Pentgon Papers Index | Pentgon Papers-Glossary | Pentgon Papers-Vol 1 Chap 1 | Pentgon Papers-vol 1 Chap 2 | Pentgon Papers-Vol 1 Chap 3 | Pentgon Papers-Vol 1 Chap 4 | Pentgon Papers-Vol 1 Chap 5 | Pentgon Papers-Vol 2 Chap 1 | Pentgon Papers-Vol 2 Chap 2 | Pentgon Papers-Vol 2 Chap 3 | Pentgon Papers | Pentgon Papers | Pentgon Papers | Pentgon Papers | Pentgon Papers | Pentgon Papers | Pentgon Papers | Pentgon Papers | Pentgon Papers
Pentgon Papers-Vol 1 Chap 3
The Pentagon Papers
Volume 1, Chapter 3, "The Geneva Conference, May-July, 1954"
(Boston: Beacon Press, 1971)
Section 1, pp. 108-146
I. BACKGROUND TO THE CONFERENCE
On February 18, 1954, a joint communiqué from Berlin issued by the United States, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and France announced that in late April the Big Four and other parties concerned would meet at Geneva to seek a peaceful solution of the eight-year-old war in Indochina. Between those dates, the Western allies engaged in a series of discussions centered around American proposals for direct intervention, while the Communist side-the USSR, Communist China (CPR), and the Viet Minh-worked to ensure that they would enter the forthcoming Geneva Conference ftom a position of strength.
The Eisenhower Administration found as much difficulty in persuading France and Great Britain that fundamental changes in the war were necessary before the start of the conference as in accepting the notion of a negotiated solution in Indochina. The troubles with France had begun in mid-1953 when the U.S. Government gave its conditional approval to the Navarre Plan, which provided for radically new French field tactics and a buildup of the Vietnamese National Army (VNA). American hopes that assistance in money and war materiel would elicit a French commitment to a program to attract native Indochinese into close military and political collaboration with the colonial governments, especially in Vietnam, were not fulfilled. Nor was France hospitable to American suggestions for greater involvement of the Military Advisory Assistance Group (MAAG) in French planning. As was to be the case almost throughout the Indochina crisis, France capitalized on American fears of National Assembly rejection of the European Defense Community (EDC) treaty and of a French pull-out from Indochina to gain U.S. aid without having to make commensurate concessions on Vietnamese independence or tactical planning. American attempts to tie aid to such concessions were never followed through, and whatever leverage on French policy-making in Indochina the United States possessed was left largely unexploited.
For the most part, France's rejection of American conditions and suggestions was based on the Laniel government's conviction, implemented zealously by French civil and military authorities in Indochina, that the United States would be intruding in France's domain. A policy of systematic restrictions on American officials in the field prevented the United States from making independent evaluations of the war's progress, with the result that the Government was for many months badly informed and unwarrantedly optimistic about the French Union army's chances against the Viet Minh. In late March and April 1954, when it became clear to Washington that the Navarre Plan had failed and that (in Secretary of State Dulles' words) "united action" was necessary to prevent Indochina from falling to the Communists, the French revealed that their distrust of American "interference" extended to any plans for overt American air-naval involvement. The Laniel government was perfectly amenable to localized American intervention at Dienbienphu to save the besieged French army from disaster; but it stood firmly opposed to Dulles' concept of collective (Western-Asian) defense in a security organization that would, if necessary, intervene to prevent the "loss" of Indochina. France's requests for assistance at Dienbienphu were entirely consistent with long-standing policy in Paris that looked to a negotiated settlement of the war on "honorable" terms at the same time as it hoped to be in the best possible military position at the time negotiations began.
Opposition to "united action" was no less stubborn in London. The British, like the French, were suspicious of American intentions in calling for that alternative, though for different reasons. To the Churchill government, the United States, even while proclaiming a strong desire to avoid open conflict with Communist China, was tending precisely in that direction by insisting on the formation of a collective security pact prior to the start of the Geneva Conference. Eisenhower's letter to Churchill on April 4, 1954, could only have reinforced those suspicions, for the President described united action as an attempt to make China stop supporting the Viet Minh rather than face the prospect of large-scale allied involvement in Vietnam. Although the British were not asked to make substantial ground troop commitments to a united action, they felt that their approval would ultimately condone a widening of the war that would risk bringing in the Chinese who, the British argued, could not possibly be expected to cease assistance they had been providing since 1950. London therefore told Dulles it would not approve united action and preferred to await the outcome of the negotiations before deciding whether the Indochina situation warranted resort to military alternatives. The British were perfectly willing to talk about regional defense in the Far East, but only after the results were in on the negotiations. Until then, they said, they would limit themselves to providing full diplomatic support to the French in search of a peaceful solution.
Differences among the allies were therefore acute as the conference opened. The French had cleverly exploited the American assistance program without having brought in the Americans in full force, yet had also been unable to save Dienbienphu from being overrun on May 7. The British were felt in Washington to have been the primary obstacle to united action; they were accused of having been so blinded by their own self-interest in other areas of Southeast Asia that they failed to appreciate the vast strategic importance to the Free World of saving Indochina.
Contrasting Communist unity on the eve of the conference was more a matter of Sino-Soviet agreement on the desirability of negotiations than of complete accord among the three parties. In the aftermath of Stalin's death, Soviet foreign policy under Malenkov had altered considerably. Domestic priorities no doubt influenced the regime's proclaimed hopes for a reduction in international tension. Peking, more intimately involved in the Viet Minh cause, stepped up its assistance to General Giap's forces between February and April 1954, but also agreed with Moscow on the desirability of convening an international conference, which China would attend, to end the fighting. The limited available evidence suggests that the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) alone among the three Communist parties considered the call for negotiations premature and urged that they be preceded by intensified military efforts. Ho's much-publicized offer in late November 1953 to talk with the French was intended more to influence French domestic and official opinion and to demoralize Franco-Vietnamese troops than to evince sincere interest in arriving at an equitable settlement. In ensuing months, DRV broadcasts showed a far greater interest in first achieving a clear-cut military victory in the Tonkin Delta and parts of Laos than in engaging in discussions while French forces remained scattered throughout Indochina.
These developments, in very broad outline, provided the backdrop to the Geneva Conference. Strength and weakness seemed to be the respective characteristics of the Communist and Western positions. Yet these terms are, as we shall see, not entirely accurate, for the interaction between and within the two sides was to make clear that the Geneva Conference would not be the setting for a victor's peace.
II. THE CONDUCT AND STRUCTURE OF DIPLOMACY
One of the first agreements reached at the Geneva Conference occurred in the course of a conversation between V. M. Molotov and Anthony Eden on May 5, when the Soviet foreign minister endorsed the foreign secretary's assertion that this negotiation was the most difficult he had ever encountered.* Indeed, it seems at first glance somewhat paradoxical that the Indochina phase of the Geneva Conference (May 8-July 21) should have resulted in a settlement within less than a dozen weeks, given the unusual difficulties facing the negotiators on both sides. (See Table 1) Key issues were postponed until the eleventh hour while debate wore endlessly on over relatively insignificant matters; contact among the delegations was limited by ideological projudices and political antagonisms, forcing some delegates to act as mediators no less than as representatives of national interests; and major agreements were reached outside the special framework for discussions that the conferees had taken a month to build.
* A valuable source is Anthony Eden, Memoirs: Full Circle, Houghton-Mifflin, Boston, 1960.
CHIEF NEGOTIATORS AT THE GENEVA CONFERENCE ON INDOCHINA
General Walter Bedell Smith
U. Alexis Johnson
Chinese People's Republic
Pham Van Dong
Tran Van Do
A. THE REPRESENTATION QUESTION
The first major roadblock in the negotiations was the Communist claims concerning the representation of parties not present at the conference. Since the conference had already begun when these claims were forwarded, the chances of expanding the list of invited parties were very limited. Nevertheless, through fourteen restricted and seven plenary sessions,* bitter controversy raged over Communist insistence that the Viet Minh-led Free Cambodian (Khmer Issarak) and Free Laotian (Pathet Lao) forces were entitled to be seated beside representatives of the Royal Governments of Cambodia and Laos. Not until June 16, when Premier Chou En-lai, China's foreign minister and chief delegate, indicated to Eden that Viet Minh forces would be withdrawn from Cambodia and Laos, was the debate resolved and the way opened for serious efforts to bring about cease-fires throughout Indochina.
The time-consuming exchanges over the authenticity of Communist "resistance forces" in Laos and Cambodia were, interestingly enough, not duplicated when it came to determining the status of the DRV. The Berlin Conference final communiqué had specified that the Indochina deliberations would be attended by the United States, Great Britain, Communist China, the Soviet Union, France, "and other states concerned." Invitations to the participants would, it was further agreed, be issued only by the Berlin conferees, i.e., by the Big Four but not by Peking. Yet, as Molotov admitted at the first plenary session (May 8), Peking as well as Moscow invited the DRy, a move vigorously assailed by France and the United States. [Doc. 45] No attempt was made, however, to block the DRV's participation. Despite the antagonism of the Vietnamese government nominally headed by Bao Dai, (Bao Dai's consistent position, supported by Ngo Dinh Diem when he took over the premiership on June 18, was that his was the only legitimate government in Vietnam, while the Viet Minh were not political competitors but merely armed rebels.) the DRV was generally considered one of the principal combatants whose consent to a cease-fire, being indispensable, required its participation. Moreover, the Soviet Union indicated to the French that it would not accept the presence of delegates from the Associated States of Indochina (Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos) unless the DRV was admitted to the conference. By the time of Dienbienphu's fall (May 7), all parties were agreed that there would be nine delegations (though not States) discussing Indochina; and on May 8 the first session got underway.
* In all, the Geneva Conference comprised eight plenary and twenty-two restricted sessions. These were quite apart from the Franco-Viet Minh military command conferences held after June 2, as well as from Viet Minh military staff talks with Laotian and Cambodian representatives that begain in late June. Finally, during the latter half of the conference, French and Viet Minh delegation heads met secretly in so-called "underground" negotiations, the results of which were closely held, at least by the French.
B. THE COMMUNICATION GAPS
Nine delegations seated at a roundtable to exchange views, about every second day, obscured the fact that true bargaining was not taking place. Proposals were, of course, tabled and debated; but actual give-and-take was reserved for private discussions, usually in the absence of the pro-Western Indochinese parties. Even then, the Geneva talks on Indochina were hardly dominated by Big Power cabais; political and ideological differences were so intense, particularly between the American and Chinese representatives, that diplomacy had to be conducted circuitously, with Eden and Molotov frequently acting as mediators and messengers for delegates unwilling to be found together. (As one example of the American attitude, Duties told reporters just prior to the first session that the only way he could possibly meet with Chou En-lai was if their cars collided.)
Anthony Eden, whose persistence in the face of adverse developments throughout the conference was rewarded in the end, has provided this description of personal tribulation:
I was conscious that time was not on our side. Since neither the Americans nor the French had established any contacts with the Communist representatives [in mid-June], I had been compelled to adopt the rote of intermediary between the Western powers and the Communists. My activities in this respect were open to every kind of misrepresentation. I was concerned about their effect on Anglo-American relations. On the other hand, I was encouraged by the close accord maintained throughout the conference between ourselves and the other members of the Commonwealth, including those, like Mr. Nehru, who were not represented at Geneva. They sent me messages of thanks and encouragement. I needed them, for I began to feet that we should never make effective headway. I had never known a conference of this kind. The parties would not make direct contact and we were in constant danger of one or another backing out of the door.
Not until the latter half of June did high-ranking French and Viet Minh delegates meet face-to-face, did Viet Minh military officials confer with Cambodian and Laotian representatives, and did French and Chinese heads-of-delegation privately exchange views. Communist and non-Communist Vietnamese, meanwhile, refused to talk to one another until July, when finally Tran Van Do and Pham Van Dong were persuaded to have private discussions. Most importantly, the American delegation (USDEL), under strict instructions to avoid contact with the Chinese, had to rely on second-hand information provided by the British, French, and Soviet representatives, a procedure that was repeated with respect to the Viet Minh.
The problem of contact was no more acutely felt than by the delegation of the State of Vietnam. Although finally granted complete independence by France under treaties initialed in Paris April 28 and approved by both governments June 4, Vietnam did not gain the concurrent power to negotiate its own fate. The French, clearly anxious lest the Vietnamese upset the delicate state of private talks with the Viet Minh, avoided Bao Dai's representatives whenever possible and sought to exploit close Vietnamese-American relations in informing the Vietnamese only after agreements had been reached. During June, for instance, Jean Chauvel, head of the French delegation, on several occasions approached the Americans with information on the "underground" negotiations with the Viet Minh and with the hope that, once partition had been fixed, the United States would "sell" that solution to Saigon. [Doc. 60] In the same month, Chauvel, evincing complete understanding of American determination to avoid approving or acquiescing in a partition settlement, nevertheless asked if the United States would soften Vietnamese opposition to it by indicating it was the best solution obtainable. Chauvel described Diem and his predecessor, Buu Loc, as difficult, unrealistic, and unreasonable on the subject. [Doc. 66]
In an aide-memoire delivered to Duties and Eden on June 26 by Henri Bonnet, the French ambassador to Washington, Paris urged Washington not to encourage an adverse Vietnamese reaction to partition. The United States was also asked "to intervene with the Vietnamese to counsel upon them wisdom and self-control and to dissuade them from refusing an agreement which, if it is reached, is dictated not by the spirit of abandoning them, but on the contrary by the desire to save in Indochina all that can possibly be saved, and to give the Vietnamese state, under peaceful conditions, opportunities which have not always been possible heretofore because of the war." To these approaches, the United States consistently reacted negatively in the undoubtedly correct belief that the French were merely attempting to identify the United States in Vietnamese eyes with the partition concept. By refusing to act as intermediaries for the French, the American delegation kept free of association with a "French solution" to the Vietnam problem.
French aloofness from the Vietnamese continued into July. Despite American requests of the French delegation that the Vietnamese be kept informed of developments, the French demurred. Chauvel informed U. Alexis Johnson, chief deputy to the head of the USDEL, General Waiter Bedell Smith, that "he was handling this [liaison with the Vietnamese] through members of his staff and was avoiding direct contact with Vietnamese in order not to have to answer their questions." When Offroy, another member of the French delegation, suggested that the United States placate the Vietnamese with assurance of Free World political, economic, and military support after the settlement, Johnson replied that this was a matter for the French to handle. Not until late in the Conference did the Vietnamese government become aware of the strong possibility that partition would become part of the settlement; on this and other developments, as we shall see, the Vietnamese were kept in the dark, a circumstance that was to solidify Vietnamese hostility to and dissociation from the final terms.
But the Vietnamese loyal to Bao Dai were not alone in being denied important information, although they suffered worst from it. The United States delegation itself several times suspected that it was not receiving all the news the French were in a position to provide. The fault, however, lay as much with the ambiguous status under which the delegation operated as with the French who were to act as messengers. On the one hand, the Americans wanted to use their influence to ensure that the French not sell out Western interests for the sake of a quick settlement; on the other, they were determined not to become so involved in the bargaining process as to link the Administration to the final terms. The resolution of these apparently conflicting aims was offered by Duties on the eve of the conference in a background briefing to newsmen at Geneva. He said that primary responsibility for decisions taken at the conference belonged to the French and Vietnamese on one side, and to the Viet Minh on the other. The United States "would be inclined not to try to interpose [its] veto in any sense as against what they might want to do." As to whether this attitude applied equally to substantive provisions of any settlement, the Secretary indicated that the United States would, if necessary, refuse to acknowledge results contrary to American "interests":
I would think that [nonapplication of a veto] would be true up to the point at least where we felt that the issues involved had a pretty demonstrable interest to the United States itself. The United States does have pretty considerable interests in the Western Pacific, and there are some solutions there which we would regard as so disadvantageous that we would seek to prevent them. And if we failed in that respect, we would probably want to disassociate ourselves from it [the final settlement].
Thus, the United States would apply the tactic of "disassociation" should its influence not be sufficient to make the final terms compatible with American "interests." Yet the French, against whom the tactic was primarily directed, were probably (and quite naturally) averse to keeping their American colleagues so well informed of developments in the talks with the Viet Minh that the United States would have occasion to resort to "disassociation." Throughout the conference, in fact, the French aimed at exploiting the American presence for the strength they believed it provided their negotiators, and this policy meant pressuring Washington to retain a high-ranking delegation at the conference right up to the moment of the settlement.
Whatever the rationale for French behavior, the USDEL complained to Washington that it was not being kept fully informed of developments in the "underground" Franco-Viet Minh talks. The change in government in Paris during June from Laniel to Pierre Mendès-France helped matters somewhat. But though it was conceded that Mendès-France's representatives had done better than their predecessors in keeping the United States apprised, the United States still felt, as Dulles put it, that while Paris was not willfully concealing information, there remained a "certain lack of any intimacy..." [Doc. 65]
The British also felt locked out of news that vitally affected them. Particularly during May, when Washington and Paris were frequently in touch about possible military intervention, the British were highly disturbed to find newspapers their best source of information on the intentions of their foremost allies. Since London was no longer considered essential to "united action" (see Section IV), the Americans and the French had evidently agreed that their negotiations should be kept under wraps until such time as a decision was made. Only after Eden confronted Under Secretary Smith with the newspaper stories (which may have been deliberate "leaks" to influence the Geneva deliberations) did Dulles direct that the British, Australian, and New Zealand ambassadors be informed "in general terms" regarding U.S.-French talks. Diplomay among the Western Big Three clearly reflected the rifts that had developed in the alliance over intervention before the Dienbienphu disaster; as a result, secrecy and bilateral discussions tended to be the rule, thereby complicating the already mammoth task of presenting a united Western front against the Communist negotiators.
Thus far we have been dealing with diplomacy as it was conducted by the non-Communist delegations. What of the Communists? The available documentation limits the comments we may make, but still permits some remarks, both definite and speculative. First, the Chinese, Soviet, and Viet Minh delegations were in constant touch, as reported by their news agencies. Moreover, Chou En-lai was able to make three stopovers in Moscow during the conference that very likely heightened Sino-Soviet coordination. Finally, during a recess for heads of delegation, Chou and Ho Chi Minh held a three-day meeting in early July that may have provided the turning point in the Viet Minh's more conciliatory attitude thereafter. In brief, the Communists apparently were not plagued by the kinds of communication problems that hampered the Americans, British, and Vietnamese.
As will be argued in greater detail subsequently, the frequent meetings of the Communist delegations did not result in a uniformity of views. The Chinese and Soviets evidently worked independent of the Viet Minh whenever their separate interests dictated the need for advancement of progress in the negotiations. At times when the Viet Minh were intransigent, Chou and Molotov frequently took the initiative to break log jams that threatened to plunge the conference into irresolvable deadlock. Much like Eden, Chou and Molotov sometimes found themselves playing the role of mediator, a role which they, and particularly Chou, relished for what Fred Iklé has called the "side-effects" of negotiations-benefits deriving from, but incidental to, negotiations, such as enhanced prestige. In the end, the Viet Minh advantage of close rapport with Moscow and Peking did not prevent the Viet Minh from sharing with their non-Communist compatriots the ignominious distinction of having been undercut by allies.
III. THE DEVELOPMENT OF BARGAINING POSITIONS
A. THE UNITED STATES AND THE NEGOTIATIONS
In underwriting the Navarre Plan and proceeding with utmost caution in urging France to improve its relationship with the non-Communist Vietnamese nationalists, the United States hoped to influence Paris to postpone a commitment to negotiations until French forces were at least on the threshold of military victory. While aware of the strong pressures on the Laniel government from the National Assembly and the French public for a peaceful settlement, the United States, clearly influenced by the experience at Panmunjom, sought to persuade the premier not to let the clamor for peace drive him to the bargaining table. As late as December 1953 Laniel agreed that Washington's aversion to premature negotiations was well-advised; but two months later, at Berlin, his government joined with the Soviet Union in calling for an international conference to end the Indochina conflict. The French government found it could no longer ignore anti-war sentiment at home without jeopardizing its survival, while the Americans, however strongly opposed to bringing the war to the conference table with victory nowhere in sight and with Communist China as a negotiating opponent, felt compelled to approve the Berlin decision if only to blunt the French threat of scuttling EDC.
Forced to go along with French preference for negotiating with the Communists, the United States remained unalterably pessimistic about the probable results. This attitude was first set out fully by the Joint Chiefs of Staff in March 1954. [Doc. 23] The Chiefs examined the alternatives to military victory and found them all infeasible or unacceptable to the United States. A ceasefire prior to a political settlement, the JCS paper states, "would, in all probability, lead to a political stalemate attended by a concurrent and irretrievable deterioration of the Franco-Vietnamese military position." A coalition government would lead to Communist control by keeping any outside assistance from preventing a seizure of power from within. Partition, on the other hand, would mean recognizing Communist success by force of arms, ceding the key Tonkin Delta to the communists, and, even if confined to only one of the three Indochinese states, undercutting our containment policy in Asia.
The Chiefs also commented at some length on the difficult question of elections in Vietnam. They took the position that even if elections could be held along democratic lines (which they doubted), a Communist victory would almost certainly result because of Communist territorial control, popular support, and superior tactics:
Such factors as the prevalence of illiteracy, the lack of suitable educational media, and the absence of adequate communications in the outlying areas would render the holding of a truly representative plebiscite of doubtful feasibility. The Communists, by virtue of their superior capability in the field of propaganda, could readily pervert the issue as being a choice between national independence and French Colonial rule. Furthermore, it would be militarily infeasible to prevent widespread intimidation of voters by Communist partisans. While it is obviously impossible to make a dependable forecast as to the outcome of a free election, current intelligence leads the Joint Chiefs to the belief that a settlement based upon free elections would be attended by almost certain loss of the Associated States to Communist control.
The JCS views, together with the recommendation that the United States not associate itself with any settlement that "would fail to provide reasonably adequate assurance of the future political and territorial integrity of Indochina . . .," were approved by the Secretary of Defense on March 23.
The JCS position reflected Government policy, for in the remaining months before the Conference the United States privately stood opposed to any course of action other than full prosecution of the war. Dulles, speaking with French Ambassador Henri Bonnet on April 3, reasoned thaf a negotiated settlement would lead only to face-saving formulae for either a French or a Viet Minh surrender. The Secretary termed a division of Indochina "impractical" and a coalition government the "beginning of disaster"; neither arrangement could prevent a French surrender. [Doc. 27] The President himself echoed this either-or approach. Writing to Churchill April 4, Eisenhower proposed: "There is no negotiated solution of the Indochina problem which in essence would not be either a face-saving device to cover a French surrender or a face-saving device to cover a Communist retirement." And, as already observed, it was precisely to bring about the latter-China's "discreet disengagement" from support of the Viet Minh-that the President wanted British cooperation in united action.
Concomitantly, the United States was concerned that a disaster at Dienbienphu would propel the French into acceptance of an immediate, unsupervised cease-fire even before the conference was to begin. Dulles obtained assurances from Bidault that the French would not agree to such a cease-fire. But the Secretary found the British less inflexible, with Eden doubting the American view that a sudden cease-fire would lead either to a massacre of the French by the native people or to large-scale infiltration of French-held terrain by Viet Minh forces. [Doc. 37]
Thus assured by the French but mindful of both French and British preference for trying to bargain with the Communists. before resorting to further military steps, Washington, in late April and early May, sought to develop guidelines for the American delegation. The National Security Council, less than a week before the opening conference session, carefully examined American alternatives. Disturbed by what it regarded as peace-at-any-price thinking in Paris, the NSC urged the President to decide not to join the Geneva deliberations without assurance from France that it was not preparing to negotiate the surrender of Indochina. Again, the Korean example was foremost: Communist tactics at Geneva, the NSC forecast, would likely resemble those at Panmunjom; a cease-fire might be announced that the Communists would not comply with for lack of effective supervision; the French would wilt before the Communists' predictable dilatory tactics and end by accepting almost any terms.
The NSC therefore decided that the French had to be pressured into adopting a strong posture in the face of probable Communist intransigence. The President was urged to inform Paris that French acquiescence in a Communist takeover of Indochina would bear not only on France's future position in the Far East, but also on its status as one of the Big Three; that abandonment of Indochina would grievously affect both France's position in North Africa and Franco-U.S. relations in that region; that U.S. aid to France would automatically cease upon Paris' conclusion of an unsatisfactory settlement; and, finally, that Communist domination of Indochina would be of such serious strategic harm to U.S. interests as to produce "consequences in Europe as well as elsewhere [without] apparent limitation." In addition, the NSC recomended that the United States determine immediately whether the Associated States should be approached with a view to continuing the anti-Viet Minh struggle in some other form, including unilateral American involvement "if necessary." The NSC clearly viewed the Indochina situation with extreme anxiety, and its action program amounted to unprecedented proposals to threaten France with the serious repercussions of a sell-out in Southeast Asia.
Pessimism over the prospects for any meaningful progress in talks with the Communists was shared by Secretary Dulles. In a background briefing for newsmen at Geneva, Dulles gave the first official indication for public consumption that the United States would dissociate itself from any settlement rather than be party to unacceptable terms. As to the acceptability of partition, the Secretary, in views that would change later, said he did not see how partition could be arranged with the fighting not confined to any single area. He as much as ruled out a territorial division when he commented that the United States would only agree to an arrangement in which all the Viet Minh troops would be placed in a small regroupment area out of harm's way. But that arrangement "might not be acceptable to them," Dulles said coyly.
American opinions on the likely ramifications of a settlement were also made known, and with greater precision, in private. On May 7, for instance, Livingston Merchant of the State Department presented the American view to the Ministers of New Zealand and Australia. Predicting that the French would finally settle for part of Vietnam and manage to salvage Cambodia and Laos, Merchant said the United States could not accept such a surrender of territory. While we could not prevent the French from making concessions, neither did we have to associate ourselves with the results. Thus, both publicly and privately, Administration leaders indicated at the outset of the conference that the United States would divorce itself from any settlement that resulted in less than a complete French-Vietnamese victory.
The first test of U.S. policy came May 5 when the French informed Washington of the proposals they intended to make in the opening round of the Geneva talks on May 8. The proposals included a separation of the "civil war" in Vietnam from the Communist aggressions in Cambodia and Laos; a cease-fire, supervised by a well-staffed international authority (but not the UN) and followed by political discussions leading to free elections; the regrouping of regular forces of the belligerents into defined zones (as Laniel had proposed in a speech on March 5) upon signature of a cease-fire agreement; the disarming of all irregular forces (i.e., the Viet Minh guerrillas); and a guarantee of the agreements by "the States participating in the Geneva Conference."
The JCS were first to react to the French plan. The Chiefs strongly felt that even if the Communists unexpectedly agreed to it, the likely outcomes would still be either rapid French capitulation in the wake of the cease-fire or virtual French surrender in the course of protracted political discussions. Once more, the Chiefs fell back on the Korean experience, which they said demonstrated the certainty that the Communists would violate any armistice controls, including those supervised by an international body. An agreement to refrain from new military activities during armistice negotiations would be a strong obstacle to Communist violations; but the Communists, the JCS concluded, would never agree to such an arrangement. On the contrary, they were far more likely to intensify military operations so as to enhance their bargaining position, precisely at the time the French would seek to reduce operations to avoid taking casualties. The Chiefs therefore urged that the United States not get trapped into backing a French armistice proposal that the Communists, by voicing approval, could use to bind us to a cease-fire while they themselves ignored it. The only way to get satisfactory results was through military success, and since the Navarre Plan was no longer tenable, the next best alternative was not to associate the United States with any cease-fire in advance of a satisfactory political settlement. The first step, the Chiefs believed, should be the conclusion of a settlement that would "reasonably assure the political and territorial integrity of the Associated States . . . "; only thereafter should a cease-fire be entertained.
As previously, the Joint Chiefs' position became U.S. policy with only minor emendations. The President, reviewing the Chiefs' paper, agreed that the Government could not back the French proposal with its call for a supervised cease-fire that the Communists would never respect. Eisenhower further concurred with the Chiefs' insistence on priority to a political settlement, with the stipulation that French forces continue fighting while negotiations were in progress. He added that the United States would continue aiding the French during that period and would, in addition, work toward a coalition "for the purpose of preventing further expansion of Communist power in Southeast Asia."
These statements of position paved the way for a National Security Council meeting on May 8, which set forth the guidelines of U.S. policy on negotiations for the delegation at Geneva. The decision taken at the meeting simply underscored what the President and the Chiefs had already stated:
The United States will not associate itself with any proposal from any source directed toward a cease-fire in advance of an acceptable armistice agreement, including international controls. The United States could concur in the initiation of negotiations for such an armistice agreement. During the course of such negotiations, the French and the Associated States should continue to oppose the forces of the Viet Minh with all the means at their disposal. In the meantime, as a means of strengthening the hands of the French and the Associated States during the course of such negotiations, the United States will continue its program of aid and its efforts to organize and promptly activate a Southeast Asian regional grouping for the purpose of preventing further expansion of Communist power in Southeast Asia.
B. THE COMMUNIST PROPOSALS
Official American perspectives on the likely pattern of the Geneva negotiations were confirmed when the Viet Minh forwarded their first proposal "package" at the second plenary session on May 10. Pham Van Dong, then the DRV's vice-minister for foreign affairs and already a seasoned negotiator with the French, introduced his case with the argument that the Viet Minh were the "stronger" force in "more than three-fourths of the country." He went on to describe the successful administration of this territory by his government, which he said "represents the will of the entire Vietnamese nation The opposition, the Bao Dai regime, characterized as "the government of the temporarily occupied zone," did not enjoy popular support and was merely the tool of the French.
Pham Van Dong did not, however, demand that France concede control of all Vietnam to the DRY. Instead, Dong urged that France recognize "the sovereignty and independence of Vietnam throughout the territory of Vietnam," a statement which amounted to a rejection of the Franco-Vietnamese treaties approved April 28 in Paris by Laniel and Premier Nguyen Trung Vinh. The main points of Dong's proposal for a cease-fire and political settlement in Vietnam were as follows:
(1) Conclusion of an agreement on the withdrawal of all "foreign" (i.e., French) troops from the Associated States, to be preceded by the relocation of those troops to regroupment areas
(2) Convening of advisory conferences, to be composed of representatives of the "governments of both sides," in each country of Indochina, with the objective of holding general elections leading to the establishment of unified governments
(3) Supervision of elections by local commissions
(4) Prior to the establishment of unified governments, the carrying out by the opposing parties of "the administrative functions in the districts which will be [temporarily] under their administration . .
(5) Cease-fire in all Indochina supervised by mixed commissions composed of the belligerents, the cease-fire to take effect upon implementation of all other measures. No new forces or military equipment to be introduced into Indochina during the armistice
To placate the French, Dong asserted the DRV's readiness "to examine the question of the entry of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam into the French Union..."
The meaning of Dong's proposal was clear. A political settlement would precede a military agreement to a cease-fire rather than the reverse, which the French preferred. Somewhat ironically, the Viet Minh position was in line with the American preference for giving priority to a political settlement; but the Viet Minh in effect proposed to stop fighting only when French troops had left Vietnam and a political process favorable to the Communists had been set up. By first getting rid of the French, and then substituting all-Vietnamese consultations for strict control and supervision of the cease-fire, the regroupment, and the general elections, the Viet Minh could legitimately expect a quick takeover of power from the relatively weak Vietnamese National Army, by then bereft of its French command structure. As Dong well knew, the relocation of French forces in the Tonkin Delta to a tighter perimeter was having, and would continue to have, major repercussions on VNA morale. Once the French could be persuaded to withdraw, the VNA would undoubtedly collapse under Viet Minh military pressure. Moreover, inasmuch as Dong's plan made no allowance for the disarming, much less the regrouping, of indigenous forces on either side, the Viet Minh would be militarily in a virtually unassailable position to control any general election that might be held. Dong's proposal, then, amounted to a request that the French abandon Vietnam to a certain fate.
In the same speech, Dong made clear that the DRV's concern extended beyond Vietnam to Cambodia and Laos. By 1954, Viet Minh coordination with the Pathet Lao and Free Khmer "resistance forces" had been going on for at least three years, or since the formal announcement on March 11, 1951, of formation of a Viet Minh-Free Khmer-Pathet Lao "National United Front." Viet Minh soldiers and cadres were active participants in the fighting there, where they provided the hard core of the "resistance." In addition, forces under General Vo Nguyen Giap had invaded Laos in April and December 1953, and Cambodia in April 1954 (a move which prompted a formal protest by the Royal Khmer Government to the Secretary General of the UN on April 23). Viet Minh battalions were still active in both countries during May and June, with greater priority given operations in Laos. Thus, Dong's proposals on a settlement in Laos and Cambodia reflected not simply the DRV's assumption of the role of spokesman for the unrepresented Free Khmer and Pathet Lao movements, but also direct Viet Minh interests in those neighboring kingdoms.
Dong argued that the Pathet Lao and Free Khmer forces enjoyed widespread popular support and controlled most of the territory of their respective countries. With considerable distortion of history (subsequently corrected by the Laotian and Cambodian delegates), Dong sought to demonstrate that the Pathet Lao and Free Khmer were de facto governments carrying out "democratic reforms" in the areas their armies had "liberated." France was therefore advised to recognize the "sovereignty and independence" of those movements no less than of the DRY. French forces alone were to withdraw from Cambodia and Laos; the Pathet Lao and Free Khmer were not "foreign" troops. The same election procedure offered for Vietnam, without neutral or international supervision, would, Dong proposed, take place in Cambodia and Laos, thereby granting the Pathet Lao and Free Khmer a status equal to that of the lawful governments. And during the electoral process, Dong insisted on "conditions securing freedom of activity for patriotic parties, groups, and social organizations..." agreement to which would have permitted various Communist fronts to function with impunity. The inclusion of the Pathet Lao and Free Khmer in the DRV's settlement plan-in particular, the demand that they merited political and territorial recognition-very quickly brought the conference to a standstill and, much later, compelled the Soviets and Chinese to work against Viet Minh ambitions.
C. THE AMERICAN REACTION
Pham Van Dong's opening gambit was clearly anathema to the Western delegations. Certainly, from the American standpoint, his proposals met none of the criteria for acceptability outlined by the National Security Council on May 8. Smith said as much at Geneva when he spoke on May 10 and again at the third plenary session May 12. Accordingly, Smith did not wholeheartedly embrace Bidault's proposals, for despite giving a general endorsement of the French plan, he departed from it at two important junctures. First, he declined to commit the United States in advance to a guarantee of the settlement despite Bidault's call for all the participants to make such a guarantee; second, he proposed that national elections in Vietnam be supervised specifically by an international commission "under United Nations auspices." As his speeches made clear, the United States believed the UN should have two separate functions-overseeing not only the cease-fire but the elections as well. Both these points in Smith's remarks were to remain cardinal elements of American policy throughout the negotiations despite French (and Communist) efforts to induce their alteration.
Entirely in keeping with Smith's position at the conference, as well as with the tenor of the Viet Minh proposals, Secretary Dulles, on May 12, sent Smith instructions intended to make the United States an influential, but unentangled and unobligated, participant. As Dulles phrased it, the United States was to be "an interested nation which, however, is neither a belligerent nor a principal in the negotiation." Its primary aim would be to:
help the nations of that area [Indochina] peacefully to enjoy territorial integrity and political independence under stable and free governments with the opportunity to expand their economies, to realize their legitimate national aspirations, and to develop security through individual and collective defense against aggression, from within and without. This implies that these people should not be amalgamated into the Communist bloc of imperialistic dictatorship.
Accordingly, Smith was told, the United States should not give its approval to any settlement or cease-fire "which would have the effect of subverting the existing lawful governments of the three aforementioned states or of permanently impairing their territorial integrity or of placing in jeopardy the forces of the French Union of Indochina, or which otherwise contravened the principles stated . . . above." [Doc. 47]
The NSC decision of May 8, Smith's comments at the second and third plenary sessions, and Dulles' instructions on May 12 reveal the rigidity of the American position on a Geneva settlement. The United States would not associate itself with any arrangement that failed to provide adequately for an internationally supervised cease-fire and national elections, that resulted in the partitioning of any of the Associated States, or that compromised the independence and territorial integrity of those States in any way. It would not interfere with French efforts to reach an agreement, but neither would it guarantee or other wise be placed in the position of seeming to support it if contrary to policy. Bedell Smith was left free, in fact, to withdraw from the conference or to restrict the American role to that of observer. [Doc. 47] The rationale for this approach was clear enough: the United States, foreseeing inevitable protraction of negotiations by the Communists in the manner of Korea, would not be party to a French cession of territory that would be the end result of the Communists' waiting game already begun by Pham Van Dong. Rather than passively accept that result, the United States would withdraw from active involvement in the proceedings, thereby leaving it with at least the freedom to take steps to recapture the initiative (as by rolling back the Viet Minh at some future date) and the moral purity of having refused to condone the enslavement of more people behind the Iron Curtain. American policy toward negotiations at Geneva was therefore in perfect harmony with the Eisenhower-Dulles global approach to dealing with the Communist bloc.
Gloomy American conclusions about the conference, and no doubt the extravagant opening Communist demands, were intimately connected with events on the battlefield. After the debacle at Dienbienphu on May 7, the French gradually shifted their forces from Laos and Cambodia into the Tonkin Delta, leaving behind weak Laotian and Cambodian national armies to cope with veteran Viet Minh battalions. As the French sought to consolidate in northern Vietnam, the Viet Minh pressed the attack, moving several battalions eastward from Dienbienphu. U.S. Army intelligence reported in late May, on the basis of French evaluations, that the Viet Minh were redeploying much faster than anticipated, to the point where of 35,000 troops originally in northwestern Tonkin only 2,000 remained. At the same time, two Viet Minh battalions stayed behind in Cambodia and another ten in Laos; and in both those countries, American intelligence concluded that the Viet Minh position was so strong as to jeopardize the political no less than the military stability of the royal governments.
To thwart the Communist military threat in Vietnam, the French chief of staff, General Paul Ely, told General J. H. Trapnell, the MAAG chief (on May 30), that French forces were forming a new defensive perimeter along the HanoiHaiphong axis; but Ely made no effort to hide the touch-and-go nature of French defensive capabilities during the rainy season already underway. This precarious situation was confirmed by General Valluy of the French command staff. In a report in early June to U.S., British, Australian, and New Zealand chiefs of staff assembled in Washington, Valluy held that the Delta was in danger of falling to the Communists, that neither Frenchmen nor Vietnamese would fight on in the south in that eventuality, and that only prompt allied intervention could save the situation. [Doc. 53] American assessments merely echoed those provided by the French. A National Intelligence Estimate published June 15 determined that French Union forces, despite a numerical advantage, faced defections on a mounting scale that could become very large if the Viet Minh scored major victories or if the French were believed (and Vietnamese suspicions were rife on this score in Hanoi and Saigon) about to abandon Hanoi and portions of the Delta. In sum, the tenor of intelligence reports by French and American sources during this period (from early May through mid-June) was that the Viet Minh armies were solidly entrenched in portions of Cambodia and Laos, were preparing for further advances in the Tonkin Delta, and, if the war were to continue beyond the rainy season, had the capability to destroy positions then being fortified by French Union forces throughout northern Vietnam.
The upshot of this military deterioration throughout much of Indochina was to reinforce the American conviction that the Communists, while making proposals at Geneva they knew would be unacceptable to the West, would drive hard for important battlefield gains that would thoroughly demoralize French Union troops and set the stage for their withdrawal southward, perhaps precipitating a general crisis of confidence in Indochina and a Viet Minh takeover by default. More clearly than earlier in the year, American officials now saw just how desperate the French really were, in part because French field commanders were being far more sincere about and open with information on the actual military situation. But the thickening gloom in Indochina no less than at Geneva did not give way to counsels of despair in Washington. The Government concluded not that the goals it had set for a settlement were unrealistic, but rather that the only way to attain them, as the President and the JCS had been saying, was through decisive military victory in conformity with the original united action proposal of March 29. While therefore maintaining its delegation at Geneva throughout the indecisive sessions of May and June, the United States once again alerted France to the possibility of a military alternative to defeat under the pressure of Communist talk-fight tactics.
IV. THE UNITED STATES AT GENEVA: THE STAGE OF FORCE AND DIPLOMACY, MAY TO MID-JUNE
In keeping open the option of united action, the Administration, no less during May and the first half of June than in April, carefully made direct involvement conditional on a range of French concessions and promises. This second go-'round on united action was not designed to make further negotiations at Geneva impossible; rather, it was intended to provide an alternative to which the French might turn once they, and hopefully the British as well, conceded that negotiations were a wasteful exercise.
The issue of united action arose again in early May when Premier Laniel, in a talk with Ambassador Dillon, expressed the view that the Chinese were the real masters of the negotiations at Geneva. This being the case, Laniel reasoned, the Chinese would probably seek to drag out the talks over any number of peripheral issues while the Viet Minh pushed on for a military decision. The French position in the field, with a major redeployment on the order of 15 battalions to the Tonkin Delta probably very soon, would be desperate, Laniel said, unless the United States decided to give its active military cooperation. In the interim, the premier requested that an American general be dispatched to Paris to assist in military planning.
Laniel's views failed to make an impression in Washington. Although the Administration agreed to dispatch a general (Trapnell), Dulles proposed, and Eisenhower accepted, a series of "indispensable" conditions to American involvement that would have to be met by Paris. Even after those conditions were met, American intervention would not follow automatically; Laniel would have to request further U.S.-French consultations. The conditions were: (In forwarding these conditions to the Embassy for transmittal to the French, Dulles noted that a prompt, favorable decision would be premature inasmuch as it might internationalize the war in a way offensive to the British, leaving the French with the difficult choice of internationalization or capitulation.)
(1) Formal requests for U.S. involvement from France and the Associated States
(2) An immediate, favorable response to those invitations from Thailand, the Philippines, Australia, and New Zealand, as well as the assurance that Britain "would either participate or be acquiescent"
(3) Presentation of "some aspect of matter" to the UN by one of the involved Asian states
(4) A French guarantee of complete independence to the Associated States, "including unqualified option to withdraw from French Union at any time
(5) A French undertaking not to withdraw the Expeditionary Corps from Indochina during the period of united action in order to ensure that the United States would be providing air and sea, but not combat-troop, support
(6) Franco-American agreement on the training of native forces and a new command structure during united action (Admiral Radford was reported to be thinking in terms of a French supreme command with a U.S. air command)
(7) Full endorsement by the French cabinet and Assembly of these conditions to ensure a firm French commitment even in the event of a change in government in Paris
It was further agreed that in the course of united action, the United States would pursue efforts to broaden the coalition and to formalize it as a regional defense pact.
During the same conference in which the conditions were drawn up, top American officials went deeper into them. Eisenhower was insistent on collective action, but recognized that the British might not commit themselves initially and that the Australians, facing a general election later in May, could only give "evidence" of their willingness to participate. A second major problem was Indochinese independence. Dulles posed the American dilemma on this score: on the one hand, the United States had to avoid giving Asians reason to believe we were intervening on behalf of colonialism; on the other, the Associated States lacked the administrative personnel and leadership necessary to carrying on alone. "In a sense," said Dulles, "if the Associated States were turned loose, it would be like putting a baby in a cage of hungry lions. The baby would rapidly be devoured." His solution was that the Associated States be granted (evidently, orally) the right to withdraw from the French Union after passage of a suitable time period, perhaps five or ten years.
A final point concerned Executive-Congressional relations once a French request, backed by Parliamentary assent, reached Washington. The President felt he should appear before a joint session of Congress and seek a Congressional resolution to use the armed forces in Indo-China [words missing] act on the formal invitation of France and the Associated States, and with the cooperation of friends and allies in the region. At Eisenhower's request, Dulles directed that the State Department begin working up a first draft of a Presidential message.
The American response to Laniel's requests set the stage for an extended series of discussions over the ensuing five weeks. In Paris, Dillon communicated the American conditions to Laniel and Maurice Schumann, the Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs; in a talk with the Ambassador May 14, they accepted the conditions, but with important reservations. First, Laniel indicated his dismay at the American insistence on the right of the Associated States to withdraw from the French Union. The premier predicted that the French public would never accept this condition inasmuch as the Associated States had themselves never made it and since even the Viet Minh envisioned joining the Union. The obvious American reluctance to go beyond air and naval forces also disturbed the premier. He requested that the United States additionally provide artillery forces and a token contingent of ground troops. But he indicated pleasure that UK participation was no longer a prerequisite to American involvement.
Laniel's qualified approval of the preconditions was accompanied by a request for a response to two other questions: could the United States in some way guarantee the borders and independence of Laos and Cambodia following a French withdrawal from those countries? Could the United States provide written assurance of prompt air intervention to meet a possible Chinese Communist air attack on French forces in the Tonkin Delta?
The American response to Laniel's demurrers and requests was for the most part negative. On the French-Associated States relationship, which Ambassador Dillon had said was the chief barrier to a French request for intervention,* Dulles replied (through Dillon) that the United States might have some flexibility on the matter,
* Dillon commented: "I am certain that unless we can find some way to get around this requirement [that the Vietnamese have the option of leaving the French Union], French will never ask for outside assistance."
Dillon proposed that the real objection among Asians to the position of the Associated States rested not on the "purely juridical" problem of the right to leave the Union, but on Indochina's lack of powerful national armies. The Ambassador recommended that American training and equipping of the VNA, coupled with a French statement of intention to withdraw the Expeditionary Corps after the establishment of peace and a national army, would significantly dampen Asian antagonism to the Bao Dai regime. It is difficult to understand why Dillon assumed Asians would significantly change their attitude toward French Indochina when, even with an American takeover of the training and equipping of the VNA, French forces would still be on Vietnamese territory for a lengthy period.
but had to remain adamant on complete independence if it ever hoped to gain Thai and Filipino support. Next, on the question of the extent of American involvement, the Government was more flexible: It would not exclude antiaircraft "and limited U.S. ground forces for protection of bases which might be used by U.S. naval and air forces." As to Laniel's questions, Washington answered that it saw no way, in view of the military and legal impracticalities, to guarantee the security of Laos and Cambodia; the alternative was that Laos and Cambodia join with Thailand in requesting the stationing of a UN Peace Observation Commission (POC) on their territories. The possibility of Chinese MIG intervention, considered extremely remote by the Defense Department, ruled out the need for a written commitment. The French were to be assured, however, that a collective defense arrangement would include protection against that contingency, and that prior to the formation of the organization, Chinese air involvement would prompt a Presidential request for Congressional authorization to respond with U.S. aircraft.
Although the setting up of several preconditions to involvement and the qualifications of the French reply by no means made intervention an immediate possibility, the Administration moved ahead on contingency planning. The State Department's Bureau of Far Eastern Affairs took the lead by producing a hypothetical timetable based on the assumption of U.S.-French agreement in principle to the proposed conditions by May 21. FEA also outlined a full slate of urgent priority studies, including U.S. strategy under differing circumstances of Chinese involvement in the war. By May 24, FEA had forwarded a contingency study from the Operations Planning Board that proposed, among other things, public and private communications to Peking to prevent, or at least reduce the effectiveness of, direct Chinese intervention.
The initiation of planning for intervention extended to more far-ranging discussions of the purposes, requirements, and make-up of a Southeast Asia collective defense organization. The framework of the discussions evidenced the Government's intention that united action be undertaken only after the Geneva Conference had reached a stalemate or, far less likely, a settlement. Three regional formulations were envisaged: the first would be designed for direct action, probably (it was felt) without British participation, either to defeat the Viet Minh or to prevent them from gaining control of Indochina; the second, formed after a settlement, would comprise the present SEATO members and functions, in particular active assistance to the participating Asian states resisting external attack or "Communist insurrection"; the third would have have a broad Asian membership, but would be functionally limited to social and economic cooperation.
An important input to contingency planning on intervention came from the Joint Chiefs of Staff. On May 20, the JCS sent a memorandum to the Secretary of Defense entitled "U.S. Military Participation in Indochina." In the paper, the Chiefs requested formulation of a Defense Department position on the size of any American contributions and the nature of the command structure once united action began. They noted the "limited availability of U.S. forces for military action in Indochina" and the "current numerical advantage of the French Union forces over the enemy, i.e., approximately 5 to 3." Pointing out the disadvantages of either stationing large numbers of U.S. troops in Indochina or of basing U.S. aircraft on Indochina's limited facilities, the Chiefs considered "the current greatest need" to be an expanded, intensified training program for indigenous troops. They observed, moreover, that they were guided in their comments by the likely reaction of the CPR to U.S. involvement, as well as by the prescription: "Atomic weapons will be used whenever it is to our military advantage."
In view of these problems and prospects, the JCS urged the limitation of United States involvement to strategic planning and the training of indigenous forces through an increase in MAAG from less than 150 to 2250 men. Its force commitment should be restricted, they advised, primarily to air-naval support directed from outside Indochina; even here, the Chiefs cautioned against making a "substantial" air force commitment. The Chiefs were also mindful of the Chinese. Since Viet Minh supplies came mainly from China, "the destruction or neutralization of those outside sources supporting the Viet Minh would materially reduce the French military problems in Indochina."
The Chiefs were simply taking their traditional position that any major U.S. force commitment in the Far East should be reserved for a war against China in the event the President decided that such a conflict was necessary for the preservation of vital American interests. Recognizing the limitations of the "New Look" defense establishment for large-scale involvement in "brushfire" wars, the Chiefs were extremely hesitant, as had consistently been the case during the Indochina crisis, to favor action along the periphery of China when the strategic advantages of American power lay in decisive direct blows against the major enemy. Thus, the JCS closed their memorandum with the admonition that air-naval commitments beyond those specified:
will involve maldeployment of forces and reduce readiness to meet probable Chinese Communist reaction elsewhere in the Far East. From the point of view of the United States, with reference to the Far East as a whole, Indochina is devoid of decisive military objectives and the allocation of more than token U.S. armed forces to that area would be a serious diversion of limited U.S. capabilities.*
* These conclusions were subsequently confirmed when, at the direction of General Matthew B. Ridgway, Army Chief of Staff, a technical team of seven officers representing the Engineer, Transportation, and Signal Corps went to Indochina on a covert mission to determine military and military-related resources available there in the event U.S. intervention were implemented. The team spent the period May 31-June 22 in the field. Their conclusions were, in brief, that Indochina was devoid of the logistical, geographic, and related resources necessary to a substantial American ground effort. The group's findings are in a report from Col. David W. Heiman, its leader, to Ridgway, July 12, 1954.
The Chiefs' conclusions were disputed, however, by Everett Drumright of State (FEA) (in a memorandum to MacArthur, May 24, 1954). He argued that if, as everyone agreed, Indochina was vital to American security, the United States should not consider more than a token group troop commitment to be a serious diversion of our capabilities. While not arguing for a substantial troop commitment, Drumright suggested that the United States plan for that eventuality rather than count on defense with atomic weapons or non-nuclear strikes on Chinese territory. Somehow, however, Drumright's concern about the Chinese did not extend to the consideration that a massive troop commitment, which he stated elsewhere in the memorandum might prove necessary should token forces fail to do the job, also risked bringing in the Chinese.
The JCS evidently also decided to call a meeting of military representatives from the United States, France, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand. At first, the Chiefs suggested the downgrading of the representatives to below chief-of-staff level; but apparently on the strong protest of Under Secretary Smith at Geneva, and of the British too, the Chiefs acquiesced in a meeting at chief-of-staff level. But prior to the meeting, which began the first week of June, important developments occurred in the U.S.-France discussions of intervention.
The ticklish problem of bringing France to concede the critical importance of granting full independence to the Associated States occupied center stage once more. On May 27, the State Department, acknowledging France's hesitancy to go too far on this score, still insisted on certain "minimum measures," the most important of which was that France, during or immediately after formal approval of the April 28 draft treaties, announce its willingness to withdraw all its forces from Indochina unless invited by the governments of the Associated States to maintain them or to establish bases. (The United States, the Department added, would be prepared to make a similar declaration if it committed forces.) Beyond that step, the French were also asked to permit Indochinese participation in the programming of economic aid and their direct receipt of all military aid, to find ways to broaden participation of the Vietnamese defense ministry and armed forces in national defense, and to push for the establishment of "representative and authentic nationalist governments" at the earliest possible date.
Transmitting these new proposals to the French, Dillon (incorrectly as it turned out) found them so well received that he reported on May 29, following a conversation with Laniel, that the two partners "had now reached accord in principle on political side." Laniel, he cabled Dulles, urged immediate military talks to complete arrangements on training of the Vietnamese, a new command structure, and war plans. Inasmuch as Ely and General John W. O'Daniel in Indochina had reached general agreement on American assumption of responsibility for training the VNA, [Doc. 52] the way was apparently cleared for bilateral military talks in Washington to take place simultaneously with, and therefore disguised by, the five-power staff negotiations.
Dillon's optimistic assessment proved premature, however, on several grounds. When he reported May 28 on talks with Schumann, he had added Schumann's and Defense Minister René Pleven's concern about Chinese air intervention, which they felt would be so damaging as to warrant a deterrent action in the form of a Presidential request to the Congress for discretionary authority to defend the Delta in case of CCAF attack. The French wanted a virtually instantaneous U.S. response, one that would be assured by a Presidential request before rather than after overt Chinese aerial intervention. The State Department's retort was that the French first had to satisfy the previously reported conditions before any such move by the President could be considered.
Dillon was no less disappointed by Washington's reply than the French. He cabled back that there apparantly was an "extremely serious misunderstanding between U.S. and French":
French draw sharp distinction between (1) U.S. intervention in present circumstances with Viet Minh bolstered by Chinese Communist materiel, technicians and possibly scattered troops and (2) U.S. reaction against full-scale air attack mounted from Communist Chinese bases.
Dillon said that, for the French, Washington's preconditions applied in the first case but not the second, wherein only Congressional authorization was understood to stand in the way of direct American action. Ely, the Ambassador reported, had all along believed he had Radford's personal assurance of an American countermove against Chinese air attack in the Delta. Now, the French wanted to know if they could count on instant U.S. interdiction of a CCAF strike. The Ambassador closed by reminding the Department of the incalculable harm to NATO, to the whole U.S. role in Western Europe, and to the U.S. position against the Communists' world strategy if a Chinese attack was not met.
Despite Dillon's protestations the Department stuck by its initial position of May 15, namely, that Chinese air attack was unlikely and that the United States would meet that problem when it arose. Clearly, the Administration was unwilling to make any advance commitments which the French could seize upon for political advantage at Geneva without having to give a quid pro quo in their Indochina policy. Eisenhower affirmed this view and went beyond it: The conditions for united action, he said, applied equally to Chinese direct and indirect involvement in Indochina. The United States would make no unilateral commitment against any contingency, including overt, unprovoked Chinese aggression, without firm, broad allied support. *
* Eisenhower's unwavering attitude toward action in Asia only in concert with allies put him at odds with Dulles, who was prepared to act unilaterally in cases of overt aggression. When the issue of possible CPR air intervention came before the President, he is reported to have reacted sharply. Evidently supposing that conflict in the air would mean a Sino-American war, the President said the United States would not intervene in China on any basis except united action. He would not be responsible for going into China alone unless a joint Congressional resolution ordered him to do so. The United States should in no event undertake alone to support French colonialism. Unilateral action by the United States in cases of this kind would destroy us. If we intervened alone in this case we would be expected to intervene alone in other parts of the world. He made very plain that the need for united action as a condition of U.S. intervention was not related merely to the regional grouping for the defense of Southeast Asia but was also a necessity for U.S. intervention in response to Chinese communist overt aggression.
See memorandum of conversation between Eisenhower and Robert Cutler, the President's special assistant, June 1, 1954.
The rationale for the President's difference of view with his Secretary was laid out more fully the next day. Eisenhower said that since direct Chinese aggression would force him to go all the way with naval and air power (including "new weapons") in reply. he would need to have much more than Congressional authorization. Thai, Filipino, French, and Indochinese support would be important but not sufficient; other nations, such as Australia, would have to give their approval, for otherwise he could not be certain the public would back a war against China. (Memorandum of conversation in the President's office, June 2, 1954, involving also Dulles, Anderson, Radford, MacArthur, and Cutler.) At its 200th meeting on June 3, the NSC received, considered, and agreed upon the President's views.
There were other obstacles to U.S-French agreement, as brought into the open with a memorandum to the President from Foreign Minister Georges Bidault on June 1. One was the question of timing involved in American insistence on French Assembly approval of a government request for U.S. intervention. The French cabinet considered that to present a program of allied involvement to the Assembly except under the circumstance of "a complete failure of the Geneva Conference" attributable to the Communists "would be literally to wish to overthrow the tFrench] Government." A second area of continuing disagreement concerned the maintenance of French forces in the field and the nature of a U.S. commitment. The French held that the United States could bypass Congress by committing perhaps one division of Marines without a declaration of war. Although assured by Washington that the Marines would not be excluded from a U.S. air-naval commitment, the French were not satisfied. In his memorandum, Bidault asked that the United States take account of France's defense obligations elsewhere, an indirect way of asking that Washington go beyond a token ground-troop commitment. Confronted by a war-weary Parliament on one side and opponents of EDC on the other, Bidault doubtless believed that the retention of French soldiers in Indochina without relief from American GIs was neither militarily nor politically acceptable.
A final but by no means negligible French objection to the American proposals concerned the independence issue. Far from having been settled, as Dillon supposed, the French were still unhappy about American pressure for concessions even after the State Department's May 27 revisions. The French were particularly disturbed (as Bidault implied) at the notion that the Associated States could leave the Union at any time, even while French fighting men were in the field on Indochina's behalf. "Such a formula," Bidault wrote, "is unacceptable to the French Government, first because it is incompatible with the French Constitution, and also because it would be extremely difficult to explain to French opinion that the forces of the French Union were continuing the war in Indochina for the benefit of States that might at any moment leave the Union." France was perfectly willing, Bidault remarked, to sign new treaties of association with the three Indochinese States, to allow them a larger voice in defense matters, and to work with them toward formation of truly national governments; but, to judge from his commentary, Paris would not go the whole route by committing itself in advance to Indochina's full freedom of action in the French Union. And while this and other issues remained unresolved, as Dulles observed June 4, Laniel's reported belief that the United States and France were politically agreed was a "serious overstatement."
By early June the unsettled issues separating the United States from France began to lose their relevance to the war. Even if they could be resolved, it was questionable whether American involvement could any longer be useful, much less decisive. On the matter of training the VNA, for instance, the United States was no longer certain that time would permit its training methods to take effect even if the French promptly removed themselves from responsibility in that area. The State Department now held that the Vietnam situation had deteriorated "to point where any commitment at this time to send over U.S. instructors in near future might expose us to being faced with situation in which it would be contrary to our interests to have to fulfill such commitment. Our position accordingly is that we do not wish to consider U.S. training mission or program separately from over-all operational plan on assumption conditions fulfilled for U.S. participation war Indochina." Morale of the Franco-Vietnamese forces, moreover, had dropped sharply, the whole Tonkin Delta was endangered, and the political situation in Saigon was reported to be dangerously unstable. Faced with this uniformly black picture, the Administration determined that the grave but still retrievable military situation prevailing at the time united action was proposed and pursued had, in June, altered radically, to the point where united action might have to be withdrawn from consideration by the French.
By mid-June American diplomacy was therefore in an unenviable position. At Geneva, very little progress had been made of a kind that could lead any of the Allies to expect a satisfactory outcome. Yet the alternative which the United States had reopened no longer seemed viable either. As Dulles told Smith, any "final agreement" with the French would be "quite impossible," for Paris was moving farther than ever from a determination that united action was necessary. "They want, and in effect have, an option on our intervention," Dulles wrote, "but they do not want to exercise it and the date of expiry of our option is fast running out." [Doc. 57] From Paris, in fact, Ambassador Dillon urged the Secretary that "the time limit be now" on U.S. intervention. [Doc. 56] And Dulles was fast concluding that Dillon was correct.
In view of France's feeling that, because of strong Assembly pressure for a settlement, no request could be made of the United States until every effort to reach agreement at Geneva had been exhausted, Dulles in effect decided, on June 15, that united action was no longer tenable. In a conversation with Bonnet, in which the French Ambassador read a message from Bidault which indicated that the French no longer considered the United States bound to intervene on satisfaction of the seven conditions, the Secretary put forth the difficulty of the American position. He stated that the United States stood willing to respond to a French request under the conditions of May 11, but that time and circumstance might make future intervention "impracticable or so burdensome as to be out of proportion to the results obtainable." While this offer would be unsatisfactory to Bidault, especially in his dealings with the Communists at Geneva, Dulles "could not conceive that it would be expected that the United States would give a third power the option to put it into war at times and under conditions wholly of the other's choosing." With this, united action was shelved, and it never appeared again in the form and with the purpose originally proposed.
As a break with France on united action became likely, American interest focused on a collective defense arrangement after a Geneva settlement with British participation. The French and British roles in U.S. planning were in effect reversed; Paris, it was felt, could no longer be counted on as an active participant in regional security. As their delegate to Geneva, Jean Chauvel, told Smith, Bidault was still hopeful of getting "something" from the conference. [Doc. 54] On the other hand, Eden told Smith on June 9 of his extreme pessimism over the course of the negotiations. Eden believed a recess in the talks was likely within a few days (it came, in fact, ten days later), and proposed that the Cambodian and Laotian cases be brought before the United Nations immediately after the end of the conference, even if France opposed the move. Smith drew from the conversation the strong impression that Eden believed negotiations to have failed and would now follow the American lead on a coalition to guarantee Cambodia and Laos "under umbrella of some UN action" (Smith's words). [Doc. 54] Days later, Dulles likewise anticipated a British shift when he observed sardonically that events at Geneva had probably "been such as to satisfy the British insistence that they did riot want to discuss collective action until either Geneva was over or at least the results of Geneva were known. I would assume," Dulles went on, "that the departure of Eden [from Geneva] would be evidence that there was no adequate reason for further delaying collective talks on Southeast Asia defense." But whether the United States and Great Britain would see eye-to-eye on their post-settlement security obligations in the region, and whether joint diplomatic initiatives to influence the nature of the settlement could be decided upon, remained outstanding questions.
The rebirth and demise of united action was a rare case of history repeated almost immediately after it had been made. The United States, having failed to interest Britain and France in united action prior to the start of the Geneva Conference, refused to be relegated to an uninfluential role and determined instead to plunge ahead without British participation. But the conditions for intervention which had been given the French before the fall of Dienbienphu were now stiffened, most importantly by a greater detailing of the process the French government would have to go through before the United States would consider direct involvement.
Even while the French pondered the conditions, urged their refinement and redefinition to suit French policies, and insisted in the end that they saw no political obstacles separating the United States and France, Washington anticipated that the French were very unlikely to forward a request for U.S. involvement. Having learned something of French government priorities from the futile diplomatic bargaining in April, Department of State representatives in Paris and Washington saw that what the French wanted above all was not the military advantages of active U.S. intervention but the political benefits that might be derived from bringing into the open the fact that the two allies were negotiating American participation in the fighting. Thus, Dillon correctly assessed in mid-May that French inquiries about American conditions for intervention represented a "wish to use possibility of our intervention primarily to strengthen their hand at Geneva." The French hoped they would not have to call on the United States for direct support; they did hope the Communists would sense the dangers of proposing unacceptable terms for a settlement. Dillon's sensitivity to the French position was proven accurate by Bidault's memorandum to the President: France would, in reality, only call on the United States if an "honorable" settlement could clearly not be obtained at Geneva, for only under that circumstance could the National Assembly be persuaded that the Laniel government had done everything possible to achieve peace.
Recognition of the game the French were playing did not keep the United States from posing intervention as an alternative for them; but by adhering tenaciously to the seven conditions, it ruled out either precipitous American action or an open-ended commitment to be accepted or rejected by Paris. The State Department, guided on the military side by strong JCS objections to promising the French American combat troops in advance of a new and satisfactory command structure and strategic plan, became increasingly distraught with and suspicious of French motivations. "We cannot grant French an indefinite option on us without regard to intervening deterioration" of the military situation, Dulles wrote on June 8. As much as the Administration wanted to avoid a sell-out at Geneva, it was aware that events in Indochina might preclude effective U.S. action even if the French suddenly decided they wanted American support. Put another way, one of the primary differences between American diplomacy before and after the fall of Dienbienphu was its ability to project ahead-to weigh the factors of time and circumstance against the distasteful possibility that Vietnam, by French default at the negotiating table or defeat on the battlefield, might be lost. As the scales tipped against united action, American security planning began to focus on the future possibilities of collective defense in Southeast Asia, while the pattern of diplomacy shifted from disenchantment with the Geneva Conference to attempts to bring about the best possible settlement terms.
V. THE MAJOR ISSUES AT THE CONFERENCE, MAY-JUNE
Washington's sense that the conference had essentially gotten nowhere-a view which Smith and Dulles believed was shared by Eden, as already noted-was not entirely accurate; nor was it precisely the thinking of other delegations. Following the initial French and Viet Minh proposals of May 8 and 10, respectively, some progress had in fact been made, although certainly not of an order that could have led any of the chief negotiators to expect a quick settlement. As the conference moved ahead, three major areas of contention emerged: the separation of belligerent forces, the establishment of a framework for political settlements in the three Indochinese states, and provision for effective control and supervision of the cease-fire.
A. SEPARATION OF THE BELLIGERENTS
The question how best to disentangle the opposing armies was most acute in Vietnam, but was also hotly debated as it applied to Cambodia and Laos. In Vietnam, Viet Minh forces were concentrated in the Tonkin Delta, though large numbers had long been active in Annam (central Vietnam) and Cochinchina (the south). The original French and Viet Minh proposals sought to take account of this situation by dismissing (although for separate reasons) the concept of single regroupment areas and forwarding instead the idea of perhaps several concentration points to facilitate a cease-fire. To this point, the Vietnamese delegation was in agreement: regroupment of the belligerents should in no way have the effect of dividing the country into makeshift military zones that could have lasting political implications.
It was an entirely different matter where the regroupment areas should be located; whether "foreign" (i.e., French) troops should be withdrawn, and if so, from what areas and during what period; whether irregular troops (i.e., Viet Minh guerrillas) should be disarmed and disbanded, and if so, whether they and their comrades in the regular forces should be integrated (as the Bao Dai delegation proposed) into the VNA; and, of crucial importance, whether a cease-fire should be dependent upon success in the regroupment process or, as Pham Van Dong proposed, upon an overall political settlement.
This last question was tackled first by the negotiators. On Eden's initiative, the conference had moved in mid-May from plenary to restricted sessions, where fewer delegates were present, no verbatim record was systematically kept, and the press was barred. Eden's expectation that the opportunities for greater intimacy among the delegates would enhance the possibility of making some headway was partially fulfilled. At the first restricted session on May 17, Molotov responded to Bidault's implication that one cause of continuing irresolution in the negotiations was the Viet Minh's insistence on coupling a military with a political settlement, whereas the French proposal had been geared to dealing only with the military portion before going on to discuss the political side. The Soviet delegate argued that while military and political matters were obviously closely linked, the conference might do best to address the military settlement first, since it was a point common to the French and Viet Minh proposals. Dong objected that military and political matters were so closely knit that they could not be separated; however, he agreed (although, we may surmise, with some reluctance) that the two problems could be dealt with in that order.
With a basic procedural obstacle removed, it was finally agreed that a cease-fire should have priority in the conference's order of business.* Toward that goal, the
* On May 20, Chou En-lai told Eden that military and political matters should indeed be dealt with separately, and that priority should be given to the attainment of a cease-fire. (Smith tel. SECTO 267 from Geneva, May 20, 1954.) The Communists were quick to point out thereafter, though, that a political settlement should not be dropped from consideration. In fact, at the fifth restricted session, Molotov returned to the issue of military versus political settlements by proposing that they be considered at alternate meetings. The Western side held fast to concentrating on the cease-fire and turning to political matters only when agreement had been reached on the military side; this position was tacitly adopted.
problem of regroupment and disarmament of certain forces was taken up. At the fifth restricted session on May 24, Foreign Minister Bidault proposed, among other things, that a distinction be admitted between "regular" and "irregular" forces. Regular troops, he said, included all permanently organized forces, which for the Viet Minh meant regional as well as regular units. These, he suggested, should be regrouped into demilitarized zones, whereas loosely organized irregulars should be disarmed under some form of control. Pham Van Dong, in his reply, agreed on the urgency of a cease-fire and on the importance of disarming irregulars; but, in contrast to Bidault's proposal, Dong asserted that inasmuch as each side would have responsibility for all forces in areas under its control after the cease-fire, disarmament would take place naturally. Dong implicitly rejected the idea of controlled disarmament, therefore, by placing the problem in the post- rather than pre-cease-fire period.
The issues of regroupment and disarmament might have brought the conference to a standstill had not Pham Van Dong, at the sixth restricted session (May 25), suddenly reversed his position on regroupment and proposed what amounted to the partitioning of Indochina. Following only moments after the Vietnamese delegate, Nguyen Quoc Dinh, had offered a plan based on the maintenance of his country's territorial integrity,* Dong suggested that in the course of the regroupment, specific
* The GVN's position called for the disbandment and disarming of Viet Minh forces and their later integration into a national army under international control; international supervision of elections to be conducted by the Bao Dai government at an unspecified future date; and recognition of the integrity of the Vietnamese state. The GVN also insisted that the withdrawal of foreign forces come after all other issues had been resolved.
territorial jurisdictions be established such that each side would have complete economic and administrative, no less than military, control. So as not to be misunderstood, Dong further urged that a temporary line of demarcation be drawn that would be topographically suitable and appropriate for transportation and communication within each zone thus created. The American delegate, General Smith, immediately dismissed Dong's proposal and advised that the conferees return to discussion of the original cease-fire issues. But, as was to become clear very soon, Dong's new move struck a responsive chord among the French even as it confirmed to the Bao Dai delegation its worst fears.
What had prompted Dong to introduce a partition arrangement when, at previous sessions, the Viet Minh had pushed repeatedly for a settlement procedure that would facilitate their consolidation of control over the entire country? What evidence we have is circumstantial, but it suggests that the Viet Minh delegation may have come under Sino-Soviet pressure to produce an alternative to cease-fire proposals that were consistently being rejected by the West. The partition alternative, specifically at the 16th parallel, had been intimated to American officials as early as March 4 by a member of the Soviet Embassy in London, apparently out of awareness of Franco-American objections to a coalition arrangement for Vietnam. On the opening day of the conference, moreover, Soviet officials had again approached American officials on the subject, this time at Geneva, averring that the establishment of a buffer state to China's south would be sufficient satisfaction of China's security needs. While these events do not demonstrate that Dong's partition proposal * was the direct outgrowth of Sino-Soviet disposition toward a territorial division, they do reveal that
* The DRV, it should be added, refused to call its proposal one for partition. As the official newspaper, Nhan Dan (The People) put it, the proposal amounted merely to "zonal readjustment" necessary to achieving a cease-fire. The readjustment "is only a stage in preparation for free general elections with a view toward the realization of national unity." Vietnam News Agency (VNA) broadcast in English to Southeast Asia, June 7, 1954.
partition was a solution, albeit temporary, which Moscow, at least, early found agreeable.
Whatever lay behind Dong's gambit, the French were put in the position of being challenged on their prior commitments to the Vietnamese. At the time the conference began, Bao Dai's government, perhaps mindful of past instances of partition-type solutions in Korea and Germany, and almost certainly suspicious of ultimate French intentions in the face of Viet Minh territorial demands, urged Paris to provide written assurance it would neither seek nor accept a division of Vietnam at Geneva. To make his own position perfectly clear, Bao Dai, through his representatives in the French capital, issued a communique (in the name of the GVN cabinet) which took note of various plans in the air for partition. The communique stated that partition "would be in defiance of Vietnamese national sentiment which has asserted itself with so much strength for the unity as well as for the independence of the country. Neither the Chief of State nor the national government of Vietnam admits that the unity of the country can be severed legally...." The cabinet warned that an agreement compromising that unity would never receive Vietnam's approval:
...neither the Chief of State, nor the Vietnamese Government will consider themselves [sic] as bound by decisions running counter to the interests, i.e., independence and unity, of their country that would, at the same time, violate the rights of the peoples and offer a reward to aggression in opposition to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations and democratic ideals.
In response to this clear-cut statement, the French came forward with both oral and written promises. On May 3, Maurice Dejean, the Commissioner General for Indochina, said in Saigon:
The French Government does not intend to seek a settlement of the Indochina problem on the basis of a partition of Vietnamese territory. .
Formal assurances were given on this subject last April 25 by the French minister for foreign affairs to the minister for foreign affairs of Vietnam, and they were confirmed to him on May 1.
Written assurance came from Bidault on May 6 when he wrote Bao Dai that the task of the French government was to establish peace in Indochina, not "to seek here [at Geneva] a definitive political solution." Therefore, the French goal would be, said Bidault, to obtain a cease-fire with guarantees for the Associated States, hopefully with general elections in the future. Bidault continued:
As of now, I am however in a position to confirm to Your Majesty that nothing would be more contrary to the intentions of the French government than to prepare for the establishment, at the expense of the unity of Vietnam, two States having each an international calling (vocation).
Bidault's support of Vietnam's opposition to partition, which he repeated privately before Eden and Smith at Geneva, collapsed once the new government of Pierre Mendès-France took over in mid-June. Mendès-France, keenly aware of the tenor of French public opinion, was far more disposed than the Laniel-Bidault administration to making every effort toward achieving a reasonable settlement. While by no means prepared for a sell-out, Mendès-France quickly foresaw that agreement with the Viet Minh was unlikely unless he accepted the concept of partition. His delegate at Geneva, who remained Chauvel, and the new Commissioner General for Indochina, General Ely, reached the same conclusion. At a high-level meeting in Paris on June 24, the new government thoroughly revised the French negotiating position. The objectives for subsequent talks, it was decided, would be: (1) the regroupment of forces of both sides, and their separation by a line about at the 18th parallel;* (2) the establishment of enclaves under neutral control in the two zones, one for the French in the area of the Catholic bishoprics at Phat Diem and
* French insistence on the 18th parallel originated in the recommendation of General Navarre, who was asked several questions by the French delegation at Geneva regarding the likely impact of the then-existing military situation on the French negotiatory position. Navarre's responses were sent April 21. On the demarcation line, Navarre said that the 18th parallel would leave "us" the ancient political capital of Hue as well as Tourane (Da Nang), and permit the retention of militarily valuable terrain. (See General Ely's Mémoires: l'Indochine dans la Tourmente [Paris: Plon, 19641, p. 112, and Lacouture and Devillers, La fin d'une guerre, p. 126.) Thus, the choice of the 18th parallel was based on military considerations, and apparently assumed a continuing French role in southern Vietnam after partition.
Bui Chu, one for the Viet Minh at an area to be determined; (3) the maintenance of Haiphong in French hands in order to assist in the regroupment. The meeting also decided that, for the purpose of psychological pressure on the Viet Minh if not military preparedness for future contingencies, France should break with past practice and announce plans to send a contingent of conscripts (later determined as two divisions) to Indochina. Thus, by late June, the French had come around to acceptance of the need to explore a territorial settlement without, as we have already observed, informing the Vietnamese that Bidault's and Dejean's assurances had been superseded. On June 26, Paris formally notified Washington and London that Chauvel would soon begin direct talks with Pham Van Dong on a partition arrangement that would provide the GVN with the firmest possible territorial base. [Doc. 66]
While ground had been broken on the cease-fire for Vietnam, debate continued on Laos and Cambodia. Prior to and after Dong's proposal of May 25, the delegates argued back and forth without progress over the relationship between the conflict in Vietnam and that in Cambodia and Laos. The Khmer and Laotian delegates insisted they represented free and independent governments which were being challenged by a handful of indigenous renegades assisted by the invading Viet Minh. Thus, the delegates reasoned, their situations were quite different from the "civil war" in Vietnam, and therefore cease-fires could readily be established in Laos and Cambodia by the simple expedient of removing the aggressors. These delegates saw no reason--and they received solid support from the American, French and British representatives--for acceding to the Viet Minh demand that cease-fires in their two countries be contingent upon, and hence forced to occur simultaneously with, one in Vietnam.
The Communists' retorts left little room for compromise. Pham Van Dong held, as before, that he spoke for "governments" which were being refused admission to the conference. The Pathet Lao and the Free Khmer were separate, genuine "national liberation movements" whose stake in their respective countries, Dong implied, would have to be acknowledged before a cease-fire could be arranged anywhere in Indochina. Molotov buttressed this argument with the claim that Laos and Cambodia were no more "independent" than Vietnam. Using a common negotiating tactic, he excerpted from a public statement by Dulles to point out how France was still being urged by the United States in May to grant real independence to all three Indochinese states, not just Vietnam. Molotov's only retreat was on the extent of Pathet Lao and Free Khmer terntonal control. He admitted that while the Viet Minh were dominant in Vietnam, the Khmer-Laotian resistance movements controlled some lesser amount of territory.
For a while it seemed that the conference would become inextricably bogged down on the question whether the Pathet Lao and Free Khmer were creatures of the Viet Minh or genuine nationalist forces. Certainly the Viet Minh delegation remained steadfast. At the fourth restricted session (May 21), Pham Van Dong made his implication of the previous sessions clearer when he said he had always understood the French cease-fire proposal to have applied to all Indochina (an outright fabrication) inasmuch as the problems in the three states were different only in degree, not in nature. If Cambodia and Laos were detached from Vietnam in the discussions, Dong said, the cease-fire issue would be attacked in the wrong way and a satisfactory solution would not be reached. The warning of no cease-fire settlement for Cambodia and Laos without one for Vietnam was clear.
These last remarks by Dong, however, were no longer wholly in accord with what the Chinese were privately indicating. Chou En-lai, in the same conversation with Eden on May 20 in which Chou had agreed to separate military from political matters, also admitted that political settlements might be different for the three Indochinese states. Chou thus moved one step closer to the Western position, which held that the Laotian and Cambodian cases were substantially different from that in Vietnam and hence should be decided separately. The concession, however small, paved the way for agreement to Eden's proposal on May 25 that the problem of a cease-fire in Vietnam be dealt with separately and directly by having the Viet Minh and French military commands meet in Geneva and on the spot in Vietnam (later determined as Trung Gia) to discuss technical aspects of the regroupment. The military staffs would report their findings to the conferees. On June 2 formal agreement was reached between the commands to begin work; but it was not until June 10, apparently, that the Viet Minh actually consented that their secret talks with the French, like the discussions of the military commands, should be concerned only with Vietnam to the exclusion of Laotian and Cambodian problems. Thus, it would seem that the Viet Minh position on the indivisibility of the three Indochinese states for purposes of a settlement was undercut by the Chinese (doubtless with Soviet support); yet for about three weeks following Chou's talk with Eden, the Viet Minh had privately refused to deal with the French on Vietnam alone.
B. POLITICAL SETTLEMENTS
Communist agreement to treat Laos and Cambodia separately as well as to consider a territorial division did not, however, signal imminent progress on the substance of military or political settlements for those countries any more than for Vietnam. Several additional plenary and restricted sessions made no headway at all during late May and the first weeks of June. Eden's disappointment led him to state to his fellow delegates:
In respect . . . to the arrangements for supervision and to the future of Laos and Cambodia, the divergencies are at present wide and deep. Unless we can narrow them now without further delay, we shall have failed in our task. We have exhausted every expedient procedure which we could devise to assist us in our work. We all know now what the differences are. We have no choice but to resolve them or to admit our failure. For our part, the United Kingdom Delegation is still willing to attempt to resolve them here or in restricted session or by any other method which our colleagues may prefer.
But, gentlemen, if the positions remain as they are today, I think it is our clear-cut duty to say so to the world and to admit that we have failed.
Days later, his pessimism ran even deeper as the conference indeed seemed close to a breakdown. The Americans did not help matters, either: "Bedell Smith," Eden has since divulged, "showed me a telegram from President Eisenhower advising him to do everything in his power to bring the conference to an end as rapidly as possible, on the grounds that the Communists were only spinning things out to suit their own military purposes."
For reasons which will be speculated on subsequently, the Soviets and Chinese were not prepared to admit that the conference had failed and were willing to forestall that prospect by making concessions sufficient to justify its continuation. While the Americans may have wished to see a breakdown, Eden was not yet convinced that was inevitable. Again, his patience was rewarded. On June 16, Chou told the foreign secretary that the Cambodian resistance forces were small, making a political settlement with the Royal Government "easily" obtainable. In Laos, where those forces were larger, regroupment areas along the border with Vietnam (in Sam Neua and Phong Saly provinces) would be required, Chou thought. Asked by Eden whether there might not be difficulty in gaining Viet Minh agreement to the withdrawal of their troops from the two countries, Chou replied it would "not be difficult" in the context of a withdrawal of all foreign forces. The CPR would even be willing to consider the royal governments as heading independent states that could maintain their ties to the French Union, provided no American bases were established in their territories. China's preeminent concern, Eden deduced, was that the United States might use Laos and Cambodia as jump-off points for an attack on the mainland.
From the conversation, Eden "received a strong impression that he [Choul wanted a settlement and I accordingly urged Georges Bidault to have a talk with him and to discuss this new offer." On the next day (June 17), Bidault met with Chou for the first time, as well as with Molotov, and reported the Communists' great concern over a break-up of the conference. Two days later a French redraft of a Chinese proposal to broaden the military staff conferences to include separate talks on Laos and Cambodia was accepted.
This first major breakthrough in the negotiations, with the Chinese making an overture that evidently had full Soviet backing,* seems not to have had Viet Minh
* When Molotov met with Smith on June 19, the Soviet representative said he saw the possibility of agreement on Laos and Cambodia so long as neither side (i.e., the French and Viet Minh) "adopted one-sided views or put forward extreme pretensions." Molotov said about 50 percent of Laotian territory was not controlled by the royal government (putting the Pathet Lao case in the negative), with a much smaller movement in Cambodia. The tone of Smith's report on this conversation suggests that Molotov saw no obstacles to Viet Minh withdrawal of its "volunteers." Smith tel. DULTE 202 from Geneva, June 19, 1954.
approval. At the same time as the Chinese were saying, for example in a New China News Agency (NCNA) broadcast of June 17, that all three Communist delegations had "all along maintained that the conditions in each of the three Indochinese countries are not exactly alike," and hence that "conditions peculiar to each of these countries should be taken into consideration," the Viet Minh were claiming that "the indivisibility of the three questions of Vietnam, Khmer, and Pathet Lao" was one of several "fundamental questions" which the conference had failed to resolve. In fact, of course, that question had been resolved; yet the Viet Minh continued to proclaim the close unity of the Viet Minh, Pathet Lao, and Free Khmer under the banner of their tri-national united front alliance formed in 1951. No doubt the Viet Minh were seeking to assure their cadres and soldiers in Cambodia and Laos that Pham Van Dong would not bargain away their fate at the conference table, but it may also be that the broadcasts were meant to imply Viet Minh exceptions to objectionable Sino-Soviet concessions.
Those concessions, first on the separability of Laos and Cambodia from Vietnam and subsequently on Viet Minh involvement there, compelled the DRV delegation to take a new tack. On the former questions Viet Minh representatives indicated on June 16 during "underground" discussions with the French that insofar as Vietnam was concerned, their minimum terms were absolute control of the Tonkin Delta, including Hanoi and Haiphong. While the French were reluctant to yield both cities, which they still controlled, a bargaining point had been established inasmuch as the Viet Minh were now willing to discuss specific geographic objectives. On the second question, the Viet Minh, apparently responding to Chou En-lai's "offer" of their withdrawal from Cambodia and Laos, indicated flexibility at least toward the latter country. A Laotian delegate reported June 23, following a meeting with Pham Van Dong in the garden of the Chinese delegation's villa, that the Viet Minh were in apparent accord on the withdrawal of their "volunteers" and even on Laos' retention of French treaty bases. The Viet Minh's principal demand was that French military personel in Laos be reduced to a minimum. Less clearly, Dong alluded to the creation in Laos of a government of "national union," Pathet Lao participation in 1955 elections for the national assembly, and a "temporary arrangement" governing areas dominated by Pathet Lao military forces. But these latter points were interpreted as being suggestive; Dong had come around to the Western view shared (now by the Soviets and Chinese) that the Pathet Lao not be accorded either military or political weight equal to that of the royal government. Later in the conference, Dong would make a similar retreat on Cambodia.
C. CONTROL AND SUPERVISION
Painstakingly slow progress toward cease-fires and political settlements for the Indochinese states also characterized the work of devising supervisory organs to oversee the implementation and preservation of the cease-fire. Yet here again, the Communist side was not so intransigent as to make agreement impossible.
Three separate but interrelated issues dominated the discussions of control and supervision at this stage of the conference and afterward. First, there was sharp disagreement over the structure of the supervisory organ: Should it consist solely of joint commissions composed of the belligerents, or should it have superimposed above an international authority possessing decisionmaking power? Second, the composition of any supervisory organ other than the joint commissions was also hotly disputed: Given agreement to have "neutral" nations observe the truce, which nations might be considered "neutral"? Finally, if it were agreed that there should be a neutral control body, how would it discharge its duties?
In the original Viet Minh proposals, implementation of the cease-fire was left to joint indigenous commissions, with no provision for higher, international supervision. Vehement French objections led to a second line of defense from the Communist side. At the fourth plenary session (May 14), Molotov suggested the setting up of a Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission (NNSC) such as existed in Korea, and said he did not foresee any insurmountable problem in reaching agreement on its membership. But Molotov's revision left much to be determined and, from the Western standpoint, much to be desired too. Serious debate on the control and supervision problem did not get underway until early June. At that time, Molotov expressly rejected the American plan, supported by the Indochinese delegations and Great Britain, to have the United Nations supervise a cease-fire. He argued that the UN had nothing to do with the Geneva Conference, especially as most of the conferees were not UN members. Returning to his plan for an NNSC, Molotov reiterated his view that Communist countries could be as neutral as capitalist countries; hence, he said, the problem was simply one of choosing which countries should comprise the supervisory organ, and suggested that the yardstick be those having diplomatic and political relations with both France and the Viet Minh. As to that body's relationship to the joint commissions, Molotov shied away from the Western proposal to make them subordinate to the neutral commission. "It would be in the interest of our work to recognize," Molotov said, "that these commissions should act in coordination and in agreement between each other, but should not be subordinate to each other." No such hierarchical relationship had existed in Korea, so why one in Indochina? Finally, the foreign minister saw no reason why an NNSC could not reach decisions by unanimous vote on "important" questions. Disputes among or within the commissions, Molotov concluded, would be referred to the states guaranteeing the settlement, which would, if necessary, take "collective measures" to resolve them.
The Western position was stated succinctly by Bidault. Again insisting on having "an authority remote from the heat of the fighting and which would have a final word to say in disputes," Bidault said the neutral control commission should have absolute responsibility for the armistice. It would have such functions as regrouping the regular forces, supervising any demilitarized zones, conducting the exchange of prisoners, and implementing measures for the non-introduction of war materiel into Indochina. While the joint commission would have an important role to play in these control processes, such as in working out agreement for the safe passage of opposing armies from one zone to another or for POW exchange, its functions would have to be subordinate to the undisputed authority of a neutral mechanism. Bidault did not specify which nations fitted his definition of "neutrality" and whether they would decide by majority or unanimous vote. These omissions were corrected by Eden a few days later when he suggested the Colombo Powers (India, Pakistan, Ceylon, Burma, and Indonesia), which he argued were all Asian, had all been actively discussing Indochina outside the conference, were five in number and hence impervious to obstruction by a two-to-two vote (as on the NNSC) or requirement for unanimity, and were truly impartial.
The basis for agreement on the vital question of supervising a cease-fire seemed at this stage nonexistent. The Communists had revised their position by admitting the feasibility of a neutral nations' control organ in addition to joint commissions of the belligerents. But they clearly hoped to duplicate in Indochina the ineffective machinery they had foisted on the United Nations command at Panmunjom, one in which effective peacekeeping action was basically proscribed by the built-in veto of a four-power authority evenly divided among Communist and non-Communist representatives. The West, on the other hand, absolutely refused to experiment again with an NNSC; a neutral organ was vital, but it could not include Communist representatives, who did not know the meaning of neutrality. If the United Nations was not acceptable to the Communists, the Colombo Powers should be.
However remote these positions, various kinds of trade-offs must have been apparent to the negotiators. Despite differing standards of "neutrality" and "impartiality," for instance, compromise on the membership problem seemed possible. The real dilemma was the authority of a neutral body. Unless superior to the joint commissions, it would never be able to resolve disputes, and unless it had the power to enforce its own decisions, it would never be more than an advisory organ. Whether some new formula could be found somewhere between the Communists' insistence on parallel authority and the West's preference for a hierarchical arrangement remained to be seen.
On June 19 the Korea phase of the conference ended without reaching a political settlement. The conferees at that point agreed to a prolonged recess by the delegation leaders on the understanding that the military committees would continue to meet at Geneva and in the field. Eden wrote to the Asian Cornmonwealth prime ministers that "if the work of the committees is sufficiently advanced, the Heads of Delegations will come back." Until that time, the work of the conference would go on in restricted session. Chauvel and Pham Van Dong remained at their posts; Molotov returned to Moscow; Chou En-lai, en route to Peking, made important stopovers in New Delhi, Rangoon, and Nanning that were to have important bearing on the conference. Smith remained in Geneva, but turned the delegation over to Johnson. It was questionable whether the Under Secretary would take over again; gloom was so thick in Washington over the perceived lack of progress in the talks and the conviction ' that the new Mendès-France government would reach a settlement as soon as the conference reconvened, that Dulles cabled Smith: "Our thinking at present is that our role at Geneva should soon be restricted to that of observer. . . ." [Doc. 65] As for Eden, he prepared to accompany Churchill on a trip to Washington for talks relating to the conference and prospects for a Southeast Asia defense pact.
VI. THE ANGLO-AMERICAN RAPPROCHEMENT
With its preconceptions of Communist negotiating strategy confirmed by the harshness of the first Viet Minh proposals, which Washington did not regard as significantly watered down by subsequent Sino-Soviet alterations, and with its military alternatives no longer considered relevant to the war, the United States began to move in the direction of becoming an influential actor at the negotiations. This move was not dictated by a sudden conviction that Western capacity for inducing concessions from the Communist side had increased; nor was the shift premised on the hope that we might be able to drive a wedge between the Viet Minh and their Soviet and Chinese friends. Rather, Washington believed that inasmuch as a settlement was certain to come about, and even though there was near-equal certainty it could not support the final terms, basic American and Western interests in Southeast Asia might still be preserved if France could be persuaded to toughen its stand. Were concessions still not forthcoming--were the Communists, in other words, to stiffen in response to French firmness--the Allies would be able to consult on their next moves with the confidence every reasonable effort to reestablish peace had been attempted.
As already observed, the American decision to play a more decisive role at the conference depended on gaining British support. The changing war situation now made alignment with the British necessary for future regional defense, especially as Washington was informed of the probability that a partition settlement (which London had foreseen months before) would place all Indochina in or within reach of Communist hands. The questions remained how much territory the Communists could be granted without compromising non-Communist Indochina's security, what measures were needed to guarantee that security, and what other military and political principles were vital to any settlement which the French would also be willing to adopt in the negotiations. When the chief ministers of the United States and Great Britain met in Washington in late June, these were the issues they had to confront.
The British and American representatives-Eden, Churchill, Dulles, and Eisenhower-brought to the talks positions on partition and regional security that, for all the differences, left considerable room for a harmonization of viewpoints. The UK, as the Americans well knew, was never convinced either that Indochina's security was inextricably linked to the security of all Asia, or that the Franco-Viet Minh war would ever bring into question the surrender of all Indochina to the Communists. London considered partition a feasible solution, but was already looking beyond that to some more basic East-West understanding that would have the effect of producing a laissez-faire coexistence between the Communist and Western powers in the region. As Eden recalled his thinking at the time, the best way of keeping Communism out of Southeast Asia while still providing the necessary security within which free societies might evolve was to build a belt of neutral states assisted by the West. The Communists might not see any advantage to this arrangement, he admitted. But:
If we could bring about a situation where the Communists believed that there was a balance of advantage to them in arranging a girdle of neutral states, we might have the ingredients of a settlement.
Once the settlement was achieved, a system for guaranteeing the security of the neutral states thus formed would be required, Eden held. Collective defense, of the kind that would ensure action without unanimity among the contracting parties--a system "of the Locarno type"--seemed most reasonable to him. These points, in broad outline, were those presented by him and Churchill.
The United States had from the beginning dismissed the viability of a partition solution. Dulles' public position in his major speech of March 29 that Communist control even of part of Indochina would merely be the prelude to total domination was fully supported in private by both State and Defense. Nevertheiess, the Government early recognized the possibility that partition, however distasteful, might be agreed to among the French and Communist negotiators. As a result, on May 5, the Defense Department drew up a settlement plan that included provision for a territorial division. As little of Vietnam as possible should be yielded, Defense argued, with the demarcation line fixed in the north and "defined by some defensible geographic boundary (i.e., the Red or Black Rivers, or the Annamite Mountains) In accord with the French position that evolved from the meeting of Mendès-France's cabinet on June 24, Defense urged provision for a Vietnamese enclave in the Hanoi-Haiphong area or, alternatively, internationalization of the port facilities there. Fairly well convinced, however, that partition would be fragile, Defense also called for "sanctions" against any form of Communist aggression in Laos, Cambodia, or Thailand, and for allied agreement to united action in the event the Communists violated a cease-fire by conducting subversive activities in the non-Communist area of Vietnam.
The Defense proposal amounted to containing the Communist forces above the 20th parallel while denying them sovereign access to the sea. This position went much further than that of the French, who also favored a demarcation line geared to military requirements but were willing to settle on roughly the 18th parallel. Moreover, when the five-power military staff conference met in Washington in early June, it reported (on the 9th) that a line midway between the 17th and 18th parallels (from Thakhek in Laos westward to Dong Hoi on the north Vietnam seacoast) would be defensible in the event partition came about. [Doc. 61] Undercutting the Defense plan still further was the French disposition to yield on an enclave in the Hanoi-Haiphong area were the Viet Minh to press for their own enclave in southern Vietnam. As Chauvel told U. Alexis Johnson, should the choice come to a trade-off of enclaves or a straight territorial division, the French preferred the latter. [Doc. 62] Thus, by mid-June, a combination of circumstances made it evident to the Administration that some more flexible position on the location of the partition line would have to be, and could be, adopted.
American acceptance of partition as a workable arrangement put Washington and London on even terms. Similarly, on the matter of an overall security "umbrella" for Southeast Asia, the two allies also found common ground. While the United States found "Locarno" an unfortunate term, the Government did not dispute the need to establish a vigorous defense mechanism capable of acting despite objections by one or more members. It will be recalled that the NSC Planning Board, on May 19, had outlined three possible regional groupings dependent upon the nature and timing of a settlement at Geneva. Now, in late June, circumstances dictated the advisability of concentrating on the "Group 2" formula, in which the UK, the United States, Pakistan, Thailand, the Philippines, Australia, and New Zealand would participate but not France (unless it was decided that the pact would apply to Indochina). The concerned states would exchange information, act as a united front against Communism, provide actual assistance to Asian members against external attack or "Communist insurrection," and make use of Asian facilities and/or forces in their defense assistance program.
American planning for what was to become SEATO evinced concern, however, about the commitment of American forces in cases of Communist infiltration and subversion. As the Planning Board's paper notes, the role of the United States and other countries should be limited to support of the country requesting assistance; Asian member nations would be expected to "contribute facilities and, if possible, at least token military contingents." The Board's paper did not represent a final policy statement; but it did reflect American reluctance, particularly on the part of the President and the Joint Chiefs, to have American forces drawn into the kind of local conflict the Administration had steered clear of in Vietnam. On this question of limiting the Western commitment, the British, to judge from their hostility toward involvement against the Viet Minh, were also in general agreement.
Aside from partition and regional security, a basis also existed for agreement to assisting the French in their diplomatic work by the device of some carefully worded warning to the Communists. The British, before as well as after Dienbienphu, were firmly against issuing threats to the Communists that involved military consequences. When united action had first been broached, London rejected raising the threat of a naval blockade and carrying it out if the Chinese continued to assist the Viet Minh. Again, when united action came up in private U.S.-French discussions during May, the British saw no useful purpose in seeking to influence discussions at Geneva by making it known to the Communists that united action would follow a breakdown in negotiations. The situation was different now. Instead of threatening direct military action, London and Washington apparently agreed, the West could profit from an open-ended warning tied to a lack of progress at Geneva. When Eden addressed the House of Commons on June 23 prior to emplaning for Washington, he said: "It should be clear to all that the hopes of agreement [at Geneva] would be jeopardized if active military operations in Indochina were to be intensified while negotiations for an armistice are proceeding at Geneva. If this reminder is needed, I hope that it may be heeded." Eden was specifically thinking of a renewed Viet Minh offensive in the Delta, but was not saying what might happen once negotiations were placed in jeopardy.
This type of warning was sounded again at the conclusion of the Anglo-American talks, and encouragement for it came from Paris. In the same aidememoire of June 26 in which the French Government had requested that the United States counsel Saigon against a violent reaction to partition, Washington was also urged to join with London in a declaration. The declaration would "state in some fashion or other that, if it is not possible to reach a reasonable settlement at the Geneva Conference, a serious aggravation of international relations would result [Doc. 66] The French suggestion was acted upon. Eisenhower and Churchill issued a statement on June 29 that "if at Geneva the French Government is confronted with demands which prevent an acceptable agreement regarding Indochina, the international situation will be seriously aggravated." In retrospect, the statement may have had an important bearing on the Communists' negotiating position--a point to which we shall return subsequently.
The joint statement referred to "an acceptable agreement," and indeed the ramifications of that phrase constituted the main subject of the U.S.-UK talks. In an unpublicized agreement, the two governments concurred on a common set of principles which, if worked into the settlement terms, would enable both to "respect" the armistice. These principles, known subsequently as the Seven Points, were communicated to the French. As reported by Eden, they were:
(1) Preservation of the integrity and independence of Laos and Cambodia, and assurance of Viet Minh withdrawal from those countries
(2) Preservation of at least the southern half of Vietnam, and if possible an enclave in the Delta, with the line of demarcation no further south than one running generally west from Dong Hoi
(3) No restrictions on Laos, Cambodia, or retained Vietnam "materially impairing their capacity to maintain stable non-Communist regimes; and especially restrictions impairing their right to maintain adequate forces for internal security, to import arms and to employ foreign advisers"
(4) No "political provisions which would risk loss of the retained area to Communist control"
(5) No provision that would "exclude the possibility of the ultimate reunification of Vietnam by peaceful means"
(6) Provision for "the peaceful and humane transfer, under international supervision, of those people desiring to be moved from one zone to another of Vietnam"
(7) Provision for "effective machinery for international supervision of the agreement."
The Seven Points represented something of an American diplomatic victory when viewed in the context of the changed Administration position on partition. While any loss of territory to the Communists predetermined the official American attitude toward the settlement--Eden was told the United States would almost certainly be unable to guarantee it--the terms agreed upon with the British were sufficiently hard that, if pushed through by the French, they would bring about a tolerable arrangement for Indochina. The sticking point for Washington lay not in the terms but in the unlikelihood that the British, any more than the French, would actually stand by them against the Communists. Thus, Dulles wrote: ". . . we have the distinct impression that the British look upon this [memorandum of the Seven Points] merely as an optimum solution and that they would not encourage the French to hold out for a solution as good as this." The Secretary observed that the British, during the talks, were unhappy about finding Washington ready only to "respect" the final terms reached at Geneva. They had preferred a stronger word, yet they "wanted to express these 7 points merely as a 'hope' without any indication of firmuess on our part." The United States, quite aside from what was said in the Seven Points, "would not want to be associated in any way with a settlement which fell materially short of the 7 point memorandum." [Doc. 70] Thus, the seven points, while having finally bound the United States and Great Britain to a common position on the conference, did not allay Washington's anxiety over British and French readiness to conclude a less-than-satisfactory settlement. The possibility of a unilateral American withdrawal from the conference was still being "given consideration," Dulles reported, even as the Seven Points were agreed upon.
Despite reservations about our Allies' adherence to the Seven Points, the United States still hoped to get French approval of them. On July 6, Dillon telegraphed the French reaction as given him by Parodi, the secretary-general of the cabinet. With the exception of Point 5, denoting national elections, the French were in agreement. They were confused about an apparent conflict between the elections provision and Point 4, under which political provisions, which would include elections, were not to risk loss of retained Vietnam. In addition, they, too, felt American agreement merely to "respect" any agreement was too weak a term, and requested clarification of its meaning.
Dulles responded the next day (July 7) to both matters. Points 4 and 5 were not in conflict, he said. It was quite possible that an agreement in line with the Seven Points might still not prevent Indochina from going Communist. The important thing, therefore, was to arrange for national elections in a way that would give the South Vietnamese a liberal breathing spell:
since undoubtedly true that elections might eventually mean unification Vietnam under Ho Chi Minh this makes it all more important they should be only held as long after cease-fire agreement as possible and in conditions free from intimidation to give democratic elements [in South Vietnam] best chance. We believe important that no date should be set now and especially that no conditions should be accepted by French which would have direct or indirect effect of preventing effective international supervision of agreement ensuring political as well as military guarantees.
And so far as "respect" of that agreement was concerned, the United States and Britain meant they "would not oppose a settlement which conformed to Seven Points. . . . It does not of course mean we would guarantee such settlement or that we would necessarily support it publicly. We consider 'respect' as strong a word as we can possibly employ in the circumstances. . . . 'Respect' would also mean that we would not seek directly or indirectly to upset settlement by force." *
* Dulles to American Embassy, Paris, tel. No. 77, July 7. 1954 (Secret). [Doc. 64] Regarding the U.S. view of a Ho Chi Minh electoral victory, we not only have the well-known comment of Eisenhower that Ho, at least in early 1954, would have garnered 80 percent of the vote. (See Mandate for Change [Garden City, New York: Doubleday], pp. 337-38.) In addition, there is a Department of State memorandum of conversation of May 31, 1954, in which Livingston Merchant reportedly "recognized the possibility that in Viet Nam Ho might win a plebiscite, if held today."
Dulles' clarification of the American position on elections in Vietnam, together with his delimitation of the nation's obligation towards a settlement, did not satisfy the French completely but served the important purpose of enlightening them as to American intentions. Placed beside the discussions with Eden and Churchill, the thrust of American diplomacy at this time clearly was to leave no question in the minds of our allies as to what we considered the elements in a reasonable Indochina settlement and what we would likely do once a settlement were achieved.