Volume #23 - 606.|
INDOCHINA: INTERNATIONAL COMMISSIONS FOR SUPERVISION AND CONTROL
Ambassador in United States|
to Secretary of State for External Affairs
January 6th, 1956|
Reference: Your letter Y1738 of Dec 29.?
Repeat London No. 2; NATO Paris No. 2.
VIETNAM - THE NEXT MOVE
Your letter under reference with its enclosures (a) The Next Move in Vietnam,1 and (b) Canadian Objectives in Indochina,2 on which you asked our early comment, reached us only on January 4. In view of your interest in an early response, we shall limit this message to the more general observations which have occurred to us on reading these thoughtful memoranda, and these only in outline as you suggested.
Essentiality of the Commissions
2. Both memoranda underline the necessity of continuing the Commissions in Indochina - memorandum (a), which envisages the withering away of the Commissions after July 1956, perhaps less so than memorandum (b), which deals with the Commissions as essential and continuing features of the delicate structure on which the peace of Asia might depend.
3. Let us as the devil's advocate question this major premise of essentiality and suggest that the presence of the Commissions in Indochina is only desirable rather than essential. Is it not the fear of war or an acceptance of the status quo (as mentioned in both memoranda) which keeps the peace in Indochina? If the Communists change their minds, would the presence of the Commissions be a major deterrent to renewed hostilities in Indochina (or in Korea where the Communists moved in 1950 with a UN body on the scene)? What real backing has the Commission in Vietnam now that its primary task of overseeing the peaceful redeployment of opposing forces has been completed? The British and French Governments are already somewhat embarrassed by their Geneva commitments and may in time feel not dissimilarly about the Commission in Vietnam; the Soviet Union seems content at the moment to avoid any initiative in Indochina; the United States is specifically uncommitted to the Geneva Accords beyond a pledge not to upset them, and finally, perhaps the most concerned party, South Vietnam, openly opposes the Geneva settlement and has been cool towards the Commission. Other Geneva Conference powers have shown little interest in the settlement or the Commissions, nor have they been encouraged to do so. Are the supervisory powers wise then to be more interested in continuing their onerous duties than those powers on whose behalf they were invited to serve? Would it not be better to let the present Commissions wither as fast as natural political forces allow, avoiding provocative action but leaving it to the powers who must assume responsibilities if the peace is threatened to make the pace?
4. If, on the other hand, the presence of the Commissions is essential (bearing in mind that the Geneva formula is now unrealistic), what does this mean for Canada in terms of length of service, friction with our friends, our reputation as an objective middle power, and new responsibilities for the maintaining of the peace? The current attitudes especially in Vietnam are not likely to change even after July 1956; do we therefore face indefinite service? We may expect continued differences over Indochina to impinge upon our relations with India and the United States particularly. If the Commissions of which we are members must more and more turn the blind eye to the violation of the letter and the spirit of the Geneva Agreements, will our international reputation not suffer? If, on the other hand, we agree to serve in circumstances where the Geneva Conference powers recognize the unworkability of the existing programme for a political settlement, do we not assume new responsibilities not in our original agreement to serve?
5. We are not certain of the correct answers to the questions posed above. In our view, however, they suggest that we should carefully weigh the two factors of Commission essentiality and Canadian interest before embarking on any firm plan of action.
Canada's Stake in the Commissions
6. We must ask ourselves whether we would wish to remain on a Commission or Commissions which by inaction would in some sense condone violation of the agreement under which the Commissions served, whether by the Communists or by others. The Swiss and Swedes face this uncomfortable issue now in Korea. Behind the facade of an agreement supervised by an international body the Communists in Korea are building up their military strength while berating the UN for alleged violations which we have been assured have not taken place. While there is little direct evidence in Vietnam as yet of similar violations, i.e., in the matter of military reinforcements, there is no guarantee that this condition will prevail. In Laos we know that the Pathet Lao cannot and do not stand alone. In Cambodia there has been some recent evidence of Polish skulduggery.3 We know from experience that Communist régimes cannot be counted on to carry out their pledged agreement, even to a bargain, and further that Communists generally tend to regard concessions by the other side as evidence of weakness to be exploited. Nor can we be certain that Western advice will be accepted in every instance by the Diem Government in Vietnam or the royal government in Laos. The Commissions in Indochina up until now have a good record. Should we be anxious to continue our association with them if it is to become almost impossible to maintain that good record?
The Link Between the Settlements
7. Memorandum (b), more so perhaps than memorandum (a), gives prominence to the importance of the link which exists in the Communist mind between the activities not only of the three Commissions in Indochina but also of the NNSC in Korea. Mention is made as well of the inter-relation of events in the Formosa Straits, Korea and Indochina. The sound argument which is based on this analysis of Communist thinking is that the West should be careful not to disturb the Communists unduly in any one section of this sensitive chain lest this provoke dangerous Communist reaction in another section. It is perhaps equally valid to argue that firm (not provocative) action by the non-Communist powers concerned in one section of the chain would have a beneficial effect elsewhere; if, for example, some balancing action is taken in Korea to offset obvious Communist violation of the armistice, there may be less inclination on the part of the Communists in Vietnam to follow these same practices.
The New Formula
8. The formula suggested in paragraph 20 of memorandum (a) is ingenious although it might perhaps be interpreted as giving the final declaration of the Geneva Conference even more weight (by indirection admittedly) than it has at the moment, and for that reason the Diem Government might find it difficult even to acquiesce by silence. It might be a slight improvement to refer to Article 14 of the Cease-fire Agreement rather than to the Final Declaration.
9. If, on the other hand, it could be assumed that the acceptance by the interested powers of the status quo in Vietnam, rather than the Armistice Agreement or the Commission itself, keeps the peace, it may be possible to do something more positive than is suggested in the formula to involve the one important party in the continuance of the Commission which is so far not deeply involved, i.e., the [... Govern]ment. A part of the idea suggested by Scott, the U.K. [Commissioner General] in Southeast Asia (our letter 1988 of December 9)? [...]4 Vietnam might be asked a series of questions concerning the political settlement. Their answers would probably indicate that there was no basis for immediate action and this lack of agreement in a sense would be a new agreement replacing the Geneva formula. Some such approach might be even more satisfactory to the Indians if, as memorandum (a) suggests, the Indians desire some alternative arrangements outside the Geneva settlement.
10. It seems to us that whatever plan you contemplate adopting for dealing with the immediate situation in Vietnam should be discussed, in general terms at least, with the United States Government as well as with the United Kingdom and French Governments. It has been our experience that important suggestions such as those contained in the Departmental memoranda are discussed by the Foreign Office with the State Department as a matter of routine. We would recommend, however, that, for the more substantial reason of United States interest and responsibility in Indochina, we should discuss with the State Department, from an early stage, our ideas on the future of the Commissions. Whenever we have adopted this practice we have had a measure of success in gaining for our positions the support of the State Department and its not inconsiderable influence on the specific matter under consideration. Finally, with reference to paragraph 23 of memorandum (a), we would suggest that perhaps in discussing our plans with the Indians, we should not become involved in threatening the Indians with United States action even by allusion.
11. We shall not include in this message a number of the further detailed comments which occur to us on specific points made in the two Departmental memoranda because our object here has been to indicate the main questions which arise in our minds (and which may arise in other minds) in studying the memoranda. Memorandum (a) as it stands is the kind of balanced analysis which could serve as a good basis for preliminary discussion with other interested governments. We hope that some of the ideas in this message might, however, assist in making that memorandum even more effective.