NIE 53/14.3-1-74 THE LIKELIHOOD OF A MAJOR NORTH VIETNAMESE OFFENSIVE AGAINST S

Created: 5/23/1974

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NATIONAL .;

INTELLIGENCE

ESTIMATE

The Likelihoodajor North Vietnamese Offensive Against South Vietnam Before5

"SeefeL.

34

THIS ESTIMATE IS ISSUED BY THE DIRECTOR OF CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE.

THE UNITED STATES INTELLIGENCE BOARD CONCURS, EXCEPT AS NOTED IN THE TEXT, AS FOLLOWS:

T!n; following inlelligence organizations participated in the preparation of the estimate:

Ihe Control Intelligence Agency, tho intelligence organization* of lhe Departments ol Stole, Detente, Treasury and National Security Agency.

Concurring;

The Deputy Director ol Central Intelligence representing the Central Inlelligence Agency

Tho Direcior of Intelligence and Research representing ihe Deportment ol Slate The Director, Defense Intelligence Agency The Director, National Security Agency

Ihe Assistant General Manager for National Security representing the Atomic Energy Commission

The Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Treasury representing the Department of tho Treasury

Abstaining.-

The Assistant Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation, the subject being outside of hi* jurisdiction.

ALSO PARTICIPATING.-

The Assistant Chief of Sioff for Intelligence, Department of the Army

The Director of Naval Intclligenco, Department of the Navy

The Assistant Chlel of Stall, Intelligence, Department ol the Air Force

"weniu

THE LIKELIHOODAJOR NORTH VIETNAMESE OFFENSIVE AGAINST SOUTH VIETNAM BEFORE5

precis

A major Communist offensive in Soulh Vietnam is unlikely duringlie picture for the first halfowever, is less elear, and there obviouslyubstantial risk thai Hanoi will optajor offensive during this period. But our best judgment now is that Hanoi will not do so.'

If unforeseen and dramatic new developments occurred, thecould easily shift course to take advantage of them,

They have the capability to launch an offensive with little

We expect the North Vietnamese to reassess their situation this summer or fall.

"I'll.'Defense Intelligence Agenty. believe; thai tlx- "best iuclpiteiif expressed in (life [wuKwiJiundulyI.hat tlie diantl* an al taut even lhal North Vii'lii.im willuioi "Ifuiuivi' durim; thealfat his lejwnln^ftmriiod- to5 un page H.

'Jlio AMol.mluit.SAF, .uidlioiMl Security,iiiiunbskin. *harcview.

-accriBL

Change*n South Vietnam and in the in tet national situation.in the US, will weigh heavily in their calculations.

orth Vietnamese would also consider the views of llie Soviet Union ant! China, but the influence of Moscow and Peking on any reassessment in Hanoi would not be decisive.

ajor offensive occur, the Communists could retake Quang Tri City, and perhaps capture Hue in MKuutum and Heiku cities innd lay Ninh City in MRf the Communists persisted in their offensive, this initial situation would probably Ik* followederiodnconclusive fighting and, Over time, further CVN losses. AltVN might lie unable to regain the initiative, and il would hewhether the GVN would be able to survive without combat participation by US Air Force and Navy units.inimum, large-scale US logistic support would Ik- required to stop the Communist drive.

Kvrn il there isajor offensive during the next year, current Communis! strategy docs call for some increase in the tempo of the conflict.

t is clear that at some point Hanoi will shift back to major warfare.

discussion

Hanoi coiiliiiiutt to demonstrate itsto impose Communist control miThe North Vietnamese leadership,jjinwnrJv views the task ofin the South asn this sense, Hanoi isa condoning dilemma. Thein South Vietnam is notEven if the GVN's economyin iiledl) or t'S aid wereCominiinisls would Mill not he able lothi' CVN without major militaryincreasing Communist militaryonwould involve jgamble. Should Southommunis! offensive,posilion would he Inrtlierohniild tlie North Vicliiamcse3 dccisioii in favor ofui lhe risk of luvingstrength evolve tooint when*mil topple it.

The Military Balance

orth VketJiamesc forces in Southare nowungcr tlianere at the time of lhe eras.-fire:

- Hanoi is pressing ahead with its mililary modernisation and improvement

NVA/VC have more men, armor,td air defense weapons in South Vietnam than they dtd when the cease-fin: went inio effoct.

Ormiminists already huve on hand sufficient muteiiel to support offensive operations at2 level for wellear. An improved logistic andinfiltration system permits year-round deliveries to Soulh Vietnam.

Tile initiwiy Lat.iMiv and llie oiitnomc nfoffensive scenario" an-n detail in aili'tii'i^iiidiuviouthillUmi .Wwiu-nr. SO OIWrl-'T-t,pril III7I

There ,nv .in additional si* inluutivin reserve in North Vietnam which COuld Ik? rapidly deployed lg Sunlit Vlet-nain.

(xHiinmimt forces have improved wiih tin- mlillraliou of personnel and the in-ililnlniti of renw-Jial turning

to overcome shortcoming* thai emerged during the fighting in.

Communists now have wider nrili-ttliy options during the period June tu September than previously. (This is the rainy season in most of the country.)the recent improvements inipal*ilities do nut fully alleviate tlie prolili'im tbe NVA liave traditionally en-coimterrd in operating during the wet season.

.1 I.i.t riJi.^i

In ii dm. structure:

Vietnam maintains about twice as many combat troops under arms as the Communists have deployed in thi South.

Smith Vietnamese receivedmateria) before tnemost ivtantly aircraft, nnrtor andassure that even now theyountry-wide edge in firepower asset*.

theonths since the eense-firr, lhc South Vietnamese logistic command moved from almost total dependence OO tho USosition where it is now able toredit ahli job.

n tlie cveutajoi Communistthe outcome wouldon the .iv.til.ibilityupport In: South Vii

lhe CouuiiunistS committedf their six-division strategic reserve and built upn the southern part of South Vietnam:

They could retake Quang Tri City,capture Hue, and make sizable gains in southern MR 1.

- In western MRoiitiiui and I'leikn cities might also fall, and some gains, possibly including the fall of "lay Ninh City, would accrue tu the Communists north and northwest of Saigon in MR

If the Communists persisted In theirthis initial situation wouldbe followederiod offighting and, over time, further GVN losses. ARVN might be unable to regain the initiative, and it would Ik-questionable whether the CVN would be able to survive without combatby US Air Force and Navy units.

inimum, large-scale US logistic support would be required to stop the Communist drive.

The Political Balance

o. Puliticajly, the CVN is strimgerjjian the

CVNenerally effectivestructure extending down to villages and hamlets. Its police andpresence in ninst populated areas severely limits Communist activities. President Thieu retains the backing of the anny and the acceptance of most South Vietnamese; he has successfully isolated or out-maneuvered most of the non-Co nu nunpposition.

Conuiuiuists are not optimistic that

rssi.ii> fn-ri, Thieu for the foreseeable future or that there is an early prospectoalition government'Ihird Force."

Iws recognized ihai Coimmmisl political stagnation is Us mosl serious weakness and lias iiistrucUxl its southern cadre loaximum effort tothe In has tincture and undermine Uie GVN. Under present circu instances, however, Communist proselyting cannot achieve (puck resultsruiliug new cadre or peiictintim; the CVW These ef furls cannot seriously erode the govern -incut's present political position, nor is there any prnspccl lhat the cnneiit Goin-ii hidtrategy will topple the GVN.

ut tlte Comnumi.sls arepolil icalthey still believesmnci-UWdciids.

there is no indication that the leadership faces any serious challenge to ils conirol.

There has been no apparent curtailment in Hanoi's support fur either lhe war or Us present reconstruction efforts.support for its current war eflort in the South does not requite .significant diversion of economic resources from the North. Many of Hanoi's current economic targets, however, could not be achieved even in peaceful conditions.

SouthSouth Vietnamese economy has beenerious slump for two years, and the outlook is for more of the same andorsening of the situation. Rapidercent, unemployment (between IS andhreat of declining agricultural output are major problems.

These problems are basically the result of dislocation caused hy continuingin South Vietnam, increasing prices of critical imports, and declining real amounts of DS assistance.

Thus far lhe resilience of the Southpeople as well as the protection afforded by the extended family system have prevented economic dislocation from generating political instability. Hut these factors of themselves do notthe GVN'ssimply allemiale Ihe ucgalive impact of adverse economic coudilions.

continued US assistance al present levels, economic problems will not prove decisive over the next year.

Ihe longer run, however, continued economc deterioration would he likely to produce increasing corruption, possibly urban disorders, and declining GVNand military effectiveness.

The Shape of Things lo Come

-ltiuus vvil]behavior:

A) Hanoi continues lo see the.agreement ami subsequentas offering somewhich it wouUl nollyT

Militarily, lhe agreement,S withdrawal which allowed theto enhance their militaryin South Vietnam.

Politically, the agreement added aof international respectability and legitimacy to the PRC andasis for Communist insistence oil being consulted about future politicalin Saigon.

BJ The international environment con-tiniiesjo place certain constraints on Hanoi:

North Vietnamese leaders are still concerned that the US might recommit its air power if the CVN" were confrontedassive Communist military chal-

cannot have full confidence in the reliability of its allies, the USSR and the PRC. as lung asemain committedolicy of detente with the US.

C) Economic wnsideralions alsoNir^tiaints on Hanoi

continued assistance horn the USSR and China, North Vietnam should be able bolh to step up its military action in Ihe South and make economic progress in theajor increase in tlie level of hostilities, however, would run the risk that Moscow and Peking might reduce their assistance

majornot of itself sufficient to derail Hanoi's currentcomplicate the implementation of future laige.scale development ellorts.

D) The situation on_lhe_grouiid in South Vietnam cuts both ways. Thedo not seem to be urgently preparingajor offensive, but the very magnitude of the eiinent Communist military presence in llic South increases the danger oflighting:

Hanoi's leaders apparently do not think that they now can take control in the South in one swift campaign. Communist ideology and experience havethem to think in terms of stages.

The Communistsajor prol>-lem in achieving the proper mix ofand political initiatives. Given their weak political position in South Vietnam, they cannot decrease military pressure nn the GVN without losing momc-iilum. They doubt tliat they can significantly improve their political position without successful military action on anscale against government controlled areas of South Vietnam. On the other hand, the extension of militaiy action would be difficult in areas where the Communist infraslnictnre did nota base for supporting such action.

Some infiltration of men and supplies and the development ol some roads and base areas over the pastas been necessary to hold territory and torl the current Communist political-military strategy.

Tbe Communists are, however, now equipped to move moie quickly than ever before; troops can come down from the North rapidly and with very

lie itliilion, mid tin1 iihim iin'Ji' rcjd pie positioiliuvi dI supplies is nu lunger the gradual process It once was.

the Communists do notar to In* under any immediateto go for iHokag bowvvcr, rhvy would

not In* makingassive logistic prep orations,ndmany troop* in Ihe South, and moving iu so many nunc il they were not still seriously mnlciupl.it nig large-unit

Hanoi's Intentions Through5

vailable cvKlenoe now indicates that North "Vielii.iint-ve leadedeidrd m_3enod oi military, polities I. and ecoiMMnicwould last well ii-fo

vent COSVN instructions, which relltvt decisions on the conduct of the war made at the secretlenum of the Lao Dong Parly in the full, emphasize the needontinuing military buildup iu the Southusidor.il >lc period of infrastructureThey calltrengthening of Communist-held "hln-rated-ntrstcd areas, andlerroriMn. salmtage andin governmenl-controlledumber of cadre have iiilerpreted these instructions as applicable to lhe4

According toew months

Liter, at theo Dung plenum, North Viitnamescin4 iil.ilJislied gfjfdelbHIulsstaittirtl ciooouucinogram nf tlie North4loim senior Northofficial has jmhhi-ly cautioned that Hanoi should not pay so much altcnlion lo .strengthening thejiosition in the South lest then-runslniction effort would be jeop-urdi/rd.

ommiinist militarythe measured pace ofand inliltration, currentCommunis! forces, the withdrawalmam force divisions and AAAnot reflect the kind ol urgencyhas preceded militaryIhere isarkedSoulh Vietnam of tactkalcadre briefings, and in NorthcivilGiven tbe advanced slatemilitary' preparedness,II must he recognized lhatmay provide very liltew offensive.

n any event, the current Commimist

lls lor anin*. ih.-tempo of tlie conflict;

plans to test its mililary prowess mid prolie for weaknesses in the GVN's position.

Main Force units are lo Im-more frequently.

o expand "liberated" HMI -uid Communist MXIs are to increase.

-Such action could intensify wiihotititer vide actually planniug fur il. The Communists are bent onllwir control and lhe GVN isIcier mined tn keep Communist fortes bottled up in their present enclaves. Should favorable conditions develop, either side might further expand its military effort to exploit the situation.

may want to gauge tin-ts major Coininunist allie* and, more 1'iipoitaiit. of the US.

lir jxuill llns .in-'ii'i 01 foil,

PS * f!

strategy and initiate planning Itil llie next

11iiiI uflieials liAve told their cadre in Ihe Smith lhat they On mid lie ready lor "new developrncnts- if the situation changes iu South Vietnam or inlema-timially. (jdre have been exhorted not to become onufiiwd if Hanoi switchersew policy line.

neassessment, several factors may influencecalfirm its policy aiiauisl a

Hanoi may continue to see suchas too risky as long as it cannot count on certain victory.

lite North Vietnamese may connnue to believe that any majoreconiiuitiiHiit of US air support.

Hanoi may question Soviet and Chinese willingness toh ma|or andmilitary ulteusivc.

Hanoi may see economic deterioration in the South as in Itself ultimatelythe Smith Vietnamese political and social stinetiire. mid thereforelarge-scale military action to be uunccessaiy.

ll At (be same time there are factors which may iiifliu-noi' Hanoiajor

escaL-ition.

Hanoi may tlceidc its current strategy* is costly and nut working well.

Increasedn-ssure, either in retaliation against Communist attacks or lo forestall ci'iectcd Comimiuistcould result in erosion of important Communist base uieas in the South.

A breakdown in detente, oi otherdevelopments, could produce Soviet or Chinese encouragementorth Vietnamese military escalation.

etermination that USwere seriously curtailed by domestic political developments could encourage Hanoi to escalate.

Conclusions

H. In sum. wu do not believe that thewillajor uflcusivc tins year.

anoi, however, will be reassessing its strategy as time passes, and the picture for the first half5 is lis* clear. Changes since last fall iu South Vietnam and in thesituation, particularly in lhe US, will weigh heavily in Hanoi's calculations, and there obviouslyubstantial risk that Hanoi will optajor offensive. But our best judgment now is that Hanoi will not decide to do so during the first half

'ThenlciiiKuttc Agency,that tlw "best judgment" cxtwrsted inparagraph ii undulyhile aRmcing with (lie jiidumi-nl in paiagniplithat the Coul-iiiii'ii'ti arc unlikely to undertakeajur offemiw tiiiuugli tho Luluine- ofalw nolr* that most of the MippOrtiruJ evidence is essentiallyrin in nature,hrnr ii now m> direct evidence of Union intentions forevertheless. North Vietnam has not only ajsn'uoosly maintained IU majorOtlOu in Southibut ina-jtiru of llie Hi. (ini.ithat Hanoi can and will readily abandon its pn-joit strategy oi localized military action in Hie South. Fiipiuuiin'j Communist nidi buyouplrd ivitli li-inoi's inability to make much pioerew in South Vietnam under current cucuuiitaiicvs, iuciensc lhr dangerinjur Nnith Vietrmmrsc offensive. The Director. IMA, believes that the chants ar* at leant even that North Vietnam will urulerliikcction- llril linlf

ssistant Chief ol Staff, Inti'Uige-iroe, USAF,anager lor NationalAtomic Eiterirylum; thi* view.

evertheless. Mit- Communists do have lhe capal)ility toajor olfcusivi- with lililc warning whenever they so chouse. In the event ol mi unforeseen and dramatic change in the situation, the Communists could easily move militarily to take advantagearget of opportunity. Finally, even if there isajor offensive during the next year, it is clour thai at some point Hanoi will shift back to major warfare in its effort to gain control of Soulh Vietnam.

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