296 pp., 61/8 x 91/4, 10 illus., 3 maps, appends., notes,
Published: Fall 2002
Hanoi, and the Making of the Paris Agreement
(c) 2002 by the University of North Carolina Press. All rights
On 24 January 1973, Henry Kissinger, President Richard Nixon's national security adviser, confirmed the imminent signing of the Paris Agreement, ostensibly ending the Vietnam War. When later asked how the agreement had been agreed upon and what it meant, Kissinger replied, "These facts have to be analyzed by each person for himself."1 This study is a response to that reply. It is about the diplomatic effort to end American participation in the war in Vietnam, a conflict known in Vietnam as the Anti-American Resistance and in the United States as the Vietnam War. Relating the diplomacy that created the agreement and led to the American withdrawal from Vietnam, this study discusses the making of the Paris Agreement by tracing the positions of Washington and Hanoi during their negotiations in France and the strategies each used to achieve its purposes during five years of secret and private diplomacy.
The principal aim of this histoire éànementielle is to
explain the circumstances that doomed the peace promised by the agreement. As this study demonstrates, Washington and Hanoi signed the Paris Agreement acrimoniously and with the understanding that its implementation would be highly problematic. Fading prospects of victory after 1968, perpetuation of the military stalemate through mid-1972 despite efforts to break that stalemate, and difficulties on the domestic front convinced both sides that the signing of an agreement in January 1973 was the most expedient solution under the circumstances. Washington and Hanoi thus acted in collusion and agreed to vague and largely unworkable positions because finalizing an agreement was more important than peace itself. Since the agreement constituted a timely necessity, the two sides ignored it once it had served certain immediate, cynical purposes. For Washington, those purposes included securing the release of American prisoners, withdrawing from Vietnam without formally capitulating, and preserving American credibility in the Cold War; for Hanoi, they included forcing the withdrawal of American forces, saving the socialist revolution in the North, and improving the prospects of reunification.
The United States elevated diplomacy over military activity as the more likely vehicle to prevent defeat in the aftermath of the Tet Offensive; and after 1969, the Nixon administration emphasized diplomacy to the point that it manipulated the ground and air wars in Vietnam to serve the purposes of the negotiations in Paris. In Hanoi, the process was more gradual but the outcome similar. The leadership initially assigned diplomacy a tertiary role below that of military and political activity in South Vietnam but reversed that order of priorities after the 1969-70 pßriode creuse. At its Eighteenth Plenum in 1970, the Central Committee of the Vietnamese Workers' Party (VWP) raised the diplomatic mode of struggle, and thus the Paris peace talks, to a par with the military and political modes. During the ensuing two years, however, Hanoi wavered between serious negotiation and intensified military activity. Ultimately, the failure of the 1972 Spring Offensive convinced Hanoi that military victory was elusive and perhaps impossible, and success through diplomacy quite likely.
By mid-1972, both Washington and Hanoi saw diplomacy as the best means of ending their war on the most favorable terms they could hope to achieve. Contrary to the assumption or conclusion of many Western writers, the negotiations were not secondary to the ground and air wars. On the contrary, the negotiations in Paris eventually dictated battlefield activities by both sides, and as that occurred the ground and air wars became secondary to diplomacy.
Because the Paris Agreement was signed by both sides under extreme duressthat is, as a result of military and other circumstances they could not controlit was doomed to unravel. The situation in South Vietnam after January 1973 remained unpalatable to all three Vietnamese parties. Saigon was indignant that North Vietnamese forces stayed in the South after the cease-fire; the Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South Vietnam (PRG)the political arm of the National Liberation Front (NLF) after 1969resented that the current regime in Saigon remained; and Hanoi spurned any solution that did not provide for the timely reunification of the nation. The war had lasted too long and been too costly for the parties to accept the kind of peace promised by the agreement, mainly one that did not guarantee the fulfillment of their respective ambitions. Thus, neither side honored the spirit nor the letter of the agreement beyond its most immediate purposes.
North Vietnamese-American relations during the Vietnam War went through a distinct evolution. Between the introduction of American ground forces in March 1965 and the Tet Offensive in early 1968, there was infrequent diplomatic interaction between Washington and Hanoi. Each was too preoccupied with fighting the war to think of negotiating an end to it. In the aftermath of the Tet Offensive, the two sides conducted public and then private talks, but for more than a year and a half the talks produced nothing but the Johnson administration's decision to end the bombing of North Vietnam. Then, in early 1970 commenced a period of sustained diplomatic interaction that produced few results. In the summer of 1972, however, the talks began to bear fruit and culminated in the signing of the Paris Agreement. As Washington and Hanoi moved closer to agreement, Saigon and the PRG became increasingly intractable. Saigon, in fact, prevented an agreement from being signed in late October 1972. This last period, from mid-1972 to early 1973, is the focus of this study.
This focus accentuates two important realities scholars have neglected. The first is that North Vietnam was as active a player in the war and throughout the negotiations as the United States was. This study demonstrates that the agreement of 1973 represented the culmination of a process during which the Nixon White House and the Hanoi politburo under VWP general secretary Le Duan made a series of compromises prompted by specific circumstances that led each party to conclude that an agreement was preferable to continued stalemate on the battlefield. While the Saigon government and its opponents in the PRG/NLF never directly participated in the secret and private discussions, their pressures on Washington and Hanoi, respectively, combined with the dynamics of American and North Vietnamese politics to make them influential factors in the negotiations. Thus, the two South Vietnamese parties figure prominently in this study.
The second reality this study accents and other studies have ignored is the centrality of diplomacy in the Vietnam War. The outcome of the warand of the Vietnamese Revolutionwas not determined on the battlefield but at the negotiating table. There, conditions were created and the stage was set for the conclusion of the war. The Paris Agreement changed the balance of forces in the South as it precipitated the completion of the American withdrawal and permitted North Vietnamese troops to remain. The fall of Saigon occurred in the propitious context created by the agreement; this study explains how that came about.
Chapters 1 and 2 describe the diplomatic situation from the Tet Offensive of 1968 to the middle of 1972, during which time the peace negotiations made no consequential progress because neither side was willing to compromise on substantive issues. In mid-1972, however, the discussions entered a new phase that lasted seven months and produced the agreement that Kissinger announced the signing of in January 1973. That period is the body of the study, Chapters 3 through 6. Despite temporary ups and downs, the negotiations throughout this time were sustained and ultimately fruitful due to the determination of both sides, finally, to obtain an agreement. In fact, by late 1972, signing an agreement had become an end in itself for both Washington and Hanoi. Chapter 7 considers the last round of negotiations in January 1973 and the finalization of the agreement and includes a discussion of Nixon's efforts to get South Vietnamese president Nguyen Van Thieu to accept the agreement, which compromised South Vietnamese interests, as Thieu clearly understood. The epilogue summarizes the consequences of the accords, especially their breakdown in South Vietnam, considers the fall of Saigon in 1975, and assesses fundamental aspects of North Vietnamese-American diplomacy.
This study does not consider the semipublic talks that paralleled the private negotiations. Begun in 1968, attended by all four factions, and continued until the signing of the Paris Agreement, these talks were largely cosmetic and conducted mainly for propaganda purposes. They captured media attention but contributed nothing to the final agreement.
Note on Translations and Vietnamese Names
Translations from French and Vietnamese are my own. For the sake of clarity, I have excluded all Vietnamese diacritical marks. As is standard in Vietnam, Vietnamese personal names are used where the entire name is not. In Vietnamese, the personal name is last. For example, Le Duc Tho (surname "Le") is "Tho." Exceptions to the rule include Ho Chi Minh, commonly called "Ho," and Le Duan and Truong Chinh, who are always referred to by their full names.
Note on Chinese Words
All Chinese words, including personal and geographical names, are in Pinying, unless they appear as part of a quotation, in which case the original wording was kept.
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