28. Memorandum of Discussion at the 234th Meeting of the National Security Council, Washington, January 27, 19551

Present at the 234th Council meeting were the President of the United States, presiding; the Vice President of the United States; the Secretary of State; the Secretary of Defense; the Director, Foreign Operations Administration; and the Director, Office of Defense Mobilization. Also present were the Secretary of the Treasury; the Attorney General (for Items 2 and 3); the Director, Bureau of the Budget; the Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission; Mr. Washburn for the Director, U.S. Information Agency (for Item 4); the Special Representative in Vietnam (for Item 4); the Deputy Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of the Army, the Secretary of the Navy, and Mr. Douglas for the Secretary of the Air Force (for Item 4); the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff; the Chief of Staff, U.S. Army; the Chief of Naval Operations; General White for the Chief of Staff, U.S. Air Force; and the Commandant, U.S. Marine Corps (for Item 4); the Director, Policy Planning Staff, Department of State; the Counselor, Department of State (for Item 4); Assistant Secretary of State Robertson (for Item 4); the Director of Central Intelligence; Robert Cutler, Joseph M. Dodge, and Nelson A. Rockefeller, Special Assistants to [Page 63] the President; the White House Staff Secretary; the Executive Secretary, NSC.

There follows a summary of the discussion at the meeting and the main points taken.

[Here follows discussion of items 1. “Significant World Developments Affecting U.S. Security”, 2. “Exploitation of Soviet and European Satellite Vulnerabilities”, and 3. “U.S. Policy Toward Russian Anti-Soviet Political Activities”.]

4. Report on Vietnam for the National Security Council (Annex A to NSC 5429/5;2 NSC Action No. 1259–e;3 Memo for NSC from Executive Secretary, same subject, dated January 24, 19554)

At this point the Vice President was obliged to leave the meeting. General Collins entered, together with other specially invited people, including the Service Secretaries and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

General Collins asked Mr. Cutler how long he would have to make his oral report. Mr. Cutler asked how long General Collins wanted. General Collins replied, twenty minutes.

General Collins said his oral report would be divided into three main parts. First, the situation as he had seen it when he got to Saigon; second, the seven-point program for Vietnam agreed between him and the French Commander-in-Chief, General Ely; and third, the major factors upon which the outcome for Free Vietnam would depend. He would conclude, he said, with a discussion of dollar figures and costs.

General Collins said that when he arrived in Saigon he confronted a situation of open rebellion, of which General Hinh was the instigator. He had succeded in stopping this rebellion promptly, and ultimately got Hinh out of the country. When he had reached France, Hinh had been stupid enough to offend Bao Dai. This finished him off, for the time being at least.

Once Hinh was out of the way, things began to pick up, and General Collins said that he could move ahead on the seven-point program which he would now describe. First of the seven points was [Page 64] the program to nationalize the Vietnamese armed forces and to deal with the splinter armies which were being maintained by the sects, the Cao Dai, etc. He had done this, General Collins said, by announcing simply that the United States would support but one army, the Vietnamese National Army. Things were now being squared away, and if only Hinh keeps out of the way the outlook will be very favorable.

The second point: The Vietnamese National Army, which had formerly been concentrated in and about Saigon, was now in the course of being deployed throughout the country, with the duty of carrying out the so-called “national security program”. This involved taking over civilian control in various areas from the Vietminh. Success in this enterprise was fundamental to a favorable solution for Free Vietnam.

The third point in the program involved the reorganization of the national armed forces of Vietnam. Prime Minister Diem has formally requested the United States to undertake the training of this army at a level of 100,000 personnel.5 The new Defense Minister, Minh, must be regarded as promising.

The next important point in the seven-point program had to do with the resettlement of refugees from the Vietminh-controlled area in the north. 500,000 such refugees had already fled from North Vietnam to the south. It was quite a thrilling sight, added General Collins, to see the refugee camps. While their squalor was disheartening, one took courage from the fortitude of these people who had so prized liberty and democracy that they had fled from their homes. The great problem was now where to settle them in places were they could earn a living, or how to get them onto the land. To complicate matters, 100,000 additional refugees were anticipated before the closing date in April and May.

Accordingly, the next point in the seven-point program was closely connected with the resettlement problem the program for agrarian reform. This program, said General Collins, would be announced very shortly. Prime Minister Diem’s regime feels that it can seize land not now under actual cultivation and hold such land over a period of three years. Thereafter the tenant holders might conceivably acquire actual ownership through recourse to loans from capital agrarian banks which are to be established. This was a vital program.

The next point involved the creation of a Vietnamese National Assembly. For the moment, Bao Dai was the only existing source of legal power in Vietnam. He could even fire Diem if he were so [Page 65] minded. Accordingly, it was the more imperative to create a National Assembly as rapidly as possible. Since free elections to such an assembly were not possible under present conditions, the idea was to create at once a provisional and appointive assembly, rather than an assembly with constituent powers. The first thing that a constituent assembly would do would be to throw out Bao Dai, and he cannot be spared just yet. General Collins expressed the hope that the convocation of the provisional assembly could be announced by Diem within the next month.

The next point in the program had to do with fiscal and economic conditions in Vietnam. As a result of recent conferences in Paris, Vietnam was now a truly free country from an economic point of view for the first time. While much remains to be done, the economy seems to be on the right track. There will be an obvious need for U.S. financial advisers, and we must remember that the French are very sensitive to American participation in the financial affairs of Vietnam.

The next field is one which the French themselves have introduced: the program for cultural relations and education. General Collins pointed out that here again the French were very sensitive about retaining their cultural leadership. He said, however, that he firmly believed in the wisdom of Governor Stassen’s recent contract with the Michigan State University, which is establishing at Saigon an Institute of Public Administration.6

[Page 66]

Last in the seven-point program was the effort to broaden the base of the present government. As of the present, the sects have far too large a representation, in view of their lack of genuine interest in effective government. Some little progress has been made in broadening this base, but Prime Minister Diem is reluctant to take anyone into his cabinet who he views as a potential rival. This, of course, includes the best candidates.

Upon completing his discussion of the seven-point program, General Collins recapitulated the five factors in his written report, upon which he believed the outcome of the struggle to save Vietnam would depend.

The last portion of General Collins’ report dealt with the United States assistance program. He spoke from two charts, the first entitled “The Vietnamese Budget for Calendar Year 1955”; the second, “Cost Estimates: U.S. Support of Vietnam”. The figures in the latter chart were identical with those set down in his written report, said General Collins, and he described this as the “proposition” he had recommended to FOA.

In conclusion, General Collins stated that he certainly did not wish to appear to be too optimistic, but if all the things which he recommended were carried through, there was at least a 50–50 chance of saving South Vietnam from the Communists.

At the conclusion of General Collins’ oral report, the President asked Governor Stassen whether he had enough funds for Fiscal Year 1955 and Fiscal Year 1956 to take care of the assistance program as outlined by General Collins. Governor Stassen replied in the affirmative

The President then turned to General Collins and said that the one thing which he had failed to give in his report was his own guess as to what the Vietminh were likely to do in Free Vietnam. In reply, General Collins stated that the French had recently obtained a report on this subject which they regarded as very trustworthy. This report indicated the intention of the Vietminh for the time being to lie low in Free Vietnam and observe strictly the rules of the game agreed upon at the Geneva Conference. However, said General Collins, if the so-called national security program for Free Vietnam really worked out and the control of the Vietminh was seriously challenged in Free Vietnam, the Vietminh might well consider resort to overt military action to assure themselves of gaining or retaining power over Free Vietnam.

[Page 67]

Mr. Cutler then pointed out to the Council that the Planning Board had discussed at a recent meeting the contents of General Collins’ written report, and had recommended as a result possible Council action on various points raised in the report.7 He indicated the nature of the recommended Council actions. The first of these recommended actions called for a reaffirmation by the signatories of the Manila Pact. Assistant Secretary of State Robertson expressed the opinion that it was essential for the future of Free Vietnam that the validity of the Manila Pact be reaffirmed.

The second action recommended by the Planning Board called on the United States to continue to press the French Government to carry out their part of the Minute of Understanding between the U.S. and France agreed to last September in Washington.

Secretary Dulles expressed the opinion that it was probably impossible to get an absolutely clear decision on Vietnam from the French. The difficulty was getting the French to realize that if Free Vietnam is to be saved the United States will save it. In any case, we could not have a showdown with the French because they will never agree to one. We will accordingly have to live with the problem as an evolutionary process in the course of which the French will come to realize the essential role of the U.S. in saving Vietnam. This did not mean, said Secretary Dulles, that we should not continue to prod the French to live up to their agreements.

General Collins cited M. La Chambre’s recent visit to Bao Dai, in the course of which he urged the latter to return to Saigon.8 It was this kind of thing that was so disturbing about the French attitude. Moreover, continued General Collins, the French are now attempting to walk out on the Memorandum of Understanding concluded between himself and General Ely. These are things which we must try to get the French to put an end to.

Secretary Dulles indicated that he planned to discuss these matters at the ministerial level at the forthcoming Manila Pact meeting in Bangkok.9 Discussion was not practical at an earlier date, and he anticipated strong support from Anthony Eden at Bangkok.

[Page 68]

The third and fourth recommendations of the Planning Board elicited no discussion by the Council, and were promptly agreed to.10

With respect to the fifth recommendation—calling for careful preparations to meet the eventuality of the all-Vietnam elections to be held in July 1956—Secretary Dulles pointed out that it was altogether illusory to imagine that the United States could possibly succeed in getting any agreement by the Communists for calling off these elections, which were part of the Geneva Accord. There were, however, said Secretary Dulles, other techniques, many of which were very familiar to the Soviets, for preventing the holding of these elections.

The sixth recommendation of the Planning Board, which called for approval in principle of the programs for U.S. military and non-military aid to Vietnam, as well as approval of the general magnitude of the costs of these programs, occasioned a general discussion of the costs of the program and of the availability of funds. In the course of the discussion, Governor Stassen said he could reassure the Council that he had resources available to carry out the program and the costs indicated by General Collins, while at the same time carrying out comparable programs for Laos and Cambodia. Governor Stassen said his immediate concern related to the attitude of the French toward our proposed support of the French Expeditionary Corps. We had indicated that we would provide only $100 million for this purpose, and the French had replied that if we gave no more than this amount they would be obliged to cut the level of the Expeditionary Corps below the agreed number of 75,000.

General Collins said that it would create a serious problem if the size of the French Expeditionary Corps were drastically cut prior to a solution of the problem presented by the elections in Vietnam in July 1956. Secretary Dulles, on the other hand, expressed the view that the French were bluffing. General Collins agreed with him that it would not be in the interests of the French themselves to cut the size of their Expeditionary Corps much below the 75,000 figure. Admiral Radford agreed with these views, and Governor Stassen expressed the opinion that he should stand on the offer of $100 million.

With respect to the Council’s action approving as a general order of magnitude the costs of the program of assistance to Vietnam which he had presented, General Collins expressed the hope that he could be given some sort of definite figure before he returned to Saigon next Thursday. Governor Stassen stated that he was ready to [Page 69] recommend a figure now to the President if the State Department agreed to it.

As to the last Council action recommended by the Planning Board—namely, the reaffirmation of the validity of our policy on Indochina set forth in NSC 5429/5, which called for the U.S. to take all feasible measures to save Vietnam—the President observed that this was a good deal like repeating the Doxology.

The National Security Council: 11

Noted and discussed an oral summary of the subject report by General J. Lawton Collins, Special Representative in Vietnam, transmitted by the reference memorandum.
Agreed that the United States should:
Seek action at the Bangkok Conference by signatories to the Manila Pact to reaffirm their determination to react, in accordance with the Pact, if hostilities are renewed in Indochina.
Because the survival of Free Vietnam is problematical without French support, continue to press the French Government to carry out their part of the SmithLa Chambre Minute of Understanding and the principal provisions of the CollinsEly Memorandum of Understanding.
Continue to support the South Vietnam Government headed by Diem.
Endorsed the continuation of the emergency programs instituted in South Vietnam covering the military establishment, agrarian reform, refugee resettlement, fiscal management, and the establishment of a national assembly.
Noted that the State Department is studying and will recommend to the Council within the next two months a specific policy with reference to the all-Vietnam elections to be held in July 1956 under the terms of the Geneva Accord.
Approved in principle the programs of military and non-military aid for South Vietnam, and the general order of magnitude of the costs thereof; subject to action by responsible departments and agencies to screen such programs in detail and to determine the availability of funds therefor in accordance with the normal budgetary process, if possible prior to General Collins’ return to South Vietnam.
Reaffirmed paragraph 10–a of NSC 5429/5.

Note: The actions in b, c, e and f above, as approved by the President, subsequently transmitted to the Operations Coordinating Board as the coordinating agency for NSC 5429/5, to provide guidance in the implementation of paragraph 10 thereof. The action in d [Page 70] above, as approved by the President, subsequently transmitted to the Secretary of State.

S. Everett Gleason
  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, NSC Records. Top Secret. Drafted by Gleason on January 28.
  2. Dated December 22, 1954; for text, see Foreign Relations, 1952–1954, vol. xii, Part 1, p. 1062.
  3. Paragraph e of NSC Action No. 1259, adopted at the 221st meeting of the NSC on November 2, 1954, reads as follows:

    “[The NSC] Noted that the President is appointing General J. Lawton Collins as the Special Representative of the United States in charge of all U.S. activities in Free Vietnam.” (Department of State, S/SNSC (Miscellaneous) Files: Lot 66 D 95)

    For text of the memorandum of discussion at the NSC meeting, including NSC Action No. 1259, see Foreign Relations, 1952–1954, vol. xiv, Part 1, p. 827.

  4. This memorandum transmitted the Collins report to the NSC. (Department of State, S/PNSC Files: Lot 62 D 1, Far East, U.S. Policy Towards, Collins Report on Vietnam) The Collins report is printed as Document 24.
  5. The text of the communiqué released by Diem on January 20 announcing and summarizing this request is in telegram 2877 from Saigon, January 21. (Department of State, Central Files, 751G.5–MSP/1–2155)
  6. Dr. Wesley R. Fishel of Michigan State College (later University) met Diem in 1950 and became a close personal friend. At Diem’s request, Fishel came to Vietnam in August 1954 as a consultant to the Vietnamese Government and to USOM and arranged for a survey team of four MSU faculty members to tour Vietnam. In October the team recommended the creation of a technical assistance program in public administration, economics, public information, and police administration as a supplement to existing U.S. assistance. (Arthur F. Brandstetter, James H. Denison, Charles C. Killingworth, and Edward W. Weidner, Chief of Mission, “Report of the Special FOA Mission from Michigan State College for Public Administration, Public Information, Police Administration, and Public Finance and Economics” (Saigon, October 16, 1954) (mimeographed) is in Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collection, Hannah Papers, UA 2.1.12, Box G, Vietnam Project 1954)

    In two contracts between Michigan State and the FOA and the Government of Vietnam, signed in April and May of 1955, respectively, MSU was authorized to send up to 30 people to Vietnam, where most of its personnel were placed on the rolls of the National Institute of Administration. The public information proposal was not implemented, and the program in economics was small in comparison to the two principal projects in public and police administration. The first report of the team, dated August 19, 1955, is in Department of State, FE/SEA Files: Lot 58 D 266, Vietnam 1955 and 1956.

    For a survey of MSU’s role in Vietnam by members of the project, see Robert Scigliano and Guy Fox, Technical Assistance in Vietnam: The Michigan State University Experience (New York, Praeger, 1965).

    The largest collection of the records of what became known as the Michigan State University Group (MSUG) is the Vietnam Project Archive, located at Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections. At the same location are the Papers of John A. Hannah and the Papers of Wesley R. Fishel. All three of these collections are cited and described in the Source List accompanying this volume. Additional documentation is in the Collins Papers and in various decimal and lot files of the Department of State.

  7. A list of the recommendations resulting from the Planning Board’s meeting on January 26, along with comments by the Bureau of Far Eastern Affairs, are in a memorandum by Young, “Major points for NSC consideration of General Collins’ report on Viet-Nam of January 27, 1955”, January 26. (Department of State, S/PNSC Files: Lot 62 D 1)
  8. For more detail on the purpose of La Chambre’s meeting with Bao Dai, see Document 15.
  9. February 23–25.
  10. In recommendation 3 the Planning Board suggested continued support of Diem under present conditions and in recommendation 4 suggested endorsement of the Collins seven-point program.
  11. The following paragraphs and note constitute NSC Action No. 1316, the record copy of which is in Department of State, S/SNSC (Miscellaneous) Files: Lot 66 D 95.