FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The 1973 Paris Peace Agreement Reconsidered

by GABRIEL KOLKO

The Paris Peace Agreement on Vietnam of 1973 is a misnomer because peace came to Vietnam only in April 1975, and certainly not in the way the formal provisions of the agreement stipulated it would. Essentially, the Agreement separated military and political questions, the former being quite specific but the latter needing much negotiation regarding implementation—and these could not occur fruitfully. The Agreement provided for a Joint Military Commission, but since its decisions had to be unanimous it was doomed to failure.  It created an International Commission of Control and Supervision composed of members from NATO nations, neutralist, and Communist nations, but since its decisions also had to be unanimous, it too was purely ceremonial.

Upon completing the final text, Nixon stated that the U. S. recognized  the Republic of Vietnam, which General Nguyen Van Thieu headed, as the “sole legitimate government of South Vietnam,” which meant he would support those parts of the Agreement he favored and ignore the rest.  The Thieu regime, in turn, refused to recognize the Provisional Revolutionary Government (Viet Cong) at all, and would only sign a separate agreement excluding all references to it.  Each side, in effect, supported those terms that were in its interest, which meant that the Agreement was meaningless as a whole.  [443] Revolutionary wars rarely end with diplomacy.

For  President Richard Nixon and his National Security adviser, Henry Kissinger, the treaty provided the time with which they hoped to win the Vietnam War by telling China and Russia, which were in the process of becoming deeply divided, that if they did not cooperate with the U. S. by cutting off military aid to the Vietnamese Communists, they would take measures to strengthen their Communist enemy, thereby threatening to play the two great nominally Communist nations off on each other–”triangulation” it was called.  Belief clever diplomacy would work tied up the American Government, and they believed in this mirage until reality in Vietnam became irreversible. The U.S. explicitly told the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, the North Vietnamese, that economic aid would be forthcoming as a “tangible incentive” if they stopped “committing aggression” in the south.  (447)  The D R V, amazingly, still regards these pledges, on which they planned (although they never were intended to be fulfilled), as justification for asking for reparations and aid even today.

But the Communists were exhausted, far inferior in numbers and equipment than the Thieu forces, which received a huge flow of military supplies from the United States—much of which they could not maintain or operate.  Not only were these new arms a violation of the Paris Agreement, they encouraged Thieu to take military risks that he was ultimately to lose. [449] Indeed, this fact caused some the American military to conclude that more arms to the Saigon regime were a waste of money (which it proved to be).  Moreover, by 1973 many American officers were well aware of the fact that the principal function of Thieu’s military command was to reinforce his personal political power rather than serve as an effective fighting force—and that its arms superiority was meaningless.

Thieu was also convinced that the U. S. would re-enter the war with B-52s: target lists were drawn up, American air controllers in Thailand were always ready.  Nixon’s Watergate scandal, leading ultimately to his resignation as U. S. President , was to end that possibility.  [451] Thieu, however, never quite realized that his powerful, closest ally was now gone.

The Treaty also caused splits in the DRV leadership, some of whom thought it might be another decade or more before victory came.

A flood of arms, and roughly 23,000 American and foreign advisers to teach the ARVN how to use and maintain them, made Thieu increasingly confident, as did Nixon’s secret pledge that American airpower might reenter the war if  the DRV sent its troops back to the South, which Congress knew nothing about and was very likely to oppose if it were ever to happen.

But neither China nor the Soviet Union, although increasingly divided, betrayed  the Vietnamese Communists in the way and time Kissinger’s convoluted diplomatic strategy had hoped. The illusion that grand diplomacy would succeed where military power had failed immobilized Nixon and Kissinger until it was too late. Moreover, the factors that were to determine the ultimate outcome of the very long war were beyond the U. S. control—even the Politburo in Hanoi failed to understand or appreciate them.

Thieu used the respite the Agreement gave him to attempt to consolidate his power and in the process began to alienate elements of South Vietnam’s population who had not been “Communist” but wanted an end to the conflict that had traumatized Vietnam for decades.  The Agreement was intended, at least ostensibly, to bring peace and reconciliation, not more war.  They knew nothing about Kissinger’s academic theories that allowed the U. S. to save its “credibility.”

South Vietnam’s urban population was now subject to a level of repression from the Thieu regime that was unprecedented, particularly the Buddhists.  The press and TV were controlled to a new extent, and repression alienated a growing section of the urban community.  These people had not been Communists but Thieu managed to alienate his natural allies: many became neutral.

Refugees who wished to return to their villages in Communist-controlled areas were generally not allowed to—a violation of Agreement conditions.  Rice stocks and sales allowed peasants in the Mekong Delta were carefully monitored to prevent rice passing to NLF forces.  Thieu, meanwhile, used the ample supplies of arms the U. S. sent him, especially artillery, and by 1974 the shooting war had resumed again in earnest (but without American forces), with ARVN firing a far greater amount than the Communists.

In effect, whatever it was intended to achieve, the 1973 Paris Agreement brought only an interlude in the Vietnam War.  Thieu’s error  was not to try to make the Peace Agreement to work, sharing some power with Buddhists, the middle class, even some nominal Communists– most of whom were really nationalists. Instead, he thought his arms superiority would allow him to win completely.  He was very wrong, ending up in exile as his military disintegrated in the spring of 1975.

GABRIEL KOLKO is the leading historian of modern warfare. He is the author of the classic Century of War: Politics, Conflicts and Society Since 1914 and Another Century of War?. He has also written the best history of the Vietnam War, Anatomy of a War: Vietnam, the US and the Modern Historical Experience

GABRIEL KOLKO is the leading historian of modern warfare. He is the author of the classic Century of War: Politics, Conflicts and Society Since 1914 and Another Century of War?. He has also written the best history of the Vietnam War, Anatomy of a War: Vietnam, the US and the Modern Historical Experience

May 02, 2016
Michael Hudson – Gordon Long
Wall Street Has Taken Over the Economy and is Draining It
Paul Street
The Bernie Fade Begins
Ron Jacobs
On the Frontlines of Peace: the Life of Daniel Berrigan
Louis Yako
Dubai Transit
Bill Quigley
Teacher, Union Leader, Labor Lawyer: Profile of Chris Williams Social Justice Advocate
Patrick Cockburn
Into the Green Zone: Iraq’s Disintegrating Political System
Lawrence Ware
Trump is the Presidential Candidate the Republicans Deserve
Ron Forthofer
Just Say No to Corporate Rule
Ralph Nader
The Long-Distance Rebound of Bernie Sanders
Ken Butigan
Remembering Daniel Berrigan, with Gratitude
Nicolas J S Davies
Escalating U.S. Air Strikes Kill Hundreds of Civilians in Mosul, Iraq
Binoy Kampmark
Class, Football, and Blame: the Hillsborough Disaster Inquest
George Wuerthner
The Economic Value of Yellowstone National Park
Rivera Sun
Celebrating Mother Jones
Nyla Ali Khan
Kashmir and Postcolonialism
Mairead Maguire
Drop the Just War Theory
Weekend Edition
April 29, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
What is the Democratic Party Good For? Absolutely Nothing
Roberto J. González – David Price
Anthropologists Marshalling History: the American Anthropological Association’s Vote on the Academic Boycott of Israeli Institutions
Robert Jacobs
Hanford, Not Fukushima, is the Big Radiological Threat to the West Coast
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
US Presidential Election: Beyond Lesser Evilism
Dave Lindorff
The Push to Make Sanders the Green Party’s Candidate
Peter Linebaugh
Marymount, Haymarket, Marikana: a Brief Note Towards ‘Completing’ May Day
Ian Fairlie
Chernobyl’s Ongoing Toll: 40,000 More Cancer Deaths?
Pete Dolack
Verizon Sticks it to its Workers Because $45 Billion isn’t Enough
Moshe Adler
May Day: a Trade Agreement to Unite Third World and American Workers
Margaret Kimberley
Dishonoring Harriet Tubman
Deepak Tripathi
The United States, Britain and the European Union
Eva Golinger
My Country, My Love: a Conversation with Gerardo and Adriana of the Cuban Five
Richard Falk
If Obama Visits Hiroshima
Vijay Prashad
Political Violence in Honduras
Paul Krane
Where Gun Control Ought to Start: Disarming the Police
David Anderson
Al Jazeera America: Goodbye to All That Jazz
Rob Hager
Platform Perversity: More From the Campaign That Can’t Strategize
Pat Williams
FDR in Montana
Dave Marsh
Every Day I Read the Book (the Best Music Books of the Last Year)
David Rosen
Job Satisfaction Under Perpetual Stagnation
John Feffer
Big Oil isn’t Going Down Without a Fight
Murray Dobbin
The Canadian / Saudi Arms Deal: More Than Meets the Eye?
Gary Engler
The Devil Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Is Washington Preparing for War Against Russia?
Manuel E. Yepe
The Big Lies and the Small Lies
Robert Fantina
Vice Presidents, Candidates and History
Mel Gurtov
Sanctions and Defiance in North Korea
Howard Lisnoff
Still the Litmus Test of Worth
Dean Baker
Big Business and the Overtime Rule: Irrational Complaints
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail