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Why Was There so Little International Support for US Intervention in Vietnam?
The main focus of this essay is to explore and critically analyse why the US may have had very little international support for their intervention in Vietnam between 1964 and 1975. This essay will discuss the main focus by looking at four themes, which are: International Control Commission (ICC), South East Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO), Soviet Union and public opinion abroad. The first half of this essay will focus on supporting the argument that the US had more than very little international support in Vietnam, through exploring and analyzing the case study of Canada for theme one and the case study of Britain for theme two. While the second half of this essay will focus on debating against the argument that the US had more than very little international support in Vietnam, through looking at the case study of Poland in the Soviet bloc for theme three and the case study of protest in Norway and the view of the International War Crimes Tribunal (IWCT) against the American involvement in Vietnam for theme 4. These four themes will portray some of the factors that suggest why the US had very little international support for their intervention in Vietnam between 1964 and 1975.
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Firstly, a very important organization in Asia between early 1960s and early to mid-1970s was the ICC. This is because the ICC was created to apply the Geneva Accords, a treaty signed as part of the removal of Vietnam from the French Empire in 1954. Their duty was to oversee the region and to ensure that the terms of the treaty were followed. From this organization the most important country that supported America in Vietnam was their ally Canada. This is because in the period of 1962 to 1964 Canada used diplomacy to convince the other members of the ICC that the increased US military involvement into Vietnam was justified as a moral response to the attack on the South by the North. However, the historian Preston suggested that Canada offered and gave the US some support but only a small amount of support in Vietnam. He states that this is because the “Canadian ofﬁcials thought the American anticommunist cause in Indochina laudable—perhaps even noble—but not worth a war. In other words, while the Canadians maintained broad agreement with American aims—the preservation of a noncommunist South Vietnam— they came to disagree sharply with the methods used: military intervention, escalation, and eventually war.” This implies that before 1964 Canada gave the US a lot of support diplomatically, inside and outside of the ICC, but gave very little economic and no military support during any period of the war. A reason why Canada gave the US those types of support is because they feared that the war in Vietnam would become a war between America and China which would involve the threat of or even the usage of nuclear weapons. Also, the division between Canada and the US over the ideology and methodology to use war or peace in Vietnam after 1964 could be seen as tension between the two allies and could have decreased the Canadian level of support towards the US. This question of support could be argued as Canada giving a lot of diplomatic support to the US when the US was trying to solve the Vietnam conflict through peaceful negotiations. In contrast, Canada tries to undermine and not support their American ally while the US was continuing to use an aggressive war regime in Vietnam. Therefore, via association with the ICC and Canada the US had very little economic and no military support, whilst having a lot of diplomatic support from most of the members of the ICC for their intervention in Vietnam in-between the 1960s and the mid-1970s.
Another factor of international support for the US intervention in Vietnam was SEATO. This organization had many countries as members; one of the most important members inside of SEATO that supported the US in Vietnam was Britain. During the period of the 1960s to the mid-1970s Britain gave the US a lot of economic, political and diplomatic support in their intervention of Vietnam. Britain gave the support economically instead of giving military support because in July 1967, the British Labour government of Harold Wilson announced its decision to pull out of Malaysia and Singapore by the mid-1970s. The historians Benvenuti and Dee state that this decision was made due to the British government being “Under pressure to reduce government spending in the aftermath of a severe sterling crisis, however, in January 1968 the Labour Cabinet accelerated the withdrawal with its decision that it would be completed by December 1971.” This suggests that the once powerful nation of Britain had been forced to focus most of their resources in Europe instead of Asia due to Britain trying to join the European Economic Community (EEC). This centralised move of British military, political and economic resources created more complex relations between Britain and their allies. Furthermore, the historian John Young argues that even in this situation Britain still supported the US in Vietnam. This support can be seen in the statements made in February of 1965 by the Under-Secretary of State, George Ball, who “believed that British support has been stronger than that of our other major allies”3 and the National Security Advisor, McGeorge Bundy, who told “Johnson that every experienced observer has been astonished by the overall strength and skill of Wilson’s defence of our policy. … As one American official noted, the President deplored the [British] failure to support us militarily even if the aid was essentially symbolic.” This implies that the US was wanting military help from their allies, but most allies did not send military support to Vietnam. This lack of military support for the US could have been due to the difficult situation of Britain reshaping policies to try to get into the EEC. Another reason was the body counts rising from the gradual and sustained aerial bombardment campaign of the US’s Operation Rolling Thunder between 2nd March 1965 and 2nd November 1968. This suggests that before 1966 the US had a lot of support from their allies within SEATO for their intervention in Vietnam. However, after 1966, due to the reasons above, the US had very little support from their SEATO allies.
The Soviet Union’s and their members’ view and opinion of the Vietnam War was a very important factor to suggest why the US had so little international support in Vietnam. The post-Khrushchev Politburo period of the Soviet Union was driven by ideological instincts. The historian Vladislav Zubok states that during this period “the majority wanted to restore the alliance with China based on anti-American platform and ‘fraternal assistance’ to North Vietnam. In May 1965 Defence Minister Rodion Malinovsky proposed Soviet ‘active countermeasures’ in response to the American bombing campaign in North Vietnam.” This infers that the idea of the continuation of the cold war and opposition to US foreign policies instead of peaceful co-operation through international détente, could be seen as a tool to be used to justify not supporting the US intervention in Vietnam. Furthermore, the suggestion of active countermeasures in response to US bombing implies that most Eastern nations or allies of the Soviet Union would not support or give aid to the US involvement in Vietnam. Also, in response to the intensiﬁcation of US bombing in Vietnam of early 1965 there were mass demonstrations in countries of the Eastern sphere of the Cold War such as Hungary, Poland and Yugoslavia. An example of what happened in the Eastern sphere in response to the US bombing of Vietnam was the protests in Poland. The historian James Mark states that “a vast range of social and political organizations – such as the National Unity Front, the Socialist Youth Association, the Polish Committee of Solidarity with the Peoples of Africa and Asia, the National Peace Committee, the Association of Combatants for Freedom and Democracy, and the Central Council of Trade Unions – were mobilized to bring the nation behind Vietnam.” The mobilisation of the six Polish organizations stated by James Mark and the official protest on the 9th of February 1965 implies that before 1965 Poland did little to protest or to show opposition to US intervention in Vietnam, but the US bombing campaign of Operation Rolling Thunder forced a change in the Polish public opinion from a neutral view to an anti-American view. This change of public opinion shows that the extremes and destructive power of US military was a key factor to why the US lost support from some allies and could have lost any support from countries within the Eastern sphere or the Soviet Union after 1965.
Finally, the factor of public opinion and the opinion of experts is key to understanding whether the US had so little or not so little support for their intervention in Vietnam. According to the historian James Godbolt during the summer of 1965, there were still more Norwegians who defended US policy in Vietnam than those who were opposed to it. “However, during… March 1965, another, alternative interpretation of the war, namely the war as a human tragedy … Slettemark’s artistic transformation of the Vietnam War from a journalistic headline to a moral, i.e. universal, dilemma. … Slettemark’s picture enabled people to see the war not as, or just as, a confrontation between communism and the West, but as something so morally degrading as the murdering of innocent children.” This shows the transformation of the public seeing the war portrayed by the media as just militarily or politically to being portrayed as a question of morality and the cost of human life. This new portrayal of the Vietnam war created Norwegian protests and changed Norway’s opinion of the public majority supporting the US to a majority against the US regime in Vietnam. Another reason why the US had so little international support for their intervention in Vietnam was the expert opinion of members of the International War Crimes Tribunal (IWCT). The historian J, Luke, Stewart stated that the IWCT’s second session of 20th November to 1st December 1967 found the United States guilty on all counts. Two examples of what the US were found guilty of were “the US armed forces … of violating the third Geneva Convention of 1949 for the mistreatment of Prisoners of War and for the indiscriminate destruction of the civilian population as prohibited under the fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 … Finally, the US was found guilty of committing genocide in Vietnam.” This source deduces that the United States was found guilty, by the IWCT, on six accounts for war crimes committed in the area of Asia. This suggests that in late 1967 and early 1968 the United States had lost a lot of their international support for their intervention in Vietnam due to the US war crimes. This view shows that public opinion was very important for the US to have international support. The labelling of the US as a country with war crimes could had been a factor that caused America to have very little international support for their intervention in Vietnam after 1967.
This essay has explored and critically analysed the four themes which were: International Control Commission, South East Asia Treaty Organisation, protest from members of the Soviet Union and public opinion from abroad. From the analysis of those themes it can be deduced that between 1964 and 1965 there was very little military support but a lot of economic and political support from the US allies, however, after 1965 the US had much less support for their intervention in Vietnam. The main reasons why there was so little support for US intervention in Vietnam were the human cost of lives produced by Operation Rolling Thunder, the loss of public support by the war and the fear of the war in Vietnam becoming a war between the US and China that could involve nuclear weapons. This can be argued that out of those, the most likely reason why there was so little international support for the US in the Vietnam war was that most nations saw it as a war that could not be won. Also, the US military strategy of mass bombing with the consequence of high death rate being shown by global media suggests that most of the support the US did have before 1965 would have decreased or been completely lost due to the change of global public opinion of the Vietnam war.
- Benvenuti, Andrea & Dee, Moreen The Five Power Defence Arrangements and the reappraisal of the British and Australian policy interests in Southeast Asia, 1970–75. Journal of Southeast Asian Studies. 41:1 (2010), pp. 101–123.
- Godbolt, James. A Picture and a Protest: Kjartan Slettemark and the Vietnam War. Scandinavian Journal of History. 39:3 (2014), pp. 1–15.
- Mark, James et al. ‘We Are with You, Vietnam’: Transnational Solidarities in Socialist Hungary, Poland and Yugoslavia. Journal of Contemporary History. 50:3 (2015), pp. 439–464.
- Preston, Andrew. Balancing War and Peace: Canadian Foreign Policy and the Vietnam War, 1961-1965. Diplomatic History. 27:1 (2003), pp. 73–111.
- Stewart, Luke J. Too loud to rise above the silence: the United States vs. the International War Crimes Tribunal, 1966–1967. The Sixties. 11:1 (2018), pp. 17–45.
- Young, John Britain and ‘LBJ’s War’, 1964-68. Cold War History. 2:3, (2002), pp. 63–92.
- Zubok, Vladislav. The Soviet Union and détente of the 1970s. Cold War History. 8:4 (2008), pp. 427–447.
 Preston, Andrew. Balancing War and Peace: Canadian Foreign Policy and the Vietnam War, 1961-1965. Diplomatic History. 27:1 (2003), p. 78
 Benvenuti, Andrea & Dee, Moreen The Five Power Defence Arrangements and the reappraisal of the British and Australian policy interests in Southeast Asia, 1970–75. Journal of Southeast Asian Studies. 41:1 (2010), p. 67.
 Young, John Britain and ‘LBJ’s War’, 1964-68. Cold War History. 2:3, (2002), pp. 101–102.
 Zubok, Vladislav. The Soviet Union and détente of the 1970s. Cold War History. 8:4 (2008), pp. 429, 430.
Mark, James et al. ‘We Are with You, Vietnam’: Transnational Solidarities in Socialist Hungary, Poland and Yugoslavia. Journal of Contemporary History. 50:3 (2015), pp. 442–443.
 Godbolt, James. A Picture and a Protest: Kjartan Slettemark and the Vietnam War. Scandinavian Journal of History. 39:3 (2014), p. 306.
 Stewart, Luke J. Too loud to rise above the silence: the United States vs. the International War Crimes Tribunal, 1966–1967. The Sixties. 11:1 (2018), pp. 33–34.
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