Position Paper on Strategy Options in Vietnam
1. The latest attacks on our troops and the rapid deterioration in the security situation in Vietnam made the White House (WH) administration to explore possibilities of more robust military action against North Vietnam. In order to present the Air Force recommendation, our team conducted a decision-process with a rationale to introduce airpower means to political ends. During the process, we compared many benefits that the Air Force and the country can achieve with inevitable costs on our personnel and materiel. Nevertheless, the overall political objective, which the USA pledged to South Vietnam, is to secure an independent, non-communist country. Therefore, our team recommends a strategy that will involve a continuous military pressure until we achieve our political objectives, also known as a “hard knock” strategy.
We began our decision-making process with three courses of action on the table. The Option A consisted of a continuation of present activities without enlarging military presence. The Air Force would continue with airdrops and leaflet operations, along with the planning of air operations in Laos. In our opinion, the current US involvement is not substantial to prevent Viet Cong’s attempts to remove the current government from power. Moreover, the current government in South Vietnam is very fragile and about to collapse. Without stronger intervention and with support from North Vietnam, the Viet Cong will overthrow the South Vietnam government and unite into one communist country. Option C, however, offered a possibility to continue with the current activities in addition to the concept of graduated pressure, which would seize in case of negotiations. In our opinion, this kind of strategy would not persuade North Vietnam from continued support of the Viet Cong. Eventually, we would be forced to rapid squeeze North Vietnam, however, it might be too late at the time.
Therefore, we decided to represent the Option B, which implies continuation with current activities in addition to systematic military pressures against North Vietnam until we come to the negotiating table. The military pressure would continue during negotiations until achievement of the political end state. A strategy like this has many benefits but carries a lot bigger cost than the other two options.
2. In order to achieve the political end state, we have to accomplish several military objectives. The most important one is to prevent continuous support that Viet Cong is receiving from the North. To accomplish this objective we will have to use airpower means, and the Air Force is the best tool to do it. The Air Force has capabilities to impose tremendous pressure on North Vietnam, especially on their military facilities, industry, and infrastructure. These operations would deter the North to rethink their total commitment to the success of the insurgency in the South. Furthermore, this strategy would cement our role in the US military as a primary instrument of the US forward presence.
As mentioned before, this strategy has many benefits. The major benefit is that it allows the Air Force to do what they do the best. Strategic bombing of targets in North Vietnam would show the world the real strength of the Air Force. The Air Force would be a leading element in containing communism and maintaining America’s international prestige. The second benefit that the Air Force can achieve is a chance to be a decisive force within the US military in an effort to achieve political end state. A successful bombing campaign would lower a need for large deployment of other services. The Air Force would be a decisive driver of overall mission success. Regarding South Vietnam, the use airpower would buy time for its government and boost morale, thus hold the shattered government together. The WH administration decided to support current government in South Vietnam, and their inability to fight against insurgency and stop support from the North makes us even more involved in providing a stable environment for the South Vietnam government to consolidate and start taking care of the country and the people in it. Another benefit for the Air Force is the possibility to gain experience in the use of airpower in a geographical environment such as Vietnam and Laos. This is an opportunity we should embrace and take as much experience and lessons learned as possible. Furthermore, we can easily maximize our efforts by an early deployment of right personnel equipped with necessary tools that would provide benefits to the overall mission. Our strategy should be operationalized on the battlefield and led by military personnel, not by civilians.
Along with the benefits, there are also the costs of the whole mission. The biggest cost would be an inevitable loss of personnel, equipment, and materiel. Therefore, it is of paramount necessity to start striking as soon as possible because North Vietnam’s air defense is not yet developed to cause serious damage to our forces. A gradual increase of air suppression would give North Vietnam to consolidate and start developing better air defense, which might harm us in the future. Another setback would be a massive deployment to Southeast Asia. That means a huge logistic and personnel effort. Basing and maintaining such deployment would significantly increase the overall cost of the mission. A lack of experience in operations on a terrain typical to that part of the world can also be an obstacle that may increase the mission cost. A loss of personnel or equipment due to inexperience may come costly for upcoming operations. However, we can mitigate costs by hitting the North very hard at the beginning without giving them chance to recover before they are ready for negotiations. That would shorten the length of the mission and significantly decrease the mission costs.
3. Organizational issues may impose some problems in the further development of the strategy. Department of Defense (DOD) and the National Security Council (NSC) will have to innovate in decision-making. It means that not all DOD and NSC members believe in the positive outcome of established primal objectives in Vietnam. Consequently, the DOD added three “fallback objectives” to the original one – the independent and non-communist South Vietnam. Our initiative to accomplish the primal objective may be hampered by gradual changing of objectives. By choosing option B, we would be in the position to convince DOD that the primal objective is reachable and that the Air Force is capable of achieving it.
Furthermore, the organizational culture of sister services may also pose some obstacles in the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) decision and recommendation making to the NSC and the President. All services are more or less already involved in Vietnam. The Army is reserved regarding robust military intervention and does not see our capabilities as decisive as we do. US Marine Corps are eager to participate in ground operations, and they are seeking a wider role in the war. We can expect difficulties in taking charge of the mission as a leading service. Option B provides just that. Air strikes in full capacity against targets in North Vietnam would prove our capabilities to win the war without significant involvement of other services.
4. Our strategy may also encounter a variety of bureaucratic challenges. Even though organizations behave as predictable and constraint by regulations and SOPs, the organizational chiefs may astray of routines and encounter a barging with other chiefs in order to accomplish the organizational goals. We definitely anticipate that the Chairman of the JCS (CJCS) will bargain in favor of the “hard knock” strategy. He is pro air strikes against all targets JCS and we recommend, as well as aerial mining of North Vietnamese ports and continuation of a naval blockade of North Vietnam. Another actor that would recommend our strategy is the US Ambassador in South Vietnam. He developed a plan of “punitive action,” that would boost morale in South Vietnam and help hold its government together.
The biggest opposing players in the bargaining game are civilian advisors to the President, and the President himself. The advisors have already favorited a “slow, controlled squeeze.” Therefore, it will be extremely difficult to make the President change his initial position regarding strategy for Vietnam. Even though our recommended strategy would produce fast and decisive results in achieving the primal objective, we will have to get ourselves ready for less favorable option C.
5. We compared all benefits and potential costs before making a final recommendation for your decision. We firmly stay behind our rationale that swift and “hard knock” air strikes against targets in North Vietnam would significantly decrease its capacity to continue supporting the Viet Cong in the South, thus giving time to the South Vietnamese government to stabilize. Therefore, we recommend option B as a strategy to achieve a primal objective – to secure an independent, non-communist South Vietnam.
However, our recommendation will encounter a number of organizational and bureaucratic challenges. Organizational cultures, predictability, and constraints within the JCS may cause frictions while making a final recommendation to NSC and the President. In addition, bureaucratic games can also hamper our recommendation, as protagonists of a gradual increase of bombing over a long time are close to the President, and the President himself is more for option C. Therefore, we will be ready to work on option C as well, if that option is chosen to be the official strategy for Vietnam.
 H. R. McMaster, Dereliction of Duty: Johnson, McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to Vietnam (New York: HarperCollins World, 2017), p.147.
 Ibid. p.192.
 Ibid. p.182.
 Graham Allison and Philip Zelikow, Essence of Decision: The Cuban Missile Crisis (New York, NY: Longman, 1999), p.18.
 McMaster, Dereliction of Duty, p.153.
 Ibid. pp.181, 182.
 Allison & Zelikow, Essence of Decision, p.18.
 McMaster, Dereliction of Duty, p.143.
 Ibid. p.184.
 Ibid. p.145.
 Ibid. p.183.
 Allison & Zelikow, Essence of Decision, p.165.
 McMaster, Dereliction of Duty, p.185.
 Allison & Zelikow, Essence of Decision, p.164.
 McMaster, Dereliction of Duty, p.144.
 Allison & Zelikow, Essence of Decision, p.288-289.
 McMaster, Dereliction of Duty, p.192.
 Ibid. 145.
 Allison & Zelikow, Essence of Decision, p.296.
 McMaster, Dereliction of Duty, 187.