Created: 7/11/1967

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Intelligence Memorandum

Problems Posed for North Vietnam by Death of Politburo Member Nguyen Chi Thanh



CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY Directorate of Intelligence7


Problems Posed for North Vietnam by the Death of Politburo Member Nguyen Chi Thanh"


Nguyen Chi Thanh's deatheart attack in Hanoiuly poses two immediate and important problems for the remaining ten members of the and could have certain longer range and deep ramifications for the party leadership. The most immediate problems facing the Hanoi leaders are the questions of replacing Thanh both as head of the Communist apparatus in South Vietnam andull member of the politburo. eplacement for Thanh in each of these positions could occasionmaneuvering within the politburo between the militants and the slightly more moderateof that body. The militants, led by party first secretary Le Duan, will probably try toone of their own men to fill Thanh's shoes. The moderates, led by Phara van Dong and Vo Nguyen Giap, may well try to replace him with one of their men or at least to divide Thanh's manyamong several candidates, thus cutting back on militant strength.

Note: This memorandum was produced solely by CIA.

It was prepared by the Office of Current Intelligence.

Nguyen Chi Thanh's Background

1. Nguyen Chi Thanh's combined militaryand political experience will make himto replace. He was the only individualGeneral Vo Nguyen Giap to hold the rank of senior general in the armed forces, and heeading member of the militant wing of the North Vietnamese politburo. He alsoey post on the party secretariat which is responsible for the implementation of party policies. ember of the Party Military Committee, he alsooice in running the armed forces. Since5 Thanh had been the number one man at the Central Office foi South Vietnamhe political andheadquarters for the Communist insurgency in South Vietnam.

2* During hisalf year tour in South Vietnam, Thanh is believed to have heldauthority in both the planning andof the strategy and deployment offorces, subject only to review by the full politburo in Hanoi* Thanh's assignment to COSVN in5 was probably prompted by Communistthat one final military push against ARVN forces would bring their revolutionuccessful conclusion. The leadership in Hanoian on the spot who could pull off this military victory and also speak with the authority of the politburo on subsequent political developments,

3. Thanh was apparently hand picked for this job by party first secretary Leprincipal architect of revolutionary strategy in the South. Thanh had the political rank to assume direction of this operation; he had extensive experience inaffairs as the former head of the politicalof the army, he held the highest military rank the country could give, and he wasin tune with Le Duan's choice of militant and aggressive solutions to important problems.

4* Shortly after Thanh's arrival in South Viet-man he was faced with the necessity of developing both strategy and tactics to deal with the rapidof US combat forces. Thanh believed that



the Communists could sustain the momentum they had built up against ARVN and that the Communists could continue to launch large-scale attacks against US forces. He argued that the US hoped to force the Communists to abandon mobile warfare tactics and to return to guerrilla warfare,

5* Thanh's views did not go unopposed. apparently came from both old-time Viet Cong guerrilla leaders and from members of themilitary establishment in the North,led by Defense Minister Giap. These men argued for more emphasis on the guerrillas to tie down and disperse the US forces. Thanh's opponents saw his approach as putting tootrain on manpower resources in the South. They complained that he robbed guerrilla units of manpower in order tomain force strength quickly. Thanh's call for the infiltration of large numbers of regular units from North Vietnam also placed considerable strain on manpower and training resources in the North.

was given the forces he asked forandut the inability of theseto maintain the initiativeUS fire power and mobility seriouslythesis. By the fallietnamesecommentary on the proper conduct of thethe importance of guerrilla tacticsa more balanced use of main forces andin the war with theapparentThanh and his opponents. Thanhof the Communist forces in Southas late as7 he published ancommentary on the war in the South.

Replacing Thanh in South Vietnam

the politburo wants to replacesomeone of nearly comparable status, only awould appear to be likely candidates. Lethe sixth ranking member of the politburo, is

a former deputy commander of Viet Cong forces,under Le Duan in the war against France. For the last ten years or more he has been holding the important post of chief of the Party Organization



Department, which controls the party in Southas well as in the North. He was chosen to head the funeral committee for Nguyen Chi Thanh and is known toardliner and close to Le Duan.

8. Another possible candidate, because of his former experience in the South, is Phamiet Cong leader who came north He is the number five man on the politburo. Since his return north, however. Hung has devoted his primary and almost exclusive attention to the fiscalof the DRV economy and is regarded as aof Phan Van Dong rather than of Le Duan. Van Tien Dung, chief of staff of the North Vietnamese Army, is an alternate member of theand also served in South Vietnam previously. As such he mightood choice to replace Thanh


An Opening in the Politburo

9. Thanh's death not onlyroblem in relation to the top spot in South Vietnam, it also raises the question of replacing him on the This is the first time since at0 that an opening has occurred in the governing body of the party. Thanh's career over the past ten years was very closely tied to Le Duan--number two man in the party and leader of the more militant element in the North Vietnamese leadership. Nguyen Chi Thanh's promotion to senior general occurred in thehortly after Le Duan moved into the number two position in the party, Thanh was removed as head of the army's political department inafter significant differences with Defense Minister Giap. Giap argued for the developmentrofessional military but Thanh pushed for the use of the armyolitical and economic force to promote social reform, particularly in agriculture. This argument was ultimately resolved in Giap's favor, at least insofar as Thanh was removed as head of the army's political department. Thanh re-emerged two years later into the mainstream of party affairs to provide the cutting edge for one of Le Duan'sshift away from traditional North Vietnamese neutrality in the Sino-Soviet dispute toward support


of Peking. Although almost all of the politburo eventually and apparently with some reluctance en* dorsed this move publicly, Nguyen Chi Thanh was the first and most outspoken to use Chinese-stylein criticizing the Soviet "revisionists."

10. The kinds of differences which haveGiap and Nguyen Chi Thanh over the years are believed to reflect fundamental differences within the entire North Vietnamese politburo. Thanh's death could compound those differences. If the leadership intends to replace him insnediately.Giap and those who think like him will most certainlyeplacement more in tune with their more .moderate and pragmatic philosophy. Premier Pham Van Dong is the leading spokesman for theand over the past two years has appeared to have gained considerable power at the expense of Le Duan. Le Duan, on the other hand, holds thepost of party first secretary and he will be eager to replace Thanh with another militant on whom he can count for strong support.

11* If Thanh is not immediately replaced, his loss could affect the relatively even balance in the politburo. With Thanh alive,raan politburo was probably divided evenly alonglines with five militants, fiveand Ho Chi Minh standing above both groups as final arbiter. Although not all issues find the politburo divided clearly along militant/moderate lines,ivision is believed to beof many of the important decisions that the leadership has made in pursuing its national objectives.

12. The politburo could be expanded by the addition of one or several nkembers. Alternatemember Van Tien Dung is the most likely candidate to be elevated to full politburo status. General Dung, however, is regardediap man, and his statusrofessional military man might work against him. The party would not want to weight the politburo too heavily with military



other central committeethemselves as likely candidates formembership by virtue of their active androles in party affairs. To Huu is a of his position on the party secretariat.

He would probably satisfy Le Duan'a requirementsardliner. Xuan Thuy, the director of the party's foreign relations department, although removed as minister of foreignew years ago forof health, has become extremely active in for-eigh affairs again and could be considered politburo material. He has appeared toard line in the past on relations with the Soviet union, but as foreign minister he was also close to Pham Van Dong, suggesting that he mightood compromise


possible solution for theThanh would be to divide up his severalamong both militants and moderates.the kind of solution which might appeal toMinl% who likes toalance betweenwings of the party. Such olution mightto the moderates who would see it asmilitant strength to some extent. There issome question, however, as to Ho's healthability to deal effectively with majorhas only made two public appearancesn late Aprilocal election and again

uly for Nguyen Chi Thanh's funeral. Several recent travelers to Hanoi have been told that Ho is ill and cannot receive visitors.

illness may be only temporary. he should become incapacitated andcarry the weight of arbitrating between theelements in the party leadership, apower might well ensue. The two majorpower would probably be Pham Van Dong and Lehave been some indications over the pastthat these two men hold differing views ontactics to be used in regard to the war,both men appear to share the same goal,control of South Vietnam. Pham Van Dong appears



to have greater confidence than Le Duan in the use of negotiationsactic in gaining control over the South whereas Le Duan seems to put more stock in the purely military aspect of the struggle. The man or men chosen to replace Nguyen Chi Thanh may provide some hint as to the relative strengths of the two men and their supporters.


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