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U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
OFFICE OF THE HISTORIAN
BUREAU OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS
For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office
Fax: (202) 512-2104 Mail: Stop IDCC, Washington, DC 20402-0001
The Foreign Relations of the United States series presents the official documentary historical record of major foreign policy decisions and significant diplomatic activity of the United States Government. The Historian of the Department of State is charged with the responsibility for the preparation of the Foreign Relations series. The staff of the Office of the Historian, Bureau of Public Affairs, under the direction of the General Editor of the Foreign Relations series, plans, researches, compiles, and edits the volumes in the series. Secretary of State Frank B. Kellogg first promulgated official regulations codifying specific standards for the selection and editing of documents for the series on March 26, 1925. These regulations, with minor modifications, guided the series through 1991.
Public Law 102–138, the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, established a new statutory charter for the preparation of the series which was signed by President George H.W. Bush on October 28, 1991. Section 198 of P.L. 102–138 added a new Title IV to the Department of State's Basic Authorities Act of 1956 (22 USC 4351, et seq.).
The statute requires that the Foreign Relations series be a thorough, accurate, and reliable record of major United States foreign policy decisions and significant United States diplomatic activity. The volumes of the series should include all records needed to provide comprehensive documentation of major foreign policy decisions and actions of the United States Government. The statute also confirms the editing principles established by Secretary Kellogg: the Foreign Relations series is guided by the principles of historical objectivity and accuracy; records should not be altered or deletions made without indicating in the published text that a deletion has been made; the published record should omit no facts that were of major importance in reaching a decision; and nothing should be omitted for the purposes of concealing a defect in policy. The statute also requires that the Foreign Relations series be published not more than 30 years after the events recorded. The editor is convinced that this volume meets all regulatory, statutory, and scholarly standards of selection and editing. Structure and Scope of the Foreign Relations Series
This volume is one of a subseries of volumes of the Foreign Relations series that document the most important issues in the foreign policy of Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Gerald R. Ford. The subseries presents a comprehensive documentary record of major foreign policy decisions and actions of both Presidents. This specific volume documents U.S. policy toward the war in Vietnam from January 20 to October 7, 1972.
The Easter Offensive, and its ramifications, represents the most significant event in Indochina for U.S. policy in this period, and documentary coverage of the event dominates the volume, concentrating mainly on what happened in North and South Vietnam, policy formulation and decision making in Washington, and the negotiations in Paris. Only a very small number of documents relate to events and policy in Laos and Cambodia, and then only as they relate to events and policy in Vietnam. Focus of Research and Principles of Selection for Foreign Relations,
1969–1976, Volume VIII
Documents in this volume examine the link between force and diplomacy in U.S. national security policy toward the Vietnam war. In the period the volume covers, force drove diplomacy. Only by recognizing this can the process by which America's Vietnam war policy was formulated and implemented be fully understood. Controlling the process was a small circle of men, led by President Richard M. Nixon, and which included the President's Assistant for National Security Affairs, Henry A. Kissinger; the President's Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs, Major General Alexander M. Haig; and a few National Security Council officials trusted by Kissinger. The themes and subthemes that provided the focus of the research and the principles of selection for this volume are as follows.
When Nixon became President in 1969, a war-weary and increasingly disillusioned U.S. Government began to question its long involvement in the Vietnam war and, consequently, its objective of creating a stable, independent, non-Communist South Vietnam. Upon taking office, Nixon declared he would continue the U.S. commitment to secure “peace with honor" but would do so differently than his predecessor, Lyndon B. Johnson. That is, while preparing the South Vietnamese to take over the fighting and gradually turning the ground war over to them (a policy Nixon called Vietnamization), he would also withdraw U.S. troops and continue providing military advice and support to South Vietnam. A negotiated settlement was also a critical objective of Nixon's. In his view, to simply leave South Vietnam, as many critics demanded, would destroy American credibility around the world. He therefore authorized Kissinger to initiate secret negotiations with North Vietnam in Paris to find a way out of the war as well as to safeguard South Vietnam's independence.
By early 1972, Nixon's approach had not succeeded. To be sure, he had withdrawn most American ground forces from the South and turned over the fighting to the South Vietnamese. However, military and diplomatic stalemate persisted. A powerful anti-war movement in the United States placed additional pressure on him to disengage. As a result, America's broad purpose gave way during 1972 to narrow objectives: extricating the United States from the war without seeming to abandon South Vietnam; freeing American prisoners of war captive in North Vietnam, mostly airmen whose aircraft had been shot down while conducting missions over the North; and supplying South Vietnam the wherewithal to maintain a strong military establishment.
Meanwhile, believing that time was on their side, North Vietnam's leaders refused to negotiate seriously. Indeed, on March 30, 1972, they attempted to bypass negotiations altogether with a fullscale invasion of the South. Called the Easter Offensive by the United States, the invasion initially almost overwhelmed the South. By late spring, however, Nixon's decision to mine North Vietnam's harbors and the massive application of American air power against infrastructure targets in the North and operational ones in the South, plus the tenacious defense of South Vietnam by its own armed forces, had blunted the offensive.
As a result, the North Vietnamese began to signal that they were ready to negotiate. After increasingly amiable sessions in Paris in July, August, and September, they seemed on the cusp of making what Kissinger considered breakthrough concessions. That is, they were prepared to agree to a cease-fire and a settlement that separated military and political issues. What this meant was that they no longer linked readiness to negotiate an American withdrawal with a demand that the Americans support the removal from office of their chief ally, Nguyen Van Thieu, President of the Republic of Vietnam, and to dismantle Thieu's government. Additionally, the nature of South Vietnam's political future would be determined by the Vietnamese parties themselves.
The reason for this change was that the Communists had become convinced by American air power, especially the B-52 bombing against Hanoi and the port city of Haiphong, that they could not win if the United States remained in the war. Thus the Hanoi leadership consciously decided to make concessions along the above lines to persuade the Americans to depart. At the same time, the North Vietnamese would not agree to withdraw their troops in the South. They would serve as the basis for future Communist military activity against South Vietnam.
President Thieu believed America's continued presence and commitment were critical to his country's survival and for these reasons argued against a settlement. Despite strong signs that Thieu might act to disrupt such a settlement, Kissinger looked forward to the next round of negotiations, beginning in Paris on October 8, believing that the talks would produce an agreement that the United States could live with and one that he was confident he could sell to the South Vietnamese.