Indochina - Midway in the Geneva Conference: Address by the Secretary of State, May 7,1954 (1)

I welcome this opportunity to talk with you about the Conference now going on in Geneva(2) and the related aspects of our foreign policy.

First of all, I join with you in paying tribute to the gallant defenders of Dien-Bien-Phu (3) May it be given us to play a worthy part to defend the values for which they gave their lives

This week I returned from the Geneva Conference. My return was not connected with any developments at the Conference. As long ago as last February when the Conference was called, I said I would attend only the opening sessions, and then have my place taken by the Under Secretary of State, General Bedell Smith. He is highly qualified to head our delegation at Geneva.

Since the Conference may last for some weeks, I did not feel able to stay with it that long. I have been out of the United States during much of the last 6 months to attend the Bermuda Conference(4) the Berlin Conference,(5) the Caracas Conference,(6) and two NATO Council meetings in Paris.(7) These meetings strengthen the links with our allies and enable us to present the position of the United States to others. But the Secretary of State must also keep in close touch with our own people and with the Congress. In order to exercise our full influence in foreign affairs, the Government must have the understanding and support of the American people for its policies.

The Geneva Conference has two tasks. The first is to try to find a way to unify Korea. The second task is to discuss the possibility of restoring peace in Indochina.

The Soviet delegation, however, has sought to use the Conference for other purposes. By various devices, it has tried to create the false impression that this meeting accepted Red China as one of "five great powers" or conferred on it a new international status.

Both of these issues had been fought out in connection with calling the Conference and the Soviets had then conceded that the Conference would not be a five-power affair nor involve any recognition for Red China. We and our allies stood firmly and solidly on that position and the Soviets ended by accepting it.

By the time I left Geneva, the Korean phase of the Conference had been organized and was well under way. I will speak first of that, and then of Indochina where the fighting is still active and where the question of possible United States participation has to be considered.

For many years Korea has been the pawn of great powers. Russia, Japan, and China have abused and exploited Korea and kept its peoples in servitude. The Koreans now want only to be united and free and left alone. Yet, in fact, Korea is divided, and North Korea lives under the Chinese Communist yoke. In all decency it would seem that the Communists should allow the Korean people at long last to live their own lives and to satisfy their aspirations for freedom.

When the Geneva Conference was organized, the Communists put up their program for uniting Korea.(8) Unhappily it was not a program to satisfy the desires of the Korean people for unity and freedom. It was, as President Eisenhower said,(9) "a Chinese copy" of the Soviet scheme for the unification of Germany.(10) Their idea is to have elections so set up that the Communists can dictate the outcome and thus impose their rule upon the whole country.

In the case of Germany, the Communists control Eastern Germany, with about one-fourth of the total German population. In the case of Korea, they control about one-sixth of the total Korean population. They insist, however, in both cases, that this gives them the right to equal participation in determining the election conditions. Also, they stipulate that there must be no impartial supervision or observation of the elections to be sure that they are fair and free of coercion.

The Communists feel confident that under these conditions they can make their candidates seem to win.

This scheme, when offered for Germany, was turned down by the Federal Republic of Germany and by the three Western Powers at Berlin.(11) The same scheme is equally objectionable for Korea.

I can assure you that the United States delegation will do all that lies within its power to promote, by peaceful means, the independence and freedom and unity of Korea.

More than 140,000 Americans were killed or wounded under the United Nations Command to keep Korea from being overrun by armed invasion. I promise you that we shall not surrender at the council table at Geneva the freedom for which so many fought and died.

We are pressing the Communists to accept honest elections which will be supervised by responsible outside observers, who will assure a really free election. Whether the Communists accept that remains to be seen. If they would, then I think that Korea could be unified.

Let me turn now to the problem of Southeast Asia. In that great peninsula and the islands to the south live nearly 200 million people in 7 states-Burma; the three states of Indochina-Laos, Cambodia, and Viet-Nam; Thailand; Malaya; and Indonesia. Communist conquest of this area would seriously imperil the free world position in the Western Pacific. It would, among other things, endanger the Philippines, Australia, and New Zealand, with all of which the United States has mutual-security treaties.(12) It would deprive Japan of important foreign markets and sources of food and raw materials.

In Viet-Nam, one of the three Indochinese states, war has been going on since 1946. When it began, Indochina was a French colony just liberated from Japanese occupation. The war started primarily as a war for independence. What started as a civil war has now been taken over by international communism for its own purposes. Ho Chi-Minh, the Communist leader in Viet-Nam, was trained in Moscow and got his first revolutionary experience in China.

In the name of nationalism, the Communists aim to deprive the people of Viet-Nam of their independence by subjecting them to the new imperialism of the Soviet bloc.

What is going on in Indochina is a perfect example of the Soviet Communist strategy for colonial and dependent areas which was laid down by Lenin and Stalin many years ago and which the Communists have practiced to take over much of Asia.

The Indochina area was vulnerable. The Governments of Viet-Nam, Laos, and Cambodia had not yet received full political independence. Their peoples were not adequately organized to fight against the Communist-led rebels, and they did not feel that they had a stake in the struggle which justified great sacrifice.

President Eisenhower became familiar with the problem when he was the Supreme Commander of NATO in Europe. He had seen the strain and the drain which the Indochina war put upon France. He was aware of the growing discontent in France resulting from the long war where the French were assuming the principal burden of the fight and where human and material costs were mounting.

I recall in December 1952 when General Eisenhower, as President-elect, was returning from his Korean trip on the cruiser Helena, we discussed gravely the problem of Indochina.

We realized that if Viet-Nam fell into hostile hands, and if the neighboring countries remained weak and divided, then the Communists could move on into all of Southeast Asia. For these reasons, the Eisenhower administration from the outset gave particular attention to the problem of Southeast Asia.

Our efforts took two complementary lines. We sought to strengthen the resistance to communism in Indochina. We sought also to build in Southeast Asia a broader community of defense.


In Indochina itself, the following steps seemed to us important:

1. The French should give greater reality to their intention to grant full independence to Viet-Nam, Laos, and Cambodia. This would take away from the Communists their false claim to be leading the fight for independence.

2. There should be greater reliance upon the national armies who would be fighting in their own homeland. This, we believed, could be done if the peoples felt that they had a good cause for which to fight and if better facilities for training and equipment were provided for them.

3. There should be greater free-world assistance. France was carrying on a struggle which was overburdening her economic resources.

Much progress was made in each of these respects. The French declaration of July 3, 1953, pledged full independence to Viet-Nam, Laos, and Cambodia.(13) Already, a treaty of independence has been concluded with Laos,(14) and Emperor Bao Dai told me, in Paris, 2 weeks ago, that he felt that Viet-Nam was assured of its independence.

On the military side, a 2-year plan was worked out by General Navarre.(15) It was designed to speed the training of native forces.

The cost of this operation would be considerable. The United States, which was already paying part of the cost of the war, agreed to bear the greater part of the total cost(16) We are now paying at the rate of about $800 million a year, plus a very large provision of military equipment.

Despite the gains on these fronts, there has been a growing belief by the French people that France was overextended, in view of its responsibilities in Asia, in Africa, and in Europe. As a result, when I met in Berlin last January and February with the Foreign Ministers of France, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union, the French Government asked that the projected conference on Korea be expanded to discuss also the problem of peace in Indochina.(17)

Shortly after the Berlin Conference adjourned, the Communists. as was to be expected from them, began to expend their military assets, human and material, in a desperate effort to win some victory which they would exploit for political purposes. They concentrated on

mass assault against one- of the French outposts-that of Dien-Bien-Phu. That assault was pushed with a callous disregard of human life.

Now, Dien-Bien-Phu has fallen. Its defense, of 57 days and nights, will go down in history as one of the most heroic of all time. The defenders, composed of French and native forces, inflicted staggering losses on the enemy. The French soldiers showed that they have not lost either the will or the skill to fight even under the most adverse conditions. It shows that Viet-Nam produces soldiers who have the qualities to enable them to defend their country.

An epic battle has ended. But great causes have, before now, been won out of lost battles.

The Chinese Communists have been supplying the forces of Viet Minh rebels with munitions, trucks, anti-aircraft guns, radar, and technical equipment and technical advisers. They have, however, stopped short of open intervention. In this respect, they may have been deterred by the warnings which the United States has given that such intervention would lead to grave consequences which might not be confined to Indochina.(18)


Throughout this period the United States has also followed the second course of trying to develop strength in Southeast Asia through collective measures.

Back in 1951, I negotiated treaties with the Philippines, Australia and New Zealand. These recognized that this area was one of vital importance to the United States. These treaties also recognized that they were only initial steps toward the development of a more comprehensive system of collective security in the area.

This we have constantly sought. However, it has proved difficult to achieve this result. There were differences of race and culture and differences in the development of national self-government. The countries which had won or were winning their independence from Western colonialism and Japanese imperialism were often more concerned with past dangers from which they were extricating themselves than with the threat of new peril. The memories of the past blinded them to the present perils of Communist imperialism. They were not disposed to make the sacrifices inherent in any collective security system.

However, this situation began to change and by the spring of this year it seemed that there could be a broader program of collective defense.

On March 29, 1954, after consultations with Congressional leaders of both parties, and after having advised our principal allies, I stated: "The imposition on Southeast Asia of the political system of Communist Russia and its Chinese Communist any, by whatever means, would be a grave threat to the whole free community. The United States feels that that possibility should not be passively accepted but should be met by united action."(19)

This declaration was nothing new, although the circumstances of the moment gave the words a new significance.

President Eisenhower speaking almost a year earlier, in his address of April 16, 1953, had said that "aggression in Korea and in Southeast Asia are threats to the whole free community to be met by united action." (20)

After having explained our purposes to the American people, we promptly conferred with the representatives of nine free nations having immediate interest in the area, namely, Viet-Nam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, the Philippines, Australia and New Zealand, France, and the United Kingdom. We informed others whose interests could be affected.

The Governments of the United Kingdom and of France asked me to visit their capitals to develop further our concept. After conferences at London on April 12 and 13 with Sir Winston Churchill and Mr. Eden, we issued a joint U.S.-U.K. communiqué(21) which, after reciting the danger to the entire area of Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific caused by Communist warfare in Indochina, concluded: "Accordingly we are ready to take part, with the other countries principally concerned, in an examination of the possibility of establishing a collective defense, within the framework of the Charter of the United Nations, to assure the peace, security and freedom of Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific."

A similar agreement was reached in Paris with Prime Minister Laniel and Foreign Minister Bidault.(22) The progress thus made was that which the United States had sought. We had never sought any sudden spectacular act such as an ultimatum to Red China. Our goal was to develop a basic unity of constructive purpose. We advanced toward that goal. I feel confident that unity of purpose persists, and that such a tragic event as the fall of Dien-Bien-Phu will harden, not weaken, our purpose to stay united.

The United States and other countries immediately concerned are giving careful consideration to the establishment of a collective defense. Conversations are taking place among them. We must agree as to who will take part in the united defense effort, and what their commitments will be.

It must be recognized that difficulties have been encountered, but this was expected. The complexity of the problem is great. As I have pointed out, the complications were such that it was not possible even to get started until recent months. Under all the circumstances, I believe that good progress is being made. I feel confident that the outcome will be such that Communist aggression will not be able to gain in Southeast Asia the results it seeks.

This may involve serious commitments by us all. But free peoples will never remain free unless they are willing to fight for their vital interests. Furthermore, vital interests can no longer be protected merely by local defense. The key to successful defense and to the deterring of attack is association for mutual defense. That is what the United States seeks in Southeast Asia.


The question remains as to what we should do about the current hostilities in Viet-Nam.

In Korea we showed that we were prepared under proper conditions to resort to military action, if necessary, to protect our vital interests and the principles upon which stable peace must rest.

In Korea, we, along with others, joined in the defense of an independent government, which was already resisting an armed assault. We did so at the request of the Republic of Korea and under a United Nations mandate. The Korean people were inspired by a deep sense of patriotism and eager to develop a power of their own. The issues were clarified before the world by decisions of the United Nations. Under these circumstances, we and our allies fought until the enemy sued for an armistice.

In Indochina, the situation is far more complex. The present conditions there do not provide a suitable basis for the United States to participate with its armed forces.

The situation may perhaps be clarified as a result of the Geneva Conference. The French have stated their desire for an armistice on honorable terms and under proper safeguards. If they can conclude a settlement on terms which do not endanger the freedom of the peoples of Viet-Nam, this would be a real contribution to the cause of peace in Southeast Asia. But we would be gravely concerned if an armistice or cease-fire were reached at Geneva which would provide a road to a Communist takeover and further aggression. If this occurs, or if

hostilities continue, then the need will be even more urgent to create the conditions for united action in defense of the area.

I n making commitments which might involve the use of armed force, the Congress is a full partner. Only the Congress can declare war. President Eisenhower has repeatedly emphasized that he would not take military action in Indochina without the support of Congress.(23)23 Furthermore, he has made clear that he would not seek that unless, in his opinion, there would be an adequate collective effort based on genuine mutuality of purpose in defending vital interests.

A great effort is being made by Communist propaganda to portray it as something evil if Asia joins with the nations of the Americas and Europe to get assistance which will help the peoples of Asia to secure their liberty. These Communist nations have, in this connection, adopted the slogan "Asia for the Asians."

The Japanese war lords adopted a similar slogan when they sought to subject Asia to their despotic rule. The similar theme of "Europe for the Europeans" was adopted by Mr. Molotov at the Berlin Conference when he proposed that the Europeans should seek security by arrangements which would send the United States back home.

Great despotic powers have always known that they could impose their will and gain their conquests if the free nations stand apart and none helps the other.

It should be observed that the Soviet Communist aggression in Europe took place only against countries which had no collective security arrangements. Since the organization of the North Atlantic Treaty, there has been no successful aggression in Europe.

Of course, it is of the utmost importance that the United States participation in creating collective security in Asia should be on a Basis which recognizes fully the aspirations and cultures of the Asian peoples. We have a material and industrial strength which they lack and which is an essential ingredient of security. Also they have cultural and spiritual values of their own which make them our equals by every moral standard.

The United States, as the first colony of modern history to win independence for itself, instinctively shares the aspirations for liberty of all dependent and colonial peoples. We want to help, not hinder, the spread of liberty.

We do not seek to perpetuate Western colonialism and we find even more intolerable the new imperialist colonialism of communism.

That is the spirit that animates us. If we remain true to that spirit, we can face the future with confidence that we shall be in harmony with those moral forces which ultimately prevail.

(1) Delivered over radio and television networks from Washington; Department of State Bulletin; May 17, 1954, pp. 739-744. Back

(2) i. e., the Geneva conference on the problems of Korea and Indochina. Back

(3) The French-held fortress at Dien-Bien-Phu fell to the besieging forces of the Viet Minh, May 7, 1954. Back

(4) See communiqué of Dec. 7, 1953; supra, pp. 1468-1470. Back

(5) See supra, doc 27. Back

(6) Declaration of Caracas; March 28, 1954. Back

(7) See communiqués of Dec. 16, 1953, and Apr. 23, 1954, supra, lap. 1633-1637. Back

(8) See North Korean proposal of Apr. 27, 1954, The Korean Problem at the Geneva Conference, April 26-June 16,1954 (Department of State publication 5609; 1954), pp. 39-40 Back

(9) Statement of May 5, 1954. Back

(10) See Soviet proposal of Feb. 4, 1954; Foreign Ministers Meeting: Berlin Discussions, January 26-February 18, 1954 (Department of State publication 5399; 1954), pp. 228-229. Back

(11) See Secretary Dulles' statement of Feb. 5, 1954, at the Berlin conference; supra, pp. 1852-1855. Back

(12) Treaties of Aug. 30, 1951, with the Philippines, and Sept. 1, 1951, with Australia and New Zealand. Back

(13) For the text of the French declaration, see Documents on American Foreign Relations, 1953 (New York, 1954), pp. 347-348. Back

(14) See the French-Lao agreement of Oct. 22, 1953, ibid., pp. 348-350. Back

(15) Gen. Henri Eugene Navarre, French military commander in Indochina. Back

(16) See the French-United States communiqué issued Sept. 30, 1953; supra, doc. 26. Back

(17) See the quadripartite Berlin conference communiqué of Feb. 18, 1954. Back

(18) See Secretary Dulles' address of Sept. 2, 1953. Back

(19) Address by the Secretary of State, March 29, 1954. Back

(20) Supra, pp. 65-71. Back

(21) Communiqué of Apr. 13, 1954; supra, pp. 1700-1705. Back

(22) Statement of Apr. 14, 1954. Back

(23) At his press conference on Mar. 10, 1954, President Eisenhower said: "There is going to be no involvement of America in war unless it is a result of the Constitutional process that is placed upon Congress to declare it" (New York Times, Mar. 11, 1954). Back

American Foreign Policy 1950-1955
Basic Documents Volumes I and II
Department of State Publication 6446
General Foreign Policy Series 117
Washington, DC : U.S. Governemnt Printing Office, 1957

127 Wall Street, New Haven, CT 06511.