It is not enough to deplore that the war in Vietnam has cost the lives of at least a quarter-million Vietnamese of all ages and political persuasions during the last two-and-a-half years and that it is likely to take the lives of thousands of young Americans as well. What can and, in our view, must be done in Vietnam as a first step is to limit the damage our present military operations are inflicting on innocent people; second, to “de-escalate” the war itself so that effective contacts, discussions, and negotiations with the other side may go on; and third, to join with others in planning ahead for the restoration of a Vietnam that will not be a menace to itself, to its region, or to world peace. More generally, we must now attempt to end the war and build from the diplomatic settlement that follows an American foreign policy that is more rational and less isolated from the rest of the world.

  1. Now that American units are fighting in Vietnam it is specious and immoral to argue that this is not an American war and that we are not responsible for the indiscriminate killing and maiming of civilians by the use of such weapons as fragmentation bombs, napalm, and plant-killing and incapacitating gases on ill-defined targets. Furthermore, responsible Western observers have reported that torture, brutal interrogation, and killing of the enemy have taken place in the presence of American officials who showed no concern whether or not the victims were treated as prisoners of war. On August 10th, Dean Rusk announced to the President of the International Red Cross that the United States is now “applying the provisions of the Geneva Convention” and is “developing plans to assist the Government of the Republic of Vietnam to…process and care for an increased number of captives taken in combat…The two governments are also increasing programs of instruction for personnel in the details…of the Convention.” The public must insist that the United States scrupulously enforce this new commitment. As a participant in most of the treaties covering the international law of war—and as a prosecuting power at the Nuremberg Trials—the United States has no excuse for evading its responsibilities in this matter. It must not allow the Aesopian language of “measured response” and “escalation” to mask tactics which could eventually amount to genocide.

a. All American servicemen in Vietnam should be told that, at the least, the Hague and Geneva Conventions on Land Warfare and on the Treatment of Prisoners of War and War Victims, fully apply in combat operations in Vietnam. They should be told that the Geneva Convention of 1949 covers P.O.W. situations and extends to “conflicts not of an international nature” (i.e., civil wars). That Convention, by the way, was ratified by South Vietnam (1953), the United States (1955), and North Vietnam (1957).

b. Both South Vietnamese and American troops in Vietnam should be told that the failure of the enemy to observe those rules does not absolve them from their own responsibility to observe them. The Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal explicitly stated that observance of the rules of war even against a non-signatory was “binding as declaratory of international law.”

c. The Red Cross of the National Liberation Front should be recognized as the appropriate organization to give aid to NLF prisoners in our hands (or in South Vietnamese hands) and to alleviate the situation of American and South Vietnamese P.O.W.’s in Vietcong hands, for whom apparently nothing is being done. In both the Indo-chinese War and the Algerian War, the French Army granted Red Cross privileges to the other side, without implying further political recognition.* Inspection of P.O.W. camps on both sides through Red Cross representatives should become mandatory. Even if the NFL did not cooperate, the United States and South Vietnam could only gain in prestige by this arrangement.

  1. “De-escalation” of the military conflict would become more likely if the United Nations is introduced into Vietnam. For too long, the UN has been kept out of Vietnam by the West for a variety of ill-founded reasons. Owing to the voting power of the Afro-Asian and Latin American nations at the General Assembly, the UN still has sufficient prestige to call for consultations and negotiations under its auspices which could be accepted by both sides without loss of face. It accomplished this in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The “realists” who argue that the UN Security Council is a useless forum because of the Soviet veto fail to understand that the Council’s most important function at the present time is not to vote on resolutions, but to provide the context in which serious negotiations can be initiated and proposals tested. Although the Council does not accurately reflect the realities of world power it can still carry on diplomatic business leading to negotiated agreements. If the great powers are to arrive at a long-term settlement in Southeast Asia, they will have to work in concert with other nations: and the UN provides the most effective means of accomplishing this. The Chinese Communists and the North Vietnamese now oppose the involvement of the UN. which they fear will scrap the Geneva accords of 1959 in arranging a new peace. However, the purpose of the UN should be to strengthen and enforce the accords, not to contradict them.

a. Greater use should be made of the conventional methods of contacting an adversary through neutral emissaries, mediators, etc. This would be a welcome alternative to the various obscure “contacts” and “signals” which seem to have been the rule in the Vietnamese situation. In the past, UN mediators have worked well where national mediators have failed. The method should be tried again.

b. One way to encourage negotiations would be to de-escalate air operations. If the large-scale bombardment of North Vietnamese military and (now admittedly) industrial targets south of Hanoi was intended to break North Vietnamese morale, it had already failed by June, 1965. If it had been intended to boost South Vietnamese morale, it failed to prevent South Vietnamese defeats where it counted—in the ground warfare in South Vietnam itself. Hence, its interruption for a longer period than the five days in April, 1965—too short for any real consultations between Hanoi, Peking, Moscow, and perhaps neutrals—would hardly hurt the war effort. If we merely want to assert American “presence” over North Vietnam for psychological effect, leaflets or food can be dropped just as effectively as bombs.

c. The International Control Commission (ICC) set up by the Geneva Conference still maintains offices in both Hanoi and Saigon. A UN “presence” should be established at both missions immediately, as a permanent channel for diplomatic communications. The liaison missions of the opposite sides (i.e., a South Vietnamese Army team in Hanoi and a North Vietnamese Army team in Saigon), abolished by Ngo Dinh Diem in 1957, should be reactivated. The southern team in the North could include an American section, since Americans are now co-combatants in Vietnam. The northern team in the South would include representatives of the Vietcong, since they are the main combatants in the war. One function of these teams could be to work out the technical basis for a truce. (It is relevant here that in Cyprus the government of Archbishop Makarios deals with the Turkish minority rebels under UN auspices, and in repeated negotiations in Malaya, the anti-communist Prime Minister Tungku Abedul Rahman did not hesitate to meet with Chin Peng, the Chinese Communist guerrilla leader.)

d. The establishment of a demilitarized negotiating area on the 17th parallel on the model of Pan Mun Jom in Korea could also serve to stabilize the situation between the two Vietnams. It would be patrolled by a reinforced ICC under UN sponsorship.

The above steps are but a few of those which come to mind when one contemplates the various possibilities of “de-escalation.” They are simply meant to underline the fact that there is more to the ending of a conflict than the total surrender of one party, and that the intermediate steps leading to a cease-fire can be as gradual as the local or international situation warrants. But above all, they are designed to increase the possibilities of contact so that the Vietnamese crisis can be dealt with as a political rather than as a military exercise.


  1. There seems to be surprisingly little disagreement about the type of negotiation to be undertaken. Both sides, in various statements, have referred to the Geneva Conferences of 1954 or 1962 as precedents for the kind of conference that could be held. Both sides also have agreed that North and South Vietnam would after a ceasefire continue to operate as separate states for a fairly long period, and that both zones would be free of foreign troops and bases.

a. After formal negotiations were underway, an organization for truce supervision resembling those set up by the Geneva Conferences of 1954 and 1962 could begin to function. However, both the 1954 and 1962 truce organizations seem to have lacked the “teeth” that other supervisory bodies (such as the UNTSO in Palestine) have had in the past. In dealing with disputes or violations, neither had recourse to any political authority higher than the relatively powerless Russian and British co-Chairmen of the Geneva Conferences. The UN Security Council or a special UN Supervisory Committee should undertake this role.

b. The reactivated control machinery should be expanded to include a wider range of members and a greater number of control detachments, with an actual “Peace Force” patrolling the small demilitarized zone at the 17th parallel. The full machinery should also include (as mentioned above, it had existed but was abolished by the South Vietnamese) the kind of joint cease-fire teams whose effectiveness has been proven by almost twenty years of operations along the Israeli-Arab borders. These joint teams in turn would operate under the supervision of the ICC and the UN.

  1. But the core of the problem is the role to be played by the National Liberation Front and various rebel forces in the Vietcong who have taken up arms against the regimes in Saigon. The hard and stubborn fact remains that once the fighting stops, the Vietcong—both the communist and non-communist elements of it—will be in a dominant position in South Vietnam because it has control of much of the countryside and the villages, and has developed in the course of twenty-five years a gigantic and politically effective network throughout South Vietnam. That is the reality that must be faced whether the war continues, intensifies, or is stopped.

a. Once the de-escalation process has begun, the United States, through the good offices of the UN or another third party, with the UN acting as the guarantor, should undertake to supervise the withdrawal of all American troops ordered into South Vietnam after February 7, 1965. Under the supervision of the ICC the North Vietnamese should also withdraw forces that entered South Vietnam after February 7, 1965. The purpose of this is to restore the military aspects of the Vietnamese problem to politically manageable proportions. If fewer military forces were engaged, the possibilities of a major war involving the nuclear powers would be diminished, and the opportunities for political contacts among the Vietnamese themselves would grow.

b. During this first stage of withdrawal a political convention of South Vietnamese should be arranged. But first the U.S., the N.L.F. and the South and North Vietnamese governments should formally recognize an amnesty for all political forces in North and South Vietnam. The convention would include representatives from all factions and regions of South Vietnam: representatives of the NLF. other groups in the Vietcong, the armed forces, the Buddhists, Catholics and other religious sects. The convention would be charged with the responsibility for working out a government which would speak for the Republic of South Vietnam at an international conference similar to the one held at Geneva in 1954. This time, however, it would be held under the auspices of the UN.

  1. The UN Geneva conference would undertake to set up political and diplomatic procedures to deal with the following questions:

a. Withdrawal of remaining non-South Vietnamese armed forces from South Vietnam within a specified period.

b. Reinforcement and enlargement of both the Joint Commission and an International Control Commission. These would have the power to investigate complaints, act as a police force under certain agreed-upon conditions, and make regular reports to the UN about border difficulties and any other incidents. Their tasks would include supervision of troop withdrawal, a guarantee of amnesty to all participants in the South Vietnamese war, and the release of war prisoners.

c. The responsibility for serving on the ICC would rotate among members of the UN, the majority being non-European; this activity should be financed by the Great Powers.

d. As part of the treaty the nations of Southeast Asia would be required to settle differences by legal means. Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, North and South Vietnam should accept the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice to solve border disputes and other questions that could be designated as legal. Other means should be explored through the office of the Secretary General for using international mediation to solve seemingly “intractable” regional political problems. If the international community could take responsibility in this way for keeping peace in Southeast Asia, it could do much to reduce the tensions that now afflict the area as a result of unilateral intervention, western Colonialism, and pressures from communist China.

  1. The goal of a Geneva conference would be a State Treaty, guaranteed by the UN and signed by all major interested powers, establishing an independent and democratic South Vietnam.

a. Such a treaty should include provisos on independence, human rights, and democratic institutions similar in intent to Articles 1 through 8 of the Austrian State Treaty of 1955. It will be recalled that the Austrian State Treaty, signed by the UK, US, USSR, and France, has for the past decade provided a satisfactory framework for the internal affairs of Austria, and has helped to secure stability in Central Europe. However, the new Vietnam State Treaty should provide for free elections in both South and North Vietnam to choose a unified government, once both governments had agreed the time was ripe for holding such elections. A time limit for holding these elections should be specified in the Treaty. Once such elections were held, the same protections for free speech, press, elections, and minority rights, which are now spelled out in the Austrian State Treaty, should continue to apply, but now for all of Vietnam.

b. Pending the election of a national government for all of Vietnam, normal trade, cultural, postal, and diplomatic relations should be instituted between South and North Vietnam. Where any disputes occur, either within South or North Vietnam or between them, the issue should be referred to the diplomatic section of the ICC. When a majority of the enlarged ICC thought it appropriate, the issue would be brought, as a threat to the peace, to the UN Security Council for debate and action under Article 39 of the UN Charter.

c. The major Powers should agree that South and North Vietnam will not join in any military security arrangement. In exchange for this neutrality their security and borders would be protected by the UN either through the Security Council or the Uniting For Peace Resolution of the General Assembly. Pending unification of South and North Vietnam the two countries should be admitted to the United Nations.

  1. The armies of both Vietnamese states should be limited both in numbers of men in regular and paramilitary formations; and in the quantity and quality of military equipment at their disposal. Any foreign military advisors required for such forces could be supplied under the authority of the military Committee of the UN Security Council under Article 47; their expense would be borne by the host country.
  2. The United States, through the UN Special Fund, should offer aid to Laos, South Vietnam, North Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand in establishing a common market among themselves, with a customs and payments and emergency funds to finance special “quick-payoff” projects (US and UN files are bulging with such projects). President Johnson has already proposed a plan for long term economic development along the lines of the TVA for the Mekong River, a striking plan which is already supported by Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and South Vietnam. It is even said by those involved in the project that the Pathet Lao would like to participate and that the North Vietnamese would as well if it were extended into North Vietnam.

At the same time, a “planning bank” whose directors would be appointed by Cambodia, North Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, South Vietnam, the United States, France, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union, could direct the expenditure and planning of short-term projects in South and North Vietnam, and the Mekong Project in Southeast Asia. The planning bank could be financed by these powers under the authority of the United Nations. The UN Economic Commission for Asia in the Far East (ECAFE) could serve as the “parent” organization. The planning bank would be organized to include both donors and recipients as board directors. Communist China should be invited to join in one of these capacities.


If the United States can bring under control its present penchant for military involvement, there is some cause for hope. There are two strong political tendencies in Southeast Asia: nationalism and fear of Chinese domination. For the leaders of South and North Vietnam to have indigenous mass support they must achieve real political identity for their nations. This means that local political and military leaders will want to lessen the influence of the Great Powers—the United States, France, China, and the Soviet Union. They know that they can be ruined if they rely on foreign troops to prop up their regimes and become wholly dependent on outside forces for political, diplomatic, and economic support.

No doubt this will displease the Great Powers, who have always exploited Southeast Asia for their own political purposes. It is to be hoped that this disastrous phase of international politics can be transformed through diplomacy. But will Communist China cooperate? There is little question that US relations with China will soon enter a new stage. What the United States does now may drastically affect Chinese policies. If we can concentrate the political activity of Southeast Asia on establishing sound governments and true national independence, and on higher living standards as well, we will be in a better position to blunt Chinese power. And the Southeast Asian nations would then have strong reasons for remaining free. If we make it possible for China to participate in projects for peaceful economic development, we will have accomplished much in recognizing the legitimate interest of 700 million Chinese. Settling the Vietnamese war can be used as an opening wedge for improving relations with Communist China in the next period of international affairs. That policy would be incomparably less dangerous for the United States than a “holy war” with China.

This Issue

September 16, 1965