Created: 4/8/1968

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LBJ LIBRARY Mandatory Review


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SUBJECT: Speculation on Hanoi'i Motives

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Consistent with its past reactions, Hanoi eight have been expected to reject President'Johnson's initiative or any other nove short of an "unconditional" cessation of bombing. Or it could have stalledine, vhile testing variouscurrents, and perhaps sounding out its Allies in Moscow and Peking. Instead, Hanoi coved quickly andew stage called "contacts" with the CS.

Assuming that such contacts are actually intended, several different interpretations axe possibleove of this These rest on alternative appraisals of the total situation which Hanoi may be making. The basic factors which would enter into such appraisals would be the course and prospects of military

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Excludeds<rcmaiitoxatic downgrftiHrjg and declRsaifica^ion

action, the viability of the CVN/ARVW under continued pressure, and the effects of election year political currents on the US will to continue the struggle.

3. In theory, Hanoi's appraisal of the situation could range frca high confidence through uncertainty to near desperation. In the following paragraphs we consider each of these cases ii turn.

CASE L Hanoi's Appraisal la Highly Optiaistic'

I*. This hypothesis restaudgment by Hanoi that the military-political results obtained since Tet aid those Isin the near future are turning the balance of the struggle in its favor. Hanoi has always said that attage it would be correct to begin talking while still fighting. BM fight-talk tactic has been portrayedorward rove to exploit majorend political successes and leading to the final resolution of the conflict on Connnurjist terms. What could not be known by Eanol was when the aost propitious accent would arise to employ this tactical line; there is considerable evidence suggesting that it believedould he the "decisive" year, and that it expected the Tet offensive to contribute greatly to this result.

The North Vietnamese could read the President's statement as confirmingecisive stage had, indeed, arrived. They could interpret his decision not ta stand for re-election as an admission of failure for his policy in Vietnam, Just as they claimed that General Westmoreland's departure indicated adefeat" for his military strategy. They could believe the failure to send large reinforcements to South Vietnam vindicated their predictions that US international commitments plus domestic pressures would eventually limit the US buildup. And they could view the bombing restrictiononcession forced by increasing domestic pressures for peace ia Vietnam.

The experience of the North Vietnamese leaders* would strongly incline them to such interpretations of American political developments. Even if the Tet offensive fell well short of its hopes, Hanoi would still regard its position as quite strong and Saigon's position as significantly weakened. They wouldnegotiations to accelerate the decline of the GVN andUS-GVN tensions. And they would believe that continued and perhaps intensified military pressures would strengthen Hanoi's bargaining positionis the United States. Thus, theof events in South Vietnam and the United States could be regarded as having created optimum conditions for beginning the

"fight-talk" phase. Hanoi was able, with little time lost into move in the direction already anticipated by its basic strategy.

CASS IIHanoi'sis Uncc-rtalr.

alternative explanation would be that Hanoi isconfident of its overall position andongcostly struggle. While able to endure this, itnot to do so and the President's initiative offered anthough not an ideal oneo give greaterthe political aspects of the struggle. Even if HanoiIE position was weakened and Saigon shaky, it would alsothe risk of escalation if the President's cove had beenrejected. Hanoi might calculate that by removing himself

andidate the President wasetter position to adopt new military measures against North Vietnam if necessary. Added to these risks, Hanoi might haveertain loss in failing to respond when international reaction to the US move wasfavorable.

this hypothesis, Hanoi would still have someof being able to. combine the talks with fighting in suchas toavorable settlement. They would recognize that

both sides vould be under certain pressures not to allow abreakdown in the discussions. They would also recognize that scce further concessions would probably have to be made toomplete cessation of the bombing; and though their forces would still be capable of further military successes, these would not likely be decisive in bringing about the collapse of the GVK/aSVN.

Hanoi vould still see advantages towith the US. The bombing restrictions would beat leasthile. Saigon would be more andecret deal at its expense. In thislocal military success mighttrong psychologicalor. the Allied side. The pressures for continuing theprobably be greater on the US than Hanoi. And if, inthe talks failed, Hanoi would at least be no worse off.

CASEanoi's Appraisal is Pessimistic

third alternative is that the North Vietnameseoverall balance of forces as distinctly unfavorable andor less compelled to settle on whatever terms can be The results of the Tet offensive might have forcedof their military capabilities, leading to the


conclusion that the strains of the war were too great and the prospecis of success too doubtful. Though physically capable of further fighting, it is conceivable that they have concluded that another round of attacks would alnost surely fail, would beto no rale and raw capabilities and might force them to end the war on highly unfavorable terms or fade away, or call on the Chinese to help. On the otherailure to deliver the"second wave" would be encouraging to the GVN and the US. The President's statementay out. As long asforces remained intact, negotiations might still hold seme prospect of salvaging the Frontegitimate politicaland causing an eventual American withdrawal.

CASS IVOther Contingencies

U. inal explanation is that there has been seme dramatic change in Hanoi. For example, the North Vietnamese populace could be far more restive than we can determine. This of course might prompt concessions to end the bombing, if not the war. Or it could be that there hashange in the top leadership There has always been the chancetruggle to succeed Ho Chi Minh. Hanoi's quick move to establish contacthe US could thusove in an internal contest or even the first act

ew and core flexible political leadership. Whilehange in command vould not in itself have to leadhange in basic policy, it couldhift in tactics.


12. Among the alternative explanations suggested above, our current evidence suggests that the truth lies somewhere betweennd Case II. This would mean that Eacoi considers that it can register further military successes at costs it can afford to bear even if it would prefer not to, that it believes the will to persist is beginning to crumble on the US/GVN side, end that hard bargaining combined with continued military pressure canavorable outcome eventually.

13- If our interpretation is generally correct, then it is probable that Eacoi had for some time been preparing toiplomatic initiativethat the President's statement merely offered an unexpectedly hopeful opportunity to get onolicy already substantially determined. This is not to say that Eanoi'a position in meetings will be conciliatory; on the contrary Its representative will probablyard line.

demanding <ic unconditional bait to all beet log and reconnaissance over I'irth Vietnam. We do believe, however, that Hanoi probably wants to talk, and that It will not seek pretexts to back away from establishing contact with the OS.



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