SNIE 53-65/SHORT-TERM PROSPECTS IN SOUTH VIETNAM

Created: 2/4/1965

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DATE: JAH ^UUS

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dvance Copy of fhe5

NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE ESTIMATE

short-term prospects in south vietnam

Political Dynamics

Present Power Relations

Near-Term Prospects

NOTE: This is an advance copy of the estimate as approved by ihe United Stales Intelligence Board- The printed text will be circulated within five days of this issuance.

Central Intelligence Agency

Submitted by the

DIRECTOR OF CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE

The follotving intelligence organizations participated in the preparation of this estimate: The Central Intelligence Agency and the intelligence organizations of the Departments of State.C and NSA.

Concurred in by the

UNITED STATES INTELLIGENCE BOARD

oncurring were the Director of Intelligence and Research, Department of State; the Director, Defense Intelligence Agency; the Atomic Energy Commission Representative to the USIB; and the Director nf the National Security Agency. The Assistant to the Director. Federal Bureau of Investigation, abstained, the subject being outside of his jurisdiction.

CENTRAL IHTELLIOEHCB AGENCY

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SUBJECT: : SHORT-TERM PROSPECTS IN SOUTH VIETNAM

THE PROBLEM

To assess significant political forces and attitudes in South Vietnam, and to estimate tho prospects over the next month or so.

THE ESTIMATE

I. POLITICAL DYNAMICS

Significance of the Immediate^ Situation. Recent events iu Saigon underline the fact that apart from the Communists and the US presencethe two primary political forces in South Vietnam today ore the military establishment and tho political bonzes who direct the "Buddhistt present, US political leverage appears to beow point.

Kelther the military nor the Buddhist leadership is homogeneous or monolithic; both suffer from factionalism and personal rivalrieo. Dominant

power obviously rests with tbebut the Buddhists are strong enough to make unworkable any set of political arrangements their leaders care to oppose. Whatever legal or constitutional form the Government of Vietnam (GVN) takes In the near future, the military and the Buddhists will almost certainly retain an effective veto power.

3. The removaL of Huong onanuary was the product of cooperation between the Buddhists (under Tri Qjang) and the military (more or less under Khanh). This cooperation has produced atemporarythough the balance struck Is delicate and could easily be upset. There are rumblings within military and Buddhist ranks and in various otherhe Catholics, the Cao Dai and Hoa Hao sects, end the students ond other political elements in Saigon ond Hue. However the events ofanuary appear thus far to have had aljnost no disturbing effect in the provinces. The course of political developments will depend on what the Buddhists do and on the degree of military unity. Either the Buddhists or the military or both may exploit anti-Americanismactical device. The exploslveness of this issue will depend on how it is handled by all parties concerned, including the US. Notable Viet Cong military successes could also adversely affect the course of events.

h. Basic Political Determinants. South Vietnam is in the midstocial and political revolution. In the political vacuum occasioned by the French departure, power was initially assumed by an elite of French-educated and predominantly Catholic mandarin types, of whom Ngo Dinh Diem was both symbol and archetype. Power is now passinguch moreilitantly nationalistic and potentially xenophobic group of which the' political bonzes, the students, and certain young generals are prime examples. This revolutionormless thing, uncontrolled, and in many ways genuinely spontaneous. The Communists are obviously exploiting it. Nevertheless, it is something quite apart from the VC-directed insurgency; indeed those who aspire to lead this revolution claim that unless it is successful the Communist insurgency cannot be defeated. This shift in the alignment of fundamental political forces is responsible for much of the turbulence we are witnessingand will continue to witnessargely on the urban scene, particularly since this process Involves the striking of new power balances in the midstar andituation where no parliamentary traditions or institutions can effectively channel political conflict.

5. Tri Quang and the "Buddhist Movement." Because of the historical context in which this revolution has developed, contending factions tend to group under religious labels. The Issues involved, however, are ones of

political power, not religious doctrine. the "buddhist movement" derives its political strength partly from the political acumen and demagogic skill of its leaders, but primarily from the fact that "buddhism" has become the rallying point for emotionally charged though inchoate revolutionary aspirations. the bonzes who lead this "buddhist movement" have found the exercise of political power both heady and habit forming. they do not appear to desire the responsibilities of office or direct participation in government, but they are determined toevival of what they consider catholic dominance and toeto power over major gvn policies and personnel. futhermore, as in many protest movements, no contender for primacy within the buddhist leadership feels he canival appear more "militant" than he.

6. among these leaders, tri quang is the most influential and politically skillful. be seems to have outsmneuvered all existing or potential rivals within the buddhist movement and is not likely to be deposed from within the movement itself. however, were tri quang to leave the scene, the buddhist movement would probably continue essentially unchanged. tri quang is vain and hyper-nationalistic; thus he probably resents the extent of us involvement in vietnamese affairs. although he recognizes the present need for us support, he regards the us as incapable of understanding the political situation in south vietnam and, over the long run, would like to see the us out of the country.

"ii i, j_

Tri Quang's short-run intentions are harder to divine and may not he systematically or consistently developed even In:his own mine. He professes to he anti-Communist and at times appears to recognize that his position and the movement he leads would get short shriftommunist regime. Nevertheless, he hasigh opinion of his own political abilities that he may come to feel tbat he can outwit the Communists and use them for his own ends; indeed, he may have already reached this The relevant evidence is conflicting and precludes confident Judgment. On balance we incline to the view that he is probably not now deliberately workingommunist victory or Communist-dominated "neutralist" settlement. Regardless of his intent, however, disruptive actions such as his thus far are serving these ends.

The Military Establishment. ombination of luck and political skill, Khanh has managed toaramount position within the military establishment, but he wears an uneasy crown. h thereroup of officers labelled the Young Turks who saved Khanh in September, but who suspect hie motives and who, so long as they maintain their solidarity,otent threat to his position. Below the Young Turks (most of whom are now one-star generals) there is another unstructured but perhaps even more restless and ambitious group of colonels and majorsunit commanders who during the past year have

borne the brunt of the fighting against the Viet Cong. Sou of these officers commanded the unite which Bade possible the military pressure plays of the past year.

9- By and large the military leaders are intensely nationalistic. They have no intention of abandoning the war, but are Impatient and frustrated over the lack of progress. At the same time, however, they are divided among themselves and deeply Involved In politics, and some have overriding personal ambitions. Many military officers do not trust Khanh andew are resentful and suspicious of the Buddhists. Khanh remains la serious danger of being oustedparticularly If he should make tooid for personal political power, if he appears to become overly subservient to ther if his efforts should not soon begin to produce some political stability or military progress.

10. The Communists. The military establishment and the Buddhist movement have long been prime targets for Communist penetration. The present military leadership seems resolutely anti-Communlet even though the Viet Cong have almost certainly penetrated the military establishment at least enough to acquire considerable capabilities for collecting intelligence. The situation in the Buddhist movement Is Less clear, particularly since much of the Buddhists' agitation lends Itself bo

easily to Communist exploitation. There is no evidence that the movement itself is Communist-directed or controlled, but there are strong presumptive grounds for believing that Communist penetration is having some success. The student movement seems to have boen even more vulnerable to Communist penetration.

II. PRESENT POWER RELATIONS

and Tri Quang. There is conclusive evidence that theHuong onanuary and the interim political solution then announced

were based on an arrangement between Khanh and Tri Quang; the circumstances lead us to infer that they had cooperated for some time in preparing the crisis. This cooperation may have originated in the wake of the December dissolution of the High National Council by Khanh and the Youngove occasioned by pressures within the military establishment but which the US strongly opposed.

long after, the Buddhists, who had intermittently engagedagainst the government, renewed their campaign They also emphasized antI-Americanism, ojv moroto the US Ambassador for his support of Huong. This gaveanti-Huong campaign an emotionally inflammatory ingredient

it had hitherto lacked. It is extremely unlikely that the Buddhists would

have dared stress this anti-US note without at least some confidence that the military would not interfere. In any ease, this theme proved politically beneficial, and was probably personally gratifying, to Khanh. Tri Quang's political position was helped by the ouster of Huong, to which he was publicly committed. Khanh obtained at least temporary hold over the levers of power, and inanner that his opponents could do little but acquiesce. All this has so clearly been to the benefit of both Khanh and Tri Quang that it seems unlikely to have been fortuitous.

13. Any alliance between Khanh and Tri Quang must be inherently unstable. Each strongly distrusts the other. Trl Quang is not likely to abide by any commitments made; signs of this, in fact, are already beginning to emerge. Unless he assumes the responsibilities of office, which he is unlikely to do, Tri Quang's positionilitant leader of an emotionally charged movement almost requires that he continue to criticize governmental policy. On past form he is unlikely toonstructive critic, though he will probably take some care not to alienate the Young Turks. Khanh, for his part, cannot afford to alienate the Buddhistsno Vietnamese politician can do this in present circumstances and survive in powerbut neither can he be too accommodating to them without running the risk of being deposed by some of his military colleagues. Most politically influential Vietnamese, civilian and military, have generally acquiesced in theanuaryhough there is apprehension In some quarters. Furthermore, there are influential officers who were not happy with these

arrangements and are probably determined to prevent Khanh fromersonal bid for permanent political office and from giving In too far to the ever demanding BuddhiBts.

III. NEAR-TERM PROSPECTS

i1*. The present political arrangements in Saigon are avowedly temporary, and there ie ataint chance that the scenario announced for the ensuing weeks may hold promise for improved political stability in South Vietnam. However, in the present political context, tolerable stability can only be achieved if thereentral government whose structure and ranking personnel are acceptable to the majority of the important military and the majority of importantontingency which cannot at present be Judged likely. Nor is it likelyational Assembly, even if convened in March, willore permanent structure which meets Vietnamese desires and is adapted to current political power realities in South Vietnam. Yet if both these contingencies were met, the spring and summer might see the evolutiontronger base for prosecuting the counterinsurgency effort than has heretofore existed- The odds onortunate outcome are considerably less than even.

15. The course of events in the near-term future vill he materially influenced by the ultimate effect of the extreme nationalist sentiments whipped up in recent weeks. Such sentiments, because of their xenophobic and anti-US overtones, will obviously cause considerable complications for the US effort. The regime is still aware of its need for US support, but even in the short run we expect that nationalist sensitivities will set severe limits on the degree to which the US can influence Vietnamese actions. The chances have increased that nationalist sentiments, in combination with war weariness and frustrations, willro-neutralist turn which the Communists would certainly endeavor to fan and exploit. On the other hand,igorous nationalism identified with an indigenously devised government reflecting local political realities vill be an essential ingredient for any dynamic and successful counter-insurgency effort.

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