Although committed to a maximum effort to reach a negotiated end to the war, we needed an alternative.
For negotiations were not entirely in our hands. North Vietnamese history and doctrine did not make for encouraging prospects. Their calculus of the situation in South Vietnam, and more particularly in the United States, probably made them believe that time was on their side. And even if a settlement did come through negotiations, it might take a long period.
At home we did not have the option of continuing as we had-and the enemy knew it. So we chose a policy that we believed would gain the sustained support of the Amen can people and thus give us a chance both to fulfill our objectives in Vietnam and to demonstrate to the other side that time was not necessarily with them. Such a policy seemed the only chance of giving the South Vietnamese a fair chance and the best hope of inducing the North Vietnamese to negotiate.
Thus the alternative, and hopefully the spur, to negotiations is Vietnamization that I have described on several occasions.
This policy fulfills our objective of reducing American involvement. it cannot, except over a long period, end the war altogether. Still, if Vietnamization leads to perpetuating the war, it is not by our design but because the other side refuses to settle for anything less than a guaranteed takeover.
In last year's report I described the successes of this program during its first months, and attempted to determine the depth and durability of this progress. We posed four central uncertainties for the future:
- The enemy's capability to mount sustained operations and undo our alns.
- The actual improvement in allied capabilities, particularly Vietnamese leadership, logistics, tactics, and political sensitivity.
- The alternative strategies open to the enemy, including protracted warfare, in which they could wait out our withdrawals and then, with reinvigorated efforts, once again seize the initiative.
- Most importantly, the attitudes of the Vietnamese people toward both sides and the likelihood that pacification gains would stick.
These issues certainly cannot be resolved in one year. However, on all there was encouraging progress during 1970:
The enemy, partly because of strategy, but in great measure due to limited capability, did not mount sustained large-scale operations. This was partly the result of the Cambodian operations. A marked improvement in South Vietnamese performance was shown repeatedly in large-scale operations both in Vietnam and in Cambodia, and in their increasing tactical and logistic skills.
The enemy chose a protracted warfare strategy. We still face the question of whether he might regain the initiative once the bulk of our forces have left, but the growing capabilities of the South Vietnamese bust give Hanoi pause.
The attitude of the Vietnamese people remains crucial and difficult to judge, but rural security grew and pacification gains were sustained.
During 1970 concrete results of Vietnamization punctuated these trends. Our withdrawal program proceeded on schedule with the April 20 announcement of the withdrawal of another 150,000 Americans below the authorized ceiling, bringing total reductions since the start of Vietnamization to 265,500 by May l, 1971. The very fact that we could project our withdrawals a year in advance was a sign of major progress.
As we have moved ahead with this program we have continued to confer not only with the South Vietnamese but also the other allies who have sent troops to help South Vietnam-Australia, Korea, New Zealand and Thailand.
South Vietnamese forces showed themselves increasingly capable of providing security for their country. There are now l. 1 million men bearing arms for the government-200,00O more than in 1968. The continued strengthening of local and territorial forces freed more and rnore South Vietnamese regular units for combat against regular forth Vietnamese Army units. The South Vietnamese accounted for the growing bulk of combat engagements. They took over more of our bases. They completely assumed naval operational responsibilities inside the country. And they substantially stepped up the role of their air forces, flying almost half the sorties in South Vietnam. More intangible, but equally significant, were their greatly increased self- confidence and initiative.
The level of fighting dropped greatly, especially in the southern portions of South Vietnam. And American casualties continued their steady decline, a result of lesser enemy activity, fewer Americans and the increased share of the combat burden picked up by the South Vietnamese.