Statement by Secretary Rusk Before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, February 18, 1966, "The U.S. Commitment in Viet-Nam: Fundamental Issues" (Broadcast Live on Nationwide Television Networks); Department of State Bulletin, March 7, 1966, p. 346.


Source: The Pentagon Papers, Gravel Edition, Volume 4, (Boston: Beacon Press, 1971), pp. 640-644


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"Why are we in Viet-Nam? Certainly we are not there merely because we have power and like to use it. We do not regard ourselves as the policeman of the universe. We do not go around the world looking for quarrels in which we can intervene. Quite the contrary. We have recognized that, just as we are not gendarmes of the universe, neither are we the magistrate of the universe. If other governments, other institutions, or other regional organizations can find solutions to the quarrels which disturb the present scene, we are anxious to have this occur. But we are in Viet-Nam because the issues posed there are deeply intertwined with our own security and because the outcome of the struggle can profoundly affect the nature of the world in which we and our children will live."

"What are our world security interests involved in the struggle in Viet-Nam?

"They cannot be seen clearly in terms of Southeast Asia only or merely in terms of the events of the past few months. We must view the problem in perspective. We must recognize that what we are seeking to achieve in South VietNam is part of a process that has continued for a long time--a process of preventing the expansion and extension of Communist domination by the use of force against the weaker nations on the perimeter of Communist power.

"This is the problem as it looks to us. Nor do the Communists themselves see the problem in isolation. They see the struggle in South Viet-Nam as part of a larger design for the steady extension of Communist power through force and threat."

* * *

"But the Communist world has returned to its demand for what it calls a 'world revolution,' a world of coercion in direct contradiction to the Charter of the United Nations. There may be differences within the Communist world about methods, and techniques, and leadership within the Communist world itself, but they share a common attachment to their 'world revolution' and to its support through what they call 'wars of liberation.'

"So what we face in Viet-Nam is what we have faced on many occasions before--the need to check the extension of Communist power in order to maintain a reasonable stability in a precarious world

* * *

"Under Secretary Smith's statement was only a unilateral declaration, but in joining SEATO the United States took a solemn treaty engagement of far-reaching effect. Article IV, paragraph 1, provides that 'each Party recognizes that aggression by means of armed attack . . . would endanger its own peace and safety, and agrees that it will in that event act to meet the common danger in accordance with its constitutional processes.'

"It is this fundamental SEATO obligation that has from the outset guided our actions in South Viet-Nam.

"The language of this treaty is worth careful attention. The obligation it imposes is not only joint but several. The finding that an armed attack has occurred
does not have to be made by a collective determination before the obligation of each member becomes operative. Nor does the treaty require a collective decision on actions to be taken to meet the common danger. If the United States determines that an armed attack has occurred against any nation to whom the protection of the treaty applies, then it is obligated to 'act to meet the common danger' without regard to the views or actions of any other treaty member."

* * *

"Our multilateral engagement under the SEATO treaty has been reinforced and amplified by a series of bilateral commitments and assurances directly to the Government of South Viet-Nam. On October 1, 1954, President Eisenhower wrote to President Diem offering 'to assist the Government of Viet-Nam in developing and maintaining a strong, viable state, capable of resisting attempted subversion or aggression through military means.' In 1957 President Eisenhower and President Diem issued a joint statement which called attention to 'the large buildup of Vietnamese Communist military forces in North Viet-Nam' and stated:

'Noting that the Republic of Viet-Nam is covered by Article IV of the Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty, President Eisenhower and President Ngo Dinh Diem agreed that aggression or subversion threatening the political independence of the Republic of Viet-Nam would be considered as endangering peace and stability.'

"On August 2, 1961, President Kennedy declared that 'the United States is determined that the Republic of Viet-Nam shall not be lost to the Communists for lack of any support which the United States can render.'

"On December 14, 1961, President Kennedy wrote to President Diem, recalling the United States declaration made at the end of the Geneva conference in 1954. The President once again stated that the United States was 'prepared to help the Republic of Viet-Nam to protect its people and to preserve its independence.' This commitment has been reaffirmed many times since.

"These, then, are the commitments we have taken to protect South Viet-Nam as a part of protecting our own 'peace and security.' We have sent American forces to fight in the jungles of that beleaguered country because South VietNam has, under the language of the SEATO treaty, been the victim of 'aggression by means of armed attack.'"

* * *

"Up to this point I have tried to describe the nature of our commitments in South Viet-Nam and why we have made them. I have sought to put those commitments within the framework of our larger effort to prevent the Communists from upsetting the arrangements which have been the basis for our security. These policies have sometimes been attacked as static and sterile. It has been argued that they do not take account of the vast changes which have occurred in the world and are still in train.

"These contentions seem to me to miss the point. The line of policy we are following involves far more than a defense of the status quo. It seeks rather to insure that degree of security which is necessary if change and progress are to take place through consent and not through coercion. Certainly, as has been frequently pointed out, the world of the mid-20th century is not standing still. Movement is occurring on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Communism today is no longer monolithic; it no longer wears one face but many, and the deep schism between the two great power centers of the Communist world--Moscow and Peking--is clearly one of the major political facts of our time.

"There has been substantial change and movement within the Soviet Union as well-and perhaps even more among the countries of Eastern Europe. frThese changes have not been inhibited because of our efforts to maintain our postwar arrangements by organizing the Western alliance. They have taken place because of internal developments as well as because the Communist regime in Moscow has recognized that the Western alliance cannot permit it to extend its dominion by force.

"Over time the same processes hopefully will work in the Far East. Peking--and the Communist states living under its shadow--must learn that they cannot redraw the boundaries of the world by force.

"What we are pursuing, therefore, is not a static concept. For, unlike the Communists, we really believe in social revolution and not merely in power cloaked as revolution."

* * *

"Our purpose is equally clear and easily defined. In his Baltimore speech of April 7, 1965, President Johnson did so in the following terms:

'Our objective is the independence of South Viet-Nam and its freedom from attack. We want nothing for ourselves--only that the people of South Viet-Nam be allowed to guide their own country in their own way.'

"This has been our basic objective since 1954. It has been pursued by three successive administrations and remains our basic objective today.

"Like the Communists, we have secondary objectives derived from the basic one. We intend to show that the 'war of liberation,' far from being cheap, safe, and disavowable, is costly, dangerous, and doomed to failure. We must destroy the myth of its invincibility in order to protect the independence of many weak nations which are vulnerable targets for subversive aggression--to use the proper term for the 'war of liberation.' We cannot leave while force and violence threaten them.

"The question has been raised as to whether this clash of interests is really important to us. An easy and incomplete answer would be that it must be important to us since it is considered so important by the other side. Their leadership has made it quite clear that they regard South Viet-Nam as the testing ground for the 'war of liberation' and that, after its anticipated success there, it will be used widely about the world. Kosygin told Mr. Reston in his interview of last December:

'We believe that national liberation wars are just wars and they will continue as long as there is national oppression by imperialist powers.'

"Before him, Khrushchev, in January 1961, had the following to say:

'Now a word about national liberation wars. The armed struggle by the Vietnamese people or the war of the Algerian people serve as the latest example of such wars. These are revolutionary wars. Such wars are not only admissible but inevitable. Can such wars flare up in the future? They can. The Communists fully support such just wars and march in the front rank of peoples waging liberation struggles.'

"General Giap, the Commander in Chief of the North Vietnamese forces, has made the following comment:

'South Viet-Nam is the model of the national liberation movement of our time. If the special warfare that the United States imperialists are testing in South Viet-Nam is overcome, then it can be defeated anywhere in the world.'

"The Minister of Defense of Communist China, Marshal Lin Piao, in a long statement of policy in September 1965, described in detail how Mao Tse-tung expects to utilize the 'war of liberation' to expand communism in Latin America, Africa, and Asia.

"These testimonials show that, apart from the goal of imposing communism on 15 million South Vietnamese, the success of the 'war of liberation' is in itself an important objective of the Communist leadership. On our side, we can understand the grave consequences of such a success for us. President Eisenhower in 1959 stressed the military importance of defending Southeast Asia in the following terms. He said:

'Strategically, South Viet-Nam's capture by the Communists would bring their power several hundred miles into a hitherto free region. The remaining countries of Southeast Asia would be menaced by a great flanking movement.. . . The loss of South Viet-Nam would set in motion a crumbling process that could, as it progressed, have grave consequences for us and for freedom.'

"This view has often been referred to as the 'domino theory.' I personally do not believe in such a theory if it means belief in a law of nature which requires the collapse of each neighboring state in an inevitable sequence, following a Communist victory in South Viet-Nam. However, I am deeply impressed with the probable effects worldwide, not necessarily in areas contiguous to South VietNam, if the 'war of liberation' scores a significant victory there. President Kennedy commented on this danger with moving eloquence: 'The great battleground for the defense and expansion of freedom today is the southern half of the globe-Asia, Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East-the lands of the people who harbor the greatest hopes. The enemies of freedom think they can destroy the hopes of the newer nations and they aim to do it before the end of this decade. This is a struggle of will and determination as much as one of force and violence. It is a battle for the conquest of the minds and souls as much as for the conquest of lives and territory. In such a struggle, we cannot fail to take sides.'

"Gentlemen, I think a simple answer to the question, what are we doing in South Viet-Nam, is to say that for more than a decade we have been taking sides in a cause in which we have a vital stake."

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