECRETARY: As part of the Committee’s study of United States policy in Vietnam, the Committee staff has prepared the attached report titled “Negotiations: 1964-1968.” Because it is based on the still classified volumes of the Pentagon history, United States-Vietnam Relations, 1945-1967, the staff study is classified Top Secret. In reading the study, however, I find no reason for its remaining classified. It contains information about which the public should be informed, and I note nothing in it which would in any way endanger national security if it were disclosed.
The Committee, therefore, requests that the Department examine the report, “Negotiations: 1964-1968” for the purpose of declassifying it in whole or in part. We hope that this declassification will be accomplished as quickly as possible.
If we may be of any assistance in this effort, please contact Mr. Robert Biles of the Committee staff.
J.W. Fulbright, Chairman
Department of State
February 1, 1972.
Hon. J.W. Fulbright,
Chairman, Committee on Foreign Relations,
DEAR MR. CHAIRMAN: Secretary Rogers has asked that I acknowledge your letter to him of January 10, 1972 transmitting a report prepared by the Foreign Relations Committee Staff on Viet-Nam negotiation efforts during the period 1967-1968 and requesting the State Department’s advice regarding the report’s declassification in whole or in part.
The report is now being studied by appropriate officials in the Department. We shall be pleased to inform you of our views as soon as this review is completed.
David M. Abshire,
Assistant Secretary for Congressional Relations.
February 17, 1972.
Hon. David M. Abshire,
Assistant Secretary for Congressional Relations,
Department of State,
DEAR MR. ABSHIRE: On January 10, 1972, I wrote to Secretary Rogers to request the aid of the Department of State in the declassification of a staff study of the Vietnam negotiations from 1964 to 1968. I have received your interim reply of February 1, 1972.
I assume that the Department has noted the enclosed clippings from the New York Times and Newsweek in which former government officials have “declassified” portions of the events discussed in the study we are seeking to declassify. In view of the increasing frequency of disclosure of details of the negotiations by former administration officials, there is an ever decreasing justification for the continued classification of this material. Moreover, as the Department has been able to examine our staff study for over a month now, I expect a substantive reply to be forthcoming shortly.
J.W. Fulbright, Chairman.
Department of State,
March 9, 1972.
Hon. J.W. Fulbright,
Chairman, Committee of Foreign Relations, US Senate.
DEAR SENATOR FULBRIGHT: I refer to your letters of January 10 and February 17 concerning the declassification of a report entitled “Negotiations, 1964-1968: The Half-Hearted Search for Peace in Viet-Nam” prepared by the Foreign Relations Committee staff.
As stated in my interim reply of February 1, the Department has been reviewing this report. As you have noted, it is based in large measure on the still classified volumes of the Pentagon study relating to negotiations. These volumes contain detailed accounts of the roles played by foreign governments and other third parties in establishing secret channels between the United States and North Viet-Nam, including the full substance of confidential discussions with these third parties and critical assessments of their activities by US Government analysts.
Although, as noted in your letter of February 17, partial information relating to some of these secret channels has appeared in public media, it is the Department’s view that the substance of these volumes should remain classified. To disclose these secret channels and official communications relating to them would constitute a unilateral violation of confidentiality in diplomatic intercourse without which the diplomatic process cannot function effectively. Moreover, such disclosure could harm and perhaps preclude future use of these and other channels in our continuing efforts to deal with the issues of the Indochina conflict including that of our prisoners of war. We therefore cannot concur in the declassification of the material in the Committee’s staff report which is based on these classified volumes of the Pentagon study.
David M. Abshire,
Assistant Secretary for Congressional Relations.
P.S. I am very sorry that we cannot concur with your request, since I well realize the diligent and extremely capable efforts of the professional staff that gone into the preparation of this report.
March 27, 1972.
Hon. William P. Rogers,
Secretary of State,
DEAR MR. SECRETARY: Mr. Abshire’s letter of March 9 indicated that the Department of State could not concur in the declassification of the Committee on Foreign Relations staff report entitled “Negotiations, 1964-1968.” I find the Department’s position on this matter unacceptable. By contrast with the secret negotiations between Mr. Kissinger and the North Vietnamese, which President Nixon saw fit to announce on national television, the material in the Committee’s study is from four to eight years old and would not endanger current or foreseeable negotiations. The lessons which this history provides, however, are important and should be available to the American public. Moreover, declassification of this material would be in keeping with the spirit of the President’s recently announced program of reduced government secrecy.
I would like to know promptly what specific parts of this study the Department feels should remain classified, and why. The matter has already been subject to inexplicable delay on the part of the Department of State. In order to resolve the question without further delay, I ask that you designate a responsible individual from the Department to discuss its specific objections with the Committee staff. If there are sound reasons for the continued classification of portions of the study, it should be possible to delete or rewrite those specific items.
J.W. Fulbright, Chairman.
April 20, 1972.
Hon. David M. Abshire,
Assistant Secretary for Congressional Relations,
Department of State,
DEAR DAVE: I am writing to ask why the Department of State has delayed so long in replying to Senator Fulbright’s request of March 27 that the Department of State designate a responsible individual to discuss the declassification of the Committee on Foreign Relations staff report on the Vietnam negotiations. This matter has dragged on for three and a half months, and I see no reason for continued procrastination.
You will recall that Senator Fulbright wrote to Secretary Rogers on January 10 to request the cooperation of the Department in declassifying in whole or in part the Committee staff study titled “Negotiations, 1964-1968” based on the Pentagon history, United States-Vietnam Relations, 1945-1967. After considerable delay, several telephone calls, and another letter, you replied on March 9 that the Department could not concur in the declassification of the study. In order to find out the specific portions of the study to which the Department objected, I proposed to Mr. Symmes of your office on March 14 that you name someone to discuss the study with the Committee staff. I spoke with Mr. Symmes by telephone again on March 22 to urge swift action. He said that he had taken the matter up with you but that no decision had yet been made. In the hopes of spurring a decision, Senator Fulbright wrote Secretary Rogers on March 27 to reiterate the request in the strongest terms. Yet, time passes and still there is no response.
Let me again emphasize that it is important that the substance of this study be made available to the American public. If there are sound reasons for the continued classification of portions of the report, it should be possible to eliminate them. But the inexplicable delay on the part of the Department of State is preventing the resolution of the problem.
Department of State,
June 20, 1972.
Hon. J.W. Fulbright,
Chairman, Committee on Foreign Relations,
DEAR MR. CHAIRMAN: I refer to your most recent letter concerning the declassification of the Committee on Foreign Relations staff report entitled “Negotiations, 1964-1968.” After again carefully reviewing this matter, I wish to reaffirm the Department’s position that those portions of the report based on Volumes VI.C.1-4 of the Pentagon study remain classified.
In response to your request, I am enclosing a copy of the report with those portions identified in red pencil. The reasons for their continued classification remain as outlined in my letter of March 9, 1972. As I pointed out in that letter, to disclose these secret channels and official communications relating to them—and I might add the official analysis based upon them—would constitute a unilateral violation of confidentiality in diplomatic intercourse and, moreover, could injure future effective use of these and other channels.
I am very sorry that we are unable to accommodate your request with regard in this matter.
David M. Abshire,
Assistant Secretary for Congressional Relations.