America Policy in South Viet-Nam and Southeast Asia, William P. Bundy, Remarks Made Before the Washington (Mo.) Chamber of Commerce on January 23, 1965, Department of State Bulletin, February 8, 1965


Source: Source: The Pentagon Papers, Gravel Edition, Volume 3, pp. 725-726



America Policy in South Viet-Nam and Southeast Asia, William P. Bundy, Remarks Made Before the Washington (Mo.) Chamber of Commerce on January 23, 1965, Department of State Bulletin, February 8, 1965, p. 168.

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In retrospect, our action in Korea reflected three elements:

-a recognition that aggression of any sort must be met early and head-on or it will have to be met later and in tougher circumstances. We had relearned the lessons of the 1930's--Manchuria, Ethiopia, the Rhineland, Czechoslovakia.
-a recognition that a defense line in Asia, stated in terms of an island perimeter, did not adequately define our vital interests, that those vital interests could be affected by action on the mainland of Asia.
-an understanding that, for the future, a power vacuum was an invitation to aggression, that there must be local political, economic, and military strength in being to make aggression unprofitable, but also that there must be a demonstrated willingness of major external power both to assist and to intervene if required.

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Such was the situation President Eisenhower and Secretary Dulles faced in 1954. Two things were clear: that in the absence of external help communism was virtually certain to take over the successor states of Indochina and to move to the borders of Thailand and perhaps beyond, and that with France no longer ready to act, at least in South Viet-Nam, no power other than the United States could move in to help fill the vacuum. Their decision, expressed in a series of actions starting in late 1954, was to move in to help these countries. Besides South Viet-Nam and more modest efforts in Laos and Cambodia, substantial assistance was begun to Thailand.

The appropriations for these actions were voted by successive Congresses, and in 1954 the Senate likewise ratified the Southeast Asia Treaty, to which Thailand and the Philippines adhered along with the United States, Britain, France, Australia, New Zealand, and Pakistan. Although not signers of the treaty, South Viet-Nam, Laos, and Cambodia could call on the SEATO members for help against aggression.

So a commitment was made, with the support of both political parties, that has guided our policy in Southeast Asia for a decade now. It was not a commitment that envisaged a United States position of power in Southeast Asia or United States military bases there. We threatened no one. Nor was it a commitment that substituted United States responsibility for the basic responsibility of the nations themselves for their own defense, political stability, and economic progress. It was a commitment to do what we could to help these nations attain and maintain the independence and security to which they were entitled--both for their own sake and because we recognized that, like South Korea, Southeast Asia was a key area of the mainland of Asia. If it fell to Communist control, this would enormously add to the momentum and power of the expansionist Communist regimes in Communist China and North Viet-Nam and thus to the threat to the whole free-world position in the Pacific.

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. . . In simple terms, a victory for the Communists in South Viet-Nam would inevitably make the neighboring states more suceptible to Communist pressure and more vulnerable to intensified subversion supported by military pressures. Aggression by 'wars of national liberation' would gain enhanced prestige and power of intimidation throughout the world, and many threatened nations might well become less hopeful, less resilient, and their will to resist undermined. These are big stakes indeed.

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