301. Intelligence Brief Prepared in the Office of Intelligence Research, Department of State1
THE GENERAL SITUATION IN SOUTH VIETNAM
The position of the government of South Vietnam is appreciably stronger than it was a year, or even six months ago. Within the past several weeks, however, signs of new political stresses have appeared, and the Communists are apparently stepping up their campaign against the South Vietnamese Government.
The coming months are likely to see new crises, in view of: 1) the Chinese Communist request on January 26 for a reconvening of the 1954 Geneva Conference on Indochina; 2) the absence of any real prospect that the nation-wide election, stipulated in the Final Declaration of the 1954 Geneva Conference, will be held by July; and 3) the reported increase in opposition to President Ngo Dinh Diem and [Page 638] the Communist attack on programs strengthening the Diem government, specifically, the March 4 election for a national constituent assembly.
Since the virtual elimination of the Binh Xuyen as a military force and the neutralization of a major portion of the Cao Dai units, the principal threats to internal security in South Vietnam come from the clandestine Communist apparatus and from the remnants of the Hoa Hao sect. The Communists have an estimated 10,000 guerrillas in South Vietnam, scattered in small groups in rural areas but presumably still responsive to control from Hanoi. The principal infested areas are the plateau region of northern South Vietnam, the southern peninsula (Camau), and the canal-woven area southwest of Saigon where the Vietnamese National Army (VNA) is currently engaged in operations against Hoa Hao. Communist agents reportedly have been successful in infiltrating remaining Hoa Hao groups—chiefly Ba Cut’s organization. The latter’s increasingly effective defensive tactics have made recent VNA operations relatively costly.
In addition to the continuing presence of these guerrilla elements, the Communists have presumably tried to penetrate all branches of the government. The most frequent reports suggest heavy penetrations of the Information Ministry. The absence of reliable information does not disprove some probable penetration of police and military services, particularly at lower levels. The Communists have a surviving capability to disrupt governmental operations, and perhaps to immobilize the regime, through a coordinated campaign of terror and assassination—a capability they have thus far chosen not to exercise.
The March 4 election will, in all probability, produce a national assembly that will overwhelmingly support Diem and approve the constitution that a pro-Diem commission has prepared. The constitution will establish a presidential system with separation of powers. Balloting will not indicate accurately the extent of anti-Diem sentiment, for a number of nationalist leaders, particularly refugees from the north, appear disinclined to risk censure or repression by contesting the election as opposition candidates.
It will be essential, in the immediate future, that Diem have effective control over the administration and the national assembly. He has the support of the National Revolutionary Movement (NRM), which has become, in effect his political party. There is some question, nevertheless, whether at present Diem is unnecessarily antagonizing elements which might add strength to the future government. [Page 639] He remains almost pathologically sensitive to criticism and potential opposition, with the result that the regime is becoming increasingly autocratic despite his democratic principles. In view of Diem’s skill in dealing with dissident elements over the past year, it will perhaps be wise to give him the benefit of the doubt during the pre-election period.
There has been little recent change in the economic picture in South Vietnam. Rice prices, which rose precipitously during the summer and fall due largely to poor distribution, have now returned to normal. A major program for resettlement in southwest Vietnam of up to 100,000 of the refugees from the north is now developing, with US and other foreign support. If successful, it would simultaneously reduce the problems of 1) the refugees, 2) increased agricultural production, and 3) internal security in rural areas.
The Chinese Communist request for a reconvening of the Geneva Conference broadened to include the International Control Commission members, probably indicates that the Communists will continue to drive for “reunification” of Vietnam by political and diplomatic means rather than by a resort to large-scale violence—at least until their proposal is definitively rejected. The Indians, as well as the Communist countries, will probably approve the call for a new conference. They apparently wish to see the ICC continue in operation, which would require the Vietnamese to assume some of the function assigned to the French by the 1954 agreements.
The French are likely to continue the withdrawal of their forces (now reduced to about 15,000) in South Vietnam, to avoid formal termination of its informal mission to the DRV headed by M. Sainteny, and—despite current opposition—may come to favor a new conference as a means of relief from their obligations under the 1954 agreements. The British have become increasingly reconciled to an extended partition of Vietnam, now have greater confidence in Diem’s strength, and would prefer to avoid or at least postpone a new Geneva Conference. The British, however, still hope that Diem can be brought to accept some form of north-south consultation, even without prospect of success.
- Source: Department of State, INR Files. Secret. Printed also in United States–Vietnam Relations, 1945–1967, Book 10, pp. 1048–1050.↩