Henry Kissinger begins secret negotiations with North Vietnamese

Henry Kissinger begins secret negotiations with North Vietnamese

National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger begins secret peace talks with North Vietnamese representative Le Duc Tho, the fifth-ranking member of the Hanoi Politburo, at a villa outside Paris.

Le Duc Tho stated that the North Vietnamese position continued to require an unconditional U.S. withdrawal on a fixed date and the abandonment of the Thieu government as a precondition for further progress, which stalled the negotiations. The North Vietnamese rejected Kissinger’s proposals for a mutual withdrawal of military forces, the neutralization of Cambodia, and a mixed electoral commission to supervise elections in South Vietnam. The other two meetings, in which there was a similar lack of progress, were held on March 16 and April 4.

Kissinger Memo from 1972: Make the North Vietnamese think Nixon and I are crazy

President Richard Nixon and his national security adviser Henry Kissinger believed they could compel "the other side" to back down during crises in the Middle East and Vietnam by "push[ing] so many chips into the pot" that Nixon would seem 'crazy' enough to "go much further," according to newly declassified documents published today by the National Security Archive (www.nsarchive.gwu.edu).

The documents include a 1972 Kissinger memorandum of conversation published today for the first time in which Kissinger explains to Defense Department official Gardner Tucker that Nixon's strategy was to make "the other side . think we might be 'crazy' and might really go much further" - Nixon's Madman Theory notion of intimidating adversaries such as North Vietnam and the Soviet Union to bend them to Washington's will in diplomatic negotiations

Nixon's and Kissinger's Madman strategy during the Vietnam War included veiled nuclear threats intended to intimidate Hanoi and its patrons in Moscow. The story is recounted in a new book, Nixon's Nuclear Specter: The Secret Alert of 1969, Madman Diplomacy, and the Vietnam War, co-authored by Jeffrey Kimball, Miami University professor emeritus, and William Burr, who directs the Archive's Nuclear History Documentation Project. Research for the book, which uncovers the inside story of White House Vietnam policymaking during Nixon's first year in office, drew on hundreds of formerly top secret and secret records obtained by the authors as well as interviews with former government officials.

With Madman diplomacy, Nixon and Kissinger strove to end the Vietnam War on the most favorable terms possible in the shortest period of time practicable, an effort that culminated in a secret global nuclear alert in October of that year. Nixon's Nuclear Specter provides the most comprehensive account to date of the origins, inception, policy context, and execution of "JCS Readiness Test" - the equivalent of a worldwide nuclear alert that was intended to signal Washingtonâs anger at Moscow's support of North Vietnam and to jar the Soviet leadership into using their leverage to induce Hanoi to make diplomatic concessions. Carried out between 13 and 30 October 1969, it involved military operations around the world, the continental United States, Western Europe, the Middle East, the Atlantic, Pacific, and the Sea of Japan. The operations included strategic bombers, tactical air, and a variety of naval operations, from movements of aircraft carriers and ballistic missile submarines to the shadowing of Soviet merchant ships heading toward Haiphong. The Soviets noticed the alert, but no evidence emerged that it "jarred" them.

Kissinger and Lord in China: A How-To Guide for Secret Negotiations

At the height of the Cold War, with the death toll mounting in Vietnam and the split between the USSR and China becoming more and more evident, it became clear to the Nixon Administration that ending the war in Vietnam and opening relations with China could be a two-front victory. However, because of the sensitive nature of negotiating with the United States' ideological enemies, negotiations had to remain secret. This was particularly difficult with China, given that Washington had no established contact with Beijing.

Like something out of James Bond, Henry Kissinger and his Special Assistant, Winston Lord, used secret flights and body doubles to pull off the talks with both the Chinese and North Vietnamese. The talks on China were by far the more successful, as they led to President Richard Nixon's historic trip to China in 1972, which reopened ties with the Communist country for the first time since 1949.

Ambassador Lord was interviewed by ADST in 1998, and the entire account can be found on the ADST website: This account was compiled by S. Kannan.

Kissinger's involvement in Indochina started prior to his appointment as National Security Adviser to Nixon. While still at Harvard, he had worked as a consultant on foreign policy to both the White House and State Department. Kissinger says that "In August 1965 . [Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr.], an old friend serving as Ambassador to Saigon, had asked me to visit Vietnam as his consultant. I toured Vietnam first for two weeks in October and November 1965, again for about ten days in July 1966, and a third time for a few days in October 1966 . Lodge gave me a free hand to look into any subject of my choice". He became convinced of the meaninglessness of military victories in Vietnam, ". unless they brought about a political reality that could survive our ultimate withdrawal". [1] Lodge allowed Kissinger to go anywhere he wanted, and to meet the ruling duumvirate of Air Marshal Nguyễn Cao Kỳ and General Nguyễn Văn Thiệu. [2] In a gaffe, Kissinger spoke frankly to an American reporter, Jack Foisie, who had arrived late to the press conference and was not aware that the press conference was "off-the-record". [3] Kissinger called both Air Marshal Kỳ and General Thiệu immature men of low intelligence, remarks that Foise published and which drew the ire of President Lyndon B. Johnson. [4] In November 1965, when asked to comment by Time after the number of Americans killed in Vietnam passed 1, 000, Kissinger praised Johnson for having to make "difficult and lonely decisions". [3] Kissinger compared Johnson to the sheriff played by Gary Cooper in the 1952 film High Noon, depicting Johnson as a heroic figure making necessary, but unpopular decisions. [3]

In a 1967 peace initiative, he would mediate between Washington and Hanoi. In June 1967 at an academic conference in Paris, Kissinger met a French biologist, Herbert Marcovitch, who mentioned that one of his friends was Raymond Aubrac, a Communist hero of the French resistance, who in turn was one of the few Westerners who were friends with Ho Chi Minh. [5] When Ho went to Paris in 1946 in an attempt to negotiate Vietnamese independence from France, he had lived in Aubrac's house for several months and still had warm memories of him and his family. [6] Ho had something of an aversion to Westerners and tried to avoid meeting them as much as possible, and Aubrac was unique in being allowed to correspond with Ho. Wanting to play a role in diplomacy, instead of just writing about it, Kissinger contacted the State Department with a plan for Marovitch and Aubrac to go to Hanoi with a peace offer. [5] The Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, was opposed to Kissinger's plan, saying "Eight months pregnant with peace and all of them hoping to win the Nobel Peace Prize". [5] However, W. Averell Harriman of the "peace shop" was interested and got President Johnson to approve the approach, which was code-named Operation Pennsylvania. [5] In July 1967, Aubrac and Marcovitch went to Hanoi to see Ho, who told him that he was willing to open peace talks with the United States, provided that the Americans "unconditionally" stopped bombing North Vietnam. [7] Before Ho had insisted that the United States had to "unconditionally and finally" stop the bombing, and this slight chance in phrasing was seen as a hopeful sign. [7] Harriman sent his deputy, Chester Cooper, to join Kissinger in the unofficial peace talks in Paris, which seemed promising. [6] However, Aubrac stated that Ho had wanted the United States to cease bombing North Vietnam for a short period of time as a sign of good faith, but the National Security Adviser, W.W. Rostow, persuaded Johnson to increase the bombing of North Vietnam at the same time. [6] On 22 August 1967 Aubrac and Marcovitch were refused visas to visit North Vietnam as the inability of Kissinger to achieve the promised bombing pause had disillusioned Ho. [8]

In August 1968, Kissinger wrote to Harriman, who was leading the American delegation at the Paris peace talks: "My dear Averell. I am through with Republican politics. The party is hopeless and unfit to govern". [9] On 17 September 1968, Kissinger arrived in Paris and served as an unofficial consultant to the American delegation. [10] At the time, Kissinger spoke of his disgust with the Republican candidate, Richard Nixon, saying: "Three days of the week I think I'll vote for Hubert. The other days I think I won't vote at all". [11] But at the same time, Kissinger was in contact with the Nixon campaign and began to share information about the progress of the peace talks. [11] Kissinger began to call Richard Allen, Nixon's foreign policy adviser, from a public telephone booth, offering information in exchange for which he wanted a senior position if Nixon won the election. [11] On 12 October 1968, Kissinger told Allen that Harriman had "broken open the champagne" because he persuaded Johnson to order a bombing halt of North Vietnam. [11] Allen called John Mitchell, Nixon's campaign manager, who agreed that this was most important information. [11] As a reward, Mitchell told Allen that Kissinger would receive a senior post he craved, with Allen saying the office of National Security Adviser would suit Kissinger the best. [11] At the same time, Kissinger in contact with the Democratic candidate, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, lobbying for a senior post if Humphrey won the election. [11]

Kissinger had served as the foreign policy adviser to the Republican governor of New York, Nelson Rockefeller, during his failed bids to win the Republican nomination in the elections of 1960, 1964 and 1968. He had a low opinion of Nixon during this time, speaking of his "shallowness" and of his "dangerous misunderstanding" of foreign policy. [12] Many were surprised when Kissinger accepted Nixon's offer to serve as his National Security Adviser. [12] Nixon said of Kissinger: "I don't trust Henry, but I can use him". [13]

Nixon had been elected in 1968 on the promise of achieving "peace with honor" and ending the Vietnam War. By promising to continue the peace talks which Johnson began in May 1968 in Paris, Nixon admitted that he had ruled out "a military victory" in Vietnam. [14] Nixon wanted a diplomatic settlement similar to the armistice of Panmunjom that ended the Korean War and frequently stated in private he had no intention of being "the first president of the United States to lose a war". [14] To force the North Vietnamese to sign an armistice, Nixon favored a two-pronged approach of the "madman theory" of seeking to act rashly to intimidate the North Vietnamese while at the same time trying using the strategy of "linkage" to improve relations with the Soviet Union and China in order to persuade both these nations to stop sending arms to North Vietnam. [15] In office, Nixon implemented a policy of Vietnamization that aimed to gradually withdraw U.S. troops while expanding the combat role of the South Vietnamese Army so that it would be capable of independently defending its government against the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam, a Communist guerrilla organization, and the North Vietnamese army (Vietnam People's Army or PAVN). Kissinger was opposed to Vietnamization.

In an article published in Foreign Affairs in January 1969, Kissinger criticized General William Westmoreland's attrition strategy because the Vietnamese Communists were willing to accept far higher losses on the battlefield than the United States and could, therefore "win" as long as they did not "lose" by merely keeping the war going. [16] In the same article, he argued that losses endured by the Vietnamese Communists in the Tet Offensive were meaningless as the Tet Offensive had turned American public opinion against the war, ruling out the possibility of a military solution, and the best that could be done now was to negotiate the most favorable peace settlement at the Paris peace talks. [17] Kissinger, when he came into office in 1969 favored a negotiating strategy under which the United States and North Vietnam would sign an armistice and agreed to pull their troops out of South Vietnam while the South Vietnamese government and the Viet Cong were to agree to a coalition government. [16] Kissinger had doubts about Nixon's theory of "linkage", believing that this would give the Soviet Union leverage over the United States and unlike Nixon was less concerned about the ultimate fate of South Vietnam. [18] One of Kissinger's first acts as National Security Adviser in early 1969 was to seek opinions of the Vietnam experts within the CIA, the military and the State Department. [19] The lengthy volume that emerged contained a diverse collection of opinions with some stating the South Vietnamese were making "rapid strides" while others doubted that the government in Saigon would "ever constitute an effective political or military counter to the Vietcong". [19] The "bulls" estimated that American troops would need to fight on in Vietnam for 8.3 years before the South Vietnamese would be able to fight on their own while the "bears" estimated it take 13.4 years of American troops fighting in Vietnam before the South Vietnamese would be able to fight on their own. [19] Kissinger passed the volume on to Nixon with the comment that there was no consensus within the expert community with the implied conclusion that he should be free to act on his own without consulting the experts. [19]

On 17 February 1969, Nixon then told the Soviet ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin that all matters of substance were to be go through Kissinger rather than the Secretary of State William Rogers. [20] Shortly afterwards, Kissinger met with Dobrynin to tell him that Nixon would not accept any settlement that looked like a defeat nor he want any change in the regime in Saigon, through "evolution" of the Saigon regime was acceptable. [20] Dobrynin, who served in Washington for many years had a favorable impression of Kissinger, who was not dogmatic and rigid like his predecessor W.W. Rostow nor dull and unimaginative like Dean Rusk. [20] Kissinger then set up about undermining Henry Cabot Lodge Jr, the head of the American peace delegation in Paris, as he asked Dobrynin to set up a secret meeting in Paris between him and Le Duc Tho, the most important member of the North Vietnamese delegation in Paris. [20]

On 22 February 1969, the Viet Cong launched an offensive in South Vietnam, which Kissinger called "an act of extraordinary cynicism". [21] Nixon, on a trip to Europe, took the offensive as a personal insult and wanted to bomb Cambodia in retaliation. [21] Kissinger persuaded Nixon to wait until his European trip was over. [21] Adding pressure was the claim by General Creighton Abrams, the commander of the American forces in South Vietnam, that his officers had finally found the Central Office for South Vietnam (COSVN), the headquarters that supposedly controlled the Viet Cong just over the border in Cambodia. [22] The Americans had searched for years to find the COSVN. At a meeting in Washington attended by Kissinger, two colonels sent by Abrams showed the supposed location of the COSVN in an area of Cambodia the Americans called the Fishhook and requested a bombing strike by B-52 bombers to wipe it out. [20] In early 1969, Kissinger was opposed to the plans for Operation Menu, the bombing of Cambodia, fearing that Nixon was acting rashly with no plans for the diplomatic fall-out, but on 16 March 1969 Nixon at a meeting at the White House attended by Kissinger announced the bombing would start the next day. [23] As Congress was unlikely to grant approval to bomb Cambodia, Nixon decided to go ahead without Congressional approval and kept the bombings secret, a decision that several constitutional law experts later argued was illegal. [24] On 17 March 1969, B-52 bombers started to bomb the supposed location of the COSVN in an operation code-named Breakfast Kissinger stated later that he found the name Operation Breakfast be in bad taste. [25] Through Kissinger had initially opposed Operation Menu, he started to champion the bombing as Nixon's chief of staff, H.R Haldeman wrote in his diary he "came beaming in with the reports [of the bombings], very productive". [25]

As part of the "linkage" concept, Kissinger in March 1969 sent Cyrus Vance to Moscow with the message that if the Soviet Union pressured North Vietnam into a diplomatic settlement favorable to the United States, the reward would be concessions on the talks on limiting the nuclear arms race. [26] At the same time, Kissinger met with Dobrynin to warn him that Nixon was a dangerous man who wanted to escalate the Vietnam war. [27] In April 1969, North Korea shot down a U.S. Navy plane on a spy mission, killing 31 airmen. [28] Kissinger wanted to bomb a North Korean air base in retaliation, being opposed by the Defense Secretary Melvin Laird, the Secretary of State William Rogers and General Earle Wheeler, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, who all warned that to bomb North Korea might start a second war in Asia. [28] Kissinger argued that bombing North Korea would help end the Vietnam war, saying: "Hanoi might say, 'This guy [Nixon] is becoming irrational'-and we'd better settle with him". [28] Unable to gain support at the National Security Council, Kissinger appealed to Nixon's Domestic Affair Adviser, John Ehrlichman, saying that through striking North Korea might cause a second Korean war that it might also help with the Vietnam war. [28] When Ehrlichman asked Kissinger how far things might escalate if the U.S bombed North Korea, he was told: "Well, it could go nuclear". [28] Ehrlichman came away convinced that Kissinger with his thick German accent, academic titles, advocacy of a ruthless foreign policy and a role as a senior presidential adviser seemed too much like the eponymous character of the 1964 black comedy Dr. Strangelove and advised Nixon not to strike North Korea, advice that was accepted. [28] Starting in April 1969, Kissinger pressed for a plan code-named Operation Duck Hook that see the United States return to bombing North Vietnam and possibly use nuclear weapons. [29]

Nixon and Kissinger played a "good cop-bad cop" routine with Dobrynin with Nixon acting the part of the petulant president at the end of his patience with North Vietnam while Kissinger acted as the reasonable diplomat anxious to improve relations with the Soviet Union, saying to Dobrynin in May 1969 that Nixon would "escalate the war" if the Soviet Union "didn't produce a settlement" in Vietnam. [30] At another meeting in 1969, Kissinger warned Dobrynin that "the train has just left the station and is now headed down the track", saying the Soviet Union better start pressuring North Vietnam now before Nixon did something truly reckless and dangerous. [27] The attempt at "linkage" failed as the Soviet Union did not pressure North Vietnam and instead Dobrynin told Kissinger that the Soviets wanted better relations with the United States regardless of the Vietnam war. [27] After the failure of the "linkage" attempt, Nixon became more open to the alternative strategy suggested by the Defense Secretary Melvin Laird who argued that the burden of the war should be shifted to the South Vietnamese, which was initially called "de-Americanization" and which Laird renamed Vietnamization because it sounded better. [31]

In May 1969, the Operation Menu bombing of Cambodia was leaked to the journalist William M. Beecher of the New York Times who published an article about it, which infuriated Kissinger. [24] At the time, Kissinger told the FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, "we will destroy whoever did this". [24] As a result, the phones of 13 members of Kissinger's staff were taped by the FBI without a warrant to find the leaker. [24] Nixon considered Kissinger to be "obsessive and paranoid" and was annoyed with his endless in-fighting with Laird and Rogers. [32] Kissinger accused Laird of leaking Operation Menu, saying in a phone call: "You son of bitch, I know you leaked that story and you're going to have to explain it to the president". [32] At the time, Kissinger portrayed himself to his friends at Harvard as a moderating force who was working to remove the United States from Vietnam, saying he did not want to end up like his predecessor W.W. Rostow, whose actions as National Security Adviser had caused him to be ostracized by the liberal American intelligentsia. [33]

In June 1969, the former Defense Secretary Clark Clifford published an article in Foreign Affairs calling for the withdraw of 100, 000 U.S. troops from Vietnam by the end of 1969 and all by the end of 1970. [34] Influenced by Laird, Nixon announced the immediate withdraw of 25,000 U.S. troops from Vietnam, saying: "I would hope that we could beat Mr. Clifford's timetable, just as I think we're done a little better than he did when he was in charge of our national defense". [34] Kissinger was opposed to the withdraw, which he predicted would mean the immediate collapse of South Vietnam. [34]

On 4 August 1969, Kissinger met secretly with Xuân Thủy at the Paris apartment of Jean Sainteny to discuss peace. [35] Sainteny was a former French colonial official sympathetic to Vietnamese nationalism who had offered to serve as an honest broker. Kissinger had been hoping to see Tho rather Thuy. [29] Kissinger repeated the American offer of "mutual withdrawal" of U.S and North Vietnamese forces from South Vietnam which Thủy rejected while Thủy demanded a new government in Saigon which Kissinger rejected. [35] Kissinger had a low opinion of North Vietnam, saying "I can't believe that a fourth-rate power like North Vietnam doesn't have a breaking point". [33] Kissinger was opposed to the strategy of Vietnamization, expressing some doubt about the ability of the ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam-i.e. the South Vietnamese Army) to hold the field, causing much tension with Defense Secretary Laird who was deeply committed to Vietnamization. [33] In September 1969, Kissinger in a memo advised Nixon against "de-escalation", saying that keeping U.S troops fighting in Vietnam "remains one of our few bargaining weapons". [33] In the same memo, Kissinger stated he was "deeply disturbed" that Nixon had started pulling out U.S. troops, saying that withdrawing the troops was like "salted peanuts" to the American people, "the more U.S troops come home, the more will be demanded", giving the advantage to the enemy who merely had to "wait us out". [33] Instead, he recommenced that the United States resume bombing North Vietnam and mine the coast. [33] Later in September 1969, Kissinger proposed a plan for what he called a "savage, punishing" blow against North Vietnam code-named Duck Hook to Nixon, arguing that this was the best way to force North Vietnam to agree to peace on American terms. [33] Laird was strongly opposed to Duck Hook, warning Nixon that the use of nuclear weapons to kill a massive number of North Vietnamese civilians would alienate American public opinion from the administration and persuaded Nixon to reject it. [33] Reflecting his background as a Harvard professor of political science who belonged to the Primat der Aussenpolitik school which saw foreign policy as belonging only to a small elite, Kissinger was less sensitive to public opinion than Laird, a former Republican congressman who constantly advised Nixon to keep American public opinion in mind. [33] Laird used the National Moratorium protests of 15 November 1969 to persuade Nixon to cancel Duck Hook, arguing that if the war as it was had caused the largest demonstrations ever in American history, then Kissinger's plans for Duck Hook would alienate the public even more. [36]

Kissinger played a key role in bombing Cambodia to disrupt PAVN and Viet Cong units launching raids into South Vietnam from within Cambodia's borders and resupplying their forces by using the Ho Chi Minh trail and other routes, as well as the 1970 Cambodian Incursion and subsequent widespread bombing of Khmer Rouge targets in Cambodia. The Paris peace talks had become stalemated by late 1969 owing to the obstructionism of the South Vietnamese delegation who wanted the talks to fail. [37] The South Vietnamese President Nguyễn Văn Thiệu did not want the United States to withdraw from Vietnam, and out of frustration with him, Kissinger decided to begin secret peace talks in Paris parallel to the official talks that the South Vietnamese were unaware of. [38] On 21 February 1970, in a modest house in a Paris suburb, Kissinger secretly met Lê Đức Thọ, the North Vietnamese diplomat who was to become his most tenacious adversary. [38] In 1981, Kissinger told the journalist Stanley Karnow: "I don't look back on our meetings with any great joy, yet he was a person of substance and discipline who defended the position he represented with dedication". [38] Not until February 1971 were Rogers and Laird first informed of the parallel peace talks in Paris. [38] Kissinger was to meet Tho three times between February–April 1970, and the North Vietnamese first sensed a softening of the American position during these talks as Kissinger slightly altered the "mutual withdrawal formula" that the Americans had previously held to. [39] Nixon was gravely disappointed that the secret talks in Paris did not have the prompt results he wanted. [40] Kissinger wrote in his memoirs that "historians rarely do justice to the psychological stress on a policy-maker", noting that by early 1970 Nixon was feeling very much besieged and inclined to lash out against a world he was believed was plotting his downfall. [41] Nixon had been humiliated by having two successive nominees to the Supreme Court rejected by the Senate, his failure to end the Vietnam war in 1969 as he had promised had embittered him and in early 1970 his approval ratings in the polls were declining. [41] Nixon had become obsessed with the film Patton, seeing how the film presented Patton as a solitary and misunderstood genius whom the world did not appreciate a parallel to himself and kept watching the film over and over again. [40]

In February 1970, several senators led by J. William Fulbright and Stu Symington first learned that the United States had been bombing Laos since December 1964, which led to complaints in Congress about the "secret war" in Laos. [42] Nixon reluctantly decided to admit to the "secret war", and directed Kissinger to issue the necessary statement to the media. [42] Kissinger's statement admitted to the bombing of Laos, but also claimed: "No American stationed in Laos has ever been killed in ground combat operations". [42] Two days later, it emerged that a U.S. Army captain had been killed while fighting in Laos and subsequently the Pentagon admitted that in the period February 1969-February 1970 a total of 27 Americans had killed in Laos. [42] Kissinger claimed that he had not lied, maintaining that all Americans killed in Laos were in "hot pursuit" when chasing the enemy from South Vietnam into Laos, but this argument made no impression. [42] Nixon stated: "No one cares about B-52 strikes in Laos, but people worry about our boys out there". [42] Nixon refused to see Kissinger for the next week, saying that his statement about Laos had caused him to drop 11 points in the public opinion polls. [42]

On 18 March 1970, the prime minister of Cambodia Lon Nol carried out a coup against King Sihanouk and ultimately declared Cambodia a republic. [43] On 19 March 1970 Nixon in a note to Kissinger declared: "I want Helms [the CIA director] to develop and implement a plan for maximum assistance to pro-U.S. elements in Cambodia". [44] Out of fury with Lon Nol, the king went to Beijing, where he allied himself to his former enemies, the Khmer Rouge, calling upon the Khmer people to "liberate our motherland". [41] As the most of the Khmer peasantry regarded the king as a god-like figure, the royal endorsement of the Khmer Rouge had immediate results. Cambodia had descended into chaos by late March 1970 as the Lon Nol regime, to prove its nationalist credibility, organized pogroms against the Vietnamese minority, leading the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong to attack and defeat Cambodia's weak army. [41] Nixon believed the situation in Cambodia offered the chance for him to be like Patton by doing something bold and risky. [45] Kissinger was initially ambivalent about Nixon's plans to invade Cambodia, but as he saw the president was committed, he became more and more supportive. [46] In early April 1970, Tho refused to see Kissinger anymore in Paris, saying there was nothing to discuss, which frustrated him. [47] Nixon was greatly influenced by Admiral John S. McCain Jr. who was the sort of tough, pugnacious type whom he felt a natural affinity with. [48] At a meeting at Nixon's house in San Clemente on 18 April 1970, Admiral McCain-who was completely unaware of Nixon's policy of reaching out to China-drew up a map of Southeast Asia with a Chinese dragon sticking its "bloody claws" across the region, and urged the president to invade Cambodia as the only way to stop China. [49] McCain stated that invading Cambodia to destroy the COSVN would be the decisive campaign that end China's bid to dominate Southeast Asia. [49] Kissinger who also attended the meeting in San Clemente, was less impressed with Admiral McCain, whom he afterwards compared to Popeye the Sailor Man, saying he could not believe that Nixon was taking him seriously. [50] On 23 April 1970, Nixon in a memo to Kissinger declared, "we need a bold move in Cambodia to show that we stand with Lon Nol". [46] Kissinger favored having the ARVN invade Cambodia with American air support. [51] As Kissinger spoke with passion for the invasion, Nixon told Haldeman: "Kissinger is really having fun today. He's playing Bismarck". [51] Kissinger for his part often mocked Nixon to his staff, calling him "the meatball mind" and "our drunken friend". [52] When taking calls from Nixon, Laird, and Rogers, Kissinger would often play the phone calls on the intercom that allowed his aides to listen in while making funny faces that mocked those he was taking the calls from. [32]

When Kissinger was summoned to a meeting at the White House about Cambodia, he joked: "Our peerless leader has flipped out". [52] On 26 April 1970, Nixon decided to "go for broke" by invading Cambodia with U.S troops, a decision that surprised Kissinger. [46] [52] Neither Laird nor Rogers had been invited to the meeting, which led Kissinger to phone Laird under the grounds that the defense secretary should know what was being planned. [52] Kissinger did not inform Rogers as he knew he was due to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and was likely to face hostile questions from Fulbright. [52] Kissinger wanted Rogers to truthfully say he was unaware of plans to invade Cambodia as otherwise he might be prosecuted for perjury. [52] Kissinger also contacted two conservative Southern Democratic senators who had control of key committees, Senator Richard Russell Jr and Senator John C. Stennis to inform them of the planned invasion. [52] Kissinger claimed that he was appalled by the white supremacist views of Stennis and Russell, but that he admired them for their "integrity and patriotism". [52] When Nixon's speech-writer William Safire pointed out that the use of U.S. troops violated the Nixon Doctrine that America's Asian allies should do the fighting, Kissinger snapped at him: "We wrote the goddamn doctrine, we can change it!" [53]

Kissinger was under immense strain as several of his aides were planning to resign to protest the invasion of Cambodia, and his liberal friends from Harvard were pressuring him to resign as well while Nixon was all for more belligerence. [53] Much of Kissinger's staff were deeply opposed to the invasion of Cambodia. [54] Kissinger asked one of his aides, William Watts, to be in charge of National Security Council staffing for the coming invasion. [55] Watts refused, saying he was opposed to the invasion on moral grounds, causing Kissinger to shout: "Your views represent the cowardice of the Eastern Establishment!" [55] Watts resigned on the spot. [55] As Watts was writing his resignation letter, Kissinger's deputy, Alexander Haig, appeared to tell him on behalf of Kissinger: "You've just had an order from your commander in chief. You can't quit". [55] Watts replied: "Fuck you Al! I just did". [55]

Kissinger received a phone call from Nixon and his best friend, Charles "Bebe" Rebozo, who both sounded very drunk Nixon began the call and then handed the phone to Rebozo who said: "The President wants you to know if this doesn't work, Henry, it's your ass". [53] On 30 April 1970, the United States invaded Cambodia which Nixon announced in a television address that Kissinger contemptuously called "vintage Nixon" because of his overblown rhetoric. [53] At the time, Nixon was seen as recklessly escalating the war and in early May 1970 the largest protests ever against the Vietnam War took place. [56] Four of Kissinger's aides resigned in protest while the Cambodian "incursion" ended several of Kissinger's friendships with colleagues from Harvard when he chose not to resign. [56] Two of Kissinger's senior aides, Anthony Lake and Roger Morris, in a joint resignation letter stated they could not in good conscience continue to serve the administration. [55] Nixon in his memoirs claimed that Kissinger "took a particularly hard line" with regards to the "Cambodian incursion". [56] Morris recalled that Kissinger was frightened by the huge antiwar demonstrations, comparing the antiwar movement to the Nazis. [56] Kissinger was afraid to go home to his apartment, and instead lived in his office at the White House basement during the protests against the "Cambodian incursion". [57] Kissinger was haunted by memories of his youth in Germany and had a deep distrust of mass movements of either the left or the right, favoring the Primat der Aussenpolitik school of foreign policy-making by an elite with the masses excluded. In his interview with Karnow, Kissinger maintained he felt torn about where he stood and blamed Nixon for his failure to find "the language of respect and compassion that might have created a bridge at least to the more reasonable elements of the antiwar movement". [56] When several Harvard professors called on Kissinger to resign, he claimed: "If you only knew what I am staving off the right", claiming he was opposed to the invasion. [57] After the resignations of Kissinger' aides, Nixon took away the authority to tap phones, which he had given Kissinger in May 1969, and gave it to the attorney general, John Mitchell. [32] Unknown to Kissinger, Mitchell had been illegally taping his phone since the fall of 1969. [32]

Adding to the tension, on 2 May 1970, U.S aircraft bombed North Vietnam for the first time since 1968, causing Senator Fulbright to say "Good God" when he the news while Senate Majority Leader, Mike Mansfield, said he had trouble believing that Nixon and Kissinger were so reckless. [58] To Nixon, Kissinger accused Laird and/or Rogers of leaking the news of the bombing raid on North Vietnam and asked for the FBI to tap their phones. [59] Without informing Nixon, on 4 May 1970 Laird announced the end of the bombing raids on North Vietnam. [59] On the night of 8 May 1970, Nixon, who had been rattled by the protests, stayed up all night, drinking heavily and randomly phoning people he knew. [60] Between 11:00 pm–2:00 am, Nixon made forty calls with Kissinger receiving 8 of the calls. [60] The Cambodian "incursion" saw American and South Vietnamese take the areas of eastern Cambodia that American commanders called the Fish Hook and Parrot's Beak and captured an impressive haul of arms originating from China and the Soviet Union. [61] But the majority of Vietnamese Communist forces had withdrawn deeper into Cambodia before the invasion with only a small number left behind to wage a fighting retreat to avoid charges of cowardice. [61] Kissinger suggested another meeting with Tho in Paris, only to receive a note reading: "The U.S. words of peace are just empty ones". [58] Kissinger's deputy, Haig, went to Phnom Penh to meet Lon Nol, who complained the invasion had not helped as it had only pushed the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong deeper into Cambodia. [58] In June 1970, the Americans pulled out of Cambodia and the Vietnamese Communists returned, through the loss of weapons greatly hindered their operations in the Saigon area for the rest of 1970. [62] Having committed itself to supporting Lon Nol, the United States now had two allies instead of one to support in Southeast Asia. [63]

The bombing campaign in Cambodia contributed to the chaos of the Cambodian Civil War, which saw the forces of leader Lon Nol unable to retain foreign support to combat the growing Khmer Rouge insurgency that would overthrow him in 1975. [64] [65] Documents uncovered from the Soviet archives after 1991 reveal that the North Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia in 1970 was launched at the explicit request of the Khmer Rouge and negotiated by Pol Pot's then second in command, Nuon Chea. [66] The American bombing of Cambodia resulted in 40,000 [67] –150,000 [68] deaths from 1969 to 1973, including at least 5,000 civilians. [69] Pol Pot biographer David P. Chandler argues that the bombing "had the effect the Americans wanted—it broke the Communist encirclement of Phnom Penh." [70] However, Ben Kiernan and Taylor Owen suggest that "the bombs drove ordinary Cambodians into the arms of the Khmer Rouge, a group that seemed initially to have slim prospects of revolutionary success." [71] Kissinger himself defers to others on the subject of casualty estimates. ". since I am in no position to make an accurate estimate of my own, I consulted the OSD Historian, who gave me an estimate of 50,000 based on the tonnage of bombs delivered over the period of four and a half years." [72] [ verify ] [73]

The Cambodian invasion further polarized an already deeply divided nation and the President's Commission on Campus Unrest headed by William Scranton in its report of September 1970 wrote the divisions in American society were "as deep as any since the Civil War". [74] A number of Republican politicians complained to Nixon that his stance on Vietnam was hurting their chances for congressional elections in November 1970, leading the president to say to Kissinger it was natural that liberals like Senator George McGovern and Senator Mark Hatfield wanted to "bug out. But when the Right starts wanting to get out, for whatever reason, that's our problem". [74] In an attempt to change Nixon's image, Kissinger and Nixon devised the notion of a "standstill cease-fire" where both sides would occupy whatever areas of South Vietnam they were holding at the time of the ceasefire, an offer that Nixon publicly made in a television address on 7 October 1970. [75] In his speech, Nixon apparently moved way from the "mutual withdrawal formula" the North Vietnamese kept rejecting by not mentioning it, winning much acclaim, even from his opponents like McGovern and Hatfield (through he also said the withdraw of U.S. forces would be "based on principles" he had "previously" discussed, i.e. the "mutual withdrawal formula"). [76] Kissinger and Nixon both disliked the idea of a "standstill ceasefire" as weakening South Vietnam, but fearing if Nixon continued on his present course, he would not be reelected in 1972, the offer was seen as worth the risk, especially since the North Vietnamese rejected it. [77] In private, Kissinger called the "standstill ceasefire" offer as the means that "at a minimum. would give us from temporary relief from public pressures". [78] Subsequently, Kissinger has maintained Nixon's offer of 7 October was sincere and the North Vietnamese made a major error in rejecting it. [78]

In late 1970, Kissinger met a Rand Corporation researcher, Daniel Ellsberg, who did some work for him early in the Nixon administration. [79] As a Rand Corporation researcher, Ellsberg had access to a secret history of the Vietnam war that came to be known as the Pentagon Papers, and he asked Kissinger to read the study. [79] Kissinger asked: "Do you really think we have anything to learn from that?" [80] Ellsberg stated there was much to learn, leading Kissinger to say: "But you know, we make policy very differently now". [80] Ellsberg stated: "Cambodia didn't look all that different". [80] Kissinger replied: "You must understand, Cambodia was undertaken for very complicated reasons". [80] Ellsberg in some exasperation shot back: "Henry, there hasn't been a rotten decision on Vietnam in the last ten years that wasn't undertaken for complicated reasons". [80] Kissinger in an attempt to change the subject mentioned he had hired a group of Harvard professors led by Thomas Schelling to serve as advisers, but they had all resigned in protest against the invasion of Cambodia, leading Kissinger to label them unpractical idealists who never knew nothing of power as he contemptuously noted "They never had the clearances" (i.e. access to secret information, which presumably would have changed their views). [80] Ellsberg stated "I had the clearances", leading Kissinger say "I know that. I am not speaking of you". [80] Pressing the point, Ellsberg noted "And Bundy and Rostow had the clearances. But their decisions weren't any better". [80] Speaking of his predecessor, Kissinger declared "Walt Rostow is a fool". [80] Elllsberg replied: "That may be true. But McGeorge Bundy is no fool." [80] Kissinger accepted that point, saying "No, he is not fool. But McGeorge Bundy has no sense of policy". [80]

In late 1970, Nixon and Kissinger became concerned that the North Vietnamese would launch a major offensive in 1972 to coincide with presidential election, making it imperative to cut the Ho Chi Minh Trail in 1971 to prevent the Communists from building up their forces. [81] As the Cooper–Church Amendment had forbidden U.S. troops from fighting in Laos, the plans that was conceived called for South Vietnamese troops with American air support to invade Laos to sever the Ho Chi Minh Trail in operation code-named Lam Son 719. [82] Kissinger wrote about Lam Son "the operation, conceived in doubt and assailed by skepticism, proceeded in confusion". [81] In the first major test of Vietnamization, the ARVN failed miserably. The ARVN invaded Laos on 8 February 1971 and were stopped decisively by the North Vietnamese. [83] The majority of the ARVN officers were men who began their careers fighting for the French and retained the mentalité de colonisé, automatically deferring to any white man present whatever he be French or American. [84] Without the American advisers to tell them what to do, the ARVN officers tended to freeze up with fear and paralysis as happened during Lam Son 719. [81] By contrast, the officers of the PAVN had begun their careers fighting against the French, and were accustomed to think for themselves, which gave them the edge over the ARVN. Additionally, the U.S. Army had estimated to cut the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos would require 4 U.S. Army divisions while the ARVN in the invasion of Laos had only assigned 2 divisions [81] Under the cover of air strikes flown by the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Navy, the ARVN advanced 20 miles into Laos and finally took the ruins of the town of Tchepone, which had been heavily bombed by the Americans, but were then pinned down by intense PAVN artillery fire from the hills above, making any further advance impossible. [85] In March, Kissinger sent his deputy Haig to inspect the situation personally, leading him to report that the ARVN officers lacked courage and did not want to fight, making retreat the only option. [85] The retreat when it began turned into a rout. [85] Kissinger wrote Lam Son had fallen "far short of our expectations", which he blamed on bad American planning, poor South Vietnamese tactics and Nixon's leadership style, leading Karnow to write he blamed "everyone, characteristically, except himself". [86]

In early 1971, Kissinger clashed with Daniel Ellsberg when he arrived to give a lecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. [87] Ellsberg, an ardent hawk turned equally ardent dove asked Kissinger: "What is your best estimate of the numbers of Vietnamese who will be killed in the next twelve months as a consequence of your policy?" [87] Kissinger commented that the question was clever in its wording, leading Ellsberg to say it was a basic matter of humanity. [87] Kissinger asked "What other options are there?" [87] Ellberg replied: "Can't you give us an answer?" [87] Kissinger ended up leaving the MIT without answering Ellsberg's question. [87]

In late May 1971, Kissinger returned to Paris to fruitlessly meet again with Tho. [88] The North Vietnamese demand that Thiệu step down proved to the main obstacle. [88] Kissinger did not want a repeat of the prolonged bout of political instability that characterized South Vietnam from 1963 to 1967 and believed Thiệu was a force for order. [88] Tho suggested to Kissinger that Americans "stop supporting" Thiệu who was running for the reelection in a ballot scheduled for 3 October 1971. [88] Tho claimed that Thiệu's opponents, Air Marshal Nguyễn Cao Kỳ and General Dương Văn Minh aka "Big Minh", were both open to a coalition government with the Viet Cong and had if either men were elected president, the war would be over by late 1971. [88] Thiệu used a legal technicality to disqualify Kỳ while Minh dropped out when it was clear the election was rigged. [88] In the 1971 election, the CIA donated money for Thiệu's reelection campaign while the Americans did not pressure Thiệu to stop rigging the election. [89] Through Kissinger did not regard South Vietnam as important in its own right, he believed it was necessary to support South Vietnam to maintain the United States as a global power, believing that none of America's allies would trust the United States if South Vietnam were abandoned too quickly. [88] Kissinger also believed that if South Vietnam were to collapse, it "leave deep scars on our society, feeling impulses for recrimination". [88] As a Jew who had grown up in Nazi Germany, Kissinger was haunted by how the Dolchstoßlegende had used by the German right to delegitimatize the Weimar Republic, and believed that something similar would happen in the United States should it lose the Vietnam War, fueling the rise of right-wing extremism. [88]

In June 1971, Kissinger supported Nixon's effort to ban the Pentagon Papers saying the "hemorrhage of state secrets" to the media was making diplomacy impossible. [90] Kissinger told Nixon about the leak: "No foreign country will ever trust us again. We might just as well turn it all over to the Soviets and get it over with". [91] Knowing Nixon's fears, Kissinger told him that if he did nothing "it shows that you're weak, Mr. President. The fact that some idiot can publish all the diplomatic secrets of this country on his own is damaging to your image as the Soviets are concerned and it could destroy our ability to conduct foreign policy". [91] Daniel Ellsberg, the man who leaked the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times had been consulted by Kissinger for ideas about Vietnam in late 1968-early 1969, but when he leaked the papers, Kissinger told Nixon that he was a left-wing "fanatic" and a "drug abuser". [90] Kissinger depicted Ellsberg to Nixon as a drug-crazed, sexually perverted degenerate of questionable mental stability out to ruin his administration. [91] Reflecting his increasingly frustration with the war, Nixon often talked to Kissinger in a bloodthirsty manner about a "fantasy holocaust" in which he would have U.S. forces kill every living thing in North Vietnam and then pull out, leading the latter appalled by his own account. [88]

By early 1972, Nixon boasted that he had pulled out 400,000 U.S soldiers from Vietnam since July 1969, and battle deaths had fallen from an average of 200 per week in 1969 down to an average of 10 per week in 1972. [89] The policy of Vietnamization had, as Laird predicted it would, tamed the antiwar movement as most Americans objected not to war in Vietnam per se, only to Americans dying in it. [89] With the antiwar movement in decline by 1972, Nixon believed his chances of reelection were good, but Kissinger kept complaining that he was losing "negotiating assets" in his talks with Tho every time a withdrawal of American forces was announced. [89] Likewise, Kissinger noted that the major reason why Congress despite the antiwar feelings of many of its members kept voting to fund the war was because the argument it was patriotic to support "our boys in the field" as more Americans were pulled out, Congress was less inclined to vote to fund keeping South Vietnamese "boys in the field". [89] However, the imperatives of being re-elected was far more important to Nixon than with giving Kissinger "negotiating assets". [89] In early 1972, Nixon publicly revealed that Kissinger had secretly negotiating with Tho since 1970 to prove that he was really was committed to peace in Vietnam despite what the antiwar movement had been saying about him for the last three years. [89] Reflecting Kissinger's weakening hand in his talks with Tho, Nixon had increasingly come by 1971–72 to believe that "linkage" concept of improving relations with the Soviet Union and China in exchange for those nations cutting off the supply of weapons to North Vietnam offered his best chance of a favorable peace deal. [89] On 6 April 1972, Tho requested Kissinger to meet him in Paris, a request that Kissinger rejected as "insolent". [92]

21 February 1972 was in Nixon's words "the week that changed the world" as he landed in Beijing to meet Mao Zedong. [93] Kissinger, who accompanied Nixon to China, spent much time talking to the suave Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai about Vietnam, pressing him to end the supply of arms to North Vietnam. [93] The talks went nowhere as Zhou told Kissinger that the North Vietnamese played off China against the Soviet Union, and to cut off North Vietnam would allow it to fall into the Soviet sphere of influence. [93] As the Chinese People's Liberation Army had been badly bloodied by the Red Army in a border war in 1969, Zhou stated that to face a two-front war with Chinese forces facing North Vietnam in the south and the Soviet Union in the north was not acceptable to his government. [93] Zhou offered Kissinger only the vague message that China supported efforts to find peace in Vietnam while refusing to make any promises, though Kissinger also noted that Zhou declined to endorse North Vietnam's demands. [93] Despite Nixon's coming visit, in late 1971 the Chinese drastically increased their military aid to North Vietnam and continued to send a massive amount of weapons south even as Nixon and Kissinger exchanged pleasantries with Mao and Zhou in Beijing. [94] As usual, when the Chinese increased their supply of arms to North Vietnam, the Soviet Union did likewise as both Communist states competed with one another for influence in Hanoi by tying to be the biggest supplier of weapons. [94] On 30 March 1972, the PAVN launched the Easter Offensive that overran several provinces in South Vietnam while pushing the ARVN to the brink of collapse. [95] By 1 April 1972, the 3rd ARVN division was retreating south with their families. [92] Kissinger summoned Dobrynin to the White House to accuse the Soviet Union of responsibility for the Easter Offensive, saying the North Vietnamese were fighting with Soviet-made weapons, and asked the Soviets to pressure the North Vietnamese to end the offensive. [92]

At the time of the Easter Offensive, Kissinger was deeply involved in planning for Nixon's visit to Moscow in May 1972. The offensive brought to the fore the differences between Nixon and Kissinger. Nixon threatened to cancel his summit with Leonid Brezhnev in Moscow if the Soviet Union did not force North Vietnam to end the Easter Offensive at once, saying: "Whatever else happens, we cannot lose this war. The summit isn't worth a damn if the price for it is losing in Vietnam". [96] Nixon in his instructions to Kissinger stated that he viewed the relations with the Soviet Union through the prism of the Vietnam war and if the Soviets were not prepared to help, Kissinger "should just pack up and come home". [96] Kissinger for his part believed that Nixon was massively exaggerating Soviet influence in North Vietnam and not longer believed if he ever did in Nixon's "linkage" concept. [96] Kissinger feared that Nixon was obsessed with Vietnam and damaging relations with the Soviet Union over Vietnam would destabilize the international power balance by increasing American-Soviet tensions. [96] On 20 April 1972, Kissinger arrived in Moscow without informing the U.S. ambassador Jacob D. Beam, and then went to have tea with Brezhnev in the Kremlin. [96] Nixon as usual when under stress departed for a marathon drinking session with Rebozo at Camp David, and via Haig kept sending messages to Kissinger to be tough with Brezhnev. [96] As no American president had ever visited Moscow before, Kissinger got the impression that Brezhnev wanted the planned summit to happen "at almost any cost". [96]

Despite Nixon's orders, Kissinger was rather emollient with Brezhnev and through Nixon's instructions stated he was only to discuss Vietnam, he began to talk about arms control instead. [96] Kissinger informed Brezhnev the United States wanted all of the PAVN divisions taking part in the present offensive returned to North Vietnam at once, a "demand" that many historians argue was in fact a disguised concession as Kissinger only mentioned the divisions sent south for the Eastern Offensive, presumably meaning that the PAVN divisions who had arrived before the Easter Offensive could stay, thus abandoning the "mutual withdrawal formula" that Tho had rejected out of hand so many times. [96] Kissinger in his memoirs called this claim "pure nonsense", but Tho at the time interpreted Kissinger's statement to Brezhnev in those terms. [97] Kissinger reportedly considered his demand that the three PAVN divisions engaged in the Easter Offensive to be a "throwaway" as he did not expect North Vietnam to pull any troops out of South Vietnam. [98]

Upon his return to Washington, Kissinger reported that Brezhnev would not cancel the summit and was keen to sign the SALT I Treaty. [99] Kissinger went to Paris on 3 May to meet Tho with orders from Nixon that North Vietnam must "Settle or else!" [99] Nixon complained that Kissinger was "obsessed" with the need for a peace treaty while he charged that he now wished he followed his instincts to bomb North Vietnam in 1970, saying if he had done so, the war would have been over by now. [99] On 2 May 1972, the PAVN had captured Quangtri, an important provincial city in South Vietnam, and as a result of this victory, Tho was in no mood for a compromise. [99] Through Kissinger in general shared Nixon's determination to be tough, he was afraid that the president would overreact and destroy the budding détente with the Soviet Union and China by striking too hard at North Vietnam. [99] Moreover, after the rupture caused by the Cambodian incursion, Kissigner was trying hard to rebuilt his relations with the liberal American intelligentsia, saying he did want to become "this administration's Walt Rostow". [99] Kissinger's predecessor, Rostow had once being a professor at Harvard, Oxford the MIT, and Cambridge, but serving as the National Security Adviser had shunned by the Ivy League universities and ended up at the lowly University of Texas, a fate that Kissinger was determined to avoid. [99] On 5 May 1972, Nixon ordered the U.S. Air Force to start bombing Hanoi and Haiphong and on 8 May ordered the U.S Navy to mine the coast of North Vietnam. [99] As the bombings and mining of North Vietnam, Nixon and even more so Kissinger waited anxiously for the Soviet reaction, and much to their relief received only the standard statement decrying the American action and a diplomatic note complaining that American aircraft had bombed a Soviet freighter in Haiphong harbor. [100] The Moscow summit was not canceled. [100]

On 6 May 1972, Kissinger returned to Paris to face Tho again. [101] Nixon had ordered Kissinger to be severe, saying "no nonsense. No niceness. No accommodations". [101] As a result, Kissinger was unusually unfriendly, and snapped when Tho mentioned that Senator J. William Fulbright was criticizing the Vietnam war: "Our domestic discussions are no concerns of yours". [101] Tho told Kissinger "I'm giving an example to prove that Americans share our views", and then stated that the United States had never followed the Geneva Accords. [101] Tho charged that the American terms calling for a withdraw from Vietnam months after a peace agreement was signed was unacceptable. [102] Kissinger promised that once a peace agreement was signed, a general election would be called to elect a new South Vietnamese president, Thieu would resign, and that the Communists could take in the election. [103] When Kissinger asked when Thieu should resign, Thuy told him "Tomorrow is best". [103] Kissinger replied: "All other members, except Thieu can remain in the administration, can' t they". [103] Thuy stated that they could, but there had to be release of political prisoners and press freedom, leading Kissinger to ask: "Can anybody publish a newspaper in North Vietnam? I ask for my own education". [103] On 19 July 1972, Kissinger again met Tho in Paris. [104] He asked the rhetorical question: "If the United States can accept governments in large countries that are not pro-American, why should it insist on a pro-U.S. government in Saigon?". [105] Tho charged that Kissinger was bringing nothing new. [105]

On 24 July 1972, Congress passed an act calling for the total withdrawal of all American forces from Vietnam once all of the American POWs in North Vietnam were released, causing Kissinger to say the North Vietnamese only had to wait until "Congress voted us out of the war". [100] However, the sight of Nixon and Kissinger posing for photographs with Brezhnev and Mao deeply worried the North Vietnamese who were afraid of being "sold out" by either China or the Soviet Union, causing some flexibility in their negotiating tactics. [100] The Eastern Offensive had not caused the collapse of the South Vietnamese government, but it increased the amount of territory under Communist control. [106] The North Vietnamese were moving towards taking up the "standstill ceasefire" offer and ordered the Viet Cong to seize as much territory as possible in preparation for a "leopard's spot" ceasefire (so called because the patchwork of territories controlled by the Viet Cong and the Saigon government resembled the spots on a leopard's fur). [106] On 1 August 1972, Kissinger met Tho again in Paris, and for first time, he seemed willing to compromise, saying that political and military terms of an armistice could be treated separately and hinted that his government was no longer willing to make the overthrow of Thiệu a precondition. [106] Kissinger for his part seemed keen to make a deal before the elections, saying that if an agreement was signed by 1 September, all American forces would be out of Vietnam by the end of 1972. [105] Tho demanded $8 billion in reparations for war damage, a demand that Kissinger rejected. [105]

By this time, Kissinger's deputy, Alexander Haig, was spying on him on behalf of Nixon. [105] While Kissinger remained optimistic about peace in Vietnam, Haig was pessimistic. [107] Nixon wrote on the margin of a note from Haig: “Al-it is obvious that no progress has been made and that none can be expected”. [108] On 23 August 1972, Kissinger flew to Saigon to meet Thieu and oversee the withdraw of the last U.S. combat troops from South Vietnam. [108] Thieu was distrustful of Kissinger and pressed him to maintain the "mutual withdrawal formula". [108] Kissinger did not tell him that he was on the verge of disregarding it. [108] On 15 September 1972, Kissinger at another meeting in Paris told Tho: “We wish to end before October 15-if sooner, all the better”. . [108] Haig visited Saigon to 4 October 1972 to see Thieu, who spent four hours ranting against Kissinger, accusing him of wanting to betray South Vietnam. [108] Haig sent the transcript of the conversation straight to Nixon. . [108] Nixon's chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman, wrote in his diary that Kissinger and Haig were making completely opposite conclusions, but went on to note: “Unlike ’68 when Thieu screwed Johnson, he had Nixon as an alterative. Now he has McGovern as an alternative, which would be a disaster for him, even worse than the worse possible thing that Nixon could do to him”. . [108]

In early October, Nixon demanded that Haig had to be present at all of Kissinger's meetings with Tho as he not longer trusted him. [109] On the evening of 8 October 1972 at a secret meeting of Kissinger and Tho in a house in the Paris suburb of Gif-sur-Yvette once owned by the painter Fernard Léger came the decisive breakthrough in the talks. [110] Tho believed that Kissinger was as he later it put "in a rush" for a peace deal before the presidential election, and began with he called "a very realistic and very simple proposal" for a ceasefire that would see the Americans pull all their forces out of Vietnam in exchange for the release of all the POWs in North Vietnam. [111] As for the ultimate fate of South Vietnam, Tho proposed the creation of a "council of national reconciliation" that would govern the nation, but in the meantime Thiệu could stay in power until the council was formed while a "leopard's spot" ceasefire would come into effect with the Viet Cong and the Saigon government controlling whatever territories they were had at the time of the ceasefire. [111] The "mutual withdrawal formula" was to be disregarded with PAVN forces to stay in South Vietnam with Tho giving Kissinger a vague promise that no more supplies would be sent down the Ho Chi Minh Trail. [111] Kissinger accepted Tho's offer as the most best deal possible, saying that the "mutual withdrawal formula" had to be abandoned as it been "unobtainable through ten years of war. We could not make it a condition for a final settlement. We had long passed that threshold". [111] Several of Kissinger's own staff, most notably John Negroponte, were strongly opposed to him accepting this offer, saying Kissinger had given away more than he had obtained. [111] In response to Negronponte's objections, Kissinger exploded in rage, accusing him of "nit-picking" and screamed at the top of his voice: "You don't understand. I want to meet their terms. I want to reach an agreement. I want to end this war before the election. It can be done and it will be done. What do you want us to do? Stay there forever?". [111] Kissinger told Tho that he would go to Washington and Saigon to get the approval of Nixon and Thieu, and he expected the agreement to be signed on either 25 October or 26 October. [109] On 12 October, Kissinger told Nixon “Well, you’re got three for three, Mr. President”-meaning trips to China and the Soviet Union plus a peace agreement for Vietnam. [109] Even the fact that under the peace agreement, the United States was to pay reparations to North Vietnam in the form of economic aid was seen as a benefit by Nixon, who commented that this would be a way of forcing the Vietnamese Communists to admit to the economic failures of their system. [112]

Reflecting the "leopard's spot" ceasefire, Kissinger sent Thiệu a message saying he should "seize as much territory as possible" before the ceasefire came into effect while the United States launched Operation Enhance Plus to give South Vietnam as many weapons as possible. [113] Over the course of six weeks in the fall of 1972, South Vietnam ended up with the world's fourth largest air force as the Americans provided as many war planes as they possibly could. [114] However, neither Kissinger nor Nixon appreciated that for Thiệu any sort of peace deal calling for withdrawal of American forces was unacceptable and he saw the draft peace agreement that Kissinger signed in Paris on 18 October 1972 as a betrayal. [115] Kissinger had kept the South Vietnamese in the dark about the peace deal, but the North Vietnamese had shared everything with the Viet Cong. [112] Kissinger had sent Thieu an earlier version of the peace agreement that was less accommodating to him, hoping that when he saw the final agreement, he would approve. [116] However, the ARVN had captured a 10-page summary of the peace agreement from a Viet Cong command post, and Thieu knew what the actual agreement was. [117]

On 21 October Kissinger together with the American ambassador Ellsworth Bunker arrived at the Gia Long Palace in Saigon to show Thiệu the peace agreement. [115] The meeting went extremely badly with Thiệu engaged that Kissinger did not take the time to translate the draft peace treaty into Vietnamese, bringing with him only an English language copy. [115] The meeting went from bad to worse with Thiệu having a meltdown as he broke down in tears and hysterically accused Kissinger of plotting with the Soviet Union and China to betray him, saying he could never accept this peace agreement. [115] Kissinger's statement that “Had we wanted to see you out, there would have been many easier ways by which we could have accomplished this” did not improve the mood. [118] Thiệu later stated that he wanted to punch Kissinger in the face at that meeting. [117] Thiệu refused to sign the peace agreement and demanded very extensive amendments that Kissinger reported to Nixon "verge on insanity". [115] Nixon ordered Kissinger to "push Thiệu as far as possible", but Thiệu refused to sign the peace agreement. [115] Thiệu refused to see Kissinger the next day. [117] Kissinger told one of Thieu's aides, Hoang Duc Nha, on the phone “I am the special envoy of the President of the United States of America. You know I cannot be treated as an errand boy". [117] Nha replied “We never considered you an errand boy, but if that’s what you think you are, there’s nothing I can do about it”. [117] As Kissinger returned to Washington, one of his aides recalled "In twenty-four hours, the bottom fell out". [111]

Through Nixon had initially supported Kissinger against Thiệu, but two of his most influential advisers, namely his chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman and the Domestic Affairs Adviser John Ehrlichman urged him to reconsider, arguing that Kissinger had given away too much and Thiệu's objections had merit. [119] As Thiệu sensed Nixon's changing mood, on 24 October 1972 he called a press conference to denounce the draft agreement as a betrayal and stated the Viet Cong "must be wiped out quickly and mercilessly". [119] On 25 October 1972, Kissinger held a meeting with the journalist Max Frankel of the New York Times to predict a peace agreement would occur in the next few days unless either North Vietnam or South Vietnam committed “a supreme act of folly”. [120] On October 26, North Vietnam published the draft agreement and accused the United States of tying to "sabotage" it by backing Thiệu. [119] On the same day, Kissinger who until then had never spoken to the media as National Security Adviser called a press conference at the White House to say: "We believe peace is at hand. We believe an agreement is within sight". [119] Kissinger later admitted that this statement was a major mistake as it inflated hopes for peace while enraging Nixon who saw it as weakness. [119] Nixon came very close to disavowing Kissinger as he declared the draft peace agreement had "differences that must be resolved". [119] Taking up Thiệu's cause as his own, Nixon wanted 69 amendments to the draft peace agreement included in the final treaty and ordered Kissinger back to Paris to force Tho to accept them. [119] Kissinger regarded Nixon's 69 amendments as "preposterous" as he knew Tho would never accept them. [119] By this point, Kissinger's relations with Nixon were tense while Nixon's "German shepherds" Haldeman and Ehrlichman intrigued against him. [119]

On 20 November 1972, Kissinger met Tho again in Paris. [121] Kissinger no longer aimed at secrecy and was followed by paparazzi as he went to a house owned by the French Communist Party where Tho was waiting for him. [121] Kissinger announced that the Americans wanted major changes to the peace agreement made in October to accommodate Thieu, which led Tho to accuse him of negotiating in bad faith. [121] Tho stated: "We have been deceived by the French, the Japanese and the Americans. But the deception has never been so flagrant as of now". [121] Kissinger insisted the changes he wanted were only minor, but in effect he wanted to renegotiate almost the entire agreement. [121] Kissinger wanted to eliminate all of the powers assigned to the National Reconciliation Council and for the National Liberation Front's Provisional Revolutionary Government to be prevented from signing the peace accords. [121] Tho rejected Kissinger's terms, saying he would abide by the terms agreed to on 8 October. [121] Putting more pressure, Nixon told Kissinger to break off the talks if Tho would not agree to the changes he wanted. [122] Being reelected for a second term meant Nixon was not longer concerned about public opinion as before, and in November 1972, he seriously considered firing Kissinger. [122] Through Nixon decided that Thieu's 69 amendments were unrealistic, he also wanted a demonstration of force to prove that he was still willing to stand by South Vietnam. [122] Kissinger told Nixon: "While we have a moral case for bombing North Vietnam when it does not accept our terms, it seems to be really stretching the point to bomb North Vietnam when it has accepted our terms and when South Vietnam has not". [122]

As expected, Tho refused to consider any of the 69 amendments and on 13 December 1972 left Paris for Hanoi after he accused the Americans of negotiating in bad faith. [123] Kissinger by this stage was worked up into a state of fury after Tho walked out of the Paris talks and told Nixon: "They're just a bunch of shits. Tawdry, filthy shits. They make the Russians look good, compared to the way the Russians make the Chinese look good when it comes to negotiating in a responsible and decent way". [122] [123] The National Security Adviser now advised Nixon to bomb North Vietnam to make them "talk seriously". [123] On 14 December 1972, Nixon sent an ultimatum demanding that Tho return to Paris to "negotiate seriously" within the 72 hours or else he would bomb North Vietnam without limit. [123] Knowing that Nixon was considering sacking him, Kissinger approved of his decision to resume bombing North Vietnam. [122] Kissinger told the media that while the peace agreement was "99 percent completed" but "we will not be blackmailed into an agreement. We will not be stampeded into an agreement and, if I may say so, we will not be charmed into an agreement until its conditions are right". [123] At the same time, Nixon ordered Admiral Thomas Hinman Moorer, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: "I don't want any more of this crap about the fact that we couldn't hit this target or that one. This is your chance to use military power to win this war, and if you don't, I'll hold you responsible". [123] Following the rejection of Nixon's ultimatum, on 18 December, Operation Linebacker II was launched, the so-called Christmas Bombings that lasted until 29 December 1972. [124] During these 11 days of bombing that were the heaviest bombing of the entire war, B-52 bombers flew 3, 000 sorties and dropped 40, 000 tons of bombs on Hanoi and Haiphong. [125] About 1, 261 people were killed in Hanoi and another 305 in Haiphong as the North Vietnamese authorities had pulled out most people from the two cities beforehand to escape the expected bombings. [126]

At the time of the Christmas bombings, a columnist for the New York Times, Scotty Reston, stated that based on unnamed sources that Kissinger was opposed to the Christmas bombings, and was planning to write a book that "would probably be highly embarrassing to Mr. Nixon" if he was fired. [127] Nixon accused Kissinger of talking to Reston, which he denied, until he was caught out when the White House phone log showed that he called Reston several times just before his column ran. [127] On 26 December 1972, in a press statement Hanoi indicated a willingness to resume the Paris peace talks provided that the bombing stopped. [125] On 8 January 1973, Kissinger and Tho met again in Paris and the next day reached an agreement, which in its main points was essentially the same as the one Nixon had rejected in October with only cosmetic concessions to the Americans. [125] At his meeting with Tho on 8 January 1973 in a house in the French town of Gif-sur-Yvette, Kissinger arrived to find nobody at the door to greet him. [128] When Kissinger entered the conference room, nobody spoke to him. [128] Sensing the hostile mood, Kissinger speaking in French said: "It was not my fault about the bombing". [128] Before Kissinger could say anymore, Tho exploded in rage, saying in French: "Under the pretext of interrupted negotiations, you resumed the bombing of North Vietnam, just at the moment when I reached home. You have 'greeted' my arrival in a very courteous manner! You action, I can say, is flagrant and gross! You and no one else strained the honor of the United States". [128] Tho shouted at Kissinger for over an hour, and despite Kissinger's requests not to speak so loudly because the reporters outside the room could hear what he was saying, he did not relent. [128] Tho concluded: "For more than ten years, America has used violence to beat down the Vietnamese people-napalm, B-52s. But you don't draw any lessons from your failures. You continue the same policy. Ngu xuan! Ngu xuan! Ngu xuan!". [128] When Kissinger asked what ngu xuan meant in Vietnamese, the translator refused to translate, as ngu xuan roughly means that a person is grossly stupid. [128]

When Kissinger was finally able to speak, he argued that it was Tho who by being unreasonable had forced Nixon to order the Christmas bombings, an claim that led Tho to snap in fury: "You've spent billions of dollars and many tons of bombs when we had a text ready to sign". [129] Kissigner replied: "I have heard many adjectives in your comments. I propose that you should not use them". [130] Tho answered: "I have used those adjectives with a great deal of restraint already. The world opinion, the U.S. press and U.S. political personalities have used harsher words". [130] After the tirade, negotiations proceeded well. Kissinger inserted a vaguely written paragraph calling for the withdraw of all foreign forces from South Vietnam, which Tho accepted while at the same time saying the PAVN forces were not foreign. [130] On the night of 9 January 1973, Kissinger phoned Nixon in Washington to say that a peace agreement would be signed very soon. [130] On 10 January 1973, the negotiations broke down when Kissinger demanded the release of all American POWs in North Vietnam once a peace agreement was signed, but offered no guarantees about Viet Cong prisoners being held in South Vietnam. [127] Tho stated: "I cannot accept your proposal. I completely reject it". [127] Tho wanted the release of all prisoners once a peace agreement was signed, which led Kissinger to say this was an unreasonable demand. [127] Tho who had been tortured as an young man by the French colonial police for advocating Vietnamese independence shouted: "You have never been a prisoner. You don't understand suffering. It's unfair". [127] Kissinger finally offered the concession that the United States would use "maximum influence" to pressure the South Vietnamese government to release all Viet Cong prisoners within sixty days of a peace agreement being signed. [127]

Kissinger had been interviewed by the Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci, and boasted he was "the cowboy who rides all alone into town with his horse and nothing else", saying the "amazing romantic character suits me precisely because to be alone has always been part of my character". [127] Kissinger's self-portrayal as the heroic "cowboy" who was responsible for all of the foreign policy successes of the Nixon administration enraged Nixon, who almost fired him for that interview when it was published in January 1973. [127] Kissinger denied that he made the remarks that Fallaci attributed to him, only for her to play an audio tape which proved that he did say the things that he was now denying. [127] The furor caused by the Fallaci interview distracted Kissinger from his diplomatic work in Paris. [127]

Thiệu once again rejected the peace agreement, only to receive an ultimatum from Nixon: "You must decide now whether you desire to continue our alliance or whether you want me to seek a settlement with the enemy which serves U.S. interests alone". [131] Nixon told Kissinger: "Brutality is nothing. You have never seen it if this son-of-a-bitch doesn't go along, believe me". [132] Nixon's threat served its purpose and Thiệu reluctantly accepted the peace agreement. [131] On 23 January 1973 at 12: 45 pm, Kissinger and Tho signed a peace agreement in Paris that called for the complete withdrawal of all U.S forces from Vietnam by March in exchange for North Vietnam freeing all the U.S POWs. [131] During the three years from 1969 to 1972, 20, 533 Americans had been killed in Vietnam together with about 107, 000 ARVN soldiers and as the American historian A.J. Langguth noted: ". perhaps five time that number of North Vietnamese and Vietcong troops. Civilian casualties were impossible to estimate. They may have run to a million men, women and children". [132]

In February 1973, as the Khmer Rouge continued to win victories against the Lon Nol regime, American bombing of Cambodia was increased. [133] On 15 March 1973, Nixon had implied during a speech that the United States might go back into Vietnam should the Communists violate the ceasefire, and as a result Congress began debating a bill to limit American funding for military operations in Southeast Asia. [134] On 29 March 1973, the withdrawal of the Americans from Vietnam was complete and on 1 April 1973, the last American POWs were freed. [135] The peace agreement put into effect the "leopard's spot" ceasefire with the Viet Cong being allowed to rule whatever parts of South Vietnam they held at the time of the ceasefire and all of the North Vietnamese troops in South Vietnam were allowed to stay, putting the Communists in a strong position to eventually take over South Vietnam. [131] Public opinion polls in 1973 showed that 52% of Americans were opposed to military aid to South Vietnam if North Vietnam should violate the Paris peace accords and 71% were against the return of American troops to Vietnam. [133]

In April 1973 the CIA estimated the total number of PAVN troops in South Vietnam at 150, 000 (about the same as in 1972) whereas Kissinger accused North Vietnam of moving more troops down the Ho Chi Minh Trail. [136] That month, Kissinger met with Tho in Paris to reaffirm their commitment to the Paris peace agreement and to pressure him to stop the Khmer Rouge from overrunning Cambodia. [136] Tho told Kissinger that the Khmer Rouge's leader, Pol Pot, was a Vietnamphobe and North Vietnam had very limited influence over him. [136] At the same time, Kissinger reported to Nixon that "only a miracle" could save South Vietnam now as Thiệu showed no signs of making the necessary reforms to allow the ARVN to fight. [136] His assessment of Cambodia was even more bleaker as the Lon Nol regime had lost control of much of the countryside by the spring of 1973 and only American air strikes prevented the Khmer Rouge from taking Phnom Penh. [136] Between March–May 1973, American bombers dropped 95, 000 tons of bombs on Cambodia while American fighters dropped another 15, 000 tons of bombs. [133] On 4 June 1973, the Senate passed a bill that already cleared the House of Representatives to block funding for any American military operations in Indochina and Kissinger spent much of the summer of 1973 lobbying Congress to extent the deadline to 15 August in order to keep bombing Cambodia. [136] The Lon Nol regime was saved in 1973 due to heavy American bombing, but the cutoff in funding ended the possibility of an American return to Southeast Asia. [136]

The PAVN had taken heavy losses in the Easter Offensive, but North Vietnamese were rebuilding their strength for a new offensive. [137] By the spring of 1973, Nixon was caught up in the Watergate scandal and was losing interest in foreign affairs. [134] Kissigner was angry that the Secretary of State, William Rogers, had not resigned so he take could over the State Department, shouting: "And now's he's hanging on just I said he would. Piece by piece. Bit by bit. He stays on and on and on! He will be with me forever-because he has this President wrapped around his little finger". [138] Not until August 1973 did Nixon inform Kissinger that he was sacking Rogers and appointing him as his successor. [138] Thiệu's government was still receiving massive amounts of military aid, and his regime controlled 75% of South Vietnam's territory and 85% of the population at the time of the ceasefire. [136] But Thiệu's unwillingness to crackdown on corruption and end the system under which ARVN officers were promoted for political loyalty instead of military merit were structural weaknesses that spelled long-term problems for his regime. [137] South Vietnam's economy's had heavily dependent upon the hundreds of millions brought in by spending by the U.S. military and the withdraw of American forces threw the economy into recession. Even more damaging was the Arab oil shock of 1973–74 which destabilized South Vietnam's economy and by the summer of 1974 90% of the ARVN's soldiers were not receiving enough pay to support themselves and their families. [139]

Along with North Vietnamese Politburo Member Le Duc Tho, Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on December 10, 1973, for their work in negotiating the ceasefires contained in the Paris Peace Accords on "Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam", signed the previous January. [140] According to Irwin Abrams, this prize was the most controversial to date. For the first time in the history of the Peace Prize, two members left the Nobel Committee in protest. [141] [142] Tho rejected the award, telling Kissinger that peace had not been restored in South Vietnam. [143] Kissinger wrote to the Nobel Committee that he accepted the award "with humility," [144] [145] and "donated the entire proceeds to the children of American servicemembers killed or missing in action in Indochina." [146] After the Fall of Saigon in 1975, Kissinger attempted to return the award. [146] [147] On 9 August 1974, Nixon resigned as president as he was on the brink of being impeached by Congress and was replaced as president by his vice president Gerald Ford. Ford kept Kissinger on as both National Security Adviser and Secretary of State.

Kissinger and Lord in China: A How-To Guide for Secret Negotiations

At the height of the Cold War, with the death toll mounting in Vietnam and the split between the USSR and China becoming more and more evident, it became clear to the Nixon Administration that ending the war in Vietnam and opening relations with China could be a two-front victory. However, because of the sensitive nature of negotiating with the United States’ ideological enemies, negotiations had to remain secret. This was particularly difficult with China, given that Washington had no established contact with Beijing.

Like something out of James Bond, Henry Kissinger (who served as National Security Advisor from 1969-1975 and Secretary of State from 1973-1977) and his Special Assistant, Winston Lord, used secret flights and body doubles to pull off the talks with both the Chinese and North Vietnamese. The talks on China were by far the more successful, as they led to President Richard Nixon’s historic trip to China in 1972, which reopened ties with the Communist country for the first time since 1949.

Winston Lord was one of Kissinger’s closest confidantes and accompanied him to both the Paris negotiations and to China. He describes the exhausting logistical challenges of undertaking trans-Atlantic trips to negotiate in Paris and the difficulty of juggling three different agendas while on a trip to Pakistan that served as cover for a secret overnight rendezvous with the Chinese that led to Nixon’s trip in 1971. Ambassador Lord was interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy and Nancy Bernkopf Tucker beginning in April 1998.

Read an abbreviated version of this Moment on Huffington Post. Ambassador Lord’s account of Nixon’s trip to China and how his phones were bugged during Watergate. You can read about the Blood Telegram criticizing U.S. policy in Pakistan, which Kissinger and Nixon ignored as they pushed for a channel to China. Read other Moments on China.

“We had no way of communicating directly with the Chinese”

LORD: [President Richard] Nixon sent [National Security Advisor Henry] Kissinger a memo on February 1, 1969, approximately one week after his inauguration as President. I can’t reconstruct this memo verbatim, but basically he instructed Kissinger to find a way to get in touch with the Chinese. This was one of the earliest instructions that Kissinger got from Nixon.

Of course, Kissinger was all in favor of doing this. We had the following challenge, among a lot of other challenges. You have to remember that we had had 20 years of mutual hostility and just about total isolation from China. We had no way of communicating directly with the Chinese.

First, in terms of communications, the only way to get in touch with the Chinese was through third parties….There were various channels that Nixon and Kissinger tried to use to get word to the Chinese. In a general sense, they were looking for a new beginning. One involved using [former French President Charles] de Gaulle and the French, another was Romania, and we finally, of course, settled on Pakistan.

So we began with indirect negotiations and communications. These warmed up, and we’ll come back to that later on. We finally settled, as I say, on the Pakistani channel. Pakistan had the advantage of being a friend to both sides. There was no danger of Russian involvement, as we might have had if we had used Romania.

As we got into May and June 1971 and with messages transmitted through the Pakistanis we settled on the dates, places, and everything else. I know that we had to bring our Ambassador to Pakistan, [Joseph S.] Farland, into the preparations, and the CIA, about how we would do this. Farland came to the U.S., I believe California, for consultations. We got some special briefcases from the CIA with locks on them, and we began to get ready for the Kissinger trip to China.

Together with [Senior Staff Member for the Far East of the National Security Council John H.] Holdridge, I began feeding Kissinger with lots of briefing material, some of which we would get from the bureaucracy in innocent ways and other materials which we produced ourselves. Kissinger chose three people to go to China with him. Myself, as a sort of global sidekick, Holdridge as the Asia and China expert, and [NSC Staff Member] Dick Smyser, as the Vietnam expert. The Vietnam issue would be a significant factor in the discussions in China. Those were the four, including Kissinger himself, whom he chose to go into China, as well as two Secret Service agents.

Now, as you recall, there was a publicly announced trip that Kissinger took. It included Vietnam, Thailand, India, and Pakistan. Then Kissinger was supposed to return to Washington through Paris. That was the public itinerary. However, the game plan was to go off secretly to Beijing from Pakistan and by pleading illness and the need to go to a Pakistani hill station to spend a couple of days allegedly recuperating while, in fact, Kissinger was secretly going into China.

Ironically, Kissinger came down with a real stomach-ache in India, and so he actually was sick in advance of this secret trip. He covered this up as much as possible, because he wanted to save his real illness until he arrived in Pakistan. I should point out that for the public trip the key U.S. Air Force Special Missions aircraft were taken up for one reason or another. We had a rather poor aircraft. It had no windows and was quite noisy, as I recall.

I had the rather incredible job of juggling three types of briefing memos and schedules. There were three groups of people on this flight. In one group were Kissinger, Holdridge, Smyser, and myself, who not only knew that we were going into China but also were privy to the talking points, the strategy, and all of the stuff that we needed to get ready. Not to mention the logistic details on when we would sneak out of Pakistan and how we would do it. This was all on a tightly constricted aircraft, I might add, on which we were going around to these other places. So I would have to keep those briefing memos up to date, including the logistics, the schedule, and the substance.

There was the constant harassment by Kissinger of keeping them up to date and in not too gentle a fashion. I had to make sure that only Kissinger, Smyser, and Holdridge would see certain briefing books. I’m talking about people sitting right next to each other on the plane, some of whom knew of the secret trip to China and some of whom did not.

Then there was another group. I know that it included Hal Saunders, NSC Specialist for Near Eastern Affairs, who was along because we were visiting India and Pakistan. People in this group knew that we were going into China, because they had to help cover for us. However, they had no need to know what our strategy and talking points were with the Chinese. So Hal and a couple of others had another series of briefing books. These were sanitized or excerpted copies of the other memos.

There was the third group of people who didn’t even know that we were going to China. They had to get a completely different set of logistics and non-substantive memos, as well as substantive papers on matters with which they were concerned.

“There was a Secret Service agent in a car, slumped over, who played Kissinger”

We went publicly to Pakistan. There was a public banquet the first night. We went back to the government guest house. We packed and, at about 3:00 a.m. we were driven to the Islamabad airport by the Pakistani Foreign Minister I believe — Sultan Khan. It seems that they’re all named Khan. I’ve seen him since. We went to President Yahya Khan’s plane. Apparently, there was one reporter from some news service who thought he saw us and reported this to his editor. The editor said that the reporter was crazy and spiked the story.

On that morning the story was put out that Kissinger was not feeling well and, at the invitation of the Pakistanis, he was going up to a hill station [mountain resort] to recuperate for a day.

There was a Secret Service agent in a car, slumped over. It wasn’t supposed to be an impersonation but he played Kissinger up to the hill station and, I believe, Hal Saunders was with him. So there was a motorcade going up to the hill station. All of this was done fairly early in the morning so that there were no journalists around.

Arrangements were to be made for a Pakistani doctor to attend to Kissinger at the hill station. This doesn’t make much sense to me but the way I heard this story, the Pakistanis asked one doctor: “Do you know what Henry Kissinger looks like?”

He said: “Yes.” They said: “We’re sorry, but you’re the wrong man.” So they get another one.

In addition, a couple of Pakistani cabinet ministers who were in on this charade went up to the hill station as if they were paying a call on Kissinger. Meanwhile, of course, we were in China.

At the end of that day the Pakistanis put out a communiqué saying that Kissinger still didn’t feel very well and was going to stay another day at the hill station. This meant that our whole public schedule in Islamabad had to be slipped because we were supposed to leave Pakistan for Paris on the following day. So the rest of the schedule had to be slipped a day. So that was the cover on that front. I don’t how many people besides Hal Saunders knew about this, but he and Ambassador Farland were the key men in this respect.

We took off for China and we left about 4:00 a.m. Smyser, Holdridge, Kissinger, and I, plus two Secret Service agents, named Reedy and McLeod, arrived at the airport in Islamabad. Reedy was the senior Secret Service agent, and he knew where we were going as we went to the airport. The other Secret Service agent had no idea.

We boarded the plane and found four Chinese already seated there. I may be exaggerating this in retrospect but I believe that McLeod went to draw his pistol, because he was so surprised to see these Chinese on the airplane. One of the four Chinese in the plane was Zhang Wen-jin, an Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs in charge of American affairs and a key negotiator with us, just below the Foreign Minister level.

Dick Smyser and I were sitting ahead of Kissinger in the back of the plane. The air crew, of course, was composed of Pakistani cabin attendants and Pakistani pilots, navigators, and flight engineers. No American official had been in China since 1949, so we would be the first American officials to visit China in 22 years.

By my good fortune Smyser was called to the back of the plane by Kissinger for consultations just before we got to the border between China and Pakistan. All of the others, in addition to Smyser but not including me, were in the back of the plane with Kissinger. So, as we crossed the border, I was in the front of the plane. So I’ve said ever since then, in case the question should ever come up, that I was the first American official to visit China since 1949! I’ve said, on some occasions, that I deliberately raced to the front of the plane to do that, but that’s slightly gilding the lily.

Obviously, there was a great sense of drama. As the sun came up, we were passing K-2, the second highest mountain in the world. It was right outside our window, with the sun on it. Remember, we were in a Pakistani plane with the usual windows. We had left the nearly windowless KC-135 jet back at Islamabad. There was a sense of drama that we were going to the most populous country in the world, after 22 years and there were all of the geopolitical implications of that.

“Kissinger and I and the others walked around outside, because we knew that we were being bugged”

We landed at the military side of the airport outside of Beijing….We entered limousines with curtains drawn, so people couldn’t see into them. Then we drove into Beijing through Tiananmen Square and past the Great Hall of the People to a place called Dayoutai, which is the guest house compound for very important visitors.

We were then secretly ensconced there. We had a banquet that night, sitting around with Zhou En-lai. We had discussions with him which, according to Kissinger’s book, lasted for 17 hours. We were in China for a total of 49 hours.

We wanted to make it look essentially that the Chinese wanted President Nixon to come to China. The Chinese essentially wanted to make it look as if Nixon wanted to come to China and that the Chinese were gracious enough to invite him. So we went through our first, agonizing process of negotiation on that issue. At one point we broke off the negotiation, not in a huff, but just recognizing that we were at an impasse. We thought that the Chinese were coming back to the negotiations within a couple of hours.

Kissinger and I and the others walked around outside, because we knew that we were being bugged, and we couldn’t discuss strategy and tactics unless we walked outside. Probably the trees were bugged, too. Who knows? I remember that we waited for hours and hours. The Chinese were probably trying to keep us off balance and were probably working out their own position.

Finally, the Chinese came back, and we resumed the discussion and worked this issue out. I forget the exact language used in the brief communiqué which was made public. The formulation used went something like this: “Knowing of President Nixon’s interest in visiting China…” And in fact he had expressed an interest in visiting China in general. The formulation went on that the Chinese had invited him. So it wasn’t as if the Chinese wanted Nixon to come to China and were going out of their way. They used the formulation that they invited him because they had heard about his interest in visiting China. On the other hand, Nixon wasn’t begging to go to China. So it was a fair compromise.

The Chinese closed off the Forbidden City of Beijing to tourists so that we could visit it privately and on our own. It was a very hot, mid-July day. I was carrying either one or two of these very heavy briefcases. We had to take them everywhere with us. We didn’t dare leave them anywhere for security reasons. Of course, it was dramatic to see the Forbidden City all by ourselves. It was also very hot, carrying those damned briefcases around.

When we finished drafting the communiqué, we got back on the plane and returned to Pakistan. We successfully re-inserted ourselves in the charade which had been worked out in Islamabad. We then went on to Paris the next day.

It so happens, and we’ll get back to this, that while we were publicly in Paris, we secretly snuck off and met with the Vietnamese communists. Indeed, this was one of the more forthcoming meetings with them. Afterwards Kissinger and I thought, somewhat naively, that we had pulled off two, historic encounters in one trip: the opening toward China and moving toward settling the Vietnam War.

Obviously, we were very excited when we got back to Washington. I recall the awkwardness, and I did feel bad about that, when we were flying out from Washington to meet with President Nixon at San Clemente, California, a day or two before the announcement about the Nixon trip, and I was sitting on the plane with U. Alexis Johnson, the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs. He didn’t know anything about the trip which we had made to China.

To be flying out with him, knowing that in the next two days there was going to be an announcement on China, and he didn’t even know about it, left me feeling very awkward indeed. I still remember that.

We got out to San Clemente and worked on Nixon’s announcement. Nixon’s inclination, and I think that he was entirely right, was to keep his remarks very short. It was so dramatic that he didn’t need to elaborate. He could get away with a few sentences or a few paragraphs. The eventual announcement was only a few hundred words long.

Nixon announced in advance that he would be making a statement. Most of the press speculated that it was going to be on Vietnam, as they figured that almost anything would be on Vietnam. None of them knew that it was going to be on China. So we had some tense moments during the 24 hours or 48 hours out in San Clemente, putting together this announcement and, also, the game plan for informing, rather belatedly, countries around the world, not to mention our own government.

We did this at the last minute. So that was a dramatic time. Then, of course, Nixon went on TV and made the announcement. Everyone knows what a dramatic impact it had.

“People didn’t even know that there were secret negotiations going on”

Along with the first, secret trip to China…the secret trips to Paris to negotiate with the Vietnamese communists and try to negotiate an end to the anguish of this war were clearly dramatic highlights in my experience. There were the national interest and the James Bond aspects of these contacts, the secrecy and the high level of the negotiations, as well as the emotional aspects involved of trying to end a long and bloody war with all the domestic trauma as well.

In 1970 and 1971, and in January 1972, these meetings were secret and never announced. People didn’t even know that there were secret negotiations going on — not only the public but also other agencies. Meanwhile, there were sterile public talks with the North Vietnamese in Paris that were essentially propaganda exchanges.

In January 1972, President Nixon made a major speech in which he revealed that secret negotiations were going on with the Vietnamese communists. After that, we didn’t announce in advance that we were going to meet with the Vietnamese communists, because we didn’t want to have people locking themselves into public positions and raising expectations.

However, once we had announced in January 1972, that a secret channel was being used, from then on immediately after meetings, we made an announcement that we had met again with the Vietnamese communists and made some general statement about making some progress — or the lack of it.

I went to Paris with Kissinger to negotiate with the Vietnamese communists. Generally, the negotiating team consisted of Kissinger, myself, a Vietnam expert (Dick Smyser, in 1970-1971, and John Negroponte in 1971-1972), plus, at times, Peter Rodman, who was also on Kissinger’s staff. Usually, that was about it.

The other person who participated from the American side was Major General Vernon Walters (pictured with General Eisenhower), who had a distinguished career later in many other respects, including that of Ambassador to the UN and Ambassador to Germany. He was there as an interpreter, in the sense that in the early going we would present our views in English, Walters would translate them into French, and the North Vietnamese would translate the French into Vietnamese.

We finally reached the point where we had an American interpreter (David Engle) who could translate our views directly into Vietnamese. This saved some time and avoided some of the possibilities of inaccuracies resulting from trilateral language use (English to French to Vietnamese and vice versa).

[The South Vietnamese] were not there. We would keep them informed afterwards, through a secret channel through Ellsworth Bunker, our Ambassador to Vietnam in Saigon. This involved double encoding, using a back channel from the White House to Saigon, but only Ambassador Bunker, one Special Assistant, and one communicator knew about it. It was very carefully encrypted and handled on a very close-hold basis. Ambassador Bunker would report to South Vietnamese President Thieu, also on a close-hold basis, on what had happened.

These were general reports. In fact, we did not go into a lot of detail, but it was enough to keep the South Vietnamese generally posted on what was going on. So those were the only people who were aware of these contacts. Our negotiators in Paris who were handling the public sessions were not aware of the secret talks.

“When a secret negotiation was set up, I would leave the NSC late on a Friday evening, after my usual 80- to 100-hour work week”

For the secret negotiations I would usually leave my NSC office on Friday evening. Without exception, I believe, these sessions took place on weekends and/or public holidays. For example, July 4, Labor Day, and so forth. Otherwise, we handled them on Saturdays and Sundays, that is, the regular weekends.

The obvious point was that, since these sessions were secret, we didn’t want people wondering where Kissinger was. There would obviously be less notice of his absence over a weekend than in the middle of the week. Al Haig would always cover for Kissinger, saying that he couldn’t bother Henry with inquiries during the weekend. So the secret negotiations were always held on the weekend. Only the President, Al Haig (pictured), the Deputy Security Adviser H. R. Haldemann, the President’s Chief of Staff, and a few others on the NSC would know about Kissinger’s absence.

So when a secret negotiation was set up, I would leave the NSC office late on a Friday evening, after my usual 80- to 100-hour work week, say goodbye to my colleagues, in effect making the case that I wasn’t coming into work the next day for I always came in to work on Saturdays. I would then go home.

Early on Saturday morning, a White House car would come to my house in Washington, pick me up, and take me to Andrews Air Force Base, where one of the U.S. Air Force Special Mission aircraft would be waiting…. Kissinger, Dick Smyser or later John Negroponte, and sometimes Peter Rodman (latter stages) would also be there. (You can also read Philip Habib’s account of the secret negotiations.)

We would get on the plane…. On the way over to Paris we continued to discuss the agenda. Keep in mind that I had already put in an 80- to 100-hour week at the NSC and helped to prepare the briefing books with Dick Smyser or John Negroponte. Kissinger always asked for revisions to these briefing books during the week.…Kissinger would always work on this before he left but would also rework these papers on the way. So we would work all the way over to Paris on the plane.

We would fly into an airfield in central France. It was in the middle of France, not in the Paris area. First, flying into Paris would be too obvious. Secondly, the cover for these flights was that they were training flights for the Air Force. We probably landed at a French military air base for that reason.

We would get out of Air Force Two, walk a few steps, and transfer to a smaller French military jet. We would be met at that point by General Walters, who was the Military Attaché in the Embassy in Paris. He was the go between us and the French Government for these flights. He would make arrangements with a man named Jobert, who was a Special Assistant to French President Pompidou, and later Foreign Minister. The French military jet that we used was, in fact, one of president Pompidou’s aircraft. So we would get into the French president’s executive jet with General Walters and fly into a French airport in the Paris area.

“We had codenames…”

On arrival in Paris we got into Walters’ car, which was a rental car, not his own car with diplomatic license plates. We drove to his apartment, where we spent the rest of the night. We had code names, because sometimes Walters’ French cleaning woman would come in. Luckily, she didn’t recognize Kissinger in the morning when we would get up. I forget what his code name was. I had some Jewish code name. I believe it was Lowenstein, for I reasons I can’t recall.

We would arrive at General Walters’ apartment. I don’t remember the exact time, but there was a time difference we had left Washington early on a Saturday morning. There is a six-hour time difference between Washington and Paris. By the time we got to Walters’ apartment, it would be close to midnight, Paris time, so we would pretty much have to go to bed.

With the six-hour time difference, by then it was late afternoon, Washington time, on Saturday, so we would go to bed, I couldn’t sleep. I didn’t dare take a sleeping pill. I would usually lie awake and then get to sleep an hour or two before the alarm would go off. We would have to get up at 7:00 a.m., Paris time, on the Sunday. That was about 1:00 a.m. Washington time, or very early on Sunday morning, so it was murder to get up then.

We would then drive to a safe house in one of the suburbs of Paris. The North Vietnamese would be there, waiting for us. We would then have meetings, for never less than three or four hours and sometimes as much as ten hours, during which Smyser and I, and later on, Negroponte, would have to take verbatim notes. We didn’t have a secretary with us. We should have taken a stenographer, and I think that we did for some of the later meetings. We also had some help from Peter Rodman when he was on the later trips. (Peter Rodman and John Negroponte en route to Paris, January 1973. White House Photo)

So we took verbatim notes. As I mentioned previously, Kissinger really wanted verbatim notes, including his jokes and everything else. Luckily, the translations, even if just from English to Vietnamese and vice versa, gave us some time to catch up in keeping the verbatim notes.

Then, when we finished, we would drive back to the Paris airport, get into the French President’s plane, fly to the air base in central France, pick up Air Force Two, and fly back to Washington. On the way back we worked the entire time, first writing a memo for President Nixon, reporting what had happened, and, perhaps, suggesting where do we go from here. Then we would begin to transcribe our verbatim notes on the meeting.

We would get back to Andrews Air Force Base between 9:00 and 11:00 p.m., Washington time, on Sunday. Of course, by now it was early Monday morning, Paris time. So I would go home and come into the NSC office on Monday morning, Washington time. By then I was absolutely exhausted. Ostensibly, I not only had not worked throughout the weekend but had had a nice, 48-hour break! I somehow had to look bright and lively as someone would who had had a free weekend off.

These trips almost always messed up weekends and holidays, although a couple of times we had secret talks as part of public trips elsewhere. Once we went to London for other reasons, and we flew across the English Channel, secretly, to Paris to negotiate with the Vietnamese. Then we flew back to London. On another occasion, in July 1971, we were in Paris on our way back from a secret trip to China. Not only did the world not know about our secret trip to China, but, while we were publicly in Paris, we had secret negotiations again with the North Vietnamese.

Vietnam War: Nixon Tries Secret Talks, but Also Invades Cambodia

This is Rich Kleinfeldt. And this is Doug Johnson with THE MAKING OF A NATION -- a VOA Special English program about the history of the United States.

Today, we continue the story of the thirty-seventh president of the United States, Richard Nixon.

It is 1969 in America. Richard Nixon is in the first year of his first term in office. His biggest foreign policy problem is the continuing war in Vietnam.

During the election campaign, he had promised to do something to end the war. Some Americans believe the United States should withdraw from Vietnam immediately. Bring the soldiers back home, they say.

Others believe the United States should take whatever measures are necessary to win. Expand the ground war, they say, or use nuclear weapons.

The decision is not easy. Withdrawing allied troops would leave South Vietnam alone to fight against communist North Vietnam. And that was the reason the United States became involved in the conflict. It wanted to prevent the Communists from taking over the South. Expanding the military effort would mean more deaths.

Already, by 1969, more Americans had died in Vietnam than in the Korean War.

For Richard Nixon, the war is a terrible test. If he is not able to deal with it, his presidency could end like Lyndon Johnson's ended. Johnson decided not to run for re-election after he lost public and political support for his war policies.

How did the new president deal with the problem? Like Johnson, he made decisions based on information from his advisers. His most important adviser was Henry Kissinger. Kissinger was an expert on foreign relations. He later served as Nixon's secretary of state.

Together, they tried many ways to settle the conflict in Vietnam. It took several years to end American involvement there.

The American efforts were both diplomatic and military. The Nixon administration started new, secret peace talks in Paris. The official peace talks were taking place in Paris at the same time. The administration withdrew some troops from Vietnam.

Yet it sent other troops into Cambodia secretly. And it began dropping bombs on Laos. It also started dropping bombs on North Vietnam again. Former president Johnson had stopped the bomb attacks a few years earlier.

Efforts to end American involvement did not begin suddenly. For his first eight months in office, President Nixon made no major policy changes. Then, in October 1969, he ordered the withdrawal of sixty thousand troops.

He said he acted to speed the peace talks. He also ordered American commanders to give the South Vietnamese most of the responsibility for fighting.

Americans were happy that fewer troops would be involved. But many were unhappy that the withdrawal was not complete. Huge anti-war demonstrations took place in the United States in the autumn of 1969. On November fifteenth, several hundred thousand people protested in Washington, D.C.

President Nixon tried to explain his policy to anti-war protesters. A slow withdrawal of troops is not the easy way, he told them, but it is the right way. He also continued his efforts for a military victory.

In the spring of 1970, American and South Vietnamese troops invaded Cambodia. They attacked Communist supply centers there. Early the following year, the Nixon administration decided to provide air and artillery support for a South Vietnamese invasion of Laos. The goal was to stop supplies from reaching North Vietnam through that country.

The military action in Laos lasted forty-four days. South Vietnamese forces destroyed many enemy weapons. However, they also suffered many deaths and injuries. And many American planes were shot down. After six weeks, the South Vietnamese were forced to withdraw.

Many members of the United States Congress were angry. They said the invasion of Laos was another in a long series of failures. The Nixon administration had said that the United States was winning the war. Opposition lawmakers said the administration was lying. Criticism by the American public grew louder, too.

President Nixon answered by saying again that the United States must not permit North Vietnam to take over South Vietnam. Former president Johnson had said the same thing. For a long time, many Americans accepted it. As the war continued, however, public opinion changed.

In 1965, sixty-one percent of those questioned approved the war. By 1971, sixty-one percent did not approve.

The official peace talks in Paris offered little hope of settlement. Over a period of several years, each side made proposals. Then each side rejected the proposals. One American observer said: "As long as either side thinks it can win a military victory, there is no hope for official peace talks."

President Nixon wanted to ease public tension and anger over the war. So he announced that Henry Kissinger had held twelve secret meetings with North Vietnamese officials. But the secret meetings made no more progress than the official talks.

In late March 1972, North Vietnam launched a major offensive. In May, Nixon ordered increased bomb attacks against roads and railways in the North. By the end of August, the communist offensive had been stopped. Yet many lives had been lost. The pressure to withdraw American forces grew stronger.

For the next five months, the Nixon administration continued a policy of official talks, secret meetings, and increased military action. Finally, the president announced that an agreement had been reached at the peace talks in Paris. There would be a ceasefire. And negotiators from the United States, South Vietnam, North Vietnam, and the Viet Cong would sign the official agreement.

Under the terms of the agreement, all American and allied forces would withdraw from South Vietnam. The North and South would be free to settle their conflict without interference from other countries. President Nixon made the official announcement from the White House.

RICHARD NIXON: "At twelve-thirty Paris time today, January 23, 1973, the agreement on ending the war and restoring peace in Vietnam was initialed by Doctor Henry Kissinger on behalf of the United States and special adviser Le Duc Tho on behalf of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. The agreement will be formally signed by the parties participating in the Paris conference on Vietnam on January 27, 1973, at the international conference center in Paris. .

"The United States and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam express the hope that this agreement will insure stable peace in Vietnam and contribute to the preservation of lasting peace in Indochina and Southeast Asia."

Another foreign policy problem during the Nixon administration was China. The president had much greater success dealing with this problem than with Vietnam. Communists took power in China in 1949. However, the United States did not recognize the Communist government. Instead, it recognized the Nationalist government in Taiwan.

In the early 1970s, the Nixon administration began trying to improve relations. It eased restrictions on travel to China. And it supported a visit to China by the United States table tennis team. Then, President Nixon made a surprise announcement. He, too, would visit China.

The historic event took place in February, 1972. Chinese leaders Mao Zedong and Zhou En-lai greeted the American president. Nixon and Zhou held talks that opened new possibilities for trade. The next year, Nixon sent a representative to open a diplomatic office in Beijing. After more than twenty years, the two countries were communicating again. They established official relations in 1979.

Many Americans expressed pleasure that tensions between the two countries had decreased. Many were proud to see their president standing on the Great Wall of China.

History experts would later agree that it was the greatest moment in the presidency of Richard Nixon.

This program of THE MAKING OF A NATION was written by Jeri Watson and produced by Paul Thompson. This is Rich Kleinfeldt. And this is Doug Johnson. Join us again next week for another VOA Special English program about the history of the United States.

The Viet Nam Negotiations

The peace negotiations in Paris have been marked by the classic Vietnamese syndrome: optimism alternating with bewilderment euphoria giving way to frustration. The halt to the bombing produced another wave of high hope. Yet it was followed almost immediately by the dispute with Saigon over its participation in the talks. The merits of this issue aside, we must realize that a civil war which has torn a society for twenty years and which has involved the great powers is unlikely to be settled in a single dramatic stroke. Even if there were mutual trust-a commodity not in excessive supply- the complexity of the issues and the difficulty of grasping their interrelationship would make for complicated negotiations. Throughout the war, criteria by which to measure progress have been hard to come by this problem has continued during the negotiations. The dilemma is that almost any statement about Viet Nam is likely to be true unfortunately, truth does not guarantee relevance.

The sequence of events that led to negotiations probably started with General Westmorland's visit to Washington in November 1967. On that occasion, General Westmoreland told a Joint Session of Congress that the war was being won militarily. He outlined "indicators" of progress and stated that a limited withdrawal of American combat forces might be undertaken beginning late in 1968. On January 17, 1968, President Johnson, in his State of the Union address, emphasized that the pacification program- the extension of the control of Saigon into the countryside-was progressing satisfactorily. Sixty-seven percent of the population of South Viet Nam lived in relatively secure areas the figure was expected to rise. A week later, the Tet offensive overthrew the assumptions of American strategy.

What had gone wrong? The basic problem has been conceptual: the tendency to apply traditional maxims of both strategy and "nation-building" to a situation which they did not fit.

American military strategy followed the classic doctrine that victory depended on a combination of control of territory and attrition of the opponent. Therefore, the majority of the American forces was deployed along the frontiers of South Viet Nam to prevent enemy infiltration and in the Central Highlands where most of the North Vietnamese main-force units-those units organized along traditional military lines-were concentrated. The theory was that defeat of the main forces would cause the guerrillas to wither on the vine. Victory would depend on inflicting casualties substantially greater than those we suffered until Hanoi's losses became "unacceptable."

This strategy suffered from two disabilities: (a) the nature of guerrilla warfare (b) the asymmetry in the definition of what constituted unacceptable losses. A guerrilla war differs from traditional military operation because its key prize is not control of territory but control of the population. This depends, in part, on psychological criteria, especially a sense of security. No positive program can succeed unless the population feels safe from terror or reprisal. Guerrillas rarely seek to hold real estate their tactic is to use terror and intimidation to discourage coöperation with constituted authority.

The distribution of the population in Viet Nam makes this problem particularly acute. Over 90 percent of the population live in the coastal plain and the Mekong Delta the Central Highlands and the frontiers, on the other hand, are essentially unpopulated. Eighty percent of American forces came to be concentrated in areas containing less than 4 percent of the population the locale of military operations was geographically removed from that of the guerrilla conflict. As North Vietnamese theoretical writings never tired of pointing out, the United States could not hold territory and protect the population simultaneously. By opting for military victory through attrition, the American strategy produced what came to be the characteristic feature of the Vietnamese war: military successes that could not be translated into permanent political advantage. (Even the goal of stopping infiltration was very hard to implement in the trackless, nearly impenetrable jungles along the Cambodian and Laotian frontiers.)

As a result, the American conception of security came to have little in common with the experience of the Vietnamese villagers. American maps classified areas by three categories of control, neatly shown in various colors: Government, contested and Viet Cong. The formal criteria were complicated, and depended to an unusual extent on reports by officers whose short terms of duty (barely 12 months) made it next to impossible for them to grasp the intangibles and nuances which constitute the real elements of control in the Vietnamese countryside. In essence, the first category included all villages which contained some governmental authority "contested" referred to areas slated to be entered by governmental cadres. The American notion of security was a reflection of Western administrative theory control was assumed to be in the hands of one of the contestants more or less exclusively.

But the actual situation in Viet Nam was quite different a realistic security map would have shown few areas of exclusive jurisdiction the pervasive experience of the Vietnamese villager was the ubiquitousness of both sides. Saigon controlled much of the country in the daytime, in the sense that government troops could move anywhere if they went in sufficient force the Viet Cong dominated a large part of the same population at night. For the villagers, the presence of Government during the day had to be weighed against its absence after dark, when Saigon's cadres almost invariably withdrew into the district or provincial capitals. If armed teams of administrators considered the villages unsafe at night, the villagers could hardly be expected to resist the guerrillas. Thus, the typical pattern in Viet Nam has been dual control, with the villagers complying with whatever force was dominant during a particular part of the day.

The political impact of this dual control was far from symmetrical, however. To be effective, the Government had to demonstrate a very great capacity to provide protection probably well over 90 percent. The guerrillas' aim was largely negative: to prevent the consolidation of governmental authority. They did not need to destroy all governmental programs indeed in some areas, they made no effort to interfere with them. They did have to demonstrate a capability to punish individuals who threw in their lot with Saigon. An occasional assassination or raid served to shake confidence for months afterwards.

The North Vietnamese and Viet Cong had another advantage which they used skillfully. American "victories" were empty unless they laid the basis for an eventual withdrawal. The North Vietnamese and Viet Cong, fighting in their own country, needed merely to keep in being forces sufficiently strong to dominate the population after the United States tired of the war. We fought a military war our opponents fought a political one. We sought physical attrition our opponents aimed for our psychological exhaustion. In the process, we lost sight of one of the cardinal maxims of guerrilla war: the guerrilla wins if he does not lose. The conventional army loses if it does not win. The North Vietnamese used their main forces the way a bullfighter uses his cape-to keep us lunging in areas of marginal political importance.

The strategy of attrition failed to reduce the guerrillas and was in difficulty even with respect to the North Vietnamese main forces. Since Hanoi made no attempt to hold any territory, and since the terrain of the Central Highlands cloaked North Vietnamese movements, it proved difficult to make the opposing forces fight except at places which they chose. Indeed, a considerable majority of engagements came to be initiated by the other side this enabled Hanoi to regulate its casualties (and ours) at least within certain limits. The so-called "kill-ratios" of United States to North Vietnamese casualties became highly unreliable indicators. Even when the figures were accurate they were irrelevant, because the level of what was "unacceptable" to Americans fighting thousands of miles from home turned out to be much lower than that of Hanoi fighting on Vietnamese soil.

All this caused our military operations to have little relationship to our declared political objectives. Progress in establishing a political base was excruciatingly slow our diplomacy and our strategy were conducted in isolation from each other. President Johnson had announced repeatedly that we would be ready to negotiate, unconditionally, at any moment, anywhere. This, in effect, left the timing of negotiations to the other side. But short of a complete collapse of the opponent, our military deployment was not well designed to support negotiations. For purposes of negotiating, we would have been better off with 100 percent control over 60 percent of the country than with 60 percent control of 100 percent of the country.

The effort to strengthen Saigon's political control faced other problems. To be effective, the so-called pacification program had to meet two conditions: (a) it had to provide security for the population (b) it had to establish a political and institutional link between the villages and Saigon. Neither condition was ever met: impatience to show "progress" in the strategy of attrition caused us to give low priority to protection of the population in any event, there was no concept as to how to bring about a political framework relating Saigon to the countryside. As a result, economic programs had to carry an excessive load. In Viet Nam-as in most developing countries-the overwhelming problem is not to buttress but to develop a political framework. Economic progress that undermines the existing patterns of obligation-which are generally personal or feudal- serves to accentuate the need for political institutions. One ironic aspect of the war in Viet Nam is that, while we profess an idealistic philosophy, our failures have been due to an excessive reliance on material factors. The communists, by contrast, holding to a materialistic interpretation, owe many of their successes to their ability to supply an answer to the question of the nature and foundation of political authority.

The Tet offensive brought to a head the compounded weaknesses-or, as the North Vietnamese say, the internal contradictions-of the American position. To be sure, from a strictly military point of view, Tet was an American victory. Viet Cong casualties were very high in many provinces, the Viet Cong infrastructure of guerrillas and shadow administrators surfaced and could be severely mauled by American forces. But in a guerrilla war, purely military considerations are not decisive: psychological and political factors loom at least as large.

On that level the Tet offensive was a political defeat in the countryside for Saigon and the United States. Two claims had been pressed on the villages. The United States and Saigon had promised that they would be able to protect an ever larger number of villages. The Viet Cong had never made such a claim they merely asserted that they were the real power and presence in the villages and they threatened retribution upon those who collaborated with Saigon or the United States.

As happened so often in the past, the Viet Cong made their claim stick. Some twenty provincial capitals were occupied. Though the Viet Cong held none (except Hué) for more than a few days, they were there long enough to execute hundreds of Vietnamese on the basis of previously prepared lists. The words "secure area" never had the same significance for Vietnamese civilians as for Americans, but, if the term had any meaning, it applied to the provincial and district capitals. This was precisely where the Tet offensive took its most severe toll. The Viet Cong had made a point which far transcended military considerations in importance: there are no secure areas for Vietnamese civilians. This has compounded the already great tendency of the Vietnamese population to await developments and not to commit itself irrevocably to the Saigon Government. The withdrawal of government troops from the countryside to protect the cities and the consequent increase in Viet Cong activity in the villages even in the daytime have served to strengthen this trend. One result of the Tet offensive was to delay-perhaps indefinitely-the consolidation of governmental authority, which in turn is the only meaningful definition of "victory" in guerrilla warfare.

For all these reasons, the Tet offensive marked the watershed of the American effort. Henceforth, no matter how effective our actions, the prevalent strategy could no longer achieve its objectives within a period or with force levels politically acceptable to the American people. This realization caused Washington, for the first time, to put a ceiling on the number of troops for Viet Nam. Denied the very large additional forces requested, the military command in Viet Nam felt obliged to begin a gradual change from its peripheral strategy to one concentrating on the protection of the populated areas. This made inevitable an eventual commitment to a political solution and marked the beginning of the quest for a negotiated settlement. Thus the stage was set for President Johnson's speech of March 31, which ushered in the current negotiations.


Of course, the popular picture that negotiations began in May is only partially correct. The United States and Hanoi have rarely been out of touch since the American commitment in Viet Nam started to escalate. Not all these contacts have been face to face. Some have been by means of public pronouncements. Between 1965 and 1968, the various parties publicly stated their positions in a variety of forums: Hanoi announced Four Points, the NLF put forth Five Points, Saigon advanced Seven Points and the United States-perhaps due to its larger bureaucracy-promulgated Fourteen.

These public pronouncements produced a fairly wide area of apparent agreement on some general principles: that the Geneva Accords could form the basis of a settlement, that American forces would be withdrawn ultimately, that the reunification of Viet Nam should come about through direct negotiation between the Vietnamese, that (after a settlement) Viet Nam would not contain foreign bases. The United States has indicated that three of Hanoi's Four Points are acceptable.1

There is disagreement about the status of Hanoi's forces in the South indeed, Hanoi has yet to admit that it has forces in the South-though it has prepared a "fall-back position'' to the effect that North Vietnamese forces in the South cannot be considered "external." The role of the NLF is equally in dispute. Saigon rejects a separate political role for the NLF the NLF considers Saigon a puppet régime. There is no agreement about the meaning of those propositions which sound alike or on how they are to be enforced.

In addition to negotiations by public pronouncements, there have been secret contacts which have been described in many books and articles.2 It has been alleged that these contacts have failed because of a lack of imagination or a failure of coördination within our Government. (There have also been charges of deliberate sabotage.) A fair assessment of these criticisms will not be possible for many years. But it is clear that many critics vastly oversimplify the problem. Good will may not always have been present but even were it to motivate all sides, rapid, dramatic results would be unlikely. For all parties face enormous difficulties. Indeed, the tendency of each side to overestimate the freedom of man?uvre of the other has almost certainly increased distrust. It has caused Hanoi to appear perversely obstinate to Washington and Washington to seem devious to Hanoi.

Both the Hanoi Government and the United States are limited in their freedom of action by the state of mind of the population of South Viet Nam which will ultimately determine the outcome of the conflict. The Vietnamese people have lived under foreign rule for approximately half of their history. They have maintained a remarkable cultural and social cohesion by being finely attuned to the realities of power. To survive, the Vietnamese have had to learn to calculate-almost instinctively-the real balance of forces. If negotiations give the impression of being a camouflaged surrender, there will be nothing left to negotiate. Support for the side which seems to be losing will collapse. Thus, all the parties are aware- Hanoi explicitly, for it does not view war and negotiation as separate processes we in a more complicated bureaucratic manner-that the way negotiations are carried out is almost as important as what is negotiated. The choreography of how one enters negotiations, what is settled first and in what manner is inseparable from the substance of the issues.

Wariness is thus imposed on the negotiators a series of deadlocks is difficult to avoid. There are no "easy" issues, for each issue is symbolic and therefore in a way prejudges the final settlement. On its merits, the debate about the site of the conference-extending over a period of four weeks in April and May-was trivial. Judged intellectually, the four weeks were "wasted." But they did serve a useful function: they enabled the United States to let Saigon get used to the idea that there would be negotiations and to maintain that it retained control over events. It would not be surprising if Hanoi had a similar problem with the NLF.

The same problem was illustrated by the way the decision to stop the bombing was presented. Within twenty-four hours after announcement of the halt, both Hanoi and Saigon made statements of extraordinary bellicosity, which, taken literally, would have doomed the substantive talks about to begin. But their real purpose was to reassure each side's supporters in the South. Saigon especially has had a difficult problem. It has been pictured by many as perversely stubborn because of its haggling over the status of the NLF. However, to Saigon, the status of the NLF cannot be a procedural matter. For South Viet Nam it has been very nearly the central issue of the war. Washington must bear at least part of the responsibility for underestimating the depth and seriousness of this concern.

The situation confronted by Washington and Hanoi internationally is scarcely less complex. Much of the bitter debate in the United States about the war has been conducted in terms of 1961 and 1962. Unquestionably, the failure at that time to analyze adequately the geopolitical importance of Viet Nam contributed to the current dilemma. But the commitment of 500,000 Americans has settled the issue of the importance of Viet Nam. For what is involved now is confidence in American promises. However fashionable it is to ridicule the terms "credibility" or "prestige," they are not empty phrases other nations can gear their actions to ours only if they can count on our steadiness. The collapse of the American effort in Viet Nam would not mollify many critics most of them would simply add the charge of unreliability to the accusation of bad judgment. Those whose safety or national goals depend on American commitments could only be dismayed. In many parts of the world-the Middle East, Europe, Latin America, even Japan- stability depends on confidence in American promises. Unilateral withdrawal, or a settlement which unintentionally amounts to the same thing, could therefore lead to the erosion of restraints and to an even more dangerous international situation. No American policymaker can simply dismiss these dangers.

Hanoi's position is at least as complicated. Its concerns are not global they are xenophobically Vietnamese (which includes, of course, hegemonial ambitions in Laos and Cambodia). But Hanoi is extraordinarily dependent on the international environment. It could not continue the war without foreign material assistance. It counts almost as heavily on the pressures of world public opinion. Any event that detracts from global preoccupations with the war in Viet Nam thus diminishes Hanoi's bargaining position. From this point of view, the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia was a major setback for Hanoi.

Hanoi's margin of survival is so narrow that precise calculation has become a way of life caution is almost an obsession. Its bargaining position depends on a fine assessment of international factors-especially of the jungle of intra-communist relations. In order to retain its autonomy, Hanoi must man?uvre skillfully between Peking, Moscow and the NLF. Hanoi has no desire to become completely dependent on one of the communist giants. But, since they disagree violently, they reinforce Hanoi's already strong tendency toward obscurantist formulations. In short, Hanoi's freedom of man?uvre is severely limited.

The same is true of the Soviet Union, whose large-scale aid to Hanoi makes it a semi-participant in the war. Moscow must be torn by contradictory inclinations. A complete victory for Hanoi would tend to benefit Peking in the struggle for influence among the communist parties of the world it would support the Chinese argument that intransigence toward the United States is, if not without risk, at least relatively manageable. But a defeat of Hanoi would demonstrate Soviet inability to protect "fraternal" communist countries against the United States. It would also weaken a potential barrier to Chinese influence in Southeast Asia and enable Peking to turn its full fury on Moscow. For a long time, Moscow has seemed paralyzed by conflicting considerations and bureaucratic inertia.

Events in Czechoslovakia have reduced Moscow's usefulness even further. We would compound the heavy costs of our pallid reaction to events in Czechoslovakia if our allies could blame it on a quid pro quo for Soviet assistance in extricating us from Southeast Asia. Washington therefore requires great delicacy in dealing with Moscow on the Viet Nam issue. It cannot be in the American interest to add fuel to the already widespread charge that the superpowers are sacrificing their allies to maintain spheres of influence.

This state of affairs would be enough to explain prolonged negotiations progressing through a series of apparent stalemates. In addition, a vast gulf in cultural and bureaucratic style between Hanoi and Washington complicates matters further. It would be difficult to imagine two societies less meant to understand each other than the Vietnamese and the American. History and culture combine to produce almost morbid suspiciousness on the part of the Vietnamese. Because survival has depended on a subtle skill in manipulating physically stronger foreigners, the Vietnamese style of communication is indirect and, by American standards, devious-qualities which avoid a total commitment and an overt test of strength. The fear of being made to look foolish seems to transcend most other considerations. Even if the United States accepted Hanoi's maximum program, the result might well be months of haggling while Hanoi looked for our "angle" and made sure that no other concessions were likely to be forthcoming.

These tendencies are magnified by communist ideology, which defines the United States as inherently hostile, and by Hanoi's experience in previous negotiations with the United States. It may well feel that the Geneva Conferences of 1954 and 1962 (over Laos) deprived it of part of its achievements on the battlefield.

All this produces the particular negotiating style of Hanoi: the careful planning, the subtle, indirect methods, the preference for opaque communications which keep open as many options as possible toward both foe and friend (the latter may seem equally important to Hanoi). North Viet Nam's diplomacy operates in cycles of reconnaissance and withdrawal to give an opportunity to assess the opponent's reaction. This is then followed by another diplomatic sortie to consolidate the achievements of the previous phase or to try another route. In this sense, many contacts with Hanoi which seemed "abortive" to us, probably served (from Hanoi's point of view) the function of defining the terrain. The methods of Hanoi's diplomacy are not very different from Viet Cong military strategy and sometimes appear just as impenetrable to us.

If this analysis is correct, few North Vietnamese moves are accidental even the most obtuse communication is likely to serve a purpose. On the other hand, it is not a style which easily lends itself to the sort of analysis at which we excel: the pragmatic, legal dissection of individual cases. Where Hanoi makes a fetish of planning, Washington is allergic to it. We prefer to deal with cases as they arise, "on their merits." Pronouncements that the United States is ready to negotiate do not guarantee that a negotiating position exists or that the U.S. Government has articulated its objectives.

Until a conference comes to be scheduled, two groups in the American bureaucracy usually combine to thwart the elaboration of a negotiating position: those who oppose negotiations and those who favor them. The opponents generally equate negotiations with surrender if they agree to discuss settlement terms at all, it is to define the conditions of the enemy's capitulation. Aware of this tendency and of the reluctance of the top echelon to expend capital on settling disputes which involve no immediate practical consequences, the advocates of negotiations coöperate in avoiding the issue. Moreover, delay serves their own purposes in that it enables them to reserve freedom of action for the conference room.

Pragmatism and bureaucracy thus combine to produce a diplomatic style marked by rigidity in advance of formal negotiations and excessive reliance on tactical considerations once negotiations start. In the preliminary phases, we generally lack a negotiating program during the conference, bargaining considerations tend to shape internal discussions. In the process, we deprive ourselves of criteria by which to judge progress. The over-concern with tactics suppresses a feeling for nuance and for intangibles.

The incompatibility of the American and North Vietnamese styles of diplomacy produced, for a long time, a massive breakdown of communication- especially in the preliminary phases of negotiation. While Hanoi was feeling its way toward negotiations, it bent all its ingenuity to avoid clear-cut, formal commitments. Ambiguity permitted Hanoi to probe without giving away much in return Hanoi has no peers in slicing the salami very thin. It wanted the context of events rather than a formal document to define its obligations, lest its relations with Peking or the NLF be compromised.

Washington was unequipped for this mode of communication. To a government which equates commitments with legally enforceable obligations, Hanoi's subtle changes of tense were literally incomprehensible. In a press conference in February 1968, President Johnson said, "As near as I am able to detect, Hanoi has not changed its course of conduct since the very first response it made. Sometimes they will change 'will' to 'would' or 'shall' to 'should,' or something of the kind. But the answer is all the same." A different kind of analysis might have inquired why Hanoi would open up a channel for a meaningless communication, especially in the light of a record of careful planning which made it extremely unlikely that a change of tense would be inadvertent.

Whatever the might-have-beens, Hanoi appeared to Washington as devious, deceitful and tricky. To Hanoi, Washington must have seemed, if not obtuse, then cannily purposeful. In any event, the deadlock produced by the difference in negotiating style concerned specific clauses less than the philosophical issue of the nature of an international "commitment" or the meaning of "trickery." This problem lay at the heart of the impasse over the bombing halt.


The bombing halt occupied the first six months of the Paris talks. The formal positions were relatively straightforward. The American view was contained in the so-called San Antonio formula which was put forth by President Johnson in September 1967: "The United States is willing to stop all aerial and naval bombardment of North Viet Nam when this will lead promptly to productive discussions. We, of course, assume that while discussions proceed, North Viet Nam would not take advantage of the bombing cessation or limitation." In its main outlines, the American position remained unchanged throughout the negotiations.

Hanoi's reaction was equally simple and stark. It scored the obvious debating point that it could guarantee useful but not "productive" talks since that depended also on the United States.3 But in the main, Hanoi adamantly insisted that the bombing halt had to be "unconditional." It rejected all American proposals for reciprocity as put forward, for example, by Secretary Rusk: respect for the DMZ, no attack on South Vietnamese cities, reduction in the level of military operations.

Though this deadlock had many causes, surely a central problem was the difficulty each side had in articulating its real concern. Washington feared "trickery" it believed that once stopped, the bombing would be politically difficult, if not impossible, to start again even in the face of considerable provocation. Too, it needed some assurance as to how the negotiations would proceed after a bombing halt. Washington was aware that a bombing halt which did not lead rapidly to substantive talks could not be sustained domestically.

The legalistic phrasing of these concerns obscured their real merit. If bombing were resumed under conditions of great public indignation, it would be much harder to exercise restraint in the choice of targets and much more difficult to stop again in order to test Hanoi's intentions. The frequently heard advice to "take risks for peace" is valid only if one is aware that the consequences of an imprudent risk are likely to be escalation rather than peace.

Hanoi, in turn, had a special reason for insisting on an unconditional end of the bombing. A government as subtle as Hanoi must have known that there are no "unconditional" acts in the relation of sovereign states, if only because sovereignty implies the right to reassess changing conditions unilaterally. But Hanoi has always placed great reliance on the pressures of world opinion the "illegality" of U.S. bombing was therefore a potent political weapon. Reciprocity would jeopardize this claim it would suggest that bombing might be justified in some circumstances. Hanoi did not want a formula under which the United States could resume bombing "legally" by charging violations of an understanding. Finally, Hanoi was eager to give the impression to its supporters in the South that it had induced us to stop "unconditionally" as a symbol of imminent victory. For the same reason, it was important to us that both sides in South Viet Nam believe there had been reciprocity.

As a result, six months were devoted to defining a quid pro quo which could be represented as unconditional. The issue of the bombing halt thus raised the question of the nature of an international commitment. What is the sanction for violation of an understanding? The United States, for a long time, conducted itself as if its principal safeguard was a formal, binding commitment by Hanoi to certain restraints. In fact, since no court exists to which the United States could take Hanoi, the American sanction was what the United States could do unilaterally should Hanoi "take advantage" of the bombing pause. Hanoi's fear of the consequences is a more certain protection against trickery than a formal commitment. Communicating what we meant by taking advantage turned out to be more important than eliciting a formal North Vietnamese response.

The final settlement of the problem seems to have been arrived at by this procedure. In his address announcing the bombing halt, President Johnson stressed that Hanoi is clear about our definition of "take advantage." Hanoi has not formally acknowledged these terms it has, in fact, insisted that the bombing halt was unconditional. But Hanoi can have little doubt that the bombing halt would not survive if it disregarded the points publically stated by Secretary Rusk and President Johnson.

If the negotiations about the bombing halt demonstrate that tacit bargaining may play a crucial role in an ultimate settlement, they also show the extraordinary danger of neglecting the political framework. Washington had insisted throughout the negotiations that Saigon participate in the substantive talks which were to follow a bombing halt. President Johnson, in his speech announcing the bombing halt, implied that Saigon's participation satisfied the requirement of the San Antonio formula for "productive talks." How we came to insist on a condition which was basically neither in our interest nor Saigon's cannot be determined until the records are available-if then. It should have been clear that the participation of Saigon was bound to raise the issues of the status of the NLF and the internal structure of Viet Nam-issues which, as will be seen below, it is in everybody's interest to defer to as late a stage of the negotiations as possible.

Having made Saigon's participation a test case, we advanced the "your side, our side" formula. Under it, Saigon and the NLF are to participate in the conference. Each side can claim that it is composed of two delegations its opponent is free to insist that it really deals with only one delegation. Thus the United States does not "recognize" the NLF and insists that Hanoi is its negotiating partner Hanoi can take a similar view and maintain its refusal to deal formally with Saigon. It is difficult to disentangle from public sources whether Saigon ever agreed to this formula and whether it understood that our formula amounted to giving the NLF equal status.4

On the face of it, Saigon's reluctance to accept equal status with the NLF is comprehensible for it tends to affect all other issues, from ceasefire to internal structure. The merits of the dispute aside, the public rift between Saigon and Washington compromised what had been achieved. To split Washington and Saigon had been a constant objective of Hanoi if the Paris talks turn into an instrument to accomplish this, Hanoi will be tempted to use them for political warfare rather than for serious discussions.

Clearly, there is a point beyond which Saigon cannot be given a veto over negotiations. But equally, it is not preposterous for Saigon to insist on a major voice in decisions affecting its own country. And it cannot strengthen our position in Paris to begin the substantive discussions with a public row over the status of a government whose constitutionality we have insistently pressed on the world for the past two years. The impasse has demonstrated that to deal with issues on an ad hoc basis is too risky before we go much further in negotiations, we need an agreed concept of ultimate goals and how to achieve them.


Substantive negotiations confront the United States with a major conceptual problem: whether to proceed step by step, discussing each item "on its merits," or whether to begin by attempting to get agreement about some ultimate goals.

The difference is not trivial. If the negotiations proceed step by step through a formal agenda, the danger is great that the bombing halt will turn out to be an admission ticket to another deadlock. The issues are so interrelated that a partial settlement foreshadows the ultimate outcome and therefore contains all of its complexities. Mutual distrust and the absence of clarity as to final goals combine to produce an extraordinary incentive to submit all proposals to the most searching scrutiny and to erect hedges for failure or bad faith.

This is well illustrated by two schemes which public debate has identified as suitable topics for the next stage of negotiations: ceasefire and coalition government.

It has become axiomatic that a bombing halt would lead-almost automatically- to a ceasefire. However, negotiating a ceasefire may well be tantamount to establishing the preconditions of a political settlement. If there existed a front line with unchallenged control behind it, as in Korea, the solution would be traditional and relatively simple: the two sides could stop shooting at each other and the ceasefire line could follow the front line. But there are no front lines in Viet Nam control is not territorial, it depends on who has forces in a given area and on the time of day. If a ceasefire permits the Government to move without challenge, day or night, it will amount to a Saigon victory. If Saigon is prevented from entering certain areas, it means in effect partition which, as in Laos, tends toward permanency. Unlike Laos, however, the pattern would be a crazy quilt, with enclaves of conflicting loyalties all over the country.

This would involve the following additional problems: (1) It would lead to an intense scramble to establish predominant control before the ceasefire went into effect. (2) It would make next to impossible the verification of any withdrawal of North Vietnamese forces that might be negotiated the local authorities in areas of preponderant communist control would doubtless certify that no external forces were present and impede any effort at international inspection. (3) It would raise the problem of the applicability of a ceasefire to guerrilla activity in the non-communist part of the country in other words, how to deal with the asymmetry between the actions of regular and of guerrilla forces. Regular forces operate on a scale which makes possible a relatively precise definition of what is permitted and what is proscribed guerrilla forces, by contrast, can be effective through isolated acts of terror difficult to distinguish from normal criminal activity.

There would be many other problems: who collects taxes and how, who enforces the ceasefire and by what means. In other words, a tacit de facto ceasefire may prove more attainable than a negotiated one. By the same token, a formal ceasefire is likely to predetermine the ultimate settlement and tend toward partition. Ceasefire is thus not so much a step toward a final settlement as a form of it.

This is even more true of another staple of the Viet Nam debate: the notion of a coalition government. Of course, there are two meanings of the term: as a means of legitimizing partition, indeed as a disguise for continuing the civil war or as a "true" coalition government attempting to govern the whole country. In the first case, a coalition government would be a façade with non-communist and communist ministries in effect governing their own parts of the country. This is what happened in Laos, where each party in the "coalition government" wound up with its own armed forces and its own territorial administration. The central government did not exercise any truly national functions. Each side carried on its own business-including civil war. But in Laos, each side controlled contiguous territory, not a series of enclaves as in South Viet Nam. Too, of all the ways to bring about partition, negotiations about a coalition government are the most dangerous because the mere participation of the United States in talking about it could change the political landscape of South Viet Nam.

Coalition government is perhaps the most emotionally charged issue in Viet Nam, where it tends to be identified with the second meaning: a joint Saigon-NLF administration of the entire country. There can be no American objection, of course, to direct negotiations between Saigon and the NLF. The issue is whether the United States should be party to an attempt to impose a coalition government. We must be clear that our involvement in such an effort may well destroy the existing political structure of South Viet Nam and thus lead to a communist takeover.

Some urge negotiations on a coalition government for precisely this reason: as a face-saving formula for arranging the communist political victory which they consider inevitable. But those who believe that the political evolution of South Viet Nam should not be foreclosed by an American decision must realize that the subject of a coalition government is the most thankless and tricky area for negotiation by outsiders.

The notion that a coalition government represents a "compromise" which will permit a new political evolution hardly does justice to Vietnamese conditions. Even the non-communist groups have demonstrated the difficulty Vietnamese have in compromising differences. It is beyond imagination that parties that have been murdering and betraying each other for 25 years could work together as a team giving joint instructions to the entire country. The image of a line of command extending from Saigon into the countryside is hardly true of the non-communist government in Saigon. It would be absurd in the case of a coalition government. Such a government would possess no authority other than that of each minister over the forces he controlled either through personal or party loyalty.

To take just one example of the difficulties: Communist ministers would be foolhardy in the extreme if they entered Saigon without bringing along sufficient military force for their protection. But the introduction of communist military forces into the chief bastion of governmental strength would change the balance of political forces in South Viet Nam. The danger of a coalition government is that it would decouple the non-communist elements from effective control over their armed forces and police, leaving them unable to defend themselves adequately.

In short, negotiations seeking to impose a coalition from the outside are likely to change markedly and irreversibly the political process in South Viet Nam-as Vietnamese who believe that a coalition government cannot work quickly choose sides. We would, in effect, be settling the war on an issue least amenable to outside influence, with respect to which we have the least grasp of conditions and the long-term implications of which are most problematical.

This is not to say that the United States should resist an outcome freely negotiated among the Vietnamese. It does suggest that any negotiation on this point by the United States is likely to lead either to an impasse or to the collapse of Saigon.


Paradoxical as it may seem, the best way to make progress where distrust is so deep and the issues so interrelated may be to seek agreement on ultimate goals first and to work back to the details to implement them.

This requires an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of both sides. Hanoi's strength is that it is fighting among its own people in familiar territory, while the United States is fighting far away. As long as Hanoi can preserve some political assets in the South, it retains the prospect of an ultimately favorable political outcome. Not surprisingly, Hanoi has shown a superior grasp of the local situation and a greater capacity to design military operations for political ends. Hanoi relies on world opinion and American domestic pressures it believes that the unpopularity of the war in Viet Nam will ultimately force an American withdrawal.

Hanoi's weaknesses are that superior planning can substitute for material resources only up to a point. Beyond it, differences of scale are bound to become significant and a continuation of the war will require a degree of foreign assistance which may threaten North Viet Nam's autonomy. This Hanoi has jealously safeguarded until now. A prolonged, even if ultimately victorious war might leave Viet Nam so exhausted as to jeopardize the purpose of decades of struggle.

Moreover, a country as sensitive to international currents as North Viet Nam cannot be reassured by recent developments. The Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia removed Viet Nam as the principal concern of world opinion, at least for a while. Some countries heretofore critical of the United States remembered their own peril and their need for American protection this served to reduce the intensity of public pressures on America. Hanoi's support of Moscow demonstrated the degree of Hanoi's dependence on the U.S.S.R. it also may have been intended to forestall Soviet pressures on Hanoi to be more flexible by putting Moscow in Hanoi's debt. Whatever the reason, the vision of a Titoist Viet Nam suddenly seemed less plausible-all the more so as Moscow's justification for the invasion of Czechoslovakia can provide a theoretical basis for an eventual Chinese move against North Viet Nam. Finally, the Soviet doctrine according to which Moscow has a right to intervene to protect socialist domestic structures made a Sino- Soviet war at least conceivable. For Moscow's accusations against Peking have been, if anything, even sharper than those against Prague. But in case of a Sino-Soviet conflict, Hanoi would be left high and dry. International crises threatening to overshadow Viet Nam in successive years-the Middle East in 1967 Central Europe in 1968-thus may have convinced Hanoi that time is not necessarily on its side.

American assets and liabilities are the reverse of these. No matter how irrelevant some of our political conceptions or how insensitive our strategy, we are so powerful that Hanoi is simply unable to defeat us militarily. By its own efforts, Hanoi cannot force the withdrawal of American forces from South Viet Nam. Indeed, a substantial improvement in the American military position seems to have taken place. As a result, we have achieved our minimum objective: Hanoi is unable to gain a military victory. Since it cannot force our withdrawal, it must negotiate about it. Unfortunately, our military strength has no political corollary we have been unable so far to create a political structure that could survive military opposition from Hanoi after we withdraw.

The structure of the negotiation is thus quite different from Korea. There are no front lines with secure areas behind them. In Viet Nam, negotiations do not ratify a military status quo but create a new political reality. There are no unambiguous tests of relative political and military strength. The political situation for both sides is precarious-within Viet Nam for the United States, internationally for Hanoi. Thus it is probable that neither side can risk a negotiation so prolonged as that of Panmunjom a decade and a half ago. In such a situation, a favorable outcome depends on a clear definition of objectives. The limits of the American commitment can be expressed in two propositions: first, the United States cannot accept a military defeat, or a change in the political structure of South Viet Nam brought about by external military force second, once North Vietnamese forces and pressures are removed, the United States has no obligation to maintain a government in Saigon by force.

American objectives should therefore be (1) to bring about a staged withdrawal of external forces, North Vietnamese and American, (2) thereby to create a maximum incentive for the contending forces in South Viet Nam to work out a political agreement. The structure and content of such an agreement must be left to the South Vietnamese. It could take place formally on the national level. Or, it could occur locally on the provincial level where even now tacit accommodations are not unusual in many areas such as the Mekong Delta.

The details of a phased, mutual withdrawal are not decisive for our present purposes and, in any case, would have to be left to negotiations. It is possible, however, to list some principles: the withdrawal should be over a sufficiently long period so that a genuine indigenous political process has a chance to become established the contending sides in South Viet Nam should commit themselves not to pursue their objectives by force while the withdrawal of external forces is going on in so far as possible, the definition of what constitutes a suitable political process or structure should be left to the South Vietnamese, with the schedule for mutual withdrawal creating the time frame for an agreement.

The United States, then, should concentrate on the subject of the mutual withdrawal of external forces and avoid negotiating about the internal structure of South Viet Nam for as long as possible. The primary responsibility for negotiating the internal structure of South Viet Nam should be left for direct negotiations among the South Vietnamese. If we involve ourselves deeply in the issue of South Viet Nam's internal arrangements, we shall find ourselves in a morass of complexities subject to two major disadvantages. First, we will be the party in the negotiation least attuned to the subtleties of Vietnamese politics. Second, we are likely to wind up applying the greater part of our pressure against Saigon as the seeming obstacle to an accommodation. The result may be the complete demoralization of Saigon, profound domestic tensions within the United States and a prolonged stalemate or a resumption of the war.

Whatever the approach, the negotiating procedure becomes vital indeed, it may well determine the outcome and the speed with which it is achieved.

Tying the bombing halt to Saigon's participation in the substantive discussions was probably unwise-all the more so as Hanoi seems to have been prepared to continue bilateral talks. The participation of Saigon and the NLF raised issues about status that would have been better deferred it made a discussion of the internal structure of South Viet Nam hard to avoid. Nevertheless, the principles sketched above, while now more difficult to implement, can still guide the negotiations. The tension between Washington and Saigon can even prove salutary if it forces both sides to learn that if they are to negotiate effectively they must confront the fundamental issues explicitly.

As these lines are being written, the formula for resolving the issue of Saigon's participation in the conference is not yet clear. But the general approach should be the same whatever the eventual compromise.

The best procedure would be to establish three forums. If the South Vietnamese finally appear in Paris-as is probable-the four-sided conference should be looked upon primarily as a plenary session to legitimize the work of two negotiating committees which need not be formally established and could even meet secretly: (a) between Hanoi and the United States, and (b) between Saigon and the NLF. Hanoi and Washington would discuss mutual troop withdrawal and related subjects such as guarantees for the neutrality of Laos and Cambodia. (The formula could be the implementation of the Geneva Accords which have been accepted in principle by both sides.) Saigon and the NLF would discuss the internal structure of South Viet Nam. The third forum would be an international conference to work out guarantees and safeguards for the agreements arrived at in the other committees, including international peacekeeping machinery.

If Saigon continues to refuse the "our side, your side" formula, the same procedure could be followed. The subcommittees would become principal forums and the four-sided plenary session could be eliminated. The international "guaranteeing conference" would not be affected.

To be sure, Saigon, for understandable reasons, has consistently refused to deal with the NLF as an international entity. But if Saigon understands its own interests, it will come to realize that the procedure outlined here involves a minimum and necessary concession. The three-tiered approach gives Saigon the greatest possible control over the issues that affect its own fate direct negotiations between the United States and the NLF Would be obviated. A sovereign government is free to talk to any group that represents an important domestic power base without thereby conferring sovereignty on it it happens all the time in union negotiations or even in police work.

But why should Hanoi accept such an approach? The answer is that partly it has no choice it cannot bring about a withdrawal of American forces by its own efforts, particularly if the United States adopts a less impatient strategy-one better geared to the protection of the population and sustainable with substantially reduced casualties. Hanoi may also believe that the NLF, being better organized and more determined, can win a political contest. (Of course, the prerequisite of a settlement is that both sides think they have a chance to win or at least to avoid losing.) Above all, Hanoi may not wish to give the United States a permanent voice in internal South Vietnamese affairs, as it will if the two-sided approach is followed. It may be reinforced in this attitude by the belief that a prolonged negotiation about coalition government may end no more satisfactorily from Hanoi's point of view than did the Geneva negotiations over Viet Nam in 1954 and Laos in 1962. As for the United States, if it brings about a removal of external forces and pressures, and if it gains a reasonable time for political consolidation, it will have done the maximum possible for an ally-short of permanent occupation.

To be sure, Hanoi cannot be asked to leave the NLF to the mercy of Saigon. While a coalition government is undesirable, a mixed commission to develop and supervise a political process to reintegrate the country-including free elections-could be useful. And there must be an international presence to enforce good faith. Similarly, we cannot be expected to rely on Hanoi's word that the removal of its forces and pressures from South Viet Nam is permanent. An international force would be required to supervise access routes. It should be reinforced by an electronic barrier to check movements.

A negotiating procedure and a definition of objectives cannot guarantee a settlement, of course. If Hanoi proves intransigent and the war goes on, we should seek to achieve as many of our objectives as possible unilaterally. We should adopt a strategy which reduces casualties and concentrates on protecting the population. We should continue to strengthen the Vietnamese army to permit a gradual withdrawal of some American forces, and we should encourage Saigon to broaden its base so that it is stronger for the political contest with the communists which sooner or later it must undertake.


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In his March 1968 speech, President Lyndon B. Johnson announced his intention to stop bombing North Vietnam. However, reconnaissance overflights of the North and bombing of the Ho Chi Minh trail and North Vietnamese targets in South Vietnam continued. During Nixon's administration, according to Kissinger, there also was an "understanding", never formally confirmed by the North but to which it did not object, that there would be: [2]

  • No attacks on major cities
  • No artillery fire from or across the Demilitarized Zone and
  • No threatening troop movements in or near the DMZ, which would suggest movement into the South.

Almost as soon as he came into office, President Nixon sent communications to Moscow, via Cyrus Vance in April 1969, to get the Soviets to open communications between the U.S. and North Vietnam. The North Vietnamese replied with a "Ten Point" program, a list of requirements for ending the war. [2]


Former National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger is one of the most controversial public figures of the past 50 years of American diplomacy. Many historians have called him a deft diplomat who steered American foreign policy effectively as a member of several presidential administrations. &ldquoThere&rsquos been a bit of a Kissinger revival among scholars lately,&rdquo says history prof. Robert Brigham. &ldquoHillary Clinton has praised his work and is a bit of a disciple.&rdquo

Others contend the man who won the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize was a cynical, cold warrior who did not serve his country well. Brigham counts himself in this camp. And with the help of Vassar Ford Scholar Michaela Coplen &rsquo17, he is gathering data this summer for a book on Kissinger&rsquos role as President Richard Nixon&rsquos chief negotiator at the Vietnam Peace Talks in Paris from 1969 to 1973. Kissinger and North Vietnamese diplomat Le Duc Tho negotiated a ceasefire in 1973, but it failed and South Vietnam fell in 1975, long after Nixon had resigned in the wake of the Watergate scandal.

Brigham and Coplen spent four days at the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda, CA, perusing more than 7,500 pages of documents, many of them declassified in the past year, that chronicle Kissinger&rsquos role in advising Nixon on the Vietnam War. The documents include White House and State Department memos and communiqués, cables sent to Kissinger from generals and from the American Embassy in Saigon, and transcripts of telephone conversations between Kissinger and Nixon.

Brigham says some conclusions he reached during his previous research on the Vietnam War are reinforced by what he and Coplen are finding in the documents they are examining this summer. &ldquoKissinger and Nixon didn&rsquot start the war, but they plotted for a way to extricate the country&mdashkind of like what we did with the &lsquosurge&rsquo in Iraq: declare it a success and then begin to withdraw our troops,&rdquo he says. &ldquoBut it&rsquos tragic how many lives were lost while they were going through this charade.&rdquo

Coplen says the transcripts of some of the telephone conversations between Kissinger and Nixon paint an unflattering picture, both professionally and personally. &ldquoSome of these conversations were quite revealing,&rdquo she says. &ldquoKissinger often bragged about women he was seeing, and there were some racist comments as well. He just doesn&rsquot come off as a person of good character.&rdquo

Brigham says he and Coplen also found numerous examples of how Kissinger&rsquos view of events in Vietnam differed sharply from observations being made at the same time by Secretary of State William Rogers and other American diplomats. &ldquoKissinger contends the North Vietnamese weren&rsquot prepared to discuss political issues, only military ones, at the peace talks,&rdquo Brigham says. &ldquoBut Rogers disagreed, and there&rsquos evidence from North Vietnamese sources that Rogers was right and Kissinger was wrong.&rdquo

As he and Coplen studied the documents together, Brigham says, he began to trust his student to decide which ones would be most useful for his research. &ldquoMichaela was superb in spotting what we needed&mdashwhere the contradictions and inconsistencies existed and instances in which Kissinger&rsquos opinions were often not based on facts,&rdquo Brigham says.

Coplen says she found numerous instances in which Kissinger refused to admit he was wrong about anything. &ldquoHe was handicapped by a superiority complex that led him to think that he was right and everyone else was wrong,&rdquo she says. &ldquoHe consistently made value judgments that had no basis at the time and were contradicted by facts found in State Department files.&rdquo

Coplen says her experience in finding and analyzing the files in the Nixon Library has spurred her to consider pursuing a career in historical scholarship. &ldquoSpending the summer doing this has led me to think I might like doing something like this in graduate school,&rdquo she says.

Vietnam War Timeline

3000 B.C.
Legendary Kingdom of Van Lang.

450 B.C.
Migration of Viets to North Vietnam.

111 B.C.
Chinese begin 1000-year rule of Vietnam.

Trung sisters rebellion.

Vietnam gains independence from China.

China retakes Vietnam.

Vietnam defeats China.

Alexandre de Rhodes arrives in Vietnam.

French ships sunk Vietnam Navy at De Nang.

Saigon falls to French troops.

Treaty gives French all of Vietnam.

Phan Boi Chau leads peasant rebellion.

Nguyen Ai Quoc at Versailles Conference.

Ai Quoc founds Revolutionary Youth League.

Cao Dai religious sect founded.

Vietnamese Nationalist uprising.
Indochinese Communist party founded.

French Crush Nationalist uprising.
Indochinese Communist party founded.

Communist party outlawed.
Hoa Hao Buddhist sect founded.

Japanese solidify control over Vietnam.
French initiate “Policy of regard.”
Vietminh founded.

Nguyen Ai Quoc changes name to Ho Chi Minh.

Vietnam Liberation Army created under Giap.

Vietminh seize power from Japan August 19th.
Ho Chi Minh proclaims Vietnam free September 2nd.

President Truman provides U.S. aid to French military in Indochina
35 American advisors sent to Vietnam.

Geneva Conference on Indochina.
President Eisenhower pledges aid to South Vietnam.

President Kennedy increases number of American military advisers to South Vietnam.

American and North Vietnamese forces Clash in the Gulf of Tonkin.
Congress grants President Johnson authority to “take all necessary steps to repel armed attacks against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression” (Gulf of Tonkin Resolution)

U.S. initiates bombing of North Vietnam.

Tet Offensive.
Johnson orders bombing halt, providing basis for negotiations.

Paris peace talks begin in earnest.
President Nixon calls for “Vietnamization” of the war, orders staged withdrawal of American troops.

U.S. troops enter Cambodia to destroy North Vietnam supply bases.

Secret peace negotiations with North Vietnam begun by presidential adviser Henry Kissinger.

Last U.S. combat troops leave South Vietnam.
Christmas bombing of Hanoi–Haiphong.

Truce agreement signed in Paris, Cease-fire in Vietnam.
Last U.S. military personnel leave South Vietnam. U.S. prisoners of war released.

Fall of Saigon.
Evacuation of American Embassy.