SNIE 53-68 THE VIETNAM SITUATION

Created: 6/6/1968

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CONTENTS

Page

THE nOHAI

ASSUMPTIONS

CONCLUSIONS

L THE COMMUNIST POSITION

Military Capabilitiei

Polilical

II. THE CVN POSITION

National

The (

Poiwlar

III. EXTERNAL FACTORS

Tlie Pari.

US

THE VIETNAM SITUATION

THE PROBLEM

To estimate probable developments in the Vietnam situation over tlie next six months or so.

ASSUMPTIONS

For the purpose of this estimate we make two assiunptiom: that the discussions Itelween the US and Hanoi are not broken offin this period and that the US does not resume full-scale bombing of North Vietnam.

CONCLUSIONS

Vietnamese Communists are striving through theirstrategy toecisive result iu the war thiswill coordinate intensified military and political operationsSouth with diplomatic moves, all designed to disintegrateof the CVN, intensify pressures for peace within the US,about major coficessions in tbe Paris talks.

forces are suffering extraordinary militarywith massive replacements from the North, they willigb level of military pressures during thedo not lielieve. however, that tbe Communist military effortwill be decisive. ARVN's fighting effectivenesseriously ssTakened. and the Saigon government, despitepolitical ami administrative weaknesses, will probablycapability to copo, at least minimally, with tbe problems of

developments in (lie Paris talks or in USseverely test the GVN's stability and even its survival.pressough stand by the US and for major concessionsMoves toward compromises, whether at IS initiativecould touchevere crisis In Saigon, especially ifpolitical role for theppeared likely. In the end,of US policy, In ihe context ol Ihe Presidentialhe decisive in the continuing viability of the GV.V

it* part, the regime in Hanoi is feeling the strains oland costly struggle. Tltese will intensify if the war isthe present high levels While we expect no early shift iuby year's end, the situation has noturn in its lavorprobably lie obliged once again tohoroughits options.

DISCUSSION

beginning of futmul iiipl.irn.tii- eoutacts in Paris has opened aand uddod new complexity to Ihe Vietnam problem. For the near termtlie struggle within Smith Vietnam is still the predominant factor,al the negotiating table will become Increasinglykul ttions andv the mood and outlook in Saigon

I. THE COMMUNIST POSITION

A number of factors have lid the Vietnamese f'oinmunists into the present phase ol fighting and talking. Kvei sinee the I'S intervened in hirer,ave assumed that the war would have to culminate In some kind of iieginiatiom, hut they were determined to avoid such talks until their battlefield positionl iIh-iii to negotiateosition of apparent strength.8 wintn-apring offensive, they believed, would atluVvcosition. Having shiftrd ili. focal point of their operations to the urbaD areas and geisenuTyllietr military pressurn tliey anlietpatc thai the confidence andof Ihc CVN and the AltVN will he badly shaken if not demolished, that large parts of rural areasss from CVN control, thai popular support for the CVN will fade, and that tlie US will he demoralized by these set hacks and by the prospectong, costly effort to regain lost ground.S ekttion year they apparently expect the overall pohtlcal/military results will cause the US to seek an end to the war on terms favorable to tlie Communists

Fif,ht-Talkhus. Hanoi expects that the present phase, lasting perhapshange in the US Administration, will prove derisive In ils revolutionary struggle. Communist forces will tiy to maintain continuous military

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pictures, especially around dties anil towns, erode Uir pacification program Inami. a< limes and places of (heir choosing, launch major oflciudve thrusts. Hanoi will inordinate thesi intensified military .ind political operations in Ihr South wilh diplomatic moves, all designed to disintegrate the fabric of ihr CVN. intensify pressures for peace within the US. and hring about major rnnerssioiis inii tatt.v

Military Capabilitiei

1 In terms of capabilities to sustain this fight-talk strategy, the next few month? are likely to be critical. Since last fall the Communist forces have made notable gains in firepower, and base expanded their force structure- through an unprece-denied level of infOtraltoii from the North. From mid-Frhruary until rally May thereelative lull in large-scale Communist oifemive operations, anddmes have hern recruiting, refilling, and regrouping.esult of these activities, plus ihe large number of replacements and new units now In the pipeline, and infciuifiVd recruiting in the countryside. Communist forces will be capable oferies of major attacks between ouw and the faD.

The main ifumts will probably I* against target? of political and pisrho-logludpecial effort it already underway against Saigon, and similar tactics may Im applied against other key provincial centers. These attempts to penetralr m'ban areas may be followed at some stage by heavier nud more direct Assaults. 'Ihe present pattern of infiltration, current troop dispositions, and weather conditions alsoajor effort in the Central HighLuxIs fairlyenewed eflort in the Oa Nang area, and perhaps the eastern DMZ during the summer.

At the same time, the Communists will have to face problems of their own, which will limit the extent to which they can effectively curry out at least some of their plans. The problem of preparing and executing major offensives against ii'lun areas hasore complex and difficult, and the possibility of a< hies log surprise has been reduced. Alliedand molality continue to disrupt Communist plans and impose heavy costs on their forces. Casualtiesanuary havei inordinary, anil large concentra lions of enemy forces, such ii? ul Khc Sanb, have proved highly vulnerable to Allied firepower. The quality of Viet Congarticularly tbe guerrillas, appears lo hastew hat. and the intrnuing reliance un North Vietnamese repLeenwnts has allowed less and less tune for combat training in die South, familiari'/atiou with Irrraiti. and assimilation into existing units. There arc also continuing problems of morale, though the Communist defection rate fs slill low, mid lliesc problems could be aggravated il costly military operations do no! bring an early peace. Despite an increase inp.iliilitv from the Northos, as well as in-country, it willajor problem for the Communist) to supply large fneves in forward positions over extended periods of combat. Additionally, the Communists hast to calculate that their intensified

"Secrex

operations could cause (he US Iu resume full-scale or at least augmented bombing over Ihc North, thus adding lo Iheir problems of repair and rehabilitalion.

sum, we do nut believe that the Communists can succeed indecisive defeat on US/AKVN forees on any largo scale or across anyNor arc Communist forces strong enough to seize and hold urbanan extended period. But they can create great disruption and turmoilabout the destruction ol parts of the areas attacked. Moreover,will probably be able totrong position in much of

Political Factors

As foi' their political position, the North Vietnamese leaders are probably fairly confident that their position in South Vietnam and in Paristrong One; that they are better able to withstand pressures for peace than Ihe US; lhat thev can afford to wait for elections in the US without fear of seriousin their comlwl effectiveness; that they cannot be defeated in thr field; ami lhat the US will be constrained from escalation and will eventually have to moveompromise settlement, which in itself will threaten ihe stabllily of the government in Saigon,

Nevertheless, in our view, there are good reasons for Hanoi to have doubts over tho future. In North Vietnam there aie the cumulative strains of the war resulting in part from tlie large combal losses of the past two years andby tlie current infiltration rate. Aside from this heavy drain on North Vietnamese manpower, there is uo doubt thai the bombing in tlie North severely tasked North Vietnam's recuperative capabilities and constant strain aridlo work long hoursodest diet produced some lowering of morale in ihe North,Hanoi's control mechanism lias euped adequately with these problems, tbe regime could hardly contemplate an indefinite prolongation of the war along cuircnt lines with confidence and assurance.

to Hanoi the position of the CVN may appear precarious but die North Vietnamese cannot be sure thai its collapse is inevitable by any early date. In particular Hanoi has reason to be concerned over its failure to develop any significant popular support let alonegeneral uprising" in South Vietnam. Communist forces have ool been able to sustain ihe "continuous attacks' called for after ttt, and the tactical initiative in some areas has passed to Allied forces. And the political atmosphere in the US probably .seems more uncertain and ambiguous to Hanoi than in the period from the 'let attacks through President Johnson's address ofarch.

On balance, it would appear that the Communists can and will carryigorous military and political campaign at leas! through the summer. The military situation in South Vietnam is not likely to improve much, if al all, for

Hanoi by the end of tbc sumroci. and il may be worse. In any case, we believe the military campaign will not by itsellecisive result. Thus, the oulcome of Ihe lolal Communist effnrt will depend tut such politicalas the viability of the GVN in face of the Cominunist onslaught and on the course of the talks in Paris.

II. THE GVN POSITION

Tet offensive, the continuing Interne Communist military andand especially the Paris talks have adiled newo thein Sosrlh Vietnam South Yietuaritcsr doubti of tbe future haveincreased sharply, and there is considerable concern about tbcdepth of Ibe US coouuitmeirt. Despite some lightening of die ranksand outside the government, the total response of the CVN has notshape, and the non-Communisi political iorccs have still notkind of political cohesion ihat would pcnnil (he leadership to act within Ihe new siluation. These factors tend to reinforce one another andthe government. On the other hand, the South Vietnamoso leadersno tendency toward panic or political extremism and dius far atmore Inclined to look tor ways to strengthen the government andwar effort.

Notional Leadership

We consider tine chancesignificant snerrase tn gosernmeatal cohesion and national political unity to be sbghl overext six months Longstanding divisive lueton continue to I* strong and tlie problems created by thelo conMilutioiia] gos eminent have added new aspects to tlx- rivalries lx-tween civilians and military, within the military, and among the numerous civilian political and social groupings. Meanwhile, neither Ibe new constitutional in-stilnlions nor tbe three national "fronts" founded jnsl after the Tet offensive appear to have mobilized any appreciable degree of muss popular support hehind Ihe government.

Onsitlve side. President Thieu has strengthened his image andwithin tlie Assembly and among the civilian politicians He appearscommitted to enlarging tbe role of civilians in the gmerrirnent. despite tbe conflict tbb raises with many- of tbe seniorew Prime Minister. TranHuong, bat been appointed, and his prospective Cabinet includescivilians wlm. luce Huong,easure of popular support. It is thus more broadly based than its predecs-yjor and lias mote prestige. Tlds, together with thepparent interest in avverting his own role more strongly, could lead, in lime, to more vigorous and effective government pcr-formnuco.

"SECTS-

ptimism on (hi*ust lx" tempered, however, by ihe fact thai ihe proposed Cabinet includes some potentially disruptive individuals, and still excludes representativesumber of important political groups.the National Assembly, while it has generally supported the government. Is nevertheless intent upon maintaining its independence of the executive, svhich will be unahle to count on an assured mafarfty in either Home. Difneulhes between tbe executive and legislature over the tough issue* to be faced during tlie next few month* may tempt the executive to circumvent the legislature on critical issues.

ore importantly, however, the contest and maneuvering between Prrsi-dcot Thieu and many of the senior generals, including Vice President Ky. are continuing and Indeed have been naccrbuled by Tlneii* clltiits to expand his own personal power and consequently limit the influence of the generals.Huong's penehnnt for independence and his announced intention tocorruption wherever lie finds it may aggravate rather than case civil/military tensions. An attempt by Thieu and Huong to effect major changes in the military command over the objections of Ibe senior generals wouldcvero crisis.

n general, however, It does not appear likely thai constitutionalwill be overturnedilitary coup. iVipilrhappiness with Thieu. the senior getM-iaU have accepted the new situation, while making it clear that anv reshuffling of the military structure must hase their collective approsal Rumorsoup will recur. However, the inchnalkm of some of the senior generals tooup is tempered by- Iheir roaltwtion tliat theUS reaction would be extremely adverse and tliatove would, at present, play into Communist liauds in the US-DBV conversations in Paris.

IS. At this point, the Huong Cabinet and the military appear lo share strong Opposition to any concession to Hanoiolillenl setllement of the war.it is possible that if issues arising in Paris seemed lo threaten Ihe future of the CVN, rlu's in itself could become the basis for greater imity between the civilians and the military. It is also possible, though perhaps less likely, that (be same trend of event* inif it appt-arcd tliat elements within the CVN were prepared to goprompt the generals to abandon their relatively cautious behavior, ignore the lorrvxparnce* in the US. andoup precisely Dt order to sabotagetalk*reparation for "going it alone" against Ihe Communists.

n balance, however, we think ft most likely lhal Thlru. Huong, and the generals will play their raids carefully and each will avoid drastic actions thai would provoke drastic responses by the utlicis. Iu (he end. there mavodes( gain in the stability of the constitutional systemlightof (he domestic political standing of the GVN. Al the same tiine, be-

cause of tltc Itopcs geuerutcd by Huong's appointment, tlir failure of hiscouldostly setback.

.Umi/urfoifiw* Viability. In urban areas the govcrranrrit is still laboring to some citmt under the problems of dislocations and dnnirtnons treated by tbe Tot offeiisivT. Itexoscry in some areas has been painfully slow. Nessr-rtbek-ss. with US help, thearlunrry has iiuHoucd largely intact and has continued to lunction.ffensives on the scale of that at Tct could, of course, physically overwhelm the GVN's ability to cope. But mors- likely is the type uf action which has occurred in the Saigon area since early May. .Similar attacks in various areas will result In continuing pressure on tlie GVX'i administrative ability, hut In view of USe do not believe thatituation will reach unmanageable proportions for the CVN. Even so. as the burdens imposed by continued Communist pressure accumulate, the GVN's ability to provid* administrative services to the people will probablyurther decline.

ini, The South Vietnamese eo-nomy was dead ablow by the Tet otfrnsivc. The present situation is one of near stagnation, and it could deepenitts unless the CVN' acts decisively to bnhtcr confidence and toeturn lo more normal levels of activity. Physical damage to communications, industry, and marketing facilities has continued during the recent attacks in and mound Saigon. Ihe industrial sector has made little effort to resume nonmi) operations nor have manufacturers whose plants were iindainagetl expanded their activities to pick up the slack. Movement of basic food supplies inlu the capita) aiea continues to be adequate, however, and thtae should be no prolonged shortages of rice or other foodstuffs In any part of the country. Ttte mercantile community lacks confidence in security conditions and is uncertain of the future. Import activity appears to hetandstill except for such items as foodstuffs, pharmactii'ii jI and building materials. Consumers appear reluctant lo spend for anything other lhan necessities, but. if the security situationhe threat of ntftatinn will increase dramatically as tbc demand for goods outstrips tbe supply.

The Countryside

Since the TH offensive, the CVN has been able to reestablish some of its previous control in terms of territorial security (outposts, logistic bases, and openVN military units are now better deployed mid more active In rural areas than immediately after the Tet offensive. Thedd revolutionary development teams are functioning once again.

But the GVN's overall representation in the countryside remainsless than before Tet. AHVNs cisnimitmcnt to urban defenseie face of flee continuing threat to tbe cities posed bv large NVA/VC traits and this has further weakened peasant confidence in the GVN's ability

to [novi.ii- urily in the countryside. In the lace of increased rural insecurity and tlie <lernands of urban recovery, (lie CVVs emphasis on civic action pro-grains appearsave duniniihcd In rtisponse to (he cumnil challenge.

ad. ntct&cat)une "reiocusecf" so (hat (he program willate on hamlets siinouuding prosincial and diet net capital, and LOGs. Ily the end ui March, ibe (iVNeasonable tlegrer ol controliillion fewer rural inhabitants than prior lo Tel. In addition,amlets were considered tounetioiiiiig admitiislialion prinr to Tel; by April, this figure stood. (hough it does not necessarily follow lhat ihe VC nowarge proportion of llie balance. Thus the CVN recovery effortong way to go, will most likely be slow, and- as in the past, will beo sudden reversals inu- of renewed Commuiiist military action.

The iTi-il Forces. In addition lo lontinumg US military support, tbe ability of tha government to exercise Hi authority in South Vietnam depends heavily cm thend tbe constat eilcctiseness of ARVN. TheIs now undertaking measures Io increase troop strength, to strengthen top level leadership, to raise morale, and to improve firepower. Some progress will be made iu all these fields, and In general AllVN's performance since Tet has been more aggressive. Nevertheless, the CVN'sorces face some long tonal problems. Overall leadership remains spotty, the quality of training is low, especially for technical personnel, and the efficiency of Iheand promotion is item is questionable. Although improved, the basic molis-ation continue* lo be weak, making tbe armed forces su_seeptihk- to shifts in the prevailing political and psychological climate.

In sum, we believe that AllVN's lighting effectiveness will not be seriously sveakened. IInI on the other hand, AHVN is unlikely to increase its overall effectiveness aigniCeanlly during the next several months or loarger burden of Ibe combat during lfHifi.

Popular Attitudes

t* notmI>Ii- to eslnnate popular attitudes snth muchis no doubt tliat popular resentment of the Viet Cong has increased asof the let attacks, incursion' in populatednd incienunglyon Ibe peasants. Al the same lime, there is also increasedthend the ARVN for falling lo provide protection against

l < * Itti-tilli:. .lli'i l V'i'tl| u1 ili'SLMK- ism;

artillery. And the US is also blamed for destruction of urban areas.

predominant sentiment, however, is probably one of increasinglo avotd the haiards of tbe war. The Communist? have failed topopular support, but (bus fu so has the CVN. Tbe bulk of thethough theretrong desire for peace in rural areas,may also strengthen iu iub.ui anas if they are subjected lo continuous

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harassment along Ilic lines ol Ihe attacks in Saigon. Most of ihe

people respond lo power and authority, whether that of Ihe Viet Cong or the CVN. Left to ihcmsrlvisre likely tn remain uncommitted and disengagedecisisr break in tbe struggle becomes obvious.

Ihe Communists hope tu exploit and add lo the growing popular desire for peace. In the cities, they are currently engagedajor effort toa new front, tire so-called "Vietnam Alliance of National. IVmocratic, and Peacend to attract important leaders as well as the masses to it. So far. the success does not appear lo be significant, hut the Communist* aie probably rookingonger lenn impact. 'Iheir basic aim is to advance the Image of the Allianceredible "third force" which can bring peace to the nation and workoalition government with the Libenition Front; they may also attempt to develop itajor political factor iu tltc Paris talks. In the coming rnontbs. tbc Alliance will almost certainly gain some adherents among lesser known and neutralist and leftist oriented politicians and may possibly attract some well knownarticularly if tbc Huong government falls. However, the Alliance is unlikely loarge popular following during this period unless thereajor break in favor of the Communists in the military situation or io the rK-gotiatioos.

III. EXTERNAL FACTORS The Paris Talks

he dipkanatk moves emanating from either side in ihr Paris talks will obviouslyrofound impact on tbe psycliologkal mood prcvaiUng in Saigon and througlmut the country. Hanoi will probably wish to keep the talks going for some time. It sees the discussions as an opportunity for propaganda on key issues as welleans to divide Washington and Saigon and increase prisuuii on the I'S lor .mrs'iem At the *aui. time. Hanoi doesl to ri.'k tbc resumption of the bombing by btcaking off the talks at any early date. In effect. Hanoi behoves lime is running against the Allied side. But II the North Vlctiiamr-sc should conclude that Mils belief is unfounded they might moderate their negotiating position.

uring the course of tbr Paris talks the CVN expects, and sriD continur to press for, tho closes* possible eonsultatloii and coordination with the US. It will be sensitive to finances, rumors, and background noises iu Paris and the US. In general, Saigon will oppose any concession to Hanoiajor concession in return. From Saigon's point of view the bombing issue provides an rsuly test of leniencies in US policy. If Ibe bombing of tbc North were slopped without cleareut and credible restrictions being placed on Northsupport lo Communist forces in the South, Saigon's confidence bi the US would be severely shaken.

a later stage in ihe negotiations, it is almost certain thatompromise settlement giving Ihc Alliance or the NLF arole in Saigon would touchevere crisis in the GVN.rue even if these discussions resultedonsiderable sealingNorth Vietnamese demands. At this point, Saigon would fear lhalsolutionolitical role lor the Communists wasCommunists would attempt to exploit the uncertainties in Saigon andwould add to the confusion and demoralization throughoul the CVN.

US Politics

in Paris arc but part of the larger question of how USdevelop in an election period and after. Both Hanoi and SuigOnthe US electionhadow of uncertainty over ihe future. Foi- itsmay not feci the need to make any significant changes in its positionuntil after Ihe Presidential nominations and until it has digested anyin policy between the nominees. US developments, however, aremore immediate importance to Saigon. Election rhetoric in the US isbe amplified and magnified in Saigon and perhaps badly distorted. IuSaigon's appraisal of US policy could be decisive in ihc continuingthe CVN.

StLRBI

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