24. Memorandum From the Special Representative in Vietnam (Collins) to the Secretary of State 1


  • Report on Vietnam for the National Security Council

1. The situation in Vietnam is most complex and difficult to fathom. My judgments are conditioned by the fact that I have been in Vietnam only two months. However, during this period I have studied intensively the ewvor factors which will affect the outcome of our efforts to save Free Vietnam from Communism. These major factors are:

The Strength and Intentions of the Viet Minh: Free Vietnam cannot match the military power of the Viet Minh who have, and will retain, the capability to overrun Free Vietnam if they wish. Free Vietnam’s ultimate security lies in the military and moral support it may receive under the Manila Pact. Strong affirmation by the signatories to the Manila Pact of their determination to react if hostilities were renewed in Indochina may be an essential factor in deterring the Viet Minh from launching an open attack. Moreover such a declaration would greatly strengthen the Diem Government’s position. The Viet Minh have left elements throughout South Vietnam which constitute a continuing threat to the nation’s security. On the other hand the Viet Minh have serious economic problems in the North, where semi-confiscatory taxation and other acts of repression have created much dissatisfaction. Knowledge of these adverse conditions of life in the North, as it reaches Free Vietnam, is beginning to have a salutary effect on the attitudes of people in the South and may have considerable bearing on the elections if they are held in 1956.
The Attitude and Intentions of France: There is considerable doubt in my mind as to the real intentions and objectives of France in Indochina. There is strong evidence that the French favor a new Vietnamese Government which will offer no serious resistance to the Viet Minh or to French direction. Without French support, and that support is far from assured, the survival of Free Vietnam is problematical.
Attitude and Intentions of the Sects: The politico-religious armed groups called the Cao Dai, Hoa Hao, and Binh Xuyen are anti-Communist [Page 55] in orientation, but feudalistic and regressive in all other respects. At present they have an effective veto power over government action. This power they use to block reforms which might threaten their preferred military, economic and political status. They will retain their power to threaten and harass the government until the National Army is strong enough to neutralize their forces.
Loyalty and Effectiveness of the Vietnamese Armed Forces: When I arrived in Vietnam the Government was terrorized by a rebellious Chief of Staff, General Hinh. Hinh’s departure and dismissal shortly thereafter cleared the way for steps to render the Army subordinate to the government. Diem now has a fair measure of control over the armed forces. The Army is being deployed throughout the country to carry out a so-called “National Security Action” program designed to combat Viet Minh infiltration and restore civil government throughout the country. The Army’s degree of effectiveness in executing this program will have a decisive bearing on the success or failure of the Diem Government. It is too soon to predict whether or not the National Security Action program will succeed but agreement by the United States to assume training responsibility and to grant financial aid to a reorganized and revitalized national army should have significant stabilizing effects.
Economic Aspects of Free Vietnam: Free Vietnam is capable of maintaining a viable economy, at modest levels. The territory is now self-sufficient in food and formerly produced a substantial rice export surplus. Rice and rubber are traditionally the principal sources of Vietnamese foreign exchange. As security improves, export availability of these products should increase, thus contributing toward stabilization of the economy.
Ability of Diem to Secure Broad Popular Support: There is still a serious question in my mind as to whether Diem will be able to establish broad popular confidence in, and support for, his Government. However, he has enjoyed some recent successes in his dealings with the sects. This and his retention of active U.S. support have tended to enhance his prestige. However, Diem has much yet to learn about practical politics and public relations. While at times he conveys the impression of being well over his depth, recently he has evidenced greater flexibility in handling people and increased self-confidence in dealing with his ministers and public issues. On balance I believe that Diem’s integrity, strong nationalism, tenacity, and spiritual qualities render him the best available Prime Minister to lead Vietnam in its struggle against Communism.

2. In order to assist the Diem Government to capitalize on its advantages and to overcome the obstacles to its success, I have directed the principal efforts of the United States in Vietnam, in cooperation with the French, toward aiding the Vietnamese to develop and execute a series of emergency programs covering the military establishment, agrarian reform, refugee resettlement, fiscal management, and the establishment of a national assembly. Some progress, of increasing momentum, is being made in all these fields, with corresponding increase in the stability of the Government. The least successful aspect of my mission has been my failure thus far to [Page 56] induce Diem to broaden his Government by including other able, experienced leaders, such as Dr. Phan Huy Quat, former Defense Minister.

3. Considering all factors, although the situation in Vietnam is not bright, I believe that if Diem has firm U.S. support and guidance and active French cooperation, or at least acquiescence, his Government has a reasonable prospect of success. While the atmosphere in Saigon has improved demonstrably since November, owing to the departure of General Hinh and the backing which the United States Government has given to Diem, I have been unable to determine the extent of improvement in the countryside and villages of Free Vietnam. There the Viet Minh will maintain a significant degree of control until the National Security Action program is well advanced. Moreover, the sects, although displaying some uneasiness that their days of political and financial independence may be numbered, remain devoid of any sense of national conscience and still have the capacity to do great harm. Likewise the prospect of national elections in 1956 hangs as a threat over Free Vietnam. This threat may reach the stage of crisis by July 1955, the period when under the Geneva Accord the two sides are to begin discussions leading to elections. Nevertheless, in my judgment, there is at least an even chance that Vietnam can be saved from Communism if the present programs of its Government are fully implemented.

4. a. Best available estimate of the costs for CY 55 of financing programs of military and non-military aid that I recommend are:

CY 55

1st half 2nd half
Military $152.3 $130.9
Non-military 54.2 58.3
Total Costs $206.5 $189.2
Less Vietnamese Contribution 34.2 34.2
Remaining Requirement for U.S. Funds $172.3 $155.0

b. In practice, because of delays in making new U.S. appropriations available in Vietnam, Vietnamese calendar year expenses have normally been paid from funds appropriated for the U.S. fiscal year.

c. However, if it is necessary to reduce Vietnam’s share of the $700,000,000 currently appropriated for Southeast Asia, it would be possible to limit the amount made available to Vietnam to $172,300,000 (required for 1st half of CY 1955) if we could be assured [Page 57] of $155,000,000 (required for 2nd half of CY 1955) from new FY 1956 appropriations.

d. Estimated costs for CY 1956 are:

CY 1956

1st half 2nd half
Military $91.4 $88.6
Non-military 40.3 33.3
Total Costs $131.7 $121.9
Less Vietnamese Contribution 28.5 28.5
Remaining Requirement for U.S. Funds $103.2 $93.4

e. The requirement for U.S. funds for the second half of CY 1955, $155.0 million, added to the requirement for U.S. funds for the first half of CY 1956, $103.2 million, or a total of $258.2 million, would be the total requirement for U.S. FY 1956 appropriations. A contingency fund of $20 million may be required for FY 1956 as indicated in Enclosure “B”.

5. In view of the importance of Vietnam to all of Southeast Asia, I am convinced that the United States should expend the funds, matériel, and effort required to strengthen the country and help it retain its independence. I cannot guarantee that Vietnam will remain free, even with our aid. But I know that without our aid Vietnam will surely be lost to Communism. If the chances of success are difficult to calculate, the results of a withdrawal of American aid are only too certain, not only in Vietnam but throughout Southeast Asia. Such a withdrawal would hasten the rate of Communist advances in the Far East as a whole and could result in the loss of Southeast Asia to Communism. In my opinion, the chance of success is not only worth the gamble; we cannot afford to let Free Vietnam go by default.

J. Lawton Collins
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751G.00/1–2055. Top Secret. This memorandum, better-known as the Collins report, was the focal point of a reassessment of Indochina policy in Washington culminating in the National Security Council discussion on January 27. The report was submitted to the NSC on January 24 with instructions to keep distribution to an absolute minimum on a “need to know” basis. Attached to the report was a 14-page supplement which provided a brief history and analysis of events in Vietnam since the Geneva Accords, tables on costs and basis of U.S. military and economic support, and estimates of possible contingency fund requirements. The supplement is printed in Department of Defense Study for Use of House Committee on Armed Services, United States–Vietnam Relations, 1945–1967, Book 10 (The Pentagon Papers), pp. 865–882.