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Breaking the Will of the Enemy during the Vietnam War: The Operationalizatin of the Cost-Benefit Model of Counterinsurgency Warfare

Richard Shultz
Journal of Peace Research
Vol. 15, No. 2 (1978), pp. 109-129
Published by: Sage Publications, Ltd.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/423034
Page Count: 21
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Breaking the Will of the Enemy during the Vietnam War: The Operationalizatin of the Cost-Benefit Model of Counterinsurgency Warfare
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Abstract

In the period following Diem's assassination, US policy-makers faced a rapidly deteriorating situation in South Vietnam. Events had demonstrated that the GVN was unable to achieve either political stability or military success. In the face of impending disaster, the US Administration opted for the cost-benefit or suppressive model of counterinsurgency warfare. Based on a set of principles that would later be explicated in Leites & Wolf's controversial study, Rebellion and Authority, this model proposed to defeat insurgent movements by modifying the behavior of the populace supporting the movement through various adversive and coercive techniques and measures of control. Basic to this model is the assumption that the populace, both individually and collectively, behave as rational actors. In other words, they 'calculate costs and benefits to the extent that they can be related to different courses of action, and make choices accordingly'. Given this assumption, the model argues that if force and coercion are applied in large enough doses the will of both the populace and insurgents will be broken and the war won. Costs will outweigh the benefits, resulting in the decline of the insurgency. In effect, this model constitutes a pure coercion approach towards defeating the insurgents. In Vietnam, operationalization of this model began early in 1965 and culminated in the shock of the 1968 Tet offensive. Specific goals to be achieved included: (1) destroying supply sources located in the DRV, as well as those enroute to the South via the Ho Chi Minh trail network; (2) breaking Hanoi's will by punishing North Vietnam to such an extent that the benefits sought would be incommensurate with the costs inflicted; and (3) applying force and coercion in the South against those backing the NLF to the degree that the insurgents would be denied peasant volunteers and draftees, foodstuffs donated to or confiscated by the NLF, intelligence and information supplied by the rural populace, and the day-to-day support offered by the populace. This study examines the strategy and its application in Vietnam and explains why, at both the theoretical/conceptual level and the operational level, it failed to achieve the goals specified. Source material relevant to the study that is utilized includes: official government and military documents and studies; the Rand materials concerned with counterinsurgency and the Rand Interviews in Vietnam project and reports based on these interviews; memoirs, books, articles, and speeches of those involved; and the vast body of literature concerned with US involvement in Vietnam.

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