Excerpts from an Address by Leonard Unger, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Far Eastern Affairs, before the Detroit Economic Club, "Present Objectives and Future Possibilities in Southeast Asia," April 19, 1965


Source: Source: The Pentagon Papers, Gravel Edition, Volume 3, pp. 731-33


Address by Leonard Unger, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Far Eastern Affairs, before the Detroit Economic Club, "Present Objectives and Future Possibilities in Southeast Asia," April 19, 1965, Department of State Bulletin, May 10, 1965, p. 712.

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These objectives are not just pious generalities, nor is Southeast Asia just a configuration on a map. Distant though it may seem from Detroit, that area has great strategic significance to the United States and the free world. Its location across east-west air and sea lanes flanks the Indian subcontinent on one side and Australia, New Zealand, and the Philippines on the other, and dominates the gateway between the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

In Communist hands this area would pose a most serious threat to the security of the United States and to the family of free-world nations to which we belong. To defend Southeast Asia, we must meet the challenge in South Viet-Nam.

Communist 'Wars of Liberation'

Equally important, South Viet-Nam represents a major test of communism's new strategy of 'wars of liberation.'"

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After the Communists' open aggression failed in Korea, they had to look for a more effective strategy of conquest. They chose to concentrate on 'wars of national Iiberation'--the label they use to describe aggression directed and supplied from outside a nation but cloaked in nationalist guise so that it could be made to appear an indigenous insurrection.

That strategy was tried on a relatively primitive scale, but was defeated in Malaya and the Philippines only because of a long and arduous struggle by the people of those countries, with assistance provided by the British and the United States. In Africa and Latin America such 'wars of liberation' are already being threatened. But by far the most highly refined and ambitious attempt at such aggression by the Communists is taking place today in Viet-Nam. . .

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In order to cope with this veiled aggression, free nations must determine the real source of the aggression and take steps to defend themselves from this source. In Viet-Nam this has meant ending privileged sanctuary heretofore afforded North Viet-Nam--the true source of the Viet Cong movement.

The "wars of national liberation" approach has been adopted as an essential element of Communist China's expansionist policy. If this technique adopted by Hanoi should be allowed to succeed in Viet-Nam, we would be confirming Peiping's contention that militant revolutionary struggle is a more productive Communist path than Moscow's doctrine of peaceful coexistence. We could expect "wars of national liberation" to spread. Thailand has already been identified by Communist China as being the next target for a so-called "liberation struggle." Peiping's Foreign Minister Chen Yi has promised it for this year. Laos, Malaysia, Burma--one Asian nation after another--could expect increasing Communist pressures. Other weakly defended nations on other continents would experience this new threat of aggression by proxy.

Even the Asian Communists have acknowledged that Viet-Nam represents an important test situation for indirect aggression. North Viet-Nam's Premier Pham Van Dong recently commented that:

"The experience of our compatriots in South Viet-Nam attracts the attention of the world, especially the peoples of South America."

General [Vo Nguyen} Giap, the much-touted leader of North Viet-Nam's army, was even more explicit. In another recent statement, he said that,

"South Viet-Nam is the model of the national liberation movement of our time. . . . If the special warfare that the U.S. imperialists are testing in South Viet-Nam is overcome, then it can be defeated everywhere in the world."

Our strong posture in Viet-Nam then seeks peace and security in three dimensions: for South Viet-Nam, for the sake of Southeast Asia's independence and security generally, and for the other small nations that would face the same kind of subversive threat from without if the Communists were to succeed in Viet-Nam....

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All this, of course, is contrary to the 1954 Geneva accords on Viet-Nam and the 1962 agreement on Laos. I mention the latter because it is an established fact that Hanoi has been both threatening Laos and using Laos as a corridor for supplying personnel and arms to the Viet Cong.

Our State Department has documented the character and intensity of North Viet-Nam's aggressive efforts since 1959 in the recent white paper, and in the similar report issued in 1961. The 1962 report of the International Control Commission for Viet-Nam also spelled out North Viet-Nam's aggressive actions in flagrant violation of the 1954 and 1962 agreements.

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The Communists are fond of saying that whether the Viet Cong are born in the North or South, they are still Vietnamese and therefore an indigenous revolt must be taking place. Certainly, they are Vietnamese, and the North Koreans who swept across their boundary in 1950 to attack South Korea were also Koreans. However, this did not make the Korean war an indigenous revolt from the point of view of either world security or in terms of acceptable standards of conduct.

By the same token, if West Germany were to take similar action against East Germany, it is doubtful that the East Germans, the Soviet Union, and the rest of the Communist bloc would stand aside on the grounds that it was nothing more than an indigenous affair.

The simple issue is that military personnel and arms have been sent across an international demarcation line (just as valid a border as Korea or Germany)
contrary to international agreements and law to destroy the freedom of a neighboring people."

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It is for that reason, and because Hanoi has stepped up its aggression, that the Government of South Viet-Nam and the United States have been forced to increase our response and strike through the air at the true source of the aggression--North Viet-Nam. This does not represent a change of purpose on our part but a change in the means we believe are necessary to stem aggression. And there can be no doubt that our actions are fully justified as an exercise of the right of individual and collective self-defense recognized by article 51 of the United Nations Charter and under the accepted standards of international law.

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