SNIE 53-2-63 THE SITUATION IN SOUTH VIETNAM

Created: 7/10/1963

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national intelligence estimate

The Situation in South Vietnam

SvbfflJfrW by th* DIRECTOR OF CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE Concurred in by theUNITED STATES INTELLIGENCE BOARD

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THE SITUATION

IN SOUTH VIETNAM

scope note

NIEProspects in Southated3 was particularly concerned witb the progress of theeffort, and with the military and political factors most likely lo affect that clfort. The primary purpose of the present SNIE is to examine the implications of recent developments in South Vietnam for the stability of the country, the viability of the Diem regime, and ils relationship with the US.

CONCLUSIONS

Buddhist crisis in South Vietnam has highlighteda widespread and longstanding dissatisfactionDiem regime and its style of government.isfails to carry out truly and promptly the commitmentsmade to the Buddhists, disorders will probably flarethe chancesoup or assassination attempts againstbecome better than even. (Paras.

Diem regime's underlying uneasiness about thethe US involvement in South Vietnam has beenthe Buddhist affair and the firm line taken by the US.will almost certainly persist and further pressurethe US presence in the country is likely.

far, the Buddhist issue has not been effectivelyby the Communists, nor does it appear to have hadeffect on the counterinsurgency effort. We doDiem is likely to be overthrownommunistdo we think the Communists would necessarily profit ifoverthrown by some combination of hisA non-Communist successor regime might beless effective against the Viet Cong, but, givenfrom the US. could provide reasonably effectivefor the government and the war eflort. (Paras.)

discussion

two chief problems which have faced the Government of(GVN) since its birth4 have been: (a) to forgeand loyalties necessary to Vietnam's survival as annation, tind (b) lo counter the menace of0ampaign ofguerrilla warfare. In attempting to cope with theseGVN has been hampered by its lack of confidence in and itsengage the understanding and supportonsiderable portionVietnameselarge segments of theand the peasantry. In recent weeks these inadequaciesin the South Vietnamese body politic have been furtherintensified.

buddhist affair

President Diem, his family,arge proportion of the top leaders of the regime are Roman Catholics,opulation that isoercent Buddhist. The regime has clearly accorded preferential treatment to Catholics in its employment practices and has favored the Catholic Church. But there have been no legal restrictions on religious freedom and, until recently, most Buddhists appeared passive in their response to the privileged institutional position occupied by the Catholic Church. There have, however, been various administrativeagainst the Buddhists, though these may have resulted as much from thoughtlessness or misplaced zeal on the part of minor officials as from conscious GVN policy. These have obviously created anof resentment, as is evidenced by the extent and Intensity of the recent outbreaks.

Inhe GVN ordered its provincial officials toongstanding but generally ignored edict regulating the public display of religious flags. As It happened, this order was issued just prior to Buddha's birthdayajor Buddhist festival, and just after Papal flags had been prominently flowneries of officially encouraged celebrations commemoratingh anniversary of the ordination of Ngo dinh Thuc, Diem's brother, the Archbishop ofrotest demonstration developed In Hueay, which wasby fireivil Guard unit. In the ensuing melec several persons were killed, including some children. The GVN has blamed the deaths on Viet Cong terrorists despite evidence to the contrary, and its subsequent stiff-necked handling of this incident and its aftermath hasational crisis. The Buddhists, hith-

erto disorganized and nonprolcsLing. have shown considerable cohesion andtoet of "compromise" agreements from President Diem onune. Moreover, the fact that the Buddhist leaders have been able to challenge the government openly without evoking serious government retaliation has presumably given them considerable confidence,

For the moment, the Buddhist movement remains under thecontrol of moderate bonzes who have refused to accept support from or countenance cooperation with any of Diem's political opponents, Communist or non-Communist, and appear to be trying to insure that the Buddhists live up to their part of the bargain. This leadership gave theeriod of grace (which expired about the end of June) in which to show that it was moving in good faith to carry out its undertakings, failing which protests would resume. So far there have been no further demonstrations, but the Buddhist leadership is clearly restive.

Despite Buddhist restraint in the political exploitation of the affair, it has obvious political overtones. It has apparently arousedpopular indignation and could wellocal point of general disaffection with the Diem government. It provides an issue on which most of Diem's non-Communist opponents (even including some Catholics) can find common ground of agreement. There Isevidence that the issue itself and, even more, the Diem family's handling of il to date has occasioned restiveness at virtually all levels of the GVN's military and civil establishments, both of whose lower and middle echelons are largely staffed by Buddhists. In some cases, civil servants seem to have ignored or tempered GVN instructions, superiors have on occasion evaded their assigned task of propounding the ofliclal GVN line to their subordinates, and Information ongovernment actions has obviously leaked to Buddhist leaders. In any case, recent developments are causing many GVN officials totheir relations with and the limits of their loyally to the Diem regime; there is accumulating evidence of serious disaffection and coup plotting in high military and civilian circles.

The Buddhist affair appears to have given considerable heart to the various non-Communist political opposition splinter groups in and out of South Vietnam. There also appears torowing feeling among former supporters of the regime that Diem's position may have been permanently and dangerously impaired. Thus far, however, we have no evidence that the diverse opposition groups have been able to form new or effective alliances with one another.

The Buddhist issue would appear to be an obvious windfall for the Communists, but so far there is no evidence that they have been

able to exploit it efleetively. They may have penetrated the Buddhist clergy to some extent, but are not presently exerting any discernible influence, despite the suggestions to the contrary in GVNTo date the Buddhist crisis does not appear to have had any appreciable effect on the continuing counterinsurgency effort, though the morale and efficiency of the GVN's military and civil forces are likely to be impaired if the issue is prolonged.

The Buddhist crisis has also hurt the GVN internationally, with potentially important effects upon the future success of US policy towards southeast Asia. Protests are growing In other predominantly Buddhist countries, with the implication that US action could help resolve the crisis. Cambodia and Ceylon have made representations to the UN and more may be forthcoming. In other countries,the US, the crisis has given new stimulus to criticism of US policy on the grounds that the US is supporting an oppressive andregime.

The future course of the Buddhist affair will be largely determined by the GVN's actions in the near term. It is likely that the issues recently raised can be resolved if the GVN executes Its portion of the negotiated bargain. However, politically sophisticated segments of South Vietnamese society, Buddhists Included, are mindful of Diem's past practice of often using negotiationstall for time and of making promises in order to weather an immediate crisis. The real danger In the present situation is that Diem may be tempted to employ such tactics which have served him well in the past but could prove disastrous if essayed this time. If demonstrations should be resumed, they would probably assume an Increasingly political cast, and less moderate Buddhist leadership would be likely to come to the fore. Public order would be threatened. In particular, we cannot be sure how various army or police units would react if ordered to Are onheaded by Buddhist bonzes.

III. THE EFFECT OF RECENT DEVELOPMENTS ON US-GVN RELATIONS

The GVN has always shown some concern over the implications of US involvement in South Vietnamese affairs and from time to time has felt moved to restrict US activities and presence in South Vietnam. This attitude springs partly from legitimate, if hypersensitive, concern for the appearance as well as the fact of Vietnam's recently acquired sovereignty.onsiderable degree, however, It springs from the Diem government's suspicion of US intentions toward it, and from its belief that the extensive US presence is setting in motion political forces which could eventually threaten Diem's political primacy.

The Buddhist affairs erupted at one of these periods of GVNand the strain has been aggravated by subsequent events. The

GVN's initial handling of the issue gave the US ground for seriousand concern which, in turn,uccession ofUS demarches. The Diem family has bitterly resented these US actions and may well feci that the Buddhist protests were at leastdue to tlie US presence. Under the circumstances, furtherto reduce that presence is likely.

A key role in this regard will be played by Diem's brother, Ngo dinh Nhu. He has always been Diem's chief political lieutenant, but the years4 haveteady accretion of Nhu's personal power andaccretion due partly to circumstance and primarily to deliberate effort on Nhu's part. Nhu has political ambitions of his own and almost certainly envisages himself as hisariety of reasons, Nhu has long privately viewed the US with some hostility and suspicion. American criticism of the GVN lias especially irritated Nhu, for he is aware that he and his wife are often ils primary targets. Above all, Nhu almost certainly doubts whether the support which the US has given to his brother would be transferred to him.

In the negotiations with the Buddhists, Nhu urged his brother toirm line and is, by his own statement, wholly out of sympathy with the concessions made. On the basis of past performance, we think it unlikely that he will help to implement the settlement; his influence on Diem will be rather in the direction of delaying and hedging onendency to which Diem himself is already disposed, This will be the more likely since not only the Nhus and Diem, but also his brothers Archbishop Thuc and Ngo dinh Can, the political boss of the central provinces, obviously continue to doubt the legitimacy of Buddhist complaints and to underestimate the intensity of the crisis.

IV. THE OUTLOOK

the Diem government moves effectively to fulfilluch of the resentment aroused by the Buddhistcould be allayed. However, even if relations between thethe Buddhists are smoothed over, the general discontent withregime which the crisis has exacerbated and brought to thelikely to persist. Further,isregime isand insincere in handling Buddhist matters, there willrenewed demonstrations, and South Vietnam will probablya state of domestic political tension. Under thesechanceson-Communist assassination or coup attemptwill be better than even. We cannot exclude the possibilityattempted Communist coup,ommunist attempt willless likelihood of success so long as the majority ofopponents and criticsthey arethe Communist peril.

The chanceson-Communistof itsbecome greater In the event renewed GVN/Buddhist confrontation should lead to large-scale demonstrations in Saigon. More or less prolonged riot and general disorder would probablythe security forces confused over which side to support. Under suchmall group, particularly one with prior contingency plans for such an eventuality, might prove able lo topple the government.ontinued or resumed truce between the GVN and the Buddhists would serve to reduce the likelihood of such an overthrow.

Any attempt to remove Diem will almost certainly be directed against Nhu as well, but should Nhu survive Diem, we are virtually certain that he would attempt to gainthe first instanceby manipulating the constitutional machinery. We do not believe that Nhu's bid would succeed, despite the personal political base he has sought to build through the Republican Youth (of which he is the overt, uniformedhe strategic hamlet program (whose directing Inter-ministerial Committee hend in the army. He and his wife have become too much the living symbols of all that is disliked hi the present regime for Nhu's personal political power to long outlive his brother. There mighttruggle with no little violence, but enough or the army would almost certainly move to take charge of the situation, either rallying behind the constitutional successor to install ViceTho or backing another non-Communist civil leaderilitary junta.

A non-Communist successor regime might prove no more effective than Diem in fighting the Viet Cong; indeed at least initially il might well prove considerably less effective, and the counterinsurgency effort would probably be temporarily disrupted. However, there Is alarge pool of under-utilized but experienced and trained manpower not only within the military and civilian sectors of the presentbut also, to some extent, outside. These elements, given continued support from the US. could provide reasonably effective leadership for the government and the war effort.

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