Secretary Rusk's News Conference of December 23, Press Release dated 23 December 1964, Department of State Bulletin, 11 January 1965


Source: Source: The Pentagon Papers, Gravel Edition, Volume 3, pp. 723-725


Secretary Rusk's News Conference of December 23, Press Release dated 23 December 1964, Department of State Bulletin, 11 January 1965, p. 37:

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American Interest in Vietnamese Independence:

Q. "Mr. Secretary, it is sometimes stated that one of the reasons for American assistance to Vietnam is the fact that vital Western interests are involved in the situation there. Now that we are once again confronted with what apparently is a critical situation, could you define for us the precise nature and extent of those vital Western interests, as you see them?"

A. "Well, our interest in Southeast Asia has been developed and expressed throughout this postwar period. Before SEATO (Southeast Asia Treaty Organization) came into existence, we and Britain and France were in very close touch with that situation. SEATO underlined the importance we attached to the security of the countries of that area.

"But actually the American interest can be expressed in very simple terms. Where there is a country which is independent and secure and in a position to work out its own policy and be left alone by its neighbors, there is a country whose position is consistent with our understanding of our interests in the world. It's just as simple as that.

"If we have military personnel in Southeast Asia, it is because we feel that they are needed to assist South Vietnam at the present time to maintain its security and independence. If South Vietnam's neighbors would leave it alone, those military people could come home.

"We have no desire for any bases or permanent military presence in that area. We are interested in the independence of states. That is why we have more than 40 allies. That is why we are interested in the independence and security of the nonaligned countries. Because, to us, the general system of states represented in the United Nations Charter is our view of a world that is consistent with American interests. So our own interest there is very simple.

"But it is very important, because we feel that we have learned in the last many decades that a persistent course of aggression left to go unchecked can only lead to a general war and therefore that the independence of particular countries is a matter of importance to the general peace."

Peiping's Militant Doctrine:

Q. "Mr. Secretary, could I put that question slightly differently? In the last decade or so, over three or four administrations, this Government has taken the position that the Indochina peninsula had an importance to this country beyond the actualities of the countries involved; that is, that it had a relationship to the American problem with China, and out of this developed, over a long period of time, the so-called falling-domino theory. Could you tell us whether you subscribe to that theory and whether you look upon our interest in Vietnam and Laos--or how you look upon our interest in Vietnam and Laos in relation to China?"

A. "Well, I would not myself go to the trouble of trying to outline a 'domino' theory. The theory of the problem rests in Peiping. It rests in a militant approach to the spread of the world revolution as seen from the communist point of view. And we know, given their frequently and publicly proclaimed ambitions in this respect and what they say not only about their neighbors in Asia but such continents as Africa-Africa is ripe for revolution, meaning to them ripe for an attempt on their part to extend their domination into that continent--there is a primitive, militant doctrine of world revolution that would attempt to destroy the structure of international life as written into the United Nations Charter.

"Now, these are appetites and ambitions that grow upon feeding. In 1954 Vietnam was divided. North Vietnam became communist. The next result was pressures against Laos, contrary to those agreements; pressures against South Vietnam, contrary to those agreements. In other words, until there is a determination in Peiping to leave their neighbors alone and not to press militantly their notions of world revolution, then we are going to have this problem.

"And it's the same problem we have had in another part of the world in an earlier period in this postwar period in such things as the Berlin blockade, the pressures against Greece. Those things had to be stopped. They were stopped in the main.

"Now the problem is out in the Pacific. And we have a large interest in the way these problems evolve in the Pacific, because we have allies and we have interests out there. Southeast Asia is at the present time the point at which this issue of militant aggression against one's neighbors for ideological reasons is posed."

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