MEMO 1/18-/68 ALTERNATIVE INTERPRETATIONS OF HANOI'S INTENTIONS

Created: 1/18/1968

OCR scan of the original document, errors are possible

ftl'l'bcveuitrsfc gate: S

OF NATIONAL ESTIMATES

8

MEMORANDUM FOR THE DIRECTOR

SUBJECT: Alternative Interpretations of Hanoi's Intentions INTRODUCTION

are several hypotheses concerning the progress

of the war in coming months and the intentions of the Communists. Most of them can be argued plausibly, for and against, and can be supported by some evidence. None is capable of conclusive proof or disproof, mainly because the evidence is eitheror can be interpreted in various and often diametrically opposed ways.

example, there is tbe question of whether theare willing to "negotiate." Hanoi has declared thattalk if the bombing of North Vietnam is stopped. Itto say that this represents no change of attitude whatsoever;

it is equally idle to assume that of itself it indicates an early end to the fighting. One nay argue, quite plausibly, that Hanoi has finally comprehended that var against the power of the US can have but one ultimate conclusion, and is now probing to find out wfcat US terms are. But one may also regard this latest statement simply as another political and psychological move to encourage dissent in the US and inflame world opinion against Washington.

3. In present circumstances it ia true that any of aof things could happen, at almost any time. Hanoi could quit tomorrow, or at any time thereafter* the Chinese could enter the conflict with their own armed forces in great number; China could collapse in total chaos; the Soviets couldar more active role, either in support of Hanoi to continue the wax or in withdrawing ouch support; the South Vietnamese government and polit could disintegrate; the Sino-Soviet controversy could become far more or far less acute than it is, and thus change the context of the Vietnam struggle; tbe policy of the US government could change in anyumber of ways, and so on.

k. alanced estimate of the situation cannot rule these ant other possibilities wholly out of consideration. The best it can do is to decide, on tho basis of evidence and careful argument.

that many of them are so unlikely as to be irrelevant, at least until more evidence appears, and that others should be held as possible qualifications and correctiveset judgment. In the paragraphs that follow we attempt to shew how the evidence and arguments may fit or not fit into alternative estimates of the prospects in Vietnam.

are three hypotheses under which the situationmay be considered and to which most of the evidencerelated: (l) Hanoi has decided that it must terminatein the course of thisanoi still feels aof confidence in its prospects and firmly intends tountil itreak in its favor in USless certain of its prospects and is keeping several It intends to continue hard fighting in the monthsrecognizes it may be advisable toompromisethe next year, according to the way things develop.

I. PESSIMISM IN HANOI

more solid evidence supporting the propositionintends to quit at an early date comes from an analysis of

Communist prospects in South Vietnam. According to our view of the data, the leaders in Hanoi could conclude that theirin South Vietnam are steadily and surely diminishing. Tbe toil on their forces is increasingly heavy; their losses cannot be reduced without undermining the effectiveness of their military and political operations; recruitment in South Vietnam is becoming more and more difficult, control over the population is diminishln and morale is becoming morercblem as the war continues without conclusive results. Even though such problems may not ye1 be critical, the overall effect is that the Ccmmunist position will be weaker at the end8 than it ia now. Military actio) can arrest the decline but cannot change it fundamentally.

7. Proceeding from this analysis, Hanoi's current efforts on the military and political fronts can be seen as one last push to gain the best possible terms in an early settlement. For example, it can be argued that Hanoi would not intentionally seek the bloody and costly battles that it has, unless it knew that the fighting would end fairly soon and replacements would notroblem. Hanoi would cot, under this hypothesis, commit port of its strategic reserve, unless it believed there would be no real threat of on invasion from the US. Nor would the North

Vietnamese claim8 would be "decisive" and lead to the formationcoalition" government unless they actually anticipated an early political settlement.

8. There are, of course, various other considerations or factors which could cause Hanoi to seek an early end to theseme of these have some evidential base. Perhaps the burden of the war on Horth Vietnam is inecisive factor. The leadership may find that the annual loss of young men, added to the sum of economic and material damage, is unacceptable in its implications for the future vigor and productivity of the nation. Our own view, however, basedariety of sources and buttress? by the recent testimony of the Spanish repatriates, is that tbe strains of the war on North Vietnam are still well withinlimits.

9- There are other possibilities which are no better than sheer conjecture, but which cannot be entirely excluded. Tor example, it could be that Moscow, concernedecline in Cera unlet strength inossible US invasion of the nortt and greater Chinese involvement and influence in North Vietnam, ll exerting pressure on Hanoi to end the war. Such pressure could have taken the formhreat to terminate major military aid

after tbe cccpletion of tbe deliveries negotiated this past fell alongromise to provide substantial eld for economic development once the fighting stops.

Pressures from Peking could also be responsibleecision to end the fighting. The Chinese, for example, might have made their continued aid conditional on Hanoi's acceptance of Chinese advice on both military and political strategy.

Neither of these conjectures can be supported by any available evidence. Indeed, Peking and especially Moscow have appeared reluctant in the past to apply direct and heavy pressures on Hanoi; neither wonts to force Hanoi into the embrace of tha other. While Moscow, unlike Peking, ia not ccsssltted toof the war, it haa always seen some advantages in theand has demonstrated no willingness to intervene with Hanoi

in favor of early negotiations.

Hanoi may have concluded that thedispute will undermine effective aid. The USSR mayto ship certain weapons through China, or toby sea. Hanoi may anticipate that one of thewill insist that itlear cut stand In the dispute;

this vould place Hanoi in the position of alienating at least one side.

13- Another possibility is that the North Vietnamese leaders may have concluded that turmoil and disruption in China makeoor prospectreliable rear area." Hanoi may fear that China's antics are encouraging the US to escalate the war without fear of Chinese reactions. And Hanoi might even fear that the time will come when the Chinese will insist that North Vietnam begin its own "cultural revolution."

lU. There is, of course, evidence of Hanoi's concern over tbe Sino-Soviet dispute and over China's internal policy. Last year the North Vietnamese Politburo and Central Ccosnittee apparentlyesolution affirming Hanoi's neutrality in the dispute. Missions were sent to both Moscow and Peking to explain this position, which has been cxartinually re-emphasized. At one point last year, Hanoi apparently had to become directly Involved In ensuring that Soviet supplies transited morethrough China. Hanoi also reacted to Mao's cultural revolution byairly pointed criticism of Chinese behavior and the cult of Mao. Added to these concerns is the

fairly opan record of Chinese opposition to any hint of talks between Hanoi and the United States.

What is lacking, however, is any evidence that the tensions with China or the concern over Soviet support have reached the level where Hanoi would fear Soviet or Chinese disengagement. The physical evidence suggests that both Peking and Moscow are in fact increasing their aid.

If for any of the reasons discussed under this hypothesis Hanoi should decide to end the fighting, it would have at least two alternatives. It could simply decide to allow the conflict to die down, withoutolitical resolution. Or it could attempt to obtain the best possible ternsettlement under the existing circumstances. In this latter case, the recent Trinh statement on talks with the US could be read as the first step in the gradual developmentegotiating position. The Berth Vietnamese, of course, would still bargain for favorable terms, but they vould also recognize the need to be more forthcoming ond to reduce their demandsettlement. It would also moke sense under this interpretation for Hanoi to get negotiations underway before

0 Bir L

rather than after the American elections, reasoning that during an election campaign it vould have more room for maneuvering against the US. Hanoi's handling of the follow up to the Trinh interview willest for this hypothesis; if it is correct confirmatory evidence should become available before long.

IX. CONFIDENCE IH HANOI

17. The North Vietnamese amy be more impressed with their achievements in tbe past two years than with the problems they have encountered. They have withstood the massive American intervention in the South and the heavy boabing of the Horth. Despite the bombing, they now fight with more and better arms and smmunition, and their supply lines are more elaborately developed. The political infrastructure in the South has been maintained, even if in somewhat weakened condition. Their military effort, based on the increasing threat from the border areas, not onlyew challenge to the US on the ground but also introduces new political complications for the Americans.aily, of course, because of their experience with the ebb and flow of the French war, the natural inclination of tbe political leaders would be to exaggerate their own strength and expect the

US to concede defeat rather than face the prospectrotracted wax.

Hanoi's determination to keep fighting could also be explained by what it believes are fundamental weaknesses in the American and South Vietnamese position. The Ccmaunista may be convinced that the Saigon regime has little chance of becoming an effective government, generally accepted by the people. Moreover, Hanoi may be persuaded that the South Vietnamese army vill never developighting force which is effective enough to assume part of the US burden. Thus, even if the US military effort is highly successful, in the end the US will find it has no political base in South Vietnam and vill be forced toolitical settlement with the Front.

Even if Hanoi does not read the situation in South Vietnam In this way. It maybe relying on assurances of substantial external support which will enable the Communists to light on effectively. The Chinese may have promised more logistical and air defense troops and even some combat units in order to meet

any manpower needs in Horth Vietnam. The Soviets may have premised new weapons to cope with superior American fire power and the air and naval attacks on the North.

-

n it X-

Perhaps the best evidence in support of this general interpretation of Hanoi's outlook is the record of the post two years. At each phase of the US buildup Hanoi has been willing to respond by permitting additional resources to the struggle in the South. igh level of infiltration has been maintained; the most recent deployments near the western end of the EHZ mayetermination not only to persist in the wax, but to tryecisive defeat of the US in some local battle. Hanoi's leaders have not taken advantage of several opportunities for negotiations; this could mean that they believe nothing can be gained at the bargaining table unless it has already been won on the battlefield. ommittment torotracted war was the main decision of the North Vietnamese Central Committee resolution ofasby the Central Committee innd continues to be cited as basic policy.

As to evidence of external support, Hanoi haa recentlyeries of new agreements with its Communist allies. Moscow haa openlyariety of weapons; Soviet coastal defense missiles could be the first of several new items on the list. New Chinese weapons have shown up in the Delta for the

first time in the war. Ve known of no increases in Chinese troop strength in North Vietnam in recent months. Recent high level reaffirmations of pledges to support Hanoi, however, could be readillingness to increase Chinese commitments. And air defense cooperation between Hanoi and Peking has grown markedly in recent months.

know of no evidence that is totally inconsistentintention to continue the wax for some considerable period

of time. Nevertheless, it can be argued that Hanoi would never draw down its home army and weaken the defense of North Vietnam if it looked forwardong war, particularly in light of continuing concern over an American invasion. And it could be further argued that Hanoi would not tell the troops in the South that this woulddecisive" year, if in fact it believed the war was likely to continue well Finally, why Hanoi would want to keep alive hopea for negotiations, aggravating the Chinese in the process, if it had no Intention ofolitical settlement in the near future?

Hanoi's mood and outlook is roughly asthis hypothesis then its attitude toward peace talks Is

likely to be intransigent. Upon exploration, moves like the recent Trinh statement vill come to nothing. Hanoi, of course, would welcome an end to the bombing, but will adamantly refuse to pay any price for it. Negotiations vould be mainly to register the defeat of the US and the end of the Saigon regime.

2U, Finally, one may conjecture that Hanoi's postulated confidence rests on some factor or event which is not yet apparent to the US, suchajor escalation by the Communists. This might take the formilitary offensive in Laos which vould threaten to expand the area of conflict and further strain US resources in Southeast Asia. Or escalation might take the form of Chinese moves in Vietnam or elsewhere around its periphery. Or again, the Horth Vietnamese could be relying on the USSR toiversionary crisis, say in Berlin.

25. Such possibilities have been carefully considered almost since the beginning of the US intervention in Vietnam. Thus far, there is no persuasive evidence that Hanoi, Peking or Moscow intends to enlarge the war beyond Vietnam or take major action elsewhere against the US.

JIT. SUSPENDED JUDGMENT IN HANOI

The third hypotheela assemea that Hanoi'a estimate of the situation is basedixture of increased pesslmlBm and continuing confidence, which are compounded by other factors, particularly the American elections. Under this hypothesis Hanoi is keeping several options open and will continue to do so at least until late spring or summer, when it should beetter position to judge the effect of the American primaries and conventions and the results of its own military offensive. At that time Hanoi will also be better able to judge the effectiveness and durability of the Saigon government.

If this is so, Hanoi's winter-spring offensive is designed not only for Its Immediate military objectives but for its overall impact on the US. Hanoi would recognize that Its chancesilitary victory have evaporated, but it would still hope, by sustaining high levels of combat in the months ahead, to create the impressiontalemate. It would not expect the

US to capitulate, but it would see increased chancesomprcealse on terms that would protect the Viet Cong Infrastructure and provide the basisew political phase in the revolutionai struggle. Hanoi could cot be confident of what the outcome of its

- II. -

own efforts will be. But it would recognize that the next twelve months provide an unusual opportunity because of the American elections.

26. Even if political overtures combined with military pressures do not boor fruit, Hanoi could reason that by agitating the questionoalition government and contacts with the Front, the strains between Washington and Saigon vill grow end the US will come under increasing international pressures to modify its own terms. In short, Hanoi would do what it could to maintain Its military pressures, but would at the same time become more flexible in its diplomacy, waiting for some months more to decide whether to make the best deal possible, continue the war more or less along present lines, or even toadically different way ofuerrilla warfare.

29- This hypothesis restsifferent reading of much of the same evidence already cited. Hanoi has made military decisions which strike some observers aa inexplicable given the nature of their problems. Hanoi cannot possibly hope to drive the US into the sea and probably cannot expect another Dlen Blen Phu. Thus, It would seem better advised to conserve Its forcesrotracted war In which it would hope to eap the will of the US.

Instead, the North Vietnamese commit store troops and seek costly battles. Moreover, since last July they do seen to have Indicated more interest in maintaining private contacts with the US ond, in some cases, actually inviting US negotiating probes moves which their rather rigid public position would not justify.

This hypothesis is supported by some negative evidence, for example, why should China be so cool to the new program of the HFL unless Peking senses that the revision of the programtepegotiating situation? Why did the Front try to send representatives to Hew York, if as Hanoi claims the Ml haa absolutely no business in the Vietnam question* And, above all, why do tbc captured documents contain intriguing tidbits suggesting that the war may not go Theseor inconsistencies could be reconciled within theof this third hypothesis.

Uncertainty could also grow out of the state of relations with China and the USSR. In actual fact we know little of Hanoi's relations with its allies. What we

do know is baaed on glimmerings from captured documents, deductions from overt statements and an occasional hint from

.

Soviet sources. In any case, Hanoi cannot be very confident that Moscow and Peking will not fall into an even more bitter conflict, or that the situation inside China will not deteriorate further. Indeed, Hanoi could conclude that it would be better to explore US termsolitical settlement while China is atiU in some disarray rather than later, when the Chinese leadership might be reunified and tempted to interfere more directly in Hanoi's affairs.

32. Indications of uncertainty could also be reconciled with an even more extreme variant of this hypothesis, namely, that the Horth Vietnamese Politburo is badly divided and is pursuing an indecisive and at times contradictory policy. Perhaj as Ho Chi Minn's health has declined, factionalism has reared its ugly head and ledairly even split between hawks and doves. Both factions could seek comfort and support from abroad, the hawks from Peking and the doves from Moscow, The hawks may insis* on the need for further intensive military effort while the doves could be arguinghift to political tactics.

33- Though there is some evidence that the Horth Vietnamese leaders have engaged in debates over policy, mainly on the proper

military tactics, there haa never been sufficient evidence to conclude that the leadership is divided on basic policies of whether to fight or quit. ower struggle in Hanoi, of course,ossibility after Ho and could be developing now. But the evidence is lacking, and this explanation of Hanoi's behavior seems highly unlikely.

3k. Even less likely but still within the real* of the imaginableplit between the Viet Cong end Hanoi. As Hanoi has assumed more of the burden and direction of the war, it may haveaction within COSVM. Tbe Viet Cong could argue, with support from certain figures in the Hanoi leadership, that all talk of negotiations is defeatism. Hanoi mayhinese bent in the Viet Cong,tc. There may be actual divergencies between Hanoi and some of the Viet Cong leaders,eal split should be excluded as unlikely.

35. As noted at the outset of this discussion wo cannot rule out any of these three hypothetical explanations for Hanoi's behavior. It would certainly not be surprising if the Horth Vietnamese continued the war through next year and for some time

afterward. It would be more surprising if tbey decided to end it soon. We believe there is much to reconnend the third case: in the months ahead Hanoi will continue its military effort but will probe more intently to discover what the shapeolitical settlement might be.

FOR THE BOARD OF -NATIONAL ESTIMATES:

ABBOT SMITH Chairman

Original document.

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic: