United States – Vietnam Relations, 1945–1967: A Study Prepared by the Department of Defense/III. B. Role and Obligations of State of Vietnam
One principal controversy over the Geneva Accords of 1954 stems from the view that Vietnam under the Bao Dai regime was actually still a French colony, and hence was obligated by the agreements reached by France at Geneva. Specifically, it is argued, Article 27 of the agreement signed by the French fixed responsibility for observance on the signatory governments "and their successors." The answer to the charge that the State of Vietnam thereby became a guarantor of the Accords is partly a matter of international law — a contentious point of law, given the relatively new phenomenon of former colonial states assuming full sovereignty. But it is also a matter of fact and of declaratory policy. In fact, the GVN was an independent state before the Accords were signed, and was treated as a separate state throughout the conference. It signed nothing at Geneva. To the contrary, in its declarations it clearly repudiated the Accords, and declined to accept any responsibility for observing or enforcing them.
The GVN had been given full independence from France on 4 June 1954 and was accepted as an equal by the other governments at Geneva. Therefore, the GVN was not automatically obligated by the July agreements between the Viet Minh and France. From the beginning of the conference, the GVN interests clashed with French desires. The French wanted to end the Indochina fighting even if disengagement entailed serious concessions to the Viet Minh. Hard-line GVN counterproposals, running against the prevailing spirit of compromise, were rejected by both the communist powers and the West. The final wording of the agreement on the cessation of hostilities was drawn up as the French and the Viet Minh would have it. The U.S., intent on promoting some constructive outcome of the conference, offered little support to the GVN. The U.S. did refuse to act on France's behalf to pressure the GVN, and did urge the French to be more receptive to the GVN delegates. But since U.K. and French delegates were ready to make substantial accommodations with the communists to achieve a quick end to the fighting, and with little U.S. backing, the GVN negotiating position was foredoomed (Tab 1).
France, the dominant Western power in the disputed area, and the Viet Minh were the designated executors of the Accords. Neither the armistice agreement nor other aspects of the settlement were practicable without DRV and French compliance. The GVN delegates at Geneva were emphatic in their repeated refusal to accept GVN responsibility for accords signed by France, especially with reference to partition and elections. No precipitate withdrawal of French military and diplomatic power from Vietnam was foreseen, so that the Accords embodied the anomaly of ignoring the sovereign GVN, even with respect to enforcing the Accords on its territory (Tab 2).
|III. B.||Tab 1 – GVN Status and Negotiating Position at Geneva|
|Tab 2 – French and GVN Responsibilities after Geneva|
|a.||Status of GVN Changes||B-5|
|b.||Talks Lead Toward GVN Independence||B-5|
|c.||GVN Independent After 4 June 1954||B-6|
|d.||GVN and DRV Status at Geneva Differ||B-6|
|a.||GVN Requests Written Assurance Country Will Not be Partitioned||B-7|
|b.||France Assures GVN it Will Not Seek Partition||B-8|
|c.||DRV Admits Feasibility of Partition||B-8|
|d.||French Opposition to Partition Collapses||B-9|
|a.||Vietnamese are Stubborn and Unyielding||B-9|
|b.||GVN Consistently Opposes Partition||B-10|
|c.||GVN not Informed of French–DRV Agreements||B-11|
|d.||Note to French Delegation Rejects Partition||B-12|
|e.||Vietnamese Register Opposition to Elections||B-12|
|f.||GVN Rejects Draft of Final Declaration||B-13|
|g.||GVN Presents Counter-Proposals||B-13|
|h.||GVN Unable to Influence Outcome||B-14|
|a.||U.S. Refuses to Influence GVN for France||B-15|
|b.||French Disregard U.S. Requests, Remain Aloof from GVN||B-15|
|c.||U.S. Declines to Support Final GVN Position||B-16|
The sovereign independence of Vietnam was a constant source of irritation and contention between France and the U.S. From the conclusion of World War II until the Geneva Conference, Washington continually urged Paris to follow the nationalist winds and establish an independent State of Vietnam. Coupled with pressures from Vietnamese nationalists, France did move in this direction — albeit as slowly as possible.
In June, 1948, Bao Dai was persuaded to become political leader of a "State of Vietnam," incorporating Cochin China, Tonkin, and Annam, which would be "independent...within the French Union." A treaty to this effect, the Elysee Agreements, was drawn up and approved by both sides in March, 1949, but was delayed in ratification by the French Assembly until 29 January 1950. There were a number of qualifications on the meaning of "independence" in the French Union, including complete freedom of movement of French military forces throughout the countries of the Union and legal immunity for French enterprises on the territory of other Union nations. On 3 July 1953) the French were pressured into announcing plans to negotiate and redefine Franco–Vietnamese political relations. But it was not until March, 1954, that these negotiations began, producing on 28 April a joint declaration recognizing what it called "total independence" for Vietnam. Buttinger calls this "a shabby independence." The country became fully sovereign on 3 June 1954.
It is important to remember that French procrastination, among other reasons, on setting the demands for full Vietnamese independence led to hesitancy on the part of the U.S. to intervene militarily in support of the French. With all, the status of the Bao Dai government did begin to change prior to the conclusion of the Geneva Conference — too late to figure in Franco–American deliberations about "united action," but soon enough to make Vietnam an independent state before the Conference agreed to a settlement of the war.
Between July, 1953, and April, 1954, French and Vietnamese representatives had a series of talks on ways to complete the independence of Vietnam promised in France's 3 July 1953 declaration. On 8 March 1954, the final round of talks began in Paris, and at a meeting on 28 April, agreement was reached by a Franco–Vietnamese political committee on the text of separate treaties of independence and association, with the latter (consisting of seven articles) to be spelled out in subsequent conventions. Premier Laniel and Vice President Nguyen Trung Vinh signed, a common declaration that same day which specified that the treaties would come into force upon ratification by the two governments. But, the ratification process was delayed for over a month. The U.S. Mission in Saigon was clearly annoyed that the long-awaited break in the Franco–Vietnamese deadlock did not lead immediately to ratification. The Mission speculated that the French were delaying to keep a free hand at Geneva by making no commitments on Vietnam until the outcome of the conference could be known. The Mission noted, that in so doing, the French were only feeding the doubts and suspicions of the Vietnamese about future French intentions toward Indochina.1 Washington, for its part, refused to consider the 28 April initialling of agreements as satisfying its pre-condition on complete Vietnamese independence.2
Not until 4 June, did the French National Assembly finally ratify the two treaties.3 By the Treaty of Independence, Vietnam was recognized "as a fully independent and sovereign State invested with all the competence recognized by international law." Vietnam agreed to replace France "in all the rights and obligations resulting from international treaties or conventions contracted by France on behalf or on account of the State of Vietnam or of any other treaties or conventions concluded by France on behalf of French Indochina insofar as those acts concern Vietnam." In other words, the GVN assumed responsibility for all agreements executed to ratification of the independence treaty. Under the accompanying Treaty of Association, Vietnam's status as an equal in the French Union was acknowledged for the first time, and with it the right (subsequently re-confirmed) to determine its extent of participation in the Union. The State of Vietnam was, therefore, a fully independent entity by 4 June 1954. France's international obligations in or for Vietnam were freely taken over by the GVN. This was in contrast, it might be added, to the DRV's abrogation of agreements concluded in Vietnam's behalf by France when Ho's regime took power on 2 September 1945.4
The final communique of the Berlin Conference (18 February 1954) specified that the Indochina phase of the Geneva deliberations would be attended by the United States, Great Britain, Communist China, the Soviet Union, France, "and other states concerned." Invitations to participants, it was further agreed, would be issued only by the Berlin conferees (U.S., UK, USSR, and France).
There had been some doubt as to the status of the DRV at the upcoming Indochina convention, but subsequent talks between Molotov and Bidault in April clarified the position of the DRV.5 Although the DRV was still considered a rebel group by the West, rather than an interested State, admission of the Viet Minh to the conference was never a serious problem. As one of the principal combatants whose consent to a cease-fire was considered indispensable, the Viet Minh could hardly be ignored. Moreover, the Soviet Union indicated to the French that it would not accept the presence of delegates from the Associated States unless the DRV were admitted to the conference.6 The principal Western objection concerning the DRV was that the invitation had been tendered to the Viet Minh not only by the Soviet Union but also by Communist China, a move admitted by Molotov at the first plenary session on 8 May and protested by France and the United States.7
Word of the DRV's admission naturally angered the Bao Dai government. When informed of Franco–Soviet Agreement on the DRV's admission, the Bao Dai government decided that Vietnam would go to the conference only upon invitation of the Western Big Three — that is, only if the SVN status differed from that of the DRV. On 2 May the invitations arrived, with the Soviets being informed that GVN participation would in no way confer 8 Although the Bao Dai government could not bar the DRV from the conference table, it did not accord Ho's regime anything more than the status of a belligerent.recognition on the DRV.
There was, then, a distinction between the status of the DRV and the GVN at the Geneva Conference. Whereas all the major powers implicitly or explicitly recognized the full status of the GVN as a state, the Western powers conceded only belligerent status for the DRV/Viet Minh. In practice, however, the Viet Minh were much more a part of the negotiating process, particularly as regards military arrangements. The GVN, in its own right, pursued a consistent public line, emphasizing its independence and its hope for the continued political unity of Vietnam — under Bao Dai.
At the time the Conference began, the State of Vietnam was concerned and suspicious about the possibilities of a partitioning of the country. Mindful of past instances of partition in Korea and Germany, and deeply in doubt of French willingness to stand firm against Viet Minh territorial claims, the GVN urged the French government to give written assurance that Paris would not seek a division of Vietnam. On 25 April, Bao Dai had served notice on the French that his government would not tolerate partition. GVN representatives in Paris issued a communique in the name of Bao Dai's cabinet which noted various plans in the air for a partition of Vietnam. The communique stated that a partition "would be in defiance of Vietnamese national sentiment which has asserted itself with so much strength for the unity as well as for the independence of its country. Neither the Chief of State nor the national government of Vietnam admit that the unity of the country can be severed legally..." In calling for French assurances that they would not negotiate a sacrifice of Vietnamese interests with the "rebels," the communique implied that the Vietnamese government would not sign the April treaties until such assurances were received. And, the GVN cabinet warned that a compromising agreement would never receive Vietnam's approval:
- "...neither the Chief of State, nor the Vietnamese Government, will consider themselves as bound by decisions running counter to the interests, i.e., independence and unity, of their country that would, at the same time, violate the rights of the peoples and offer a reward to aggression in opposition to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations and democratic ideals."9
In response to this clear-cut statement, the French came forward with both oral and written promises. On 3 May, Maurice Dejean, the Commissioner General for Indochina, said, in Saigon:
- "The French government does not intend to seek a settlement of the Indochina problem on the basis of a partition of Vietnamese territory...Formal assurances were given on this subject last April 25 by the French minister for foreign affairs to the minister for foreign affairs of Vietnam, and they were confirmed to him on May 1."10
Written assurance came from Bidault on 6 May, when he wrote Bao Dai that the task of the French government was to establish peace in Indochina, not "to seek here [at Geneva] a definitive political solution." Therefore, the French goal would be, said Bidault, to obtain a cease-fire with guarantees for the Associated States, hopefully with general elections in the future. Bidault continued:
- "As of now, I am however in a position to confirm to Your Majesty that nothing would be more contrary to the intentions of the French government than to prepare for the establishment, at the expense of the unity of Vietnam, of two states having each an international calling (11 )."
In their talks with the Viet Minh, however, the French found their adversary as stubborn at the bargaining table as on the battlefield. The negotiations during most of May made insignificant progress; but toward the end of the month, the Viet Minh made their first major concession when they strongly hinted that, given the right conditions, they might lift their demand for a united Vietnam. This, it can be speculated, was seen by Paris as a way of getting itself off the hook. While it may have been unacceptable to negotiate all of Vietnam away, half of Vietnam could be sold to the U.S. as a realistic compromise.
On May 24, Hoang Van Hoan, DRV Ambassador to Peking and spokesman of the DRV delegation, informed a special envoy of the French newspaper (Jean Schwoebel) that a military settlement through a cease-fire need not, as the Viet Minh had previously insisted, be preceded by a political settlement. Hoan reportedly stated: "it is first necessary to have a cease-fire. We do not pose a single prior political condition. If, in the plan of M. Dong, political proposals precede those which concern the cease-fire, it is solely a question of presentation..."12 Hoang Van Hoan's statement was confirmed the next day when Pham Van Dong, speaking at the sixth restricted session, referred for the first time to territory under Viet Minh control. Dong's proposals included specific reference to areas under the control of each Vietnamese state; in regrouping forces of the two sides, he suggested that territorial readjustments also be made so that each side would be able to have complete economic and administrative, as well as military, control. So as not to be misunderstood, Dong further urged that a line of demarcation be drawn that would be topographically suitable and appropriate for transportation and communication within each state.13 Thus, quite contrary to French and Vietnamese expectations, the Viet Minh had opened the way toward partition, and appeared willing to contemplate the creation, albeit temporary, of separate zones of political control.
French support of GVN opposition to partition, which Bidault upheld privately to Smith and Eden at Geneva,14 collapsed once the new government of Pierre Mendes-France took over in mid-June. Mendes-France, keenly aware of the tenor of French public anti-war opinion, was far more disposed than his predecessor to make every effort toward achieving a reasonable settlement, and he quickly foresaw that agreement with the Viet Minh was unlikely unless he accepted the concept of partition. His delegate at Geneva, Jean Chauvel, and the new Commissioner General for Indochina, General Paul Ely, reached the same conclusion.15
At a high-level meeting in Paris on 24 June, the new government thoroughly revised the French negotiating position. The objectives for subsequent talks, it was decided, would be: (1) the regroupment of forces of both sides and their separation by a line at about the 18th parallel;16 (2) the establishment of enclaves under neutral control in the two zones, one for the French in the area of the Catholic bishoprics at Phat Diem and Bui Chu, one for the Viet Minh at an area to be determined; (3) the maintenance of Haiphong in French hands in order to assist in the regroupment. At this same meeting, it was also decided that, for the purpose of psychological pressure on the Viet Minh, if not military preparedness for future contingencies, France should announce plans to send a contingent of conscripts (later determined as two divisions) to Indochina.17
The State of Vietnam delegation at Geneva was determined to be intimidated neither by the DRV and its communist allies, nor by the Western powers. The GVN representatives continually referred to their sense of responsibility to the Vietnamese people and to national aspirations for unity and freedom. The obvious dependence of the GVN on the military power of the West was not mirrored by an accompanying political spirit of accommodation: the GVN attitude at Geneva must be characterized as stubborn, unyielding, and idealistic. The GVN was the one nation at Geneva that remained completely unmoved by the spirit of compromise.
The attitude of GVN toward the Geneva Settlement was the product not only of its non-recognition of the DRV, but also of its hostility to partition and its opposition to national elections held in a divided country. Evidently quite independent of American instigation or pressure, the Saigon government concluded well in advance of the Conference termination on 21 July that it could not accept what it regarded as a set of agreements contracted in defiance of Vietnamese aspirations and without GVN consent. Nguyen Quoc Dinh, speaking for the GVN in the third plenary session (12 May) at Geneva, first read into the record in detail the new treaty guaranteeing GVN independence, then laid down his country's unyielding opposition to any agreement which would tend to split the country either geographically or politically. Any document tabled for consideration, said Quoc Dinh, "Must not lead to partition, either direct or indirect, final or provisional, de facto or de jure, of the national territory." Free elections can be held, he asserted, "as soon as the [UN] Security Council has decided that the authority of the State has been established in the whole of the territory, and that conditions of freedom have been obtained."18 In the fifth restricted session, on 24 May, Quoc Dinh again stressed the GVN's total independence from France:
- "...the problem of the independence of Vietnam dominates all events in Indochina whether considered from the point of view of the independence which the state of Vietnam [has] secured as a result of negotiations with France, or from that of the independence which Vietnam must defend from all foreign invaders."19
On the following day, Quoc Dinh repeated in the Sixth Restricted. Session, that the GVN "would not agree to any plan which would result in the partition of Vietnam." Any partition, he said, would incur "the grave danger one would gradually move down a path which would lead to what his people feared most."20 On the 27th of May, Quoc Dinh once again spoke on partition. He reminded the other delegates that the GVN had finally achieved independence, the first of its aspirations. The second, aspiration, also achieved, was territorial integrity. The GVN could not now accept partition "without betraying its own people":
- "With reference to Vietnam, the Vietnam delegation wished to warn the conference against any measures tending to divide the national territory. If a division of Vietnam were to be sanctioned, the result would not be peace but only a pause before fresh hostilities... Partition would therefore mean sooner or later — probably sooner — a renewal of war."21
On 29 May, speaking in rebuttal to the DRV delegation, Quoc Dinh stated, "it is impossible for a people to accept of its own free will a mutilation of its country...No Vietnamese patriot could accept partition." This marked the fourth successive meeting in which the GVN delegate emphasized his country's point of view on partition, elections, or both subjects. This emphatic repetition continued. In the Seventh Plenary Session, on 10 June, speaking of a statement made by Molotov, Quoc Dinh accused the USSR of laboring under certain misunderstandings of the GVN and, for the fifth time since tabling his proposals, he repeated the DRV position:
- "I noted in his statement...what I suppose was a mistake of inadvertent omission. He said that only the Viet Minh delegation had proposed that a free general election should take place in Vietnam. I'm sorry that I must contradict. The Delegation of the State of Vietnam also had the honor to propose such elections; the difference being that, whereas the Delegation of Viet Minh proposed that there should be no international supervision which, in the present circumstances, means that elections could not possibly be honest and true, the Delegation of the State of Vietnam has proposed that elections should take place under international supervision."22
Quoc Dinh then reasserted the complete independence of GVN from France, referring to the treaty of 4 June 1954. A week later, the Vietnamese delegate was again pushing his case on the floor of the conference:
- "As regards the independence of our country, it is a well-known fact that we have indicated the contents of two treaties we had with the French on that...As regards the elections, we ourselves, in our proposal of May 12, have taken the initiative of proposing elections in Vietnam. These elections must be free, sincere, and supervised. The best control would be exercised by the UN."23
The GVN insistence on territorial integrity and on elections only after full control was pressed with great energy — almost with vehemence — up to the very last moment of the Geneva Conference.
The evidence suggests that it was not until sometime in early July that the Bao Dai government learned of France's readiness to partition the country, given an acceptable demarcation line. According to a CIA source, based upon the report of a nationalist southern Vietnamese with "extensive" political contacts. Diem was greatly troubled in early July over France's apparent inclination to abandon the North rather than seek to retain a foothold there.24 Diem was said to be convinced that partition would be suicidal, since it would put an end to active anti-Viet Minh resistance. Moreover, Diem was convinced that the French intended to maintain a hold on the South only through manipulating independent irregular forces, such as the armed sects to whom the French allegedly were providing rifles.
GVN anger at hints of a possible French sellout on the partition issue was reflected in a note handed the French delegation (and, without France's knowledge, to the U.S. delegation also) by Nguyen Huu Chau of the Vietnamese delegation on 17 July 1954. The note maintained that not until 16 July did Vietnam learn that at the very time the French High Command had ordered the evacuation of troops from important areas in the Tonkin Delta, the French had also "accepted abandoning to the Viet Minh all of that part situated north of the eighteenth parallel and that the delegation of the Viet Minh might claim an even more advantageous demarcation line." The Vietnamese delegation protested against having been left "in complete ignorance" of French proposals, which were said not to "take any account of the unanimous will for national unity of the Vietnamese people." Disparaging the regroupment plan and the "precarious" nature of the cease-fire being considered, the note again urged that a cease-fire be accompanied by the disarmament of "all the belligerent forces in Vietnam." This would be followed, by provisional United Nations control of all Vietnam "pending the complete re-establishment of security, of order and of peace...which will permit the Vietnamese people to decide their destiny by free elections." UN control of a unified Vietnam, the note stated, was preferable to "its maintenance in power in a country dismembered and condemned to slavery."25
The long-standing GVN hostility to partition, expressed well in advance of final agreement to that arrangement, was paralleled by a wariness of a nationalon unification. In June, 1954, the Saigon Mission cabled Washington that a national election:
- "...to which Department quite rightly attaches importance...is now of less significance in Vietnam than before owing to general feeling of panic and anxiety lest entire country be lost through unfortunate armistice terms. Press has announced that decrees will presently be signed by Bao Dai providing for municipal elections and, with exception of Saigon-Cholon, for direct election of mayors. This should to some extent meet Department's requirement in this regard although it is far less than national elections or preparations for National Constituent Assembly."26
The GVN protest note to the French of 17 July asserted that a cease-fire without disarmament was incompatible with a plebiscite. They held further that the regroupment of the armed forces of the belligerents into separate north-south zones compromised in advance the freedom of any future elections. Moreover, in the GVN view, elections could be considered only after internal security and peace had been re-established, thereby excluding a set time-frame.27 In short, the GVN argued strongly against any scheduled post-settlement national election, and warned that a plebiscite to determine a government for a unified Vietnam could hardly be envisaged with the northern zone controlled by communist armed forces.
On 18 July, GVN, in a conference session, Foreign Minister Tran Van Do spoke out against the draft Final Declaration of the Conference which had been circulated among the delegations. He said that Vietnam could not associate itself with the declaration, and pointed in particular to the conditions for a cease-fire, which stipulated a division of the country, and to Vietnam's lack of an opportunity to present its own proposals. Tran Van Do requested the right to offer Vietnam's own draft declaration at another plenary session.28
The next day, 19 July, the Vietnamese delegation offered its proposals, an elaboration of the ideas contained in the note to the French delegation. The proposal warned that the French, Soviet, and Viet Minh drafts all spoke of a provisional partition, whereas the inevitable result would in fact be "to produce in Vietnam the same effects as in Germany, Austria, and Korea." The proposal went on: "it would not bring the peace which is sought for, deeply wounding the national sentiment of the Vietnamese people; it would provoke trouble throughout the country, trouble which would not fail to threaten a peace so dearly acquired." The delegation then renewed its plan for a cease-fire in small regroupment zones; the disarming of irregular troops and, after a fixed period, of all Viet Minh troops; the withdrawal of foreign troops simultaneous with disarmament of the Viet Minh; and UN control of the cease-fire, the regroupment, the disarmament and withdrawal, the elections which would follow the restoration of order, and national administration.29
Tran Van Do's proposal did not receive consideration at the final plenary session of the Geneva Conference on 21 July.30 The delegation head protested this as well as the "hasty conclusion of the Armistice Agreement by the French and Viet Minh High Commanders only..." Furthermore, Tran Van Do protested the abandonment of national territory to the Viet Minh even though still occupied by Vietnamese troops, and the setting up of a date for national elections by a command without Vietnamese agreement. He concluded: "...the Government of the State of Vietnam wishes the Conference to take note of the fact that it reserves its full freedom of action in order to safeguard the sacred right of the Vietnamese people to its territorial unity, national independence, and freedom." After other delegation leaders had indicated consent to the military agreement on the Cessation of Hostilities and Final Declaration, Tran Van Do spoke again. He requested the Conference to incorporate in the Declaration the following text:
- "The Conference takes note of the Declaration of the Government of the State of Vietnam undertaking: to make and support every effort to re-establish a real and lasting peace in Vietnam; not to use force to resist the procedures for carrying the cease-fire into effect, in spite of the objections and reservations that the State of Vietnam has expressed, especially in its final statement."31
Tran Van Do's final effort was dismissed by Eden (as chairman), who urged that, the Final Declaration having already been printed, the conferees take note of Do's statement. Nevertheless, Do's comments then and previously clearly established his government's opposition to the Geneva Accords. That the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement was signed by the French and Viet Minh military commands, the main belligerents, accommodated the fact that the GVN did not recognize the political existence of the DRV. The French, correctly anticipating adverse reactions from the GVN, avoided seeking GVN official consent to the armistice. The French also knew that the GVN would never accede to a partition arrangement, and formal approval of the armistice by the military commands removed the possibility of GVN obstruction of a cease-fire.
The French had good reason for avoiding communication with the Vietnamese during the last days of the Geneva Conference: scheduled elections were prominent among the concessions that France had to make in order to obtain a settlement at all; and the reunification of Vietnam was deferred by the device of the promised plebiscite. As the Conference drew to a close, and time was running out for the French, they traded on the Viet Minh desire for the future "integrity of the Vietnam state" in order to salvage what they could from their own tottering situation. The French finally agreed to Vietnam-wide elections within two years. As in the partition agreements, the GVN was not able to influence that decision to any appreciable degree. In the larger sense, GVN aspirations were sacrificed to the position of France versus its Communist antagonist. Each side was determined not to allow all of Vietnam to fall into the hands of the other. France agreed to elections, knowing — as the USSR and. China also knew — that elections might never be held.32
French readiness to accept a divided Vietnam — a disposition which before the end of June culminated in abandonment of the enclave alternative in favor of a north-south partition — was not communicated to the GVN. To the contrary, then and throughout the conference, the GVN delegation and government were informed of shifts in position, if at all, as 33 In the same month, Chauvel, evincing understanding that the U.S. would prefer to disassociate itself from a partition settlement, nevertheless asked if the U.S. would soften Bao Dai opposition by indicating it was the best solution obtainable. Chauvel described Diem and Buu Loc as "difficult," unrealistic, and unreasonable in their opposition, and likely to upset the delicate negotiations.34 The U.S. consistently reacted negatively to these approaches, in the undoubtedly correct belief that the French were merely attempting to identify the U.S. with the partition concept in Vietnamese eyes. For example, Secretary Dulles instructed the U.S. Ambassador on 2 July concerning Diem as follows:. During June, for instance, Chauvel on several occasions approached the U.S. with news of the "underground" negotiations with the Viet Minh and with the hope that, once partition had been fixed, the U.S. would "sell" that solution to Saigon.
- "It seems to me that the new Vietnamese Prime Minister, Ngo Dinh Diem, who has the reputation of uncompromising nationalist, is quite in the dark about developments critically affecting country he is trying to lead. We fear that if results of French negotiations with communists are revealed to him as a 35 , the very reaction French wish to avoid will result. You should therefore indicate our concern to the French and ascertain their own intentions with respect to consulting him or minimizing his resentment and their views with respect to plans and prospects for maintaining order in South Vietnam."
By refusing to act as intermediaries for the French, the U.S. in turn kept free of entanglement in a "French solution" to the Vietnam problem.
French aloofness from the GVN continued into July. Despite U.S. requests of the French delegation that the GVN be kept informed of developments, the French remained wary of contact for fear of provoking a GVN reaction that, in turn, might fracture the delicate French discussions with the Viet Minh. Chauvel consequently informed U. Alexis Johnson that "he was handling this [liaison with the GVN] through members of his staff and was avoiding direct contact with Vietnamese in order not to have to answer their questions."36 When Offroy, another member of the French delegation, suggested that the U.S. placate the Vietnamese with assurance of free world political, economic, and military support after the settlement, U. Alexis replied that this was a matter which the French had to handle.37
When the penultimate session of the Conference recessed, Tran Van Do and another member of his delegation, Tran Van Chuong, explained Vietnam's position to U. Alexis Johnson. Even though they admitted that they recognized the impracticality of the GVN proposals, the GVN delegation felt that "they must make the moral position of their government clear to the world and to the Vietnamese people. If the other side rejected it, the position of their government would have been improved." U. Alexis Johnson observed that time was short for another plenary session; he suggested that they ask Mendes-France for an extension of his self-imposed deadline for concluding the negotiations. After some hesitation, they did so, and Mendes-France, although he urged the Vietnamese to circulate their proposal, stated he definitely could not ask the French National Assembly for more time at Geneva. Johnson at this point "reminded Mendes-France of the U.S. position on GVN concurrence with any agreement. Mendes-France [said] he was very conscious of this and was asking De Jean [sic] immediately to go to Cannes to see Bao Dai."33 Nothing came of this exchange.
In summary, however, it must be said that while the GVN attained none of its major objectives, and while it received little support from the U.S., it continued to exist. Its territorial and political integrity below the 17th parallel was assured, after a fashion, for at least two years by the Geneva Accords.
III. B. 2.
|a.||GVN Does Not Inherit French Responsibilities||B-21|
|b.||GVN Position is Anomalous||B-27|
The fact that French Union forces were still in Vietnam at the time the Geneva military agreements were signed, and that they remained there during and after the Conference, need not be interpreted as evidence of lack of Vietnamese sovereignty. French Union forces could hardly have left the country immediately without surrendering all Vietnam to the communists, and without inviting the slaughter of the Vietnamese National Army. French officers and noncommissioned officers led the latter troops. Clearly, only a gradual withdrawal of the French Expeditionary Corps was reasonable in view of the prevailing military situation. The GVN accepted these realities and recognized, the need for continued French presence. The French government, in granting the GVN independence had agreed that the Expeditionary Corps would be pulled out of Vietnam at the request of the GVN — although no doubt it hoped to delay that day. In fact, the French moved swiftly after Geneva, under American urging, to relinquish to the GVN the full trappings of the sovereignty granted in June, 1954. By mid-September, the turning over of the civil service, police, and other public administration in South Vietnam was formally completed. By February, 1955, the Vietnamese Army was placed under the command of Vietnamese leaders, and the French accepted American primacy in advising, training, and equipping GVN armed forces.
Article 27 of the Armistice agreements signed by France states in part: "The signatories of the present Agreement and their successors in their functions shall be responsible for ensuring and observance and enforcement of the terms and provisions thereof..." That clause seemed to obligate the State of Vietnam in the event France abrogated its responsibilities — but even if construed thusly, the obligation extended only to "the present [military] Agreement," and not to the political provisions included in the unsigned Final Declaration. It is also possible to construe the reference to "successors" as a binder on the procession of French governments likely to follow Mendes-France. In any event, the State of Vietnam explicitly denied responsibility for all the agreements concluded by France at Geneva, although it pledged not to interfere with the cease-fire.1. The declarations of Vietnamese disavowal were early, repeated and specific. Moreover, these declarations included warnings that the partition and elections provided for by the Geneva Conference would lead to renewed violence. Examples of these statements follow:
|2||12 May 54||Geneva Conference "must not lead to partition, either direct or indirect, final or provisional, de facto or de jure, of the national territory."||Elections can be held "as soon as the [UN] Security Council has decided that the authority of the State has been established in the whole of the territory, and that conditions of freedom have been obtained..."|
|3||25 May 54||State of Vietnam "would not agree to any plan which would result in the partition of Vietnam." Partition involved "grave danger."|
|4||27 May 54||"...The Vietnam delegation wished to warn the Conference against measures tending to divide the national territory. If a division of Vietnam were to be sanctioned, the result would not be peace, but a pause before fresh hostilities: There was no example of a country torn physically apart which had not endeavored to recover its unity and its historic frontiers. Partition would therefore mean sooner or later — probably sooner — a renewal of war."|
|5||29 May 54||"We do believe that there are certain principles which should guide us. Among these principles is the political and territorial integrity of the Vietnamese country. When it was agreed that representatives of Vietnam should attend this conference, it is obvious that one could not ignore the consequences of this attendance. It is impossible for a people to accept of its own free will a mutilation of its country... No Vietnamese patriot could accept partition."|
|6||10 Jun 54||"The delegation of the State of Vietnam...had the honor to propose...elections;...whereas the Delegation of Viet Minh proposed that there should be no international supervision which, in the present circumstances, means that elections could not possibly be honest and true, the Delegation of the State of Vietnam has proposed that elections should take place under international supervision."|
|7||16 Jun 54||The GVN, "in our proposal of May 12, have taken the initiative on proposing elections...these elections must be free, sincere, and supervised. The best control would be exercised by the U.N."|
|8||17 Jun 54||"The de facto partition...does not take any account of the unanimous will for national unity of the Vietnamese people...Vietnam would prefer...provisional control by the United Nations over a truly unified and independent Vietnam to its maintenance in power in a country dismembered and condemned to slavery."||"Regroupment...reinforces the threat that they constitute to the free expression of the will of the people. Therefore not only does such a cease fire not-lead to a durable peace, since,. ignoring the will for national unity, it provokes the people to 'unify' the country, but, by the consolidation of the armed forces now facing each other, it violates in advance the liberty of the future elections...The cease fire...far from leading to peace, makes peace improbable and precarious."|
|9||18 Jul 54||"In order to avoid any misunderstanding [Tran Van Do] wished to state firmly that Vietnam delegation could not associate itself with any discussion of this [Final Declaration]...Vietnam does not agree to conditions advanced for cessation of hostilities...Delegation of Vietnam can only protest the idea of partition...Vietnamese delegation flatly rejects both drafts submitted to the conference...Vietnamese delegation cannot accept declaration or agreement where Vietnam, which [was] invited to the conference as [an] existing state, [is] not even mentioned."||
|10||19 Jul 54||"French, Soviet and Viet Minh drafts all admit the principles of a partition of Vietnam in two zones, all of North Vietnam being abandoned to the Viet Minh. Although this partition is only provisional in theory, it would not (repeat not) fail to produce in Vietnam the same effects as in Germany, Austria, and Korea. It would not bring the peace which is sought for, deeply wounding the national sentiment of the Vietnamese people, it would provoke trouble throughout the country, trouble which would not fail to threaten a peace so dearly acquired."||"The Vietnamese Delegation therefore proposes:
This proposal made on the formal instructions of His Majesty Bao Dai, and of President Ngo Dinh Diem, shows that the Chief of State of Vietnam once more places the independence and the unity of his country above any other considerations, and that the national government of Vietnam would prefer this provisional UN control over a truly independent and United Vietnam to its maintenance in power in a country dismembered and condemned to slavery."
|11||21 Jul 54||"Mr. Tran van Do (State of Viet-Nam) (interpretation):
Mr. Chairman, the Delegation of the State of Viet-Nam when it tabled its proposal, saw an armistice without a partition, even provisional, of Viet-Nam through disarmament of all belligerent forces after their withdrawal into perimeters as limited as possible and by the establishment of a provisional control by the United Nations on the whole of the territory, while the re-establishment of order and peace would enable the Vietnamese people to decide its fate through free elections.
"The Delegation of the State of Viet-Nam protests against the fact that its proposal has been rejected without an examination, a proposal which is the only one to reflect the aspirations of the Vietnamese people. It requests urgently that the demilitarization and neutralization of the Catholic communities, the Bishoprics of the Delta in North Viet-Nam be at least accepted by this Conference.
"It solemnly protests against the hasty conclusion of the Armistice Agreement by the French and Vietminh High Commanders only, whereas the French High Command does command Vietnamese troops only through a delegation of powers given by the head of the State of Viet-Nam, whereas especially many provisions of this Agreement are of a nature to be seriously detrimental to the political future of the Vietnamese people.
"It further solemnly protests against the fact that this Armistice Agreement abandons to Vietminh territories some of which are still occupied by Vietnamese troops and which are, nevertheless, fundamental to the defense of Viet-Nam against a greater Communist expansion, and results practically even in depriving the State of Viet-Nam from its right to organize its defense by other means than by the maintenance of the foreign army on its territory.
"It also solemnly protests against the fact that the French High Command was pleased to take the right without a preliminary agreement of the Delegation of the State of Viet-Nam to set the date of future elections, whereas we deal here with a provision of an obviously political character. Consequently, the Government of the State of Viet-Nam requests that this Conference note that it does protest solemnly against the way in which the Armistice has been concluded and against the conditions of this Armistice which have not taken into account the deep aspirations of the Vietnamese people.
"And the Government of the State of Viet-Nam wishes the Conference to take note of the fact that it reserves its full freedom of action in order to safeguard the sacred right of the Vietnamese people to its territorial unity, rational independence, and freedom.
"...as regards the final Declaration of the Conference, the Vietnamese Delegation would request the Conference to incorporate in this Declaration after Article 11, the following text:
It was generally recognized at Geneva that the position of the GVN was, at best, contradictory. The GVN asserted its desire for international status by demanding concessions which the other nations considered impossible. The GVN also was severe in criticism of the French, while at the same time acknowledging a debt to France for its very existence in the face of Viet Minh military and political pressures — which even France, at that time, could barely sustain. The unsupported opposition of the GVN was understood by the other nations as a small country's fight for survival.
Partition, regroupment, and cease-fire conditions intended to lead to a final political settlement at Geneva, were all imposed on Saigon. While it is true that the alternatives offered by the GVN were impractical and unacceptable given the extent of Viet Minh territorial and population control, the salient fact is that the GVN, speaking from what it regarded as an independent position, held fast against every proposal that departed from its concepts of national unity and self-determination. The limitations on the GVN's role as an independent participant at the Conference stemmed from French determination to conclude a settlement in line with French interests. France commanded the power to attract Conference support; the GVN did not. However, the GVN was neither obligated by previous commitment, by its legal status, nor by the Accords themselves to abide by the Franco–Viet Minh agreements which emerged. This anomaly ultimately made France, and French presence in Vietnam, pivotal to the fulfillment of the Geneva agreements.