Thursday, September 16, 2010

Diplomatic End Game of the Vietnam War

The Department of State's Office of the Historian released today a new Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) volume, one that documents U.S. policy toward the war in Vietnam from October 8, 1972, to January 27, 1973. From today's press release:

This volume documents the marathon four-day negotiating session between Kissinger and North Vietnamese representative Le Duc Tho in Paris (October 8-11, 1972). The peace agreement they reached was rejected by South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu. The United States attempted to convince Thieu that he was wrong, and in November Nixon sent Kissinger back to Paris to renegotiate 69 points on behalf of the South Vietnamese. The North Vietnamese, fiercely disagreeing with the U.S. move, decided that they too would renegotiate issues previously agreed to. By mid-November, the talks were on the verge of collapse. Consequently, the central goals of U.S. foreign policy over the next few weeks were to compel both South Vietnam and North Vietnam to accept, in its main tenets, the agreement that the United States had negotiated with the latter in October.

A cynic might say that the central goal of our policy was to compel the South to accept terms that would more or less ensure it's eventual destruction, while also compelling the North to wait a decent interval after the withdrawal of U.S. forces before continuing its war against the South.

This was high drama. Our special negotiator was Secretary of State Kissinger (who was dual-hatted, serving simultaneously as both SecState and the President's National Security Adviser). His meetings with delegates from the North were conducted secretly in Paris. And the tools of persuasion he employed included thousands of naval mines dropped in North Vietnam's harbors to interdict Sino-Soviet bloc merchant shipping, and 741 sorties by B-52 Stratofortress bombers that dropped 15,237 tons of ordnance on 18 industrial and 14 military targets.

I remember being a high school student with a draft card in my wallet in 1972, absorbing every bit of news I could get about the last act of the Vietnam War, including listening to the reports put out by Radio Hanoi. It was exciting stuff then, and it's even better now that I can read the internal documents.

You can download the new FRUS material here. Well worth reading.

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