MEMO 4/8/68 SPECULATION ON HANOI'S MOTIVES

Created: 4/8/1968

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APPROVED FOR RELEASE -DATE: JAW

central intelligence agency

cf na7ickal estimates

83

memorandum for the director

su3ject: speculation on hanoi's motives

consistent with its past reactions, hanoi night have been expected to reject president' johnson's initiative or sny other iove short of an "unconditional" cessation of bcebing. or it could have stalledime, vhile testing variouscurrents, and perhaps sounding out its allies in moscow and peking. instead, hanoi zoved quickly andew stage called "contacts" with tho us.

assuming that such contacts are actually intended, several different interpretations are possibleove of this these rest on alternative appraisals of the total situation which hanoi cay be aaking. the basic factors which would enter into such appraisals would be the course and prospects of oilitary

action, the viability of them under continued pressure, and the effects of election year political currents on the us vill to continue the struggle.

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

case i. hanoi's appraisal is highly optiaistic'

i*. this hypothesis restsudgsent by hanoi that the ailitary-political results obtained since tet and those inin 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. the fight-talk tactic has been portrayedorward rove to exploit =ajor nili-tary and political successes and leading to the final resolution of the conflict on communist terms. what could not be known by eanoi was when the aost propitious accent would arise to carp-lay this tactical line; there is considerable evidence suggesting that it9 would be the "decisive" year, and that it expected the let 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 to 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 in 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 accelerats the decline of the GVN ar.dUS-GVN tensions. And they would believe that continued and perhaps intensified military pressures would strengthen Hanoi's bargaining positionis tha 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 ur.csrtair.

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 hanoiu3 position was weakened and saigon shaky, it would alsothe risk of escalation if tee 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 some further concessions vould probably have to be made toomplete cessation of the bombing; and though their forces would still be capable of further military successes, these vould not likely be decisive in bringing about the collapse of the gvk/asvn.

9- nevertheless, hanoi vould still see advantages to opening discussions with the us. tfce bombing restrictions would beat leasthile. saigon would be more andecret deal at its expense. in this atmosphere even local military success mighttrong psychologicalon the allied side. the pressures for continuing the talks would probably be greater on the us than hanoi. and if, in the end, the talks failed, hanoi would at least be no worse off.

caseanoi's appraisal is pessimistic

10. hird alternative is that the north vietnamese view the overall balance of forces as distinctly unfavorable and are more or less compelled to settle on whatever terms can be the results of the tet offensive might haveeappraisal of their military capabilities, leading to the

Z-?

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 morale 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.

case ivother contingencies

11. inal explanation is that there has been some dramatic change in hanoi. for example, the north vietnamese populace could be far more restive than we can determine. ihis 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

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

Conclusion

12. Acong the alternative explorations suggested above, our current evidence suggests that the truth lies somewhere betweennd Case II. Ihis would mean that Hanoi 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 ls generally correct, then it is probable that Eanoi had for some tire 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.

deaand.zg an unconditional halt to all besting aad reconnaissancerth Vietnam. We do believe, however, that Hanoi probably wants to talk, and that it will not seek pretexts to bock avay from -istablishing contact with the US.

OARD OF ktOZOHAL ESTIMATES: I

' AESOT SXTTE Chairman

Original document.

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