Created: 5/25/1964

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national intelligence estimate

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probable consequences of certbi us actions with respect to vietnam and laos

f. Sub miffed by p'S;.'*





the problem

To estimate the consequences of certain US and US-sponsored actions against North Vietnam (DRV) and Communist-held Laos, the objectives of which would be to induce the DRV to bringajor reduction of Vict Cong insurrectionary activity in South Vietnam and to respect2 Geneva agreement on Laos.

assumptions '

I. The actions to be taken, primarily air and naval, would begin with GVN (US-assisted) operations against the DRV andos. and might subsequently involve overt US military actions. They would beraduated scale ofranging from reconnulssance. threats, cross-borderand limited strikes on logistical targets supporting DRV efforts in South Vietnam and Laos, to strikes (if necessary)rowing number of military and economic targets in the DRV. In the absence of all-out attacks by the DRV or Communist China, the measures foreseen would not involve attacks oncenters or resort to nuclear weapons.

II. That these actions would be accompanied hy these US moves:

A. Through various channels, conveying the limited nature of US intentions to Hanoi, Peiping. and Moscow

B Stationing InitiallyS combat troops and certain additional air elements in northeastern Thailand,ossible increaseater stage

C. Giving the enemy tangible evidence of US seriousness of purpose by readying and deploying strong US strikeair, und ground assault- lo the Westernand the Soulh China Sea.

D Providing increased military support, including air defenses, to South Vietnam. Further, stiffening overall GVN military and administrative capabilities by the infusion of substantial additional US personnel.

E. Acting diplomatically toew Genevaat least until it was judged that the above actions had improved the bargaining position of the US and its associates.


A Ir. response to US preparatory and low-scale actions-force deployments, serious threats, or GVN/Farmgate attacks on outlying targets in Communist-held Iaos or North Vietnam-Hanoi would probably agitate world opinion against the US. hopingew Geneva conference or UN action would result, andessation of attacks. We think that North Vietnam, while taking various precautionary measures, would order tlie Viet Cong and Pathet Lao to refrain from dramatic new attacks, and might reduce the level of the insurrections for the moment. Communist China and the USSR would both support these courses. The Communists' line would probably be thatonference should be to stabilize the situation in South Vietnam and Laos Their intention, however, would be toCommunist gains and assets in these two countries and to resume the insurrectionary campaignsater date.

these initial responses did not succeed, and attacksVietnam continued, it is likely that the Communiststheir political action efforts against the USmight intermittently step up the tempo of thein South Vietnam and Laos, while still seeking aIf these tactics, too, failed, the scale ofand North Vietnam began to suffer considerableHanoi's leaders would have to ask themselvestactics they were pursuing were worth the destructioncountry. Wc are unable to set any meaningful oddscourse North Vietnam's leaders would adopt at thiswe incline to the view that they would lower theira negotiated outcome; they would do so in the intereststheir regime and in the expectation of being ablethe insurrections in South Vietnam and Laos at aThere would neverthelessignificant dangerwould fight, believing that the US would still notajor ground war, or that if it was, itbe defeated by the methods whicli werethe French.

China almosi certainly would not wish toinvolved in hostilities with US forces. It wouldproceed with caution, though it would make variousgestures. There would probably not be high riskCommunist ground intervention unless majorunits had moved well into the DRV orof northern Laos, or possibly, the Chinese hadair and had subsequently suffered attack on CCAFChina. The USSR would make strenuous propagandaefforts in Hanoi's behalf, and would probablyweapons and air defense equipment. We believe,that the USSR would refrain from military actions inand would notrisis with the USirect US-USSR confrontation. Its primarywould be to exert its influenceanner to insuresettlement, though without prejudicing itswith Hanoi.

D. Clear cut achievement of tlie US objectives as stated in the Problem would signify not that the Communist threat in Southeast Asia was removed, but simply that time had been gained for further constructive action to deal with the threat. The US commitment would in itself improve anti-Communist morale und improve Uie chances for such action. On tlie other hand, to the degree that ihe consequences of the US action were ambiguous or unsuccessful, there would almost certainlytrong tendency for morale and discipline in South Vietnam and Iaos to deterioratemore rapidly than if the US had not begun its intensified effort. Such deterioration would bo felt generally through non-Communist Asia.

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The ability of the ITS to compel the DHV to turn off the VCreals principally Upon the efTect of US sanctions on the will of DHV leadership to continue and to enlarge that Insurrection. The measures envisaged would not seriously affect Communist capabilities to continue that insurrection. Despite the direction, personnel, and material support which ihr DRV gives the VC, the primary sources of Communist strength in South Vietnam are indigenous peasantand war-weariness; VC terror, arms capture, disciplinedand highly developed uitclllgence systems; and the fact that the VCo>some statusationalist movement Provided DRVcontinued, from either Hanoi or the bush, such Indigenous support would continue toubstantial threat until and unless the GVN developed hamlet security and overcame the political misrule and uncertainly of the past two years.

The situation is different in the case of Laos; Indeed, the PL would deteriorate rapidly if the substantial stiffening now provided by the DRV were withdrawn.


Hanoi's Comprehension of GVN and USf thearc to respond in the desired way. they must understand that although the US is not sacking the destruction of the DHV regime, Uie US is fully prepared to bring ascending pressures to bear to persuade Hanoi to reduce the insurrections In .South VieUiam and Laos Wc believe that the leaders hi Hanoi would almost certainly comprehend US purposes in Uie early phase of the actions proposed. Hlthrrlo they have evidently understood and played on the reluctance of the US to become deeply engaged on the Asia main Land, and they would count on domesUcIn an electron year to sustain this reluctance. The means for communicating US Intentions seem likely to be effective, and the advice given by the USSR and Communist China would probablyorrect interpretation.

An the scale of GVN and US attacks mounted, however, especially If the US seemed adainanl against entering negotiation. Hanoi would tend Increasingly to doubt the limited character of US alms. Similarly, the retaliatory measures which Hanoi might take In Laos and South Vietnam might make It iiKrrasingly difficult for the US to regard its

objectives as atfainable by limited means. Thus difficulties ofinipht increase on both sides as the scale of action mounted.

The DRV View of its Stake, in South Vietnam and Laos. The DRV lias been patient and cautious in pursuing the war in Laos and South Vietnam. It has been careful to avoid the costs and risks of directand, to date al least, has pulled back whenever it appeared that its tactics mightajor US response. It has been willing to use time to wear down llie morale of the South Vietnamese and Laotian governments and populations, to convince them that victory foi- the DRV, the VC, and the PL is inevitable, and to persuade thctn that the US will prove an unreliable and ineflcctlve ally. Further, the DRV nins Ihe insurrections very much on the cheap, without any major drain on its economy or military establishment. Nevertheless, the DRV Is intensely committed to the final aim of bringing South Vietnam, and at some stage Laos, under Hanoi's control, an outcome which would fur Hanoi's leaders mark the completion of their revolution.

There is evidence lhat confidence has been growing in Hanoi that the final phase in the struggle in South Vietnam is approaching. Evidently there haselief that disintegration was under way in South Vietnam, and that the pace of VC activity could be intensified. Nevertheless, we believe that Hanoi is not presently committedapid push for final victory, Is prepared to accept further delay and even temporary setbacks, confident that Communist or pro-Communistresponsive to Hanoi will eventually be established hi Saigon and Vientiane. Further, the degree of Hanoi's control over the insunections in South Vietnam and Laos Is sufficient to insure that It could raise or lower the level of action there.

DRV Capability to React Militarily in South Vietnam and Laos. VC forces in South Vietnam include0 regulars (full-timen identifiable district, provincial, and regionalroops (most of whom are part-time) in local self-defense and guerrilla elements. Regular troops have been employed In combat, and we know of no units being "hoarded" for commitment at some decisive future time. Nevertheless, regular forces generally see action only one or twoonth. Further, many larger regulararc normally broken up into smaller units (platoons and squads) which serve with local, jiart-timc elements. Consequently, the VC would probably be able tooncentrated, fairly short-term attack considerably more intense than any it has to date. Against some slnglokey psychologicalcould probablyand concentrate normally dispersed regular units touch larger action than has yet been attempted. We are fairlythat the VC could not gather moreew battalions without

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giving some prior indication. There are almost certainly VC terrorist cells in urban areas which have not yet been committed or discovered; thus the VC probably have the capability significantly to increase urban terrorism, particularly in Saigon, should they so decide.

hould the DRV wish lo respond by augmenting VC capabilities with regular North Vietnamese forces, we believe that inonth the DRV could infiltrate the equivalent of about one regular DRV brigade (on the orderen) into South Vietnam. If, instead, the DRV undertook to react immediately with an overt invasion, they could probably attack across the DMZ- with about two divisions Intwo weeks time from making the decision to move, but they would have great logistical difficulty in sustainingorce in combat In South Vietnam. Given more time, they could of courseonsiderably larger force.

nder present circumstances, PL DRV forces now in Laos probably have the capability of overrunning most of the country. Should US or allied units be introduced, present Communist forces would probably havearassing capability. However, two North Vietnamese army brigades arc believed to be positioned near the Iaotian border (one at Dien Bien Phu, the other opposite Sam Neua) and elements of two additional brigades are deployed at various points near the frontier along the main routes leading into Laos. Consequently, Communist strength in Laos could be quickly augmented by at least two fully armed and equipped North Vietnamese regular brigades0 men).

RV Capabilities for Defending Itself Against Attack. The DRV could certainly concentrate sufficient troops to protect any majoragainst ground attuck by South Vietnamese forces, whether infiltrated overland, put in by sea, or air-dropped. Present DRVcapabilities against aerial bombardment, however, are minimal. Ils capabilities in anti-aircraft artillery have improved over the past several years to the point where the DRV could probably cope with helicopters and propeller aircraft, bul Norlh Vietnamese defenses would be relatively ineffective against high speed jets. Itadar net of aboutarly warning and fire control installations situated throughout lhc country, but the equipment Is obsolete. Mainland Chinese radar also covers North Vietnam, but so far as we know it Is not now coordinated with lhc DRV net. North Vietnam is not known to have any suri'ace-to-alr missile capability. It has no combat aircraft at the present time, though the foundations for the creation of an air arm have been laid: headquarters, maintenance, and supportliave been at least partially developed, and much work has been done on airiield improvement and construction. China could of course


provide fighter ulrcraft (probably)mall "Northair force on short notice.

DRV Atrtlttu and Willingness to Sustain Damage. Wc liave many indications that the Hanoi lcailersliip is acutely and nervously aware of the extent to which North Vietnam's transportation sysiem andplunt is vulnerable to utlaek. On the other hand, Northeconomy is overwhelmingly agricultural and,nrgc extent, dccentraliicdyriad of more or less economically sell-sufncient villages. Interdiction of imports and extensive destruction offacilities and Industrial plants would cripple DHV Industry These actions would also seriously restrict DHV military capabilities, and would degrade, thoughesser extent, Hanoi's capabilities to support guerrilla warfare in South Vietnam and Laos. Wc do not believe that such actions wouldrucial effect on tlie daily lives of the ovcrwheunlng majority of the North Vietnamese population We do not believe that attacks on Industrial targets would so greatlycurrent economic difficulties as to create unmanageable control problems

II is reasonable to infer that the DRV leaderssychological investment in the work of reconstruction ihey have accomplished over the last decade. Nevertheless, they would probably bo willing to suffer some damage lo the country in the courseost of wills with the US over the course of events hi South Vietnam.

DRV Appraisal of the Value and Hazards ol Chinese Communist Rescue. An important concern of the DRV loaders would be to avoid having lo be rescued at the price of Chinese dominance. DRV leaders seek to run their own show in Indochina, however often certain of them may voice support of Chinese debating positions against the Soviets The considerable material support they have received from Communist stales has not derogated DRV freedom of action Moreover, they are chiefly dependent for ecorwrnJc and technical assistance upon the USSRleaders would probably consider that the introduction of Chinese and Soviet-supplied air defense menus mighteterrent effect on US intentions, and might provide some military offset to GVN measures against the North; wc doubt, however, that Hanoi would have much confidence that such defense means could effectively protect the DRV from either overt US or FurmguLc ulr attacks. Though DHV leaders would doubtless differ sharply on the question, Hanoi would almost certainly refrain from requesting such Chinese assistance as might endanger DHV Independence, for example, large-scale ground force "volunteer" intervention. This hesitancy would of course be overcome if DRV leaders considered the existence of their regime to be ut slake.

DRV Judgment of the Weight to Attach to World Pressuresanil non-Communist) Against the VS Actions. In lhc early stages at least, Ilanot would probably rely heavilyelief thatpressure would develop in the world against the US action and thai thin would compel the US to relax Its pressures. DKV leaders probably would be confident lhat the VC and the PL could continue to undermine non-Communist authority in South Vietnams while the DRV nnd its Communist allies were spinning things out intcr-minnhly at Geneva. Hanoi's leaders would also probably count onopposition lo the US course developing within Ihe US, rs]>crially in the event the US action were not quickly successfulajor world crlflis luid developed.

The Interests and CapabiUtics of Communist China tn the Area. Peiping appears to be more-or-lcss content with the present scheme of things In LaoM and South Vietnam. These situation*vedonvenient "national liberation" club with whkh to ftnil the Soviets, and Peiping doubtless considers that South Vietnam and Laos willbe Communist, and even though DRV-donunated, fairlylo China. Moreover, it is increasingly clear Hint Peiping Is taking advantage of the vacuum In northern Laos to Increase Us own. Chinese, presence there.

he Chinese leaders are, however, In no hurry, and almostwish lo uvold major hostilities with the US. DcispHe their brave talk, they have been niggardly with tangible support of the Vietnam war. Their military cautiousness of the past few years strongly nuggesls that they are painfully aware af Uie wide disparity which rxb.tR between modem US combat aircraft and their own obsolemriil and deteriorating CCAP. They are concerned over GRC and even Indian Intentions toward mainland China. These consideraUom. added tn their vast domestic problems and their difficulties with Moscow, almost certainly impel the Chinese to caution.

he Interests and Capabilities of the USSR in the Area. The USSR has little effective control or influence over the ImmediateIn lac* or South Vietnam, though its roles as Geneva co-Chair-man and potential provider of support against US military actions make the Sovietighly important one. Current Soviet objectives In the area uppenr to be lo preserve some semblance of unity with North Vietnam, to contuin the growing influence of China in Hanoi, and to prevent escalation of local situationsirect conflict Involving US forces. For some time, the Soviets have been disengaging from their obligations In Laos and avoiding attitudes or positions which would antagonize North Vietnam. In order to forestall Hliy more direct US intervention and obtain some means of Influencing Hanoi, the Soviet

leader? evidentlyew conference as the best path. They probably appreciate, however, thaiajor crisis develop in the area, they would be under great pressure not to be backed down by us firmness of purpose

Interests of Other Principally Concerned Parties.vary greatly concerning the South Vietnam and LaosGRC Is always in favorore forceful US course. Certainthe area friendly to the US--Thailand, the Philippines.andrather ambiguous views: on the onethat the US will not prove staunch, and, on the other, fearstaunchness might provoke extreme enemy reactions. Theopinion among many observers in much of Western Europebe that the Indochina anil Laos situations are not susceptiblesolution, and that any American eflorts to expand thethe North would probably be ineffective and not worth the risk.o: America's various allies of course recognize thatur failure In Indochina will In varying degree affect theiraccordingly We doubt, however, that such considerationsfears and uncertainties concerning US expansion of the war.


A. Reactions of the DRV

In response to US preparatory and low-scaleserious threats, or GVN/Farmgate attacks on outlyingin Communist-held Laos or Northwouldagitate world opinion against the US, hopingew Geneva conference or UN action would result, andessation of attacks. Wc think that the DRV, while taking various precautionary measures, would order the VC and PL to refrain from dramatic new attacks, and might reduce the level of the insurrections for the moment.China and the USSR would both support these courses. Theline would probably be that the outcomeonference should be to stabilize the situation in South Vietnam and Laos. Their lnten-Llon, however, would be to preserve Communist gains and assets in these two countries and to resume the Insurrectionary campaignsater date.

Although Hanoi leadership would doubtless be divided on the question, the DRV at this initial juncture would probably incline to tbe view that US reluctance to assume larger risks had been overcome only by the fact of deteriorating situations In Laos and South Vietnam. Hanoi would probably assume that US resort to GVN cover for its attacks

Indicated an unwillingness to become deeply entangled itself, and that the basic US Intent was perhaps limited to holding the South Vietnam and Laos situations together until after the US national elections. Accordingly, the DHV tactics of feigning compliance and of spinning out negotiations would be based on an expectation that VC and PL pressures in the area, and world pressures on the US, would oblige the US toalt.

Should this initial DRV course notif the level of punishment being suffered by North Vietnam were rising or the US were beginning overt attacks on North Vietnamesewould probably make an all-out propaganda and diplomatic drive forIn such negotiations. Hanoi would probably still seek to avoid an outcome which would, for example through strict Inspectioneffectively deny it the opportunity lo continue support for the insurrections in Soulh Vietnam and Laos. Hanoi mightlurn up the scale and level of lhe insurrections in order to improve its bargaining position and intensify international concern Though we doubt that the DHV would altempt any overt invasion of Laos or Soulh Vietnam, Hanoi might try for some psychologically spectacular victories in Laos and in South Vietnamhe seizure and sackrovincial capital such as Quang NgaiJ. By Ihis stage, DRV leaders would certainly have appealed for Soviet and Chineseair defense support (radars, anti-aircraft artillery, SAMs, and possibly even CCAFul wc doubt that Hanoi would request Chinese Communist ground troops.

If the scale of the altacks broadened, approached Hanoi, and destroyed more and more valuable targets, the DRV leaders would have lo ask themselves whether the tactics they were pursuing were worth lhe destruction of their country. Their confidence in their ability to achieve an acceptable outcome at the negotiating table would decline, and they might conclude thai the US was after all aiming at the destruction of their regime. At this point, they might believe that their only choices were ostensible capitulation to the US demand to halt all action in Soulh Vietnam and Laos, or an all-out attack with their own forces in one or both of these areas. We are unable to sel anyodds for Iheir choice between these alternatives. On balance, we incline to the view that Ihey would stillegotiated outcome in the interest of preserving their regime and in lhe hopeuture opportunity to resume the struggles in South Vietnam and Laos. There would neverthelessignificant danger lhat they would fight,that the US would still not be willing toajor ground war. or that if it was, il could ultimately be defeated by the methods which were successful against the French.


China's Role in the Crisis

eiping would almost certainly threaten IntcrvcuUon at* the action mounted andumber ol moves intended lo deter further US attacks on Ihc DRV. Nevertheless, vvr believe that the Chinese would Ui fact be cautious about becoming Involved in hostilities with US lama Peiping would probably respond Ui stepped-up punishment of tbe DRV by deploying sizable numbers ol Its forces to areas bordering Vietnam und Laos. It would probably offer Hanoi anU-alrcraft units, and might make some combat aircraft available to the DRV We do not believe lhat it would offer to commit the CCAF' at this stage,this cannot be ruled out. There wouldossibility lhat unacknowledged Chinese Communist units might make deep Incursions Into Laos anil, possibly. Thailand and Uurma. 'Die Chinesemight also resume HE shelling in tlie Taiwan straits. We doubt, however, lhat they would undertake any tdgnificanl military activity elsewhere in Asia There would probably not be high risk of Chinese Communist ground intervenUon unless major US OVN ground units had moved well into the DRV or Communist-held areas of northern Laos, or possibly, the Chinese had committed their air and hadsuffered attack on CCAF bases in China

Soviot Role in the Crisis

he Soviets would probably noi take any extreme action in the Indochina area They probably now expect some Increase in US pleasures against the DRV. and it Is likely that they have alrrady warned Hanoi that iU present course couldangerous military eonl ran tat ton The USSR would make strenuous propaganda andefforts in Hanoi's behalf, and would probably offer various weapons and air defense equipment As the crisis deepened the Soviets would probably ciigURe in some vague missile diplomacy and otherwise seek to bring strong pressure on the US to Und some political settlement. They would meanwhile exert pressure on Hanoi to make concessionslo Insure the opening ol negotiations. We do not believe that Uie Soviets, in Uie interests of supporting Hanoi, wouldrisis with Ihe US elsewhere which wouldirect US USSR confrontation.

lie Sino-Soviet dispute has not to date had any major effect on the situations in Loos or South Vietnam. Moscow probably would on the one hand be happy toeutralist barrier sustained in Laos and

'The CCAF prolxibly could deploy aboutJot)l it. and uboulixloo light bombers toin Hniilli ('h)na where Ihey Mould be within operational ramie of VlrUiam.


South Vietnam. On the other, because it could not afford to alienate the DRV and the FL. nr u> lay itself open to Chinese accusations ofout the Communist revolutionary cause In the area. Moscow could not avoid giving at least political support to the Peiping-leaning DRV. PL. and VC. On balance. Moscow, like Peiping. would probably be guided primarily b) regard for Its own security interests, thus the fact of the Slno-Soviet dispute, per te, would probably not have great impact on developments In Southeast Asia. We believe lhat tlw Interests of Moscow and Peiping conflict on so many vital scores that anything short of Slno-US hostilitieshreat to the existence of the DRV would do little to alter the Slno-Sovlet relationship in any crucial fashion.

Development in South Vietnam

2fl. The encadrancntubstantial number of AmericanInto the military and civil sectors of the GVN would, in the DRV view, lend credence lo US statements of its intent Lo Increase Its support to South Vietnam. Hanoi would, of course, not miss the opportunity to charge that the US was "taking over" South Vietnam. In addition there mighttepped up campaign of anti-American terrorism in Saigon and In the Held. These actions of the US. together with its new course against the North, would hearten the GVN and large segments of the military and civil population, as clear evidence of increased US commitment and Involvement

by US Alliei ond Others

Except in the roseew ol our most staunchly anU-Commu-nist allies. Initial world reactions lo the US course would lend to be adverse In direct proportion lo the intensity of US actions against the DRV: low-scale indications of disapproval in the cane of lesser sanctions, rising, in many antes, to condemnation as the crisis fever rase. Even In the latter case, these reactions would generally not so much be pro-Communisl us they would be critical of USnce US attacks on North Vietnam occurred, and especially If the USease-fire andeneral Assembly majority foron tlie pattern of Suez, would be probable. Subsequent world reactions would ol course hinge fairly directly on success of the US sanctions: if they halted Communist expansion in Indochina and led to an rasing of tensions. US firmness would be retrospectivelyas In the Cuban missile showdown: if they ended tn failure and retreat. US "maturity" and world leadership would again be questioned.

The role of Frunce deserves special mention. We believe itlikely that de Gaulle would from the outset associate himself with Communist demandseturn to Geneva without preconditions.

Iiionference the French would wok to play an independent role in the interest of pushing dr Gaulle's well-known bul ill-definedfor neutralinallbn or the area. Tills French line would no doubt encourage tlie Communists lo keep their concessionsinimum, and would limit the support the US and GVN might receive from others If no outcome acceptable lo the US could be obtained, and especially If the US became directly involvedajor military effort in Soulh Vietnam, the strains already present In Franco-American relations and in the NATO alliance would be severely exacerbated.

i General Consequences

lear-cut achievement of the US objective* as stated in thewould signify not that the Communist threat in Southeast Asia was removed, but simply that lime luid been gained for furtheraction to deal with the threat. The US commitment would in itself Improve anti-Communist morale and improve Uie chances for such action On the other hand, to the degree that the consequences of the US acUon were ambiguous or unsuccessful, there would almost certainlytrong tendency lor morale and discipline in Southand laos lo deterioratemore rapidly than if the US had not begun its intensified effort. Such deterioration would be felt generally through non-Communist Asia.

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