Statement by Secretary Rusk Before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on May 9, 1966, "Background of U.S. Policy in Southeast Asia"; Department of State Bulletin, May 30, 1966, p. 830.


Source: The Pentagon Papers, Gravel Edition, Volume 4, (Boston: Beacon Press, 1971), pp. 651-653


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"I was myself in Government during the Truman administration and well recall the discussions which were held at the highest levels of Government in the National Security Council as well as the strategic problems considered by the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"If the committee will search its own and the public records on this matter during that period and since, they could surely have no doubt that it was the judgment that the security of Southeast Asia was extremely important to the security interests of the United States. This was because of the more than 200 million people in Southeast Asia, the geography of that area, the important natural resources of the countries involved, the relationship of Southeast Asia to the total world situation, and the effect upon the prospects of a durable peace.

"I emphasize the last point because the overriding security interest of the United States is in organizing a stable peace. The sacrifices of World War II and the almost unimaginable losses of a world war III underline this central objective of American policy.

"There was also involved the problem of the phenomenon of aggression. We had found ourselves in the catastrophe of World War II because aggressions in
Asia, in Africa, and in Europe had demonstrated that the aggressor would not stop until compelled to do so. It was the determination of the United States to learn the lessons of that experience by moving in the U.N. and otherwise to try to build an enduring international peace."

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LEGALITY OF U.S. EFFORTS IN SOUTH VIET-NAM

"Very briefly, on the second question, Mr. Chairman, the matter was raised with respect to the legal issues surrounding our efforts in South Viet-Nam. We have made available to the committee an extensive legal memorandum on these matters, and the law officers of the Government are available to discuss this in whatever detail the committee may wish.

"In this brief statement today I shall merely outline the essence of our view.

"Military actions of the United States in support of South Viet-Nam, including air attacks on military targets in North Viet-Nam, are authorized under international law by the well-established right of collective self-defense against armed attack.

"South Viet-Nam is the victim of armed attack from the North through the infiltration of armed personnel, military equipment, and regular combat units. This armed attack preceded our strikes at military targets in North Viet-Nam. "The fact that South Viet-Nam is not a member of the United Nations, because of the Soviet Union's veto, does not affect the lawfulness of collective self-defense of South Viet-Nam. The United Nations Charter was not designed to, and does not, limit the right of self-defense to United Nations members.

"Nor does South Viet-Nam's status under the Geneva accords of 1954, as one zone of a temporarily divided state, impair the lawfulness of the defense against attack from the other zone.

"As in Germany and Korea, the demarcation line is established by an international agreement, and international law requires that it be respected by each zone. Moreover, South Viet-Nam has been recognized as an independent entity by more than 60 governments around the world and admitted to membership in a number of the specialized agencies of the U.N.

"Nothing in the U.N. Charter purports to restrict the exercise of the right of collective self-defense to regional organizations such as the OAS [Organization of American States].

"As required by the U.N. Charter, the United States has reported to the Security Council the actions it has taken in exercising the right of collective self-defense in Viet-Nam. It has indeed requested the Council to seek a peaceful settlement on the basis of the Geneva accords, but the Council has not been able to act.

"There is no requirement in international law for a declaration of war before the right of individual or collective self-defense can be exercised.

"South Viet-Nam did not violate the Geneva accords of 1954 by refusing to engage in consultations with the North Vietnamese in 1955 with a view to holding general elections in 1956, as provided for in those accords. Even assuming that the election provisions were binding on South Viet-Nam, which did not agree to them, conditions in the North clearly made impossible the free expression of the national will contemplated by the accords. In these circumstances, at least, South Viet-Nam was justified in declining to participate in planning for a nationwide election.

"The introduction of U.S. military personnel and equipment in South VietNam is not a violation of the accords. Until late 1961 U.S. military personnel and equipment in South Viet-Nam were restricted to replacements for French military personnel and equipment in 1954. Such replacement was expressly permitted by the accords.

"North Viet-Nam, however, had from the beginning violated the accords by leaving forces and supplies in the South and using its zone for aggression against the South. In response to mounting armed infiltration from the North, the United States, beginning in late 1961, substantially increased its contribution to the South's defense. This was fully justified by the established principle of international law that a material breach of an agreement by one party entitles another party at least to withhold compliance with a related provision.

"The United States has commitments to assist South Viet-Nam in defending itself against Communist aggression: In the SEATO treaty-which I have already mentioned and which is similar in form to our defense commitments to South Korea, Japan, the Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, and the Republic of China-and even earlier in the Geneva conference we had declared that we would regard a renewal of Communist aggression in Viet-Nam with 'grave concern.'

"Since 1954 three Presidents have reaffirmed our commitments to the defense of South Viet-Nam.

"Finally, the President of the United States has full authority to commit U.S. forces in the collective defense of South Viet-Nam. This authority stems from the constitutional powers of the President as Commander in Chief and Chief Executive, with responsibilities as well for the conduct of foreign relations. However, it is not necessary to rely upon the Constitution alone as the source of the President's authority. The SEATO treaty, which forms part of the law of the land, sets forth a United States commitment to defend South Viet-Nam against armed attack, and the Congress, in a joint resolution of August 1964 and in authorization and appropriation acts in support of the military effort in Viet-Nam, has given its approval and support to the President's action.

"The Constitution does not require a declaration of war for U.S. actions in Viet-Nam taken by the President and approved by the Congress. A long line of precedents, beginning with the undeclared war with France in 1798-1800 and including actions in Korea and Lebanon, supports the use of U.S. armed forces abroad in the absence of a congressional declaration of war."

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