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At the moment, Indochina is the area where international communism most vigorously seeks expansion under the leadership of Ho Chi-Minh. Last year President Eisenhower, in his great "Chance for Peace" address,(2) said that "aggression in Korea and Southeast Asia are threats to the whole free community to be met by united action." But the French were then opposed to what they called "internationalizing" the war. They preferred to treat it as a civil war of rebellion. However, on July 3, 1953, the French Government made a public declaration of independence for the three Associated states,(3) and in September it adopted the so-called Navarre plan(4) which contemplated a rapid buildup of national native forces. The United States then agreed to underwrite the costs of this plan.(5)
But last winter the fighting was intensified and the long strain began to tell in terms of the attitude of the French people toward a war then in its eighth year. Last March, after the siege of Dien-Bien-Phu had begun, I renewed President Eisenhower's proposal that we seek conditions which would permit a united defense for the area.(6) I went to Europe on this mission, and it seemed that there was agreement on our proposal.(7) But when we moved to translate that proposal into reality, some of the parties held back because they had concluded that any steps to create a united defense should await the results of the Geneva Conference.
Meanwhile, the burdens of a collective defense in Indochina have mounted. The Communists have practiced dilatory negotiating at Geneva, while intensifying their fighting in Indochina. The French and national forces feel the strain of mounting enemy power on their front and of political uncertainty at their rear. I told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week that the situation is grave but by no means hopeless.(8) The future depends largely on decisions awaited at Paris, London, and Geneva.
The situation in Indochina is not that of open military aggression by the Chinese Communist regime. Thus, in Indochina, the problem is one of restoring tranquillity in an area where disturbances are fomented from Communist China, but where there is no open invasion by Communist China. This task of pacification, in our opinion, cannot be successfully met merely by unilateral armed intervention. Some other conditions need to be established. Throughout these Indochina developments, the United States has held to a stable and consistent course and has made clear the conditions which, in its opinion, might justify intervention. These conditions were and are (1) an invitation from the present lawful authorities, (2) clear assurance of complete independence to Laos, Cambodia, and Viet-Nam; (3) evidence of concern by the United Nations; (4) a joining in the collect five effort of some of the other nations of the area; and (5) assurance that France will not itself withdraw from the battle until it is won.
Only if these conditions were realized could the President and the Congress be justified in asking: the American people to make the sacrifices incident to committing our Nation, with others, to using force to help to restore peace in the area.
Another problem might, however, arise. If the Chinese Communist regime were to show in Indochina or elsewhere that it is determined to pursue the path of overt military aggression, then the situation would be different and another issue would emerge. That contingency has already been referred to publicly by the President and myself. The President, in his April 16, 1953, address, and I myself, in an address of September 2, 1953,(9) made clear that the United States would take a grave view of any future overt military Chinese Communist aggression in relation to the Pacific or Southeast Asia area. Such an aggression would threaten island and peninsular positions which secure the United States and its allies.
If such overt military aggression occurred, that would be a deliberate threat to the United States itself. The United States would of course invoke the processes of the United Nations and consult with its allies. But we could not escape ultimate responsibility for decisions closely touching our own security and self-defense.
There are some, particularly abroad, who seem to assume that the attitude of the United States flows from a desire for a general war with Communist China. That is clearly false. If we had wanted such a war, it could easily have been based on the presence of Chinese aggressors in Korea. But last July, in spite of difficulties which at times seemed insuperable, we concluded a Korean armistice with Communist China.(10) How could it be more surely demonstrated that we have both the will to make peace and the competence to make peace?
Your Government wants peace, and the American people want peace. But should there ever be openly launched an attack that the American people would clearly recognize as a threat to our own security, then the right of self-preservation would demand that we-- regardless of any other country-meet the issue squarely.
It is the task of statesmanship to seek peace and deter war, while at the same time preserving vital national interests. Under present conditions that dual result is not easy to achieve, and it cannot be achieved at all unless your Government is backed by a people who are willing, if need be, to sacrifice to preserve their vital interests.
At the Geneva Conference I said: "Peace is always easy to achieve- by surrender."(11) Your Government does not propose to buy peace at that price. We do not believe that the American people want peace at that price. So long as that is our national will, and so long as that :will is backed by a capacity for effective action:, our Nation can face the future with that calm confidence which is the due of those who, in a troubled world, hold fast that which is good.
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