Address by Secretary Rusk, Made before the American Society of International Law on April 23, 1965, "The Control of Force in International Relations"


Source: Source: The Pentagon Papers, Gravel Edition, Volume 3, pp. 733-736


Address by Secretary Rusk, Made before the American Society of International Law on April 23, 1965, "The Control of Force in International Relations," Department of State Bulletin, May 10, 1965, p. 697.

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What Is a "War of National Liberation"?

What is a "war of national liberation"? It is, in essence, any war which furthers the Communist world revolution-what, in broader terms, the Communists have long referred to as a "just" war. The term "war of national liberation" is used not only to denote armed insurrection by people still under colonial rule--there are not many of those left outside the Communist world. It is used to denote any effort led by Communists to overthrow by force any non-Communist government.

Thus the war in South Viet-Nam is called a "war of national liberation." And those who would overthrow various other non-Communist governments in Asia, Africa, and Latin America are called the "forces of national liberation."

Nobody in his right mind would deny that Venezuela is not only a truly independent nation but that it has a government chosen in a free election. But the leaders of the Communist insurgency in Venezuela are described as leaders of a fight for "national liberation"-not only by themselves and by Castro and the Chinese Communists but by the Soviet Communists.

A recent editorial in Pravada spoke of the "peoples of Latin America . . . marching firmly along the path of struggle for their national independence" and said, ". . . the upsurge of the national liberation movement in Latin American countries has been to a great extent a result of the activities of Communist parties." It added:

"The Soviet people have regarded and still regard it as their sacred duty to give support to the peoples fighting for their independence. True to their international duty the Soviet people have been and will remain on the side of the Latin American patriots."

In Communist doctrine and practice, a non-Communist government may be labeled and denounced as "colonialist," "reactionary," or a "puppet," and any state so labeled by the Communists automatically becomes fair game--while Communist intervention by force in non-Communist states is justified as "self-defense" or part of the "struggle against colonial domination." "Self-determination" seems to mean that any Communist nation can determine by itself that any non-Communist state is a victim of colonialist domination and therefore a justifiable target for a "war of liberation."

As the risks of overt aggression, whether nuclear or with conventional forces, have become increasingly evident, the Communists have put increasing stress on the "war of national liberation." The Chinese Communists have been more militant in language and behavior than the Soviet Communists. But the Soviet Communist leadership also has consistently proclaimed its commitment in principle to support wars of national liberation. This commitment was reaffirmed as recently as Monday of this week by Mr. Kosygin [Aleksai N. Kosygin, Chairman of the U.S.S.R. Council of Ministers].

International law does not restrict internal revolution within a state or revolution against colonial authority. But international law does restrict what third powers may lawfully do in support of insurrection. It is these restrictions which are challenged by the doctrine, and violated by the practice, of "wars of liberation."

It is plain that acceptance of the doctrine of "wars of liberation" would amount to scuttling the modern international law of peace which the charter prescribes. And acceptance of the practice of "wars of liberation," as defined by the Communists, would mean the breakdown of peace itself.

South Viet-Nam's Right of Self-Defense

Viet-Nam presents a clear current case of the lawful versus the unlawful use of force. I would agree with General Giap [Vo Nguyen Giap, North Vietnamese Commander in Chief] and other Communists that it is a test case for "wars of national liberation." We intend to meet that test.

Were the insurgency in South Viet-Nam truly indigenous and self-sustained, international law would not be involved. But the fact is that it receives vital external support--in organization and direction, in training, in men, in weapons and other supplies. That external support is unlawful for a double reason. First, it contravenes general international law, which the United Nations Charter here expresses. Second, it contravenes particular international law: the 1954 Geneva accords on Viet-Nam and the 1962 Geneva agreements on Laos.

In resisting the aggression against it, the Republic of Viet-Nam is exercising its right of self-defense. It called upon us and other states for assistance. And in the exercise of the right of collective self-defense under the United Nations Charter, we and other nations are providing such assistance.

The American policy of assisting South Viet-Nam to maintain its freedom was inaugurated under President Eisenhower and continued under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. Our assistance has been increased because the aggression from the North has been augmented. Our assistance now encompasses the bombing of North Viet-Nam. The bombing is designed to interdict, as far as possible, and to inhibit, as far as may be necessary, continued aggression against the Republic of Viet-Nam.

When that aggression ceases, collective measures in defense against it will cease. As President Johnson has declared:

". . . if that aggression is stopped, the people and Government of South VietNam will be free to settle their own future, and the need for supporting American military action there will end."

The fact that the demarcation line between North and South Viet-Nam was intended to be temporary does not make the assault on South Viet-Nam any less of an aggression. The demarcation lines between North and South Korea and between East and West Germany are temporary. But that did not make the North Korean invasion of South Korea a permissible use of force.

Let's not forget the salient features of the 1962 agreements on Laos. Laos was to be independent and neutral. All foreign troops, regular or irregular, and
other military personnel were to be withdrawn within 75 days, except a limited number of French instructors as requested by the Lao Government. No arms were to be introduced into Laos except at the request of that Government. The signatories agreed to refrain "from all direct or indirect interference in the internal affairs" of Laos. They promised also not to use Lao territory to intervene in the internal affairs of other countries-a stipulation that plainly prohibited the passage of arms and men from North Viet-Nam to South Viet-Nam by way of Laos. An International Control Commission of three was to assure compliance with the agreements.

What happened? The non-Communist elements complied. The Communists did not. At no time since that agreement was signed have either the Pathet Lao or the North Viet-Nam authorities complied with it. The North Vietnamese left several thousand troops there-the backbone of almost every Pathet Lao battalion. Use of the corridor through Laos to South Viet-Nam continued. And the Communists barred the areas under their control both to the Government of Laos and the International Control Commission.

Nature of Struggle in Viet-Nam

To revert to Viet-Nam: I continue to hear and see nonsense about the nature of the struggle there. I sometimes wonder if the gullibility of educated men and the stubborn disregard of plain facts by men who are supposed to be helping our young to learn--especially to learn how to think.

Hanoi has never made a secret of its designs. It publicly proclaimed in 1960 a renewal of the assault on South Viet-Nam. Quite obviously its hopes of taking over South Viet-Nam from within had withered to close to zero--and the remarkable economic and social progress of South Viet-Nam contrasted, most disagreeably for the North Vietnamese Communists, with their own miserable economic performance.

The facts about the external involvement have been documented in white papers and other publications of the Department of State. The International Control Commission has held that there is evidence "beyond reasonable doubt" of North Vietnamese intervention.

There is no evidence that the Viet Cong has any significant popular following in South Viet-Nam. It relies heavily on terror. Most of its reinforcements in recent months have been North Vietnamese from the North Vietnamese Army.

Let us be clear about what is involved today in Southeast Asia. We are not involved with empty phrases or conceptions which ride upon the clouds. We are talking about the vital national interests of the United States in the peace f of the Pacific. We are talking about the appetite for aggression--an appetite which grows upon feeding and which is proclaimed to be insatiable. We are talking about the safety of nations with whom we are allied--and the integrity of the American commitment to join in meeting attack.

It is true that we also believe that every small state has a right to be unmolested by its neighbors even though it is within reach of a great power. It is true that we are committed to general principles of law and procedure which reject the idea that men and arms can be sent freely across frontiers to absorb a neighbor. But underlying the general principles is the harsh reality that our own security is threatened by those who would embark upon a course of aggression whose announced ultimate purpose is our own destruction.

Once again we hear expressed the views which cost the men of my generation a terrible price in World War II. We are told that Southeast Asia is far away--but so were Manchuria and Ethiopia. We are told that, if we insist that someone stop shooting, that is asking them for unconditional surrender. We are told that perhaps the aggressor will be content with just one more bite. We are told that, if we prove faithless on one commitment, perhaps others would believe us about other commitments in other places. We are told that, if we stop resisting, perhaps the other side will have a change of heart. We are asked to stop hitting bridges and radar sites and ammunition depots without requiring that the other side stop its slaughter of thousands of civilians and its bombings of schools and hotels and hospitals and railways and buses.

Surely we have learned over the past three decades that the acceptance of aggression leads only to a sure catastrophe. Surely we have learned that the aggressor must face the consequences of his action and be saved from the frightful miscalculation that brings all to ruin. It is the purpose of law to guide men away from such events, to establish rules of conduct which are deeply rooted in the reality of experience.

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