Negotiating While Fighting: Peace Initiatives, British Policy and the Vietnam War
The FCO held a seminar in conjunction with the University of Nottingham and LSE IDEAS Cold War Studies Programme: ‘Negotiating while Fighting: Peace Initiatives, British Policy, and the Vietnam’.
Negotiating While Fighting: Peace Initiatives, British Policy and the Vietnam War www.fco.gov.uk Foreign & Commonwealth Office Negotiating While Fighting: Peace Initiatives, British Policy and the Vietnam War 9 May 2012 Contents Introduction Speakers and chairs: short biographies Introductory remarks Dr Richard Smith, Senior Historian, FCO Historians. 3 5 Panel 1 - The Marigold Peace Initiative Chair: 6 Matthew Jones, Professor of Modern History, University of Nottingham. Speakers: James Hershberg, Associate Professor of History and International Affairs, George Washington University. Andrew Preston, Senior Lecturer in American History, University of Cambridge. Participants from the floor: Duncan Allan, Research Analyst for the former Soviet Union, FCO. Sylvia Ellis, Reader in History, Northumbria University. Richard Fyjis-Walker, First Secretary, SE Asia Department during Vietnam War, FCO. Effie Pedaliu, Fellow, LSE Ideas. Simon Shelly, Human Resources Department, FCO. Negotiating While Fighting: Peace Initiatives, British Policy and the Vietnam War FCO Panel 2 - The Sunflower Peace Initiative Chair: 27 Alex Ellis, Director, Strategy, FCO. Speakers: Sylvia Ellis, Reader in History, Northumbria University. John Young, Professor of International History, University of Nottingham. Richard Fyjis-Walker, First Secretary, SE Asia Department during Vietnam War, FCO. Sir Robert Wade-Gery, First Secretary and Head of Chancery in Saigon (1967-1968). Participants from the floor: Sir Brian Crowe, Second Secretary in the Northern European Department, 1965-67; First Secretary for Information in Washington, 1968-73. Tim Dowse, Director, International Cyber Policy, FCO. Sir John Margetson, Speech Writer to Foreign Secretary, Rt Hon. George Brown, MP, 1966– 68; Head of Chancery, Saigon, 1968–70. John Thompson, Former Reader in American History, University of Cambridge. Derek Tonkin, First Secretary and Head of Chancery, Warsaw, 1966-68; Ambassador to Vietnam, 1980–82. Closing Remarks Alex Ellis, Director, Strategy, FCO 42 9 May 2012 2 Negotiating While Fighting: Peace Initiatives, British Policy and the Vietnam War FCO INTRODUCTION 1. The seminar, which was jointly organised by FCO Historians, the University of Nottingham and LSE IDEAS Cold War Studies Programme, examined two peace initiatives during the Vietnam War: Marigold and Sunflower. 2. The first session focused on the Marigold initiative with a talk by Professor James Hershberg and a reply by Dr Andrew Preston. 3. Professor Hershberg is the author of the recently published: Marigold, The Lost Chance for Peace in Vietnam (Stanford University Press, 2012). It presents the first in-depth history of the secret Polish-Italian peace initiative, codenamed ‗Marigold‘ that sought to end the war, or at least to open direct talks between Washington and Hanoi, in 1966. The initiative failed, the war dragged on for another seven years, and this episode sank into history as an unresolved controversy. Antiwar critics claimed that President Lyndon B. Johnson had bungled (or, worse, deliberately sabotaged) a breakthrough by bombing Hanoi on the eve of a secret US-North Vietnamese encounter in Warsaw. Conversely, Johnson and top aides angrily insisted there was no ‗missed opportunity‘, Poland never had authority to arrange direct talks, and Hanoi was not ready to negotiate. Conventionally it has been argued that Washington and Hanoi were not ready and that no real opportunity existed. 4. With new evidence from Communist sources Professor Hershberg shows that Warsaw was authorized by Hanoi to open direct contacts and that Hanoi had committed to entering talks with Washington. He also stresses the importance of Johnson's personal role in bombing Hanoi at a pivotal moment, disregarding the pleas of both the Poles and his own senior advisors. Washington did not enter negotiations with Hanoi until more than two years, and many thousands of lives, later, and then in far less auspicious circumstances. 5. Marigold provides a new angle to understanding the Vietnam War and the Cold War in general. This episode casts light on the intricacies of diplomatic negotiations, especially at a time of clashing visions between the United States and North Vietnam, who had no diplomatic relations. Professor Hershberg‘s book examines alternative negotiations by third-party countries–namely Poland and Italy–and factors of failure and success. 6. The second session examined the Sunflower peace initiative in February 1967, which involved British leaders and Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin. The panel consisted of two academics, Dr Sylvia Ellis and Professor John Young, and former officials, Mr Richard Fyjis-Walker, Sir Michael Palliser and Sir Robert Wade-Gery. US-UK cooperation in seeking peace in Vietnam has been analysed as ‗almost doomed to failure‘. The UK had already on several occasions revealed its eagerness to act as a mediator and resented not having been informed of the Marigold initiative by the US. Marigold gave way to Sunflower with direct talks in London between Wilson and Kosygin. It has been argued that ‗Harold Wilson and George Brown [the then Foreign Secretary] learned nothing and forgot nothing of the Marigold humiliation‘. The Sunflower initiative proved no more successful, and reasons for this should provide an interesting discussion. 7. The United Kingdom took a close interest in Marigold. The Foreign Office undertook a secret post-mortem of the affair, concluding: ‗The Poles probably never had a sufficiently 9 May 2012 3 Negotiating While Fighting: Peace Initiatives, British Policy and the Vietnam War FCO clear mandate from the North to the point of arranging a [direct US-North Vietnamese] meetingâ€˜. The US also conducted a post-mortem during the Johnson administration. FCO Historians 9 May 2012 4 Negotiating While Fighting: Peace Initiatives, British Policy and the Vietnam War FCO SPEAKERS AND CHAIRS Alex Ellis, Director for Strategy, Central Policy Group, FCO. Sylvia Ellis is Reader in History at Northumbria University. Her research focuses on post-1945 British and American political and diplomatic history. She is completing a monograph on Lyndon B. Johnson and Civil Rights and is working on Harold Wilson and the Vietnam War. She is the author of Britain, America and the Vietnam War (Praeger, 2004) and has published an article on Marigold and Sunflower in Diplomatic History (2003). Richard Fyjis-Walker, a former Ambassador to the Sudan (1979-84) and Pakistan (1984-87), was First Secretary in the South East Asia Department at the time of the Vietnam War. James Hershberg is Associate Professor of History and International Affairs at George Washington University and the founding director of the Wilson Center's Cold War International History Project. He has worked on various aspects of Cold War, nuclear and US foreign policy history and is the author of James B. Conant: Harvard to Hiroshima and the Making of the Nuclear Age (Stanford University Press, 1995). Matthew Jones, Professor of Modern History at Nottingham University, has worked on AngloAmerican relations, US and British policies in South East Asia since 1945 and the Vietnam War. He is the author of After Hiroshima: The United States, Race, and Nuclear Weapons in Asia, 1945-1965 (CUP, 2010) and is writing the official history of the UK strategic nuclear deterrent and the Chevaline programme, under the auspices of the Cabinet Office. Andrew Preston is Senior Lecturer in American History at Cambridge University. His book Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith: Religion in American War and Diplomacy has just been published. He is also the author of the The War Council: McGeorge Bundy, the NSC, and Vietnam (Harvard University Press, 2006). Sir Robert Wade-Gery a former High Commissioner to India (1982-87) and Minister in Moscow (1977-79), was in the Planning Staff (1964-1967), First Secretary and Head of Chancery in Saigon (1967-1968), and Secretary to the Duncan Committee in the Cabinet Office (1968â€“69). John Young is Professor of International History at Nottingham University, specializing in British foreign policy since 1945, East-West relations, and diplomatic practice in the 1960s. He has published works on the international policy of the Labour governments and British diplomatic practice in the 1960s and edited the diaries of David Bruce, US Ambassador to London in the 1960s. He has also written several articles on British governments and the Vietnam War. 9 May 2012 5 Negotiating While Fighting: Peace Initiatives, British Policy and the Vietnam War FCO Introductory remarks Richard Smith FCO Historian Ladies and gentlemen, welcome first to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and this seminar entitled â€—Negotiating while Fighting: Peace Initiatives, British Policy and the Vietnam Warâ€˜. For those of you who do not know me, I am Richard Smith from the FCO Historians. This seminar is a collaboration between the FCO Historians, the University of Nottingham and LSE IDEAS. We have to thank both organisations for helping to fund this event today. In particular, I should like to start by thanking Professor Matthew Jones from Nottingham University, Marie Julie Chenard and Piers Ludlow from LSE IDEAS, and my colleagues Isabelle Tombs, Tara Finn and Martin Jewitt for helping to organise the event. There will be two sessions this afternoon with a break in the middle for coffee and tea. The first will be looking at Marigold and the second at Sunflower. Full programme details are available in the handouts that should be on your seats, along with some other material that you might find interesting. The seminar will be recorded today. We are hoping to produce a transcript, so if anybody makes any interventions from the floor, can you please introduce yourselves so you will be identified on the transcript. To give as much time as possible for questions, I ask speakers to keep to time. On that note and without further ado, I shall hand over to the chair of the first session, Matthew Jones. PANEL 1: The Marigold Peace Initiative Matthew Jones Professor of Modern History, University of Nottingham First, let me thank the FCO for hosting this event. I am sure that is something members of the panel would like to pass on. I would like to begin by formally introducing our speakers this afternoon. On my right is James Hershberg, Associate Professor of History and International Affairs at George Washington University. His major areas of interest include: the history of the Cold War, nuclear history and US foreign policy, on which he has published many articles. His first book was the prize-winning James B. Conant: Harvard to Hiroshima and the Making of the Nuclear Age. Many of you will know Jim from his work as director of the Cold War International History Project between 1991 and 1997.Jim was instrumental in helping that project get off the ground and go into former communist countries after the end of the Cold War to extract archival materials and to have them translated and disseminated to the scholarly community. The project still carries on in at the Woodrow Wilson Center, which Jim was instrumental in starting. 9 May 2012 6 Negotiating While Fighting: Peace Initiatives, British Policy and the Vietnam War FCO The second speaker to my left is Andrew Preston, Senior Lecturer in American History at the University of Cambridge. His areas of interest include US foreign relations. His most recent book has just been published: Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith: Religion in American War and Diplomacy. His first book was entitled The War Council: McGeorge Bundy, the National Security Council and Vietnam. Andrew is the author of many articles and scholarly essays on America‘s involvement in the Vietnam War, including many of the peace initiatives that featured during the period, including those involving Canada. Andrew is a proud Canadian and is very knowledgeable about the Canadian involvement in the conflict. The occasion for this seminar is prompted by the appearance of Jim‘s book Marigold: The Lost Chance for Peace in Vietnam, which you see displayed very prominently before you now. This book is really the product of maybe a decade or more of archival research by Jim all around the world, multi-archival sources being employed to bring forth the story of one of the most intriguing episodes of the Vietnam War where, at one point in 1966, there seemed to be a fleeting opportunity for direct negotiations between North Vietnam and the United States, and perhaps the chance of a dialogue emerging between the two combatants in that terrible conflict. Of course, this chance for negotiations was ultimately lost. What Jim‘s book does is explore the build-up to and execution of the events surrounding this chance for peace in Vietnam. I think the book speaks to many interesting and important themes that are of relevance to contemporary policymakers and officials, which is one reason why we thought it fitting to hold this seminar at the Foreign Office. It speaks to the difficulties of negotiating in the midst of conflict; of getting two sides to conduct a dialogue; of communicating with adversaries across differences of culture, language and procedure. It discusses the important role of intermediaries in trying to bring about dialogue between combatants, and also the distrust that this can generate during that process and how you signal intentions to the other side in a conflict. The pitfalls of coercive diplomacy is another theme that is brought out by Marigold and the way in which various combatants put an emphasis on the need for strength before they can enter into negotiations, and the problems that can produce. There are problems in maintaining secrecy in a negotiating track or procedure, which can generate divisions within government and, ultimately, disconnected policy. What we are going to do in this session is hear from Jim for about 30 minutes on Marigold, and then Andrew will respond for about 20 minutes with his own perspective on these Vietnam peace initiatives and wider perspectives on negotiations and the Vietnam War. James Hershberg Associate Professor of History and International Affairs, George Washington University I. Preamble Thank you very much, Matthew. Thank you all very much for coming and the FCO for hosting this. Part of the efforts of the Cold War International History Project over the past two decades has been to broaden Cold War history beyond a Washington-centric perspective and make it more international. It should be redundant to have the word ‗international‘ in the phrase ‗Cold War history‘, but until the past two decades Cold War history was essentially a backwater of American foreign policy history. The last two decades have been an effort to introduce multiple perspectives as well as disciplines. This venue cannot help but evoke a memory of a previous occasion when I had a stern military visage peering down on me when making a presentation. We organised a 9 May 2012 7 Negotiating While Fighting: Peace Initiatives, British Policy and the Vietnam War FCO conference on the Mongolian archives in the Cold War in a yurt outside Ulaanbaatar, and there was a portrait of Genghis Khan staring at the speaker as he spoke. I now have three distinguished military figures staring at me, so I will try not to displease them. I will try to focus on Marigold and particularly the British dimension. I understand that Andrew will have more comments on the storyâ€˜s potential relevance for today. Matthew has done a good job of outlining why I hope this story might have some salutary benefit not only for students but potential practitioners of peacemaking, and the perils of international diplomacy and complicated efforts to communicate with adversaries across vast chasms not only of culture but language and ideology. II. The Book Since not all of you are Vietnam War historians, I should mention that one reason the book is so large is that this is not just about the Vietnam War; it is about the intersection of the Vietnam War and the broader world of the mid-1960s at a crucial moment of the Cold War when you not only had the continuing East-West divide but an explosion of the Sino-Soviet split amidst the acceleration of the cultural revolution. The book uses documents from more than 20 countries in more than 10 different languages, one of which I actually speak, to try to view this story in its broader ramifications. For example, I was privileged enough to meet someone from this office who spent time at the British Embassy in Warsaw. Poland is a major part of this story, as is Italy. The story includes inter-alliance relationships on both sides of the erstwhile Iron Curtain, as well as connections to domestic politics in all these countries. I do not know whether there are any journalists out there, but the book also has an anatomy of national security leaking, which is a phenomenon that has not exactly disappeared from the scene. This was back in the days before WikiLeaks and it required more interesting activities than simply pressing a button to release 267,000 documents. Instead, in the case of Marigold you had a controversial highly-classified diplomatic episode that first turned into a war of leaks between the governments involved in other countries in secret. Then it gradually emerged on to the front pages of the Washington Post, The New York Times and Le Monde and, I presume, some of your fine newspapers, through a process of both investigative journalism and reporting, but also competitive leaking by factions not only within the US government but among the Polish, Canadian and Italian governments. What is fun about the sources now is that you can examine those stories from the perspective of both the reporters and their formally off-the-record notes but also the governments as they tried to spin their inquiries and, in some cases, derail or pre-empt them through counter-leaks. What I have tried to do is use Marigold to understand how the world worked at the level of high politics, especially in the Cold War in the mid-1960s, but also to explore one of those murky â€—what ifsâ€˜ of history. III. Vietnam in 1965-1968 Let me turn now to the Marigold episode. At the time I was but a small twerp, a news junky kid, so I was following the events in a way. I apologise to those for whom this is familiar history, but many others who are not specialists, or who were too young to have been following events at the time, might appreciate it. The US military involvement in the Vietnam War dramatically escalated in 1965. When 1965 opened, the US had about 25,000 military advisers in South Vietnam. By the end of 1965, after a series of events, the US had about 200,000 forces in South Vietnam. A year later, at the end of 1966, the US had roughly 400,000 military forces; by the end of 1967 it was approaching the half-million mark. Only after the Tet Offensive in early 1968 did US troop levels top off at a little over 550,000. One then had the trauma of early 1968 when Lyndon Johnson ended up rejecting a request by General William Westmoreland, the commander of US forces, for another 206,000 and basically 9 May 2012 8 Negotiating While Fighting: Peace Initiatives, British Policy and the Vietnam War FCO decided that he needed to start looking for an exit strategy. That was when Johnson famously decided not to run for re-election, on 31 March 1968. Right after that speech, which included a drastic reduction in the American bombing of North Vietnam to just above the 17th parallel that divided North from South Vietnam, North Vietnam agreed to enter direct talks. These turned a month later into the famous Paris ‗peace‘ talks (peace could be in inverted commas) that eventually produced the Paris peace accords, which again are of limited utility for promoting peace, and which were signed in January 1973 They essentially, allowed Richard Nixon to complete the withdrawal of US forces and to retrieve American POWs held in North Vietnam but obviously did not end the conflict. Two and a half years later Saigon fell or was liberated, depending on your point of view, by the communists from the north and of course Vietnam became unified officially as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam in 1978, which it has been since then. This book focuses on the period between the beginning of massive US escalation in 1965 and the opening of direct discussions in the spring of 1968. During that three-year period there were, by one State Department count, as many as 2,000 separate initiatives to try to get direct peace talks started between the United States and North Vietnam, known by its formal name as the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, led by President Ho Chi Minh, although actually on a day-to-day level it was led by Le Duan, a name hardly known to Americans at the time, who was head of the Vietnamese Workers‘ Party (i.e., communist party, also known as the Lao Dong). During that period of massive escalation there was a Catch-22 preventing the opening of talks. I am sure many of you are familiar with that phrase. It is an artefact of popular culture and comes from a movie based on a novel by Joseph Heller. A Catch-22 was an inherently self-contradictory proposition. The Americans were bombing North Vietnam and North Vietnam said it would not begin direct talks until the Americans stopped bombing North Vietnam; and the Americans said they would not stop bombing North Vietnam until they agreed to begin direct talks. That left room for third parties to somehow form a bridge between the two to get direct discussions going. Those efforts were snidely derided by Lyndon Johnson and his Secretary of State Dean Rusk as ‗Nobel peace prize sweepstakes‘ in which everyone, from do-gooders, individuals, groups and institutions to third countries and people looking for domestic or international glory, competed. They all failed. Many of them were not really given much of a chance then or in retrospect of succeeding. IV. 1. The Marigold Initiative Context My book is about one of these efforts. It contends that it had a plausible shot at least in obtaining the opening of direct discussions between the US and North Vietnam at a crucial moment. In addition—this is unique among literally hundreds of efforts—it was not only a potential agreement to start direct discussions but an agreement on a basis to enter negotiations, which became known in the literature as the famous ―10 points‖. To give the context for Marigold, let me explain what it is and why it is so tantalising; and briefly what my conclusion is; and how in turn that contradicts the conclusion reached secretly by the British government, as reflected in a document given to all of you, after several months of post mortems. That included a post mortem which was very much prodded by Harold Wilson and pushed on the FO. That post mortem was conducted because both the Polish government, which was the driving force behind Marigold, and the British government felt burned by their failures in peacemaking. Both had attempted to broker the opening of talks, both had been shot down and both, to one extent or another, blamed the Americans and Lyndon Johnson in particular. 9 May 2012 9 Negotiating While Fighting: Peace Initiatives, British Policy and the Vietnam War FCO This led to a very unusual, perhaps unique, joint effort during the Cold War by countries across the Iron Curtain to try to probe what happened. It even involved the British ambassador in Warsaw, Sir Thomas Brimelow, and director general of the Polish Foreign Ministry, Jerzy Michalowski, who was the chief aide to the Polish Foreign Minister, Adam Rapacki. They met and discussed it. The conclusion the British reached was reflected in the communication to Michael Palliser to pass on to the Prime Minister in May 1967, a few months after the effort collapsed: ‗But the Foreign Secretary, George Brown, thinks that the essential point is that the Poles were probably never really in the position of being able to ―deliver their friends‖‘, meaning the North Vietnamese, ‗and consequently misled the Americans.‘ In other words, the British government safely concluded, like the Johnson Administration avidly was trying to insist, that this was much ado about nothing. There was no missed opportunity and it was never a serious chance for peace. You might not be surprised to learn that I concluded something different from my investigation. In fact, Poland as the mediator had been secretly authorised at the highest levels in Hanoi to arrange a direct contact between US and North Vietnamese officials, in particular the US and North Vietnamese ambassadors in Warsaw, whereby the US would confirm its agreement to a 10-point synthesis of America‘s position in Vietnam, and that in turn could be the basis for direct talks. But the Americans had contact during this initiative only with the Poles, never directly with the North Vietnamese. When the whole thing collapsed secretly but very acrimoniously in December 1966, for reasons that remain to this day disputed, the Poles blamed the failure of this effort on the US government‘s bombing of Hanoi multiple times, despite Polish warnings, for the first time in more than five months on the eve of talks that could have taken place; or, as the Americans said, ‗We were never committing not to continue our bombing. This is a false excuse. There was probably nothing there.‘ That was the position the Americans insisted on. I ended up finding evidence that in fact Poland was authorised. 2. What was Marigold? How did this come about, and what in the world was Marigold? Let me try to briefly summarise this and leave time to focus specifically on the British aspect. Marigold was one of a long series of floral code names given to Vietnam peace initiatives by US State Department officials, in particular William Bundy, the brother of McGeorge Bundy, about whom Andrew has written a fine book. McGeorge Bundy was the National Security Adviser to John Kennedy and for Lyndon Johnson until April 1966. He was a key figure in the escalation of Vietnam. But his brother William was also a senior official in the US government in various positions, including the CIA, Defense Department, and finally by this point the State Department, in the 1950s and 1960s. He was probably the most important aide to Dean Rusk on the Vietnam War. What was Marigold, as opposed to Sunflower, Mayflower, Daffodil, Tulip and many of these other floral peace initiatives? It involved an absolutely unique situation in the Cold War. No communist government in the world recognised South Vietnam. To every communist government in the world South Vietnam was a lackey of the Americans; it was a puppet government. Every communist government in the world recognised North Vietnam: the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. They had embassies in Hanoi; contacts between their communist parties and the Vietnamese communist party in Hanoi. Just like between North and South Korea, there was no communist embassy in Seoul; there was no communist embassy in South Africa and other pariah states during the Cold War. Yet, during the whole of the Vietnam War there was a Polish ambassadorrank diplomat based in Saigon. Why? Those of you who are experts on the Vietnam conflict will remember the 1954 Geneva conference which occurred at the end of the Franco-Viet Minh War which, by the way, is the subject of a fantastic new book by our colleague Fred Logevall called Embers of War which will be published this summer. 9 May 2012 10 Negotiating While Fighting: Peace Initiatives, British Policy and the Vietnam War FCO 3. The Geneva Accords The Geneva conference was supposed to temporarily divide Vietnam into two regroupment zones, a communist zone north of the 17th parallel and a non-communist zone south of that parallel, pending elections to unify Vietnam that were supposed to take place within two years, by July 1956. Of course, those elections never took place, and the US replaced the French in propping up South Vietnam as a non-communist bastion. The reason the elections were not held, as Dwight Eisenhower later acknowledged, was that everyone said Ho Chi Minh would have won 80% of the vote. One thing at that point in the Cold War the Americans did not want was even an electoral conquest by the communists. Essentially, by the late 1950s, the Geneva accords were dead. However, the Geneva accords had provided for a supervisory commission to oversee their implementation. It was a delicate East-West balance: Canada was chosen to represent western interests; Poland was chosen to represent communist interests; and India was chosen to be the neutral chair. This International Control Commission, or ICC, was given the right to travel to the various former countries of French Indo-China to monitor the elections, which never took place, but also troop movements; foreign military aid which was restricted; movement across borders and things like that. It was grossly underfunded; it was obviously politically paralysed, but no one wanted to pull the plug on the ICC, even as the Vietnam War escalated, because they thought it might somehow be useful in the future, and because the North Vietnamese government paid lip service to accepting the legitimacy of the Geneva accords, which they had actually signed. 4. a. Polish Involvement Janusz Lewandowski Even as the Vietnam War escalated in the 1960s, for logistical reasons the ICC was based in Saigon and you had hundreds of Polish military officers and several senior Polish civilian officials based at a dilapidated old French barracks, called Camp des Mares, in a district of western Saigon. What this meant was that you had a uniquely poised Polish diplomat in 1966-67 named Janusz Lewandowski, who in some ways is the protagonist of the story because he would be in Saigon and he would hobnob at cocktail parties with Henry Cabot Lodge, the American ambassador; he would meet General Westmoreland; he would meet even South Vietnamese senior officials, even Nguyen Van Thieu. He would be known as ‗Ambassador Lewandowski‘. He would play tennis at Le Cercle Sportif de Saigon, the old colonial hang-out. And then every couple of months he would take an aging, rickety, Douglas DC-3 from Tan Son Nhut airbase in Saigon to Phnom Penh; have lunch; then take an afternoon flight along a narrow approved air corridor to Vientiane; have late afternoon drinks; and in the evening fly to Hanoi, sometimes braving antiaircraft flak that would cause the flight crew to engage in the heavy drinking of gin. Sometimes it would induce panic on the airplane, but they would fly into an airfield north of Hanoi called Gia Lam that was deliberately left unbombed by the Americans. He would come to Hanoi and turn into ‗Comrade Lewandowski‘. He would meet Ho Chi Minh, Prime Minister Pham Van Dong and Defence Minister Vo Nguyen Giap—all of the famous North Vietnamese figures—and, then after a few days, or a week or two, he would go back. He would also meet the Soviet ambassador and other socialist ambassadors and essentially give reports from behind enemy lines in Saigon. He would become the centre of the action in Marigold because, at the initiative of the Italian ambassador, Giovanni D‘Orlandi, there was a series of secret three-way meetings held in 1966 between Janusz Lewandowski, the Pole, and Henry Cabot Lodge, the American, at the residence of the Italian ambassador, with the shades drawn and nice Italian wine being served. In late 1966 a new formulation of the American position that had been approved in Washington by Dean Rusk and Lyndon Johnson was passed by Henry Cabot Lodge to Lewandowski. Lewandowski brought this information to Hanoi and came back, like Moses coming down from Mount Sinai, with 10 points. He had taken Lodge‘s presentation and distilled it into 10 points. Basically, he said, ‗If the 9 May 2012 11 Negotiating While Fighting: Peace Initiatives, British Policy and the Vietnam War FCO US government really adheres to these 10 points, it may confirm them directly by the US ambassador in Warsaw to the North Vietnamese ambassador in Warsaw.‘ b. December 1966 Warsaw Meeting That led to the scheduling of a meeting that was supposed to take place in Warsaw on December 6 1966, a date that should live in diplomatic infamy, because the meeting should have happened—and the book shows could have happened—but did not. That is where the dispute would take place, because, for the first time in more than five months, the Americans bombed Hanoi on December 2 and 4, on the eve of the scheduled meeting. The whole initiative went into limbo for a week. The Poles warned, ‗Don‘t bomb again.‘ The book goes into the story of how Lyndon Johnson actually overruled his senior national security advisers, including Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and Nicholas Katzenbach, the acting Secretary of State, because Dean Rusk was off in the Far East and even the National Security Advisor Walt Rostow—and refused to suspend the US bombing of Hanoi. Instead, they bombed Hanoi again on December 13 and 14. At that point, the Poles relayed the North Vietnamese wishes, ‗Okay; this is all off; it is suspended.‘ Johnson made a last-ditch effort to save the initiative by barring all bombing of Hanoi within 10 miles of the city centre, beginning on December 15. The Poles actually made a goodfaith effort to talk Hanoi into resuscitating the initiative and begin direct talks, but on New Year‘s Eve 1966 the Poles came back and said, ‗No, this is finished.‘ By then the Americans had basically told the Poles, ‗This is your fault. You stalled.‘ The Poles were absolutely furious because they believed that Johnson and Washington had ruined a real chance for peace by bombing Hanoi. The Poles started a campaign of leaking first to the Pope and to UN Secretary U Thant. They also leaked to the French. When the Americans got wind of this, they started counter-leaking, and a month later this emerged in the world press and, in Le Monde, became ‗l‘affaire Lewandowski‘.. The codename Marigold would be revealed only a year later, but all on the basis of essentially press leaks and investigative journalists. The only prior book on this subject was by two Los Angeles Times journalists, using off-the-record and background interviews published in 1968, called The Secret Search for Peace in Vietnam. Marigold: The Lost Chance for Peace in Vietnam is the book they could not write because they could not gain access to classified documents. 5. Legacy The Marigold story has sunk into history essentially as an unresolved dispute. To anti-war critics of the Johnson Administration this was a bungled or botched chance for peace. It contributed to the widening of Lyndon Johnson‘s so-called ‗credibility gap‘ on the war, whereas the Johnson Administration insisted just as strongly there was no missed opportunity; it was probably a Polish scam. There was no real evidence that the Poles were even authorised by North Vietnamese to set up a direct meeting. It is quite interesting that the leaking and counter-leaking produced different versions of the affair, which again sunk into history as an unresolved dispute. V. Sources The American side of this story became available partly through the so-called ‗Pentagon Papers‘ in the 1970s and 1980s. These were not part of the Pentagon Papers leaked by Daniel Ellsberg, most famously, to the New York Times in 1971; they were the so-called diplomatic volumes which he held back because he did not want to be accused of endangering wartime diplomacy. They 9 May 2012 12 Negotiating While Fighting: Peace Initiatives, British Policy and the Vietnam War FCO gradually emerged through the Freedom of Information Act in the United States and are now fully accessible. But that was just the American side. What has been fun is going to the British, Canadian, Italian, French, Polish, Hungarian, Russian, Chinese and, to some extent, although there are some frustrating limitations, the North Vietnamese sides of the story to gain their sources. What has been most phenomenal to discover in addition to the documents is that Janusz Lewandowski was still alive and living in Warsaw. I ended up going to Warsaw five times and interviewed him on tape for more than 50 hours. He retold the story of essentially being a communist behind enemy lines and a Polish diplomat in Saigon during a crucial year in the Vietnam War. I also went through thousands of his diplomatic cables. It turned out to be a fascinating story. I also met in Hanoi a Vietnamese diplomatic courier who had been sent with secret instructions from Hanoi all the way to Warsaw. That courier not only carried instructions for the North Vietnamese ambassador for the talks that never happened but also was prepared to translate them, because he was the head English language interpreter for the North Vietnamese government. VI. The Book’s Contentions On the basis of all of my investigations I contend in my book that this was a serious chance for peace, or at least to get direct discussions going. You cannot prove as an historian that the war would have ended a day earlier, or with one fewer life lost, but it could have broken the taboo on direct discussions years earlier than was the case. Also, the book contends that the failure of Marigold helped lead the North Vietnamese government to decide, ‗No, diplomacy can‘t work; conditions are not right. We need another Dien Bien Phu. We need to inflict a military blow on the Americans before we can gain at the negotiating table what we have won on the battlefield.‘ The planning for Tet began in early 1967 after those who had pushed for Marigold (although of course they did not know the codename) - were essentially overruled by those who said, ‗I told you so. You can‘t trust the Americans; they‘re acting in bad faith.‘ In essence, that is the Marigold story, although the book goes into great detail and I would be glad to elaborate on any aspect of it in the Q and A. VII. Britain and Marigold But what about Britain? The British and Polish stories are part of another phenomenon in Cold War history that is worth briefly mentioning and has gained the name ‗pericentricism‘. Once you begin to open up the archives not only in Washington and Moscow you can get a much more sophisticated understanding of how the international system, or the ―anarchical society‖ of international politics as Hedley Bull would say, works, and also through the agenda, actions, behaviour and innermost thoughts, or at least many of them, of smaller powers, including middle to upper-middle powers like Britain and Italy and, on the Soviet side, Poland. What you find is that they are not simply following their master in a lock-step way; they have their own agendas. The British story and the story of allies on both sides is told in the book. It shows that, even under the conditions of the Warsaw Pact, some of the Poles had their own agendas; they were not doing simply what Moscow had ordered them to do, contrary to the suppositions of some Americans, including those on Lyndon Johnson‘s National Security Council staff and Dean Rusk, who said, ‗This is all scripted in Moscow. It may even be a KGB disinformation plot. The Poles are just doing whatever the Soviets tell them.‘ The book shows that it was not quite that. As for Britain, Harold Wilson‘s government had similarly gone along with the Americans. Maybe Andrew will mention it, but you can do an interesting comparative analysis of Harold Wilson and Lyndon Johnson and Tony Blair and George W. Bush. There is perhaps considerable scepticism at what the Americans are up to, but there is a feeling that you cannot simply say ‗no‘ but instead must try to moderate those crazy Americans by going along with them to some extent and 9 May 2012 13 Negotiating While Fighting: Peace Initiatives, British Policy and the Vietnam War FCO perhaps preserving some influence, but that does not mean there is often not considerable tension underneath. The book goes into that tension in several specific episodes. The key pages are reproduced in your packet, and I will not go into great detail to save time. The first major point is that in the fall of 1966, exactly as Marigold was taking place via the Poles, George Brown had launched a British initiative. He reflected Harold Wilson‘s strong efforts to try somehow to evoke Britain‘s role at the Geneva conference as a co-chair, when Anthony Eden and Vyacheslav Molotov had famously co-operated, and show Britain‘s relevance by exploiting their relationship with the Soviets to somehow get peace talks going. It so happened that in late November 1966 George Brown visited Moscow believing he had a unique new American proposal to get peace talks started: it was the so-called Phase A/Phase B way to surmount the ‗bombing halt‘ issue. Essentially, he was given the back of the hand by the Soviets; they basically dismissed him, and very scornfully so. He did not know that at exactly the same moment the Americans had sent the same proposal to Hanoi via the Poles, but the Soviets did know that, so they knew how uninformed Brown was. Brown did not know how uninformed he was; he just knew that the Soviets had not responded positively and was very disappointed. Two weeks later, in mid-December, there was a NATO ministerial meeting in Paris. Dean Rusk met George Brown and discussed Brown‘s failed effort in Moscow. On that occasion, Rusk also did not tell Brown about Marigold and encouraged him to continue his diplomatic efforts, and Brown did; he launched another initiative on New Year‘s Eve 1966. Only in early January 1967, when the Americans began counter-leaking to try to counter the influence of the Polish version of Marigold, did they tell the Brits what had happened. George Brown, Harold Wilson and also their aide, Sir Michael Palliser, who is quoted in the book, reacted quite angrily. They believed it was evidence of a lack of trust shown in them by the Americans, and Dean Rusk in particular. That led to a quite angry secret contretemps between Harold Wilson and Lyndon Johnson. There was a great reaction. The White House was not especially apologetic. There is a memo from Walt Rostow, National Security Adviser to Lyndon Johnson, saying, ‗I do not believe that we owe it to the British to keep them fully informed on every move in this game when 500,000 US men are under arms and the British fighting contribution is zero. Nevertheless, keeping the British tolerably happy is part of the job.‘ Johnson sent Chester Cooper, an aide who had known the British well, to London in late January to explain that it was simply fear of leaks that had led the Americans not to tell the British what was going on and that co-ordination would improve. Of course, all of this took place on the eve of an episode that you will hear about in the next session, namely Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin‘s visit in February, which turned into another fiasco. The combination of Marigold and Sunflower so irritated the British, and Harold Wilson in particular, that it led to a unique joint post mortem with the Poles. As you can see, the Foreign Office was not eager to undertake what it was continually prodded to do and ended up doing it in a halfhearted way. In the end, it reached the safe conclusion that it was the fault of the Poles, not the Americans. VIII. Concluding Remarks I think I should stop there, except to say that this is arguably a reflection of the kinds of misunderstandings, subterranean tensions and slightly different agendas that always exist between allies and which, for understandable reasons of morale and public relations—we can go back to Churchill and Roosevelt concealing all sorts of things for the good of morale— for understandable reasons are sometimes soft-pedalled or completely hidden from public knowledge. But it is useful to understand what the reality was, even if it would allay the concerns of somewhat more sceptical, rigorous and informed consumers of news, especially those of us 9 May 2012 14 Negotiating While Fighting: Peace Initiatives, British Policy and the Vietnam War FCO who are, unlike Matt I guess, unclear recipients of what is happening in international affairs and Anglo-American relations even today. With that, let me pass the baton to Andrew. Andrew Preston Senior Lecturer in American History, University of Cambridge I. Preamble I would like to start by thanking the FCO, Patrick Salmon, Isabelle Tombs and others, for putting on this event and inviting me, and also for holding it in this magnificent setting. This is quite a room in which to have this sort of discussion and presentation. I would like to thank Piers Ludlow and other for co-sponsoring this event, and all the people from IDEAS who have helped make this possible. I would like to thank Matthew Jones who, as far as I understand it, is the inspiration behind this event, or certainly one of the inspirations. He approached me with the idea of discussing Jim‘s book, which I thought was a fabulous idea because it has contemporary relevance as well as historical interest. Thanks to Matthew for thinking of this sort of thing, especially for thinking of me. I am delighted to participate. I would like to use Jim‘s book as a way of examining—I hope we all do in the discussion period afterwards—the efficacy or possibilities of negotiating while fighting, and whether it is possible to bring wars to an early end. II. 1. James Hershberg’s Marigold Overview Before I do that, I would like to say a few words about the enormous book Jim has written. As you know, it is on Marigold. I will not go into detail because Jim has given an exceptionally good overview of what the book is about. I cannot go into detail because Jim goes into minute detail in the book and I simply could not possibly do so in the few minutes that I have available to me today. The book is forensic, microscopic, richly detailed and exhaustively researched. The day of diplomatic infamy to which Jim referred, December 6 1966, has its own chapter. There is a whole chapter on a single day. It is relatively short; it is about 30 pages long. But the book is more than that. I mean that as the highest praise. It is forensic and exhaustive, and it is also beautifully written and genuinely gripping in a way that a lot of works of history, especially those written by academics, are not. It is compelling; it is a page-turner, which is rare for academic history. If Jim is right, Marigold was a lost opportunity to end a war that went on to cost millions of lives, not even counting the genocide in Cambodia that almost certainly would not have happened without the Vietnam W ar. Jim‘s book has hugely important and wide-ranging implications politically, geopolitically, militarily and morally. Therefore, it has the most important and the broadest possible implications that can inform our discussions today of conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it will be relevant in the decades to come when the United States, United Kingdom and other countries fight additional so-called ‗small wars‘, hopefully not large ones. Jim‘s book has implications for wars, both large and small. 9 May 2012 15 Negotiating While Fighting: Peace Initiatives, British Policy and the Vietnam War FCO Speaking as an historian, if Jim‘s main arguments about Marigold are right, the verdict of history on Lyndon Johnson will be very harsh indeed. This comes after something of a rehabilitation of Johnson‘s historical reputation. The work on Lyndon Johnson that has appeared in the past 10 or 15 years has a lot of nuance and gives him a lot more credit than historians did. Jim is fair to Johnson, and if he is right—I think he is mostly right on LBJ‘s responsibility—perhaps we might see a swing back towards a more critical view of Johnson‘s reputation. 2. Contribution to the Study of War Diplomatic historians and international relations theorists spend a lot of time, perhaps most of their time, examining the causes and origins of war that is probably one of the most important questions we can ask ourselves. . We spend somewhat less but still a lot of time on the aftermath of war: the consequences and the establishment of post-war settlements and the aftershocks from one war that sometimes lead to other wars. I think that is another extremely important question we need to ask ourselves. But we spend almost no time on the middle period. We look a lot at the causes and consequences of war; we spend very little time, as diplomatic historians and theorists, on the course of war. We tend to leave that to the military historians to sort out, but we look at the origins and consequences but once the war is on, it is on. The field of study of what we might call war termination is quite small in international relations theory, as in diplomatic history.. I can understand why diplomatic historians might leave it to one side, because it is looking at third-party peace initiatives and war termination in the midst of wars, especially those that are not successful. There are very few successful instances of this in history. It is an attempt to write a history of something that did not happen; it is trying to prove a negative. It is not a coincidence that Jim‘s book ends with a counter-factual analysis that is plausible but on which I shall play devil‘s advocate in the second part of my talk. A lot of historians are not comfortable with counter-factuals and writing a history of something that did not happen. We tend to shy away from it. That is not necessary, and we need to spend more time looking at the termination of war and whether wartime negotiations can bring about an early peace, and, if negotiations failed, why they did. I think that is an equally important question as to the origins, causes and consequences. Jim‘s book does all this with great sophistication and intelligence, as well as wit and genuine drama, and we are in his debt. He is not the first historian of the Vietnam War to look at thirdparty peace initiatives, as he said. His bibliography is massive, especially when you consider he is looking at a very short span of time. 3. The Context of Vietnam During the Vietnam War there was an unusual prevalence of third-party peace initiatives. Major third-party peace initiatives were sponsored by the Italians, Poles, Swedes, the Vatican, the French, the British and, yes, also the Canadians, none of which came to anything. The Vietnam War was almost uniquely tailor-made for that type of third-party involvement in trying to bring the war to an early end. It was not a total war, despite its brutality and the millions of casualties, but in a lot of senses it was a limited war. It escalated gradually on both sides, not just by the United States, which was the famous ‗gradual escalation‘ under Kennedy and Johnson, but by the North Vietnamese, the Vietcong and their allies. They also increased their own military activities gradually. This incrementalism offered space for consideration and reconsideration as the war was going on. All wars are political but this one was especially political. This may sound familiar when we consider Iraq, Afghanistan and the wars we are used to fighting now. There was an unusual amount of political jockeying for war during the Cold War and this political jockeying and 9 May 2012 16 Negotiating While Fighting: Peace Initiatives, British Policy and the Vietnam War FCO manoeuvring was very much part of the fighting. It was not just attendant to or parallel to the fighting; it was very much part of it. There were so many third parties with a direct interest in the war, or what they felt was a direct interest, even if their interest may have seemed to others to be indirect. Most of these third parties wanted the war to end because they did not want it to get bigger. I am not sure Jim would agree, but when I read the third-party peace initiatives the motive for most of them is to bring the Vietnam War to an end before it becomes another Korean War and brings in China in direct conflict with the United States, maybe along with the Soviet Union. This was a particularly urgent question after 1964 when the Chinese successfully tested their first nuclear weapon. So, in this political war which was gradually escalated on both sides, there were many third parties—allies, adversaries or whoever—who wanted to bring the war to an end before it got worse. Vietnam is a classic, almost unique, case in which third parties tried to bring the war to an early end. Jim‘s book is a magnificent achievement and a landmark work of scholarship and historical writing. There are no definitive works on any subject, but it will be, to use a hackneyed phrase, one of the definitive works on the Vietnam War for a long period of time. III. 1. Challenging Marigold’s Contentions Political Goals I want to use the rest of my time to play devil‘s advocate with the central premise of the book : Marigold. I would like to challenge especially the subtitle and Jim‘s claim that Marigold represented a ‗lost chance for peace‘ in Vietnam. One does not have to be a Clausewitzian to perceive war as the continuation of politics or policy by other means. Both the United States and the North Vietnamese communists and Vietcong had a fundamental political goal. It was not about conquering territory for the sake of it, or defeating an adversary to destroy its military power and rule the region. The United States wanted a non-communist and independent South Vietnam. North Vietnam and the Vietcong wanted a reunified Vietnam governed under a communist rule. Those are two very basic positions on the political geography of Vietnam and the character of Vietnam‘s political ideology and rule, but, as far as I can see, these were mutually exclusive and non-negotiable positions held at base level by the United States and Vietcong. They represented the irreconcilable politics that, irresolvable, continued by more violent means. After all, the differences on these fundamental issues had brought the two sides to war in the first place. It has become a common belief, partly because of Robert McNamara and others that the war emerged out of some kind of misunderstanding. I do not see that there was any misunderstanding between the United States and Vietnamese communists. Their two goals were pretty clear: a non-communist independent South Vietnam and a reunified Vietnam under communist rule. Both sides, as far as I can tell, understood each other pretty clearly. There might have been misunderstandings on some of the signalling and nuances, but on the basics they understood each other very clearly, and that was why they were at war in the first place. A general rule of warfare, not just relating to Vietnam, is that once war breaks out it assumes its own self-propulsive logic. It becomes very difficult, if not impossible, to stop it until one side is either thoroughly defeated and occupied or is convinced that it cannot win, or becomes exhausted and sues for peace. I would say that this was not true of either the United States or Vietnamese communists by 1966-67. 2. Could Marigold Have Delivered Permanent Peace? I think Jim‘s book succeeds and is unquestionably convincing that Marigold represented a lost chance for a halt in the immediate fighting. I have no dispute with his claim that Marigold could, 9 May 2012 17 Negotiating While Fighting: Peace Initiatives, British Policy and the Vietnam War FCO and probably should, have brought the two sides to direct talks. I am also completely convinced, as someone who has a lot of sympathy for LBJ that he did bungle it and bears the primary responsibility for the failure of Marigold. I also think that Jim‘s argument that this unnecessary collapse of Marigold made things worse is true, but whether this halt in fighting could then have led to a permanent peace is debatable. I would go even further to say that it is highly doubtful. One thing to remember is that all the detail in his magnificent book and the talk Jim just gave us is just to get to the point of talks; it is not in the shape of a permanent settlement. Neither side was close to reaching its breaking point by the time Marigold became a serious issue. Were they then prepared to throw away at the conference table what they felt could still be won on the battlefield? I would like to read a portion of the book‘s epilogue. First, I want to read a very short passage by Jim and then a quote from Lewandowski himself. Jim says, ‗If the hawks in Hanoi and Washington still dreamed of victory, both sides had to abandon illusions that they could achieve in Paris what they had failed to win on the battlefield, Lewandowski implored, otherwise ―they will simply end up where they started with this difference: a lot more dead young soldiers.‖‘ Was either side closer to reaching its breaking point at the conference table, closer to giving up what it still thought it could probably achieve on the battlefield? Certainly not the North Vietnamese, for whom the bitter memory of the 1954 Geneva conference, where they were betrayed by the Soviets and Chinese and should have had a reunified Vietnam, was still very fresh. It was definitely not the case for the Johnson Administration. In 1966, the Johnson Administration was nowhere close to the position it would reach in 1968. If we look at the post-Tet considerations of the Johnson Administration, some, including initially President Johnson, were not willing to throw in the towel even after that offensive. It was only when LBJ turned to the Wise Men and got a request from Westmoreland for another 250,000 troops approximately, and then after Eugene McCarthy‘s primary challenge in New Hampshire and Robert Kennedy entered the race, that he started to reconsider. In 1966, Johnson was not even close to reaching that breaking point. The South Vietnamese were nowhere close to reaching that breaking point either. We often overlook the South Vietnamese. They did not have a veto on potential US-North Vietnamese talks but they certainly had a lot of power to scuttle or severely complicate any negotiations. They wielded almost an effective veto before the United States was absolutely determined to get out. They would clearly not have been pleased with any talks that would have allowed, through negotiations, the National Liberation Front, the Vietcong, the North Vietnamese, or whoever, to have some say in the political fate of South Vietnam. Let us assume for a minute that Marigold did bring the war to a pause and brought the two sides into direct negotiations in Paris, or wherever. What would they have bargained over? Would they have conceded anything? Jim ends his book with a counter-factual analysis, but I would say we do not need that to get the answer to that question, because we know what happened from 1968 to 1973 and when there was a pause in the fighting. There was a halt to Rolling Thunder bombing, and direct talks began between the United States and the North Vietnamese at different venues and through different avenues for the next five years. This was a period when the United States was desperate to get out of Vietnam; it was not in 1966. Even when the US was desperate to get out of Vietnam, though not under any circumstances, it still took five years of negotiations and the majority of the war‘s casualties. Most of the deaths happened after 1968, so it took five years and the majority of the war‘s casualties even after the taboo of direct talks was broken to end the war. Then of course, the war lasted for another two years until North Vietnam finally did reunify the country under communist rule. I would say the real lost chance for peace came before February/March 1965 when the bombing of North Vietnam began, before the continual bombing under Rolling Thunder began on March 2 9 May 2012 18 Negotiating While Fighting: Peace Initiatives, British Policy and the Vietnam War FCO 1965, and before regular US ground troops were introduced to South Vietnam on March 8 1965. For me, that is where the real lost chance for peace was. Once war began it became incredibly difficult to stop it. IV. Vietnam and the Changing Nature of Warfare I do not want to end on that note because the implications are so depressing. I would like to finish off with what I think is good news, or at least a more positive spin on what I have just said. Even if I am right and Marigold did not represent a lost chance for peace but perhaps a lost chance for talks to begin, but that war probably would have continued, it does not mean it is impossible to negotiate while fighting. I think wars can end through diplomacy. I did not really think about this until I read Jimâ€˜s book. Vietnam is a unique case and does not really have a lot of lessons for us today or for wars in future. In the 1960s and early 1970s, all the conditions were absolutely perfect for North Vietnam, everything went their way, and the conditions for the United States to wage this kind of war were awful. What is important is that the 1960s and the Vietnam War marked a turning point, a major change in the nature of warfare. A couple of things occur to me. First, the United States could not use indiscriminate power any more. In this type of war, between a major power and an insurgency or guerrilla power, the former would win through the application of overwhelming force, as the United States used in the Philippine War in the first few years of the 20th century. The United States could not do that anymore. For a variety of changes in international political culture it was not acceptable for the US to do that. Even the limited war that the US was waging in its bombing was already tremendously controversial, so to win this war the US could not apply the overwhelming fire power it would need to do. Yet, it is before the era of the revolution in military affairs or precision-guided munitions where the US could wage a limited and more targeted war as it would in the 1990s and afterwards. It is still controversial but it causes fewer civilian casualties and therefore is more acceptable to the public. So, the 1960s and Vietnam represented a threshold between what was acceptable and what was possible, and the US was caught in that bind. Second, North Vietnam had a number of trump cards that Johnson, for a variety of good reasons, did not want to try to counter. It had the Ho Chi Minh trail through Cambodia and Laos which Johnson did not want to cut off, and it was being continually supplied by China and later on even more by the Soviet Union. North Vietnam had the sympathy of the world, even among the populations of American allies in Western Europe, Canada and places like that. North Vietnam proved to be an unusually skilled and tough adversary. The North Vietnamese and Vietcong are sui generis in the annals of military warfare. Given the chances of a small power being able to defeat a major power which is applying vastly more fire power than in Afghanistan today, there is something to be said for the unique qualities and strengths of the North Vietnamese simply in military and political terms. The good news is that I think Vietnam is unique in this sense, and it is still worth looking into war termination and negotiating while fighting. Matthew Jones We have about half an hour. At some point I would like to give Jim an opportunity to respond to some of Andrewâ€˜s comments about the possibility of peace. Before we do that, are there any questions or comments from the audience? Questions and Answers 9 May 2012 19 Negotiating While Fighting: Peace Initiatives, British Policy and the Vietnam War FCO Richard Fyjis-Walker I have two points. First, was it not really the Chinese who made the North Vietnamese back off when the resumed or continued bombing by LBJ occurred? James Hershberg That is a fascinating question. The book begins with an extended prologue that takes place during Lyndon Johnson‘s 37-day bombing pause from Christmas Eve 1965 until the end of January 1966. In that case, there was also an effort to probe North Vietnam‘s willingness to begin peace talks in exchange for a full bombing halt of North Vietnam. Averell Harriman went to Warsaw and relayed the American message and the Poles sent a secret emissary all the way to Hanoi to try to convince North Vietnam to enter into talks. The latter went via China. The Chinese delayed his plane in Nanning in southern China on the excuse that the Americans were bombing, but it was to send a Chinese diplomat to leapfrog ahead of him basically to warn the North Vietnamese leadership about what was coming and not to agree. Ho Chi Minh ended up completely rebuffing the Polish effort. Michalowski came back to Warsaw and was famously quoted as saying, when asked how his trip had gone, ‗God damn those Chinese‘, as if it was the fault of the Chinese. I tell that story because the whole episode helps form the mindsets on both sides for Marigold a year later. A year later extreme efforts were made on both sides to keep the whole business secret, especially to avoid extremists in both camps from actions to disrupt it. On the American side they did not tell the military. US Commander General William Westmoreland was not told because they knew the uniformed military would object; they did not tell Saigon because they knew they would object. It was believed that the North Vietnamese did not want the Chinese to find out for precisely that reason, because at that point the Chinese had just gone through the vast expansion of the Cultural Revolution and were publicly supporting armed struggle for total victory as the path to follow. What is quite fascinating—the book uses Chinese archives on this—is that a few weeks earlier, Le Duan had made a secret trip to Beijing and met with Chou En-Lai who said that armed struggle was the way to go. But when Le Duan said, ‗We‘re getting kind of tired and we‘re thinking about acceding to peace talks‘, Mao said, ‗Whatever Chou told you yesterday, even though we oppose peace talks you are the one shedding blood, so whatever you do, we will support.‘ He more or less gave his blessing to think about that. There is no evidence that the Chinese knew directly about the state of play on Marigold, or that they interceded. The evidence seems fairly clear that it was not China that interceded, but when the Americans began bombing they also introduced a hedge clause known as the ‗important differences of interpretation‘ clause to hedge their commitment to the so-called 10 points. The North Vietnamese as well as the Poles then felt the Americans were backing off. This introduced an element of suspicion and they believed the Americans were trying to ‗bomb them to the table‘. It seems that this, as opposed to the Chinese, was the immediate factor behind the North Vietnamese decision to renege and break off their agreement to begin direct discussions in Warsaw. However, the Chinese were looming in the background. Duncan Allan I am Duncan Allan from Foreign Office Research Analysts. I am a member of the analytical team working on the former Soviet Union. First, thanks very much, Jim and Andrew, for two very interesting and thought-provoking presentations. My question is aimed more at Jim. You mentioned that you had consulted a wide range of archives from different countries, including Soviet ones. I would be very interested to know which archives in Moscow you looked at, but, 9 May 2012 20 Negotiating While Fighting: Peace Initiatives, British Policy and the Vietnam War FCO more particularly, what light the Soviet archives shed on the thinking of the Soviet leadership about Operation Marigold? James Hershberg That is a great question. Everything I say is in much more detail and with footnotes and supporting evidence in the book. I would be glad to provide further details. The Soviet evidence was very important. Obviously, Poland was a loyal Soviet ally, and one of the elements of enduring mystery—you can read the analysis of the Pentagon Papers analysts who prepared a chronology of Marigold—is: what was the nature of the Soviet role? Some Johnson Administration officials believed this was all a script prepared in Moscow. The book shows that that was not entirely the case. This was a Polish initiative, much as there had earlier been a Hungarian initiative, but they were clearly not defying Moscow. They had known what the parameters of Soviet policy were. The Soviets supported negotiations but at that point —everything would change a month later when Sunflower happened, as you will hear in the next session—the Soviets were loath to directly urge the North Vietnamese to enter into negotiations because they were afraid of being charged by the Chinese and hardliners in Hanoi of colluding with the American imperialists but they told their East European allies, ‗You‘re welcome to try; you have our blessing.‘ When the North Vietnamese met with the Soviets and had discussions, with the description of Pham Van Dong and others going to Crimea in August 1966 and a secret visit being paid by Le Duc Tho to Moscow in December 1966 which plays into that, the Soviets were trying to put into North Vietnamese heads what they believed to be realism: ‗You can‘t beat the Americans. The diplomatic path makes more sense. You are losing the battle of international public opinion. You should not be so rejectionist.‘ Basically, they were encouraging them but leaving the dirty work to their allies to give it a try. What is striking is that when the Poles seemed on the verge of success Leonid Brezhnev was almost jealous. ‗Why didn‘t the North Vietnamese turn to us? We have more opportunity to put pressure on the Americans.‘ It is also fascinating that the Soviets directly relate d Hanoi‘s seeming willingness to enter into talks to China‘s distraction by internal events, especially the chaos induced by the Cultural Revolution, and consequent lessening of influence in Hanoi. To give you a preview of my reaction, clearly a more accurate subtitle would have been ‗The lost chance for peace talks in Vietnam‘. We will get round to the question of peace. Brezhnev gave a secret speech to a Central Committee Plenum of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union plenum in December in the middle of these events. He did not talk about Marigold, because that was still secret, but he said, ‗We have evidence in recent days that the North Vietnamese are now making a new departure. Because of the events in China they feel more free.‘ The Chinese had become so inwardly focused because of the trauma and convulsions of the Cultural Revolution that the North Vietnamese felt, ‗The Chinese are distracted.‘ As I said, they did indirectly and secretly clear some kind of movement towards talks, but this was clearly in the Soviet‘s view the right direction to go in. According to evidence cited in the book—this was another mystery to the Americans that had to do with Sunflower—after Marigold collapsed, the North Vietnamese apparently told the Soviets, ‗We want to start direct talks.‘ This would be in the context of a decision taken in January 1967 to adopt formally the so-called ‗talking-while-fighting‘ strategy, namely that you cannot win at the negotiating table what you have not won on the battlefield. Only then, when asked by Hanoi, did Moscow say, ‗Okay, we‘ll get directly involved.‘ This happened not only during the Kosygin visit to London in February 1967 but in his visit to Glassboro in June to see Lyndon Johnson when the Soviets were much more willing to serve as intermediary and convey American propositions to Hanoi. If you would like more details, please get in touch. 9 May 2012 21 Negotiating While Fighting: Peace Initiatives, British Policy and the Vietnam War FCO Effie Pedaliu I have just finished an article on transatlantic relations and Vietnam. Your talks were absolutely magnificent because they gave me a lot of ground to rethink. I have a comment and a question. My comment is for Andrew; my question is for Jim. I agree with Andrew that the Vietnam War was unique. . However, when it comes to transatlantic relations, it has some resonance still because public opinion is becoming more vocal and directly related to the decision-making process. My question to Jim goes back to a conference that both of us attended at the State Department a couple of years ago. The impression I got was that the North Vietnamese were not really prepared to negotiate until they had secured a South Vietnam that was not viable. They did not wish to become like North Korea. That was their main motivating factor for fighting the war. The question is: how far was that idea confirmed by your own research? How far were the North Vietnamese using European allies basically to pass on their own ideas, and create mischief between European allies and the United States? James Hershberg One thing the Johnson Administration and many analysts thought was that they were not using Poland really to convey ideas to the US but to probe the American position and get the bottom line. Therefore, one thing the Johnson Administration would have argued at the time and in retrospect, according to the memoirs of people like Walt Rostow, Dean Rusk and, most famously The Vantage Point by Lyndon Johnson in 1971—that chapter was certainly drafted by NSC aides—was that the Poles were essentially on a probing manoeuvre to try to find out how far they could get to determine the American bottom line, and maybe they would then try to sell it to Hanoi. That line has been sold to history until now because of the lack of evidence. In fact the Poles did have a politically valuable commitment from Pham Van Dong. Anyone interested in US national security policy should be aware of the website of the National Security Archive. That is an institution in Washington DC that has spectacular collections of declassified American documents. By the way, this is the other NSA: this is not the National Security Agency, the American eavesdropping arm of the executive branch. I always have to make that clear for my friends at the National Security Archive. It is a non-governmental research institute and declassified documents repository. I have put together what is called an electronic briefing book of the raw Polish documents on this point; in other words, there is no question that the Poles were acting in good faith when they said that they had North Vietnam‘s commitment to begin direct contacts and discussions to confirm the so-called ‗10 points‘. An analytically separate point deals with your question, which is: were the North Vietnamese serious or stringing the Poles along? Unfortunately, we do not have good enough evidence. I might as well briefly answer Andrew‘s question because it addresses the same point. The North Vietnamese gave enough of a politically important commitment to the Poles and, through them, the Soviets—there was also a North Vietnamese/Soviet parallel dialogue, which the book describes, that came into these issues—that, had the Americans confirmed these 10 points and the North Vietnamese simply been obstructionist, it would have hurt their credit in Moscow. For example, Pham Van Dong, on November 25 and 28 1966, had secret meetings with Lewandowski in which he agreed to the contact in Warsaw. He said that if the Americans really supported this proposition, they i.e. the North Vietnamese would take a forthcoming attitude in discussions. You can take that for what it is worth, but it comes back to Andrew‘s basic contention. Let me briefly address it. Referring to the subtitle of the book, ‗The lost chance for peace in Vietnam‘, not to be overly Clintonian in deconstructing the language, a slightly more accurate title would have been ‗The lost but not necessarily very good chance for peace, but not on US terms‘. 9 May 2012 22 Negotiating While Fighting: Peace Initiatives, British Policy and the Vietnam War FCO Andrew Preston I would not have had a response to that. James Hershberg There is a key phrase used by historians of the Cold War, including Andrew who is well aware of it. Maybe those of you who are not specialists on the subject are aware of the controversy in the United States, which has been very intense since the Vietnam W ar, about the idea of a ‗decent interval‘. There has long been a charge levelled against the Nixon Administration that Nixon and Kissinger did not really care about peace; what they wanted was a decent interval between American military withdrawal and recovery of American POWs and an eventual collapse of the non-communist government in South Vietnam and takeover by the North, not, ‗We leave and they take over‘, because that would be humiliating. The calculation in this analysis would be that once we got our troops out and our POWs back, the agenda would be to turn to more relevant issues in both American domestic politics and foreign policy. Of course, Nixon was pursuing triangular diplomacy with the Soviets and Chinese. What has been less discussed, and what this book concludes, is that similar glimmerings of a decent interval strategy were being urged upon, and to some degree receptively received by, elements within the North Vietnamese leadership. When I say ‗The lost chance for peace in Vietnam‘, I do not mean the lost chance to have an indefinite perpetuation of a non-communist regime in Saigon and the conflict settled. Andrew is completely right that any outcome would not be Hanoi saying, ‗Okay; I guess we have to give up our dreams of unifying the country under our control.‘ But I do cite evidence that by late 1966, certain similar views were being expressed in both Hanoi and Washington, including Robert McNamara: by October and November 1966, he was already losing faith that force and bombing could achieve American aims; even William Bundy was acknowledging it privately. I quote a memorandum in which he says that maybe there was a 15%, 20% or 25% chance that Saigon would eventually fall, but the Americans might need to be satisfied with that. But there is some evidence that the North Vietnamese were also being urged to consider it: ‗Get the Americans out first; let them out on a red carpet; get a process in place; and later you can finish the job with much less pain‘. There were dialogues between the Poles and Dean Rusk in which the Poles said, ‗We know you have considerations of face‘, and Dean Rusk said, ‗I‘m not trying to save face; I‘m trying to save South Vietnam.‘ There were many, who still believed in military victory in late 1966, but others saw even by that point when only 6,250 Americans had been killed in Vietnam, as opposed to the more than 58,000 who died eventually, that it had already poisoned the domestic political landscape for Lyndon Johnson. His presidency was already being crippled. The Great Society was in great distress. Had they been able to take it all back, find a way to get out of Vietnam and have maybe a temporary if not permanent solution, some might have jumped at it. The book is not contending that the war could have been ‗settled‘ but that peace in a very limited sense, — what the US ended up getting at much greater cost in January 1973 — might have been obtainable through this process. Andrew Preston I completely agree with that. Jim identified something that I did not say in my talk. Our difference comes down to our different readings of Lyndon Johnson. I agree with him on the North Vietnamese, but I just do not think LBJ wanted a decent interval, even after Tet and after he had resigned his presidency. He did everything he could to undermine Humphrey‘s candidacy in 1968. 9 May 2012 23 Negotiating While Fighting: Peace Initiatives, British Policy and the Vietnam War FCO James Hershberg I do not think it would have been conscious; it would have been de facto. Andrew Preston Possibly. I do not think that McNamara in 1966 and 1967 is representative of the direction of US policy, because, if so, since he had lost faith, the war would have ended. It is something we can come back to. As to the comment, I completely agree that it has resonance for today and Vietnam is the first case of public opinion in this way being vehemently anti-war and affecting the course of the war and decision-making on it. That was exactly the point I was trying to make. Vietnam was the first case in which the dominant power in a war like this could not just apply its overwhelming fire power without regard to civilian casualties because it was so controversial. That inhibited Johnson‘s ability to widen the conflict. He was very worried about a wider war. We now know that, quite rightly, he was worried about that because probably the Chinese would have come in if the US had invaded North Vietnam. I do not think the Vietnam War caused this change in public opinion. Almost any war in which the US was bombing a civilian population indiscriminately—if it had happened anywhere in the world—would have triggered this massive anti-war movement. It was just the way 20th century history and political culture in the west was evolving. This was becoming unacceptable, and yet we are still a good two or three decades from the revolution in military affairs where you can fight a war with more precise targeting and have fewer civilian casualties. Today, even in Iraq or Afghanistan, as horrible as civilian casualties are, we are talking about thousands and not, as in South East Asia, millions. That is what I mean when I say the US was caught between what was acceptable, because what they were doing is no longer acceptable, and what was possible. The technological possibilities were not there for them to fight that precision war. James Hershberg I agree that Lyndon Johnson would never have consciously sold Saigon down the river, which is the expression that would have been used; nor would Dean Rusk. On the other hand, if there could have been a formula simply to get the Americans out and recover control of his presidency, in the belief that it could work even if it went sour and Saigon collapsed some years down the road, this could have been considered. What I get from some of the dialogue is that at least some in North Vietnam were urging patience: ‗We have to do this, unify Vietnam under Hanoi‘s communist control, but maybe not necessarily at the price of this massive cost.‘ At least on the national security side of the Johnson Administration, there was a recognition that the stakes might not be as great in Vietnam as initially believed, because the biggest domino—Matt has written extensively on this subject—that it was feared would fall if the communists won in South Vietnam was Indonesia. But in late 1965, the domino fell in the other direction: Sukarno was overthrown and a strongly anti-communist government took power. In many ways the stakes were subsequently lower in terms of international strategy but were vastly expanded in terms of domestic politics, because you already have a sacrifice; it has already taken over. In that sense the key thing is simply, ‗Get the boys home and stop the bleeding.‘ 9 May 2012 24 Negotiating While Fighting: Peace Initiatives, British Policy and the Vietnam War FCO Sylvia Ellis, Reader in History, University of Northumbria Jim, I am interested in your methodology, going into all those archives and doing all those interviews. You acknowledged that you have but one language. Can you say a little about some of the issues that threw up for you, because to me it seems a staggering task? James Hershberg I hope this is more generally applicable to anyone who is researching. There are now incredible opportunities out there due to the creation of a global network of Cold War scholars and the technical possibilities of the internet, in addition to flying to countries. I was able to get documents from different countries‘ archives in different languages from people I never met, simply by making contacts through colleagues and commissioning people to check, say, the Dutch archives and find a wonderful set of documents in Amsterdam from the Dutch Embassy in Saigon. To take that example, one of the documents happened to contain an answer to another mystery. I had pestered the CIA multiple times for the file on this Polish diplomat in part because, if you look at the historiography on this episode, Janusz Lewandowski is sometimes identified as a military intelligence officer. When I told him this in Warsaw he was outraged. He said, ‗I have worked only for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.‘ I was able to prove that it was a case of mistaken identity: like Dean Rusk, the scholar had the wrong Lewandowski. One of the pieces of circumstantial evidence was that, although the CIA refused to divulge the profile it definitely must have had on Lewandowski on various spurious grounds, it so happened that the Dutch Embassy in Saigon had a contact at the US Embassy in Saigon. They gave him a copy of their intelligence evaluation of Lewandowski and it was cabled back to The Hague kindly in English, so it did not even need to be translated. It is quoted in the book. It even had personal details about his marriage and things like that. There are wonderful opportunities. I have tried to use them not only in this book, but I am now working on the Cuban missile crisis. I have done articles that use Brazilian, Yugoslav—the usual suspects of the Soviet bloc—Chinese and Israeli documents. It is no substitute for people who are real experts in those countries. If my book stimulates people in those countries to go deeper into their own countries‘ stories, I am not insulted but gratified. For example, I did a journal article that dealt with Hungary‘s diplomacy in the Vietnam War. A Hungarian scholar has just published an article that is really a sequel saying, ‗Hershberg got part of the story, but if you spend two years going through the archives in Budapest you can get 30% or 50% further‘, and that is great. It has become a global endeavour of research in the Cold War from a non-superpower and Washingtononly perspective. In certain limited cases you can pretty much get what you need. I got so many thousands of documents translated from Polish archives and interviewed Lewandowski for 50 hours, and, on the Italian side, I was able to get 900 pages of Giovanni D‘Orlandi‘s personal diaries in which he even described his dreams about the diplomacy, as well as all of his diplomatic cables. It is not 100% satisfactory, but you can get so much more than you can from any one side‘s country. I do not know how many in England have heard of the American official cliché that nobody ever comes out second best in his own memorandum of conversation. You get two or even three sides of the same conversation and of course every Marigold meeting was attended by the American ambassador, Henry Cabot Lodge, the Italian ambassador, Giovanni D‘Orlandi, and the Polish ambassador and I have all three of their cables they do not precisely line up; they are overlapping circles. It is a great thing to ask Lewandowski in a crucial case, ‗You didn‘t say this in your cable but you said it at the meeting because it is in the Italian and American cables. Why did you leave it out?‘ That in turn leads to other things. This is a methodology. You can never learn the real story of one side‘s foreign policy just from that country‘s archives. 9 May 2012 25 Negotiating While Fighting: Peace Initiatives, British Policy and the Vietnam War FCO To take a completely random example, I am collecting different countries‘ materials on the Cuban missile crisis. I teach a graduate course at George Washington University on the Cold War. For the term paper I had a student from Switzerland, who of course knew German, go back to her own country‘s archives and get documents on the Cuban missile crisis. Sure enough, there turned out to be a cable from the Swiss ambassador in Washington saying that at a meeting with a group of ambassadors Dean Rusk took him aside and said, ‗Don‘t put my name on this, but can you have your ambassador in Havana request a meeting with Fidel Castro and say A, B and C?‘ This is completely missing from the American record. This possibility exists for almost any topic you can imagine. Simon Shelly I am Simon Shelly, currently attached to the human resources directorate in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and a self-confessed Vietnam dilettante. I have a sub-O-level exam question for our three academics. Was South Vietnam‘s fate sealed the minute US military presence snowballed into six figures? James Hershberg It was not necessarily viewed as an arbitrary number, but certainly the decision to ‗Americanise‘ the war helped to de-legitimate a government that never fully became legitimate in the first place, because the Saigon Government was competing with an enemy that had much better nationalist credentials. This was something some US officials recognised. John Kennedy said, ‗We can‘t win the war for them‘, but in the same interview he said he believed in the domino theory. This is another Catch-22. How can we win the war for a country that is not willing to fight it? To be fair, the ARVN, the South Vietnamese Army, lost many thousands of people; they made great sacrifices, but this is a huge debate. Was this a ‗winnable‘ war? There is huge controversy about this. Books on this have been published: Lewis Sorley‘s A Better War and Michael Lind‘s The Necessary War. It is still the contention of admirers of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger that the war was lost in Washington by Democrats, not on the battlefield. I remember a conference in Hanoi of former US and North Vietnamese military people. The US military people said, ‗We never lost a battle.‘ The reaction was, ‗Yes, but that is irrelevant because it was a political war as much as a military one.‘ Was the war inherently unwinnable? I would say probably, but that is intrinsically an unanswerable question. Matthew Jones I would concur with that. As soon as you start Americanising the war you introduce large numbers of foreign troops and there is an anti-foreign reaction. The strength of Vietnamese nationalism was consistently underrated in Washington. The most crucial year in Vietnamese 20th century history is 1945 when Vietnam declared itself independent. For many Vietnamese, what happened in 1975 was the completion of a process that had begun 30 years earlier. Andrew Preston I hate to be boring, but I concur with my two colleagues. I do not really think it was a winnable war. Once the war was Americanised it became mostly unwinnable, especially once Westmoreland had opted for the strategy and tactics of search and destroy. It was perfectly counter-productive to the type of war that the US should have been fighting. If you had a better war strategy before in 1965, could the US have won? I am still sceptical for the reasons I gave in my talk. What had been acceptable in warfare was no longer acceptable, not just to the American public but a broad swath of world public opinion. 9 May 2012 26 Negotiating While Fighting: Peace Initiatives, British Policy and the Vietnam War FCO The flip side of the question—if the United States had not Americanised the war—is not necessarily true. If Johnson had not Americanised the war, the conclusion should not then be: the South Vietnamese could have won it on their own. I do not think that was possible either. Ideally, the war would have ended in 1965 with US withdrawal, reunification of the country and the prevention of millions of deaths on both sides, and also in Laos and Cambodia. James Hershberg There has also been a flurry of Ngo Dinh Diem revisionism which basically says that Diem was enough of a nationalist that at least he had a theoretical chance of gaining legitimacy, but I think that is fairly dubious. Again, for the dilettantes in Vietnam history out there, most analysts agree that the real missed opportunity was in 1945, because good relations were established with the Viet Minh against the Japanese. Ho Chi Minh famously asked nine times for American recognition and never received a response. Maybe a final comment on Andrew‘s remarks about whether or not there was any misunderstanding, if there is a case that it had been it might have had to do with the American estimation of the essential balance of nationalism versus communism in the Viet Minh and the basic priorities. The caricature of North Vietnam became that it was a tool of the Chinese and was simply part of the international communist conspiracy masterminded by them was a gross mischaracterisation. Clearly, they were communists but mostly they were nationalists, and which way that would have gone in the late 1940s was not necessarily inevitable. Andrew Preston I would not disagree with that at all. Matthew Jones Thank you very much. I think we will have to leave it there for the moment. We should express our appreciation for our speakers in the usual way. [Applause] We will have a 15-minute break for tea and coffee and resume with Sunflower. PANEL 2: The Sunflower Peace Initiative Alex Ellis Director, Strategy, FCO Thank you very much for attending this second session. My name is Alex Ellis. For this audience I think I will call myself the head of policy planners in the Foreign Office, sometimes known as the director of strategy. It is a pleasure to chair this session, which is ostensibly about the Sunflower peace initiative but no doubt will range wider than that. It is a pleasure for four reasons. First, as head of planners I am very keen on developing the institution and its historical memory as well as looking forward. Second, it is nice to have some very distinguished predecessors here, including Sir Robert Wade-Gery. I was a history teacher, 9 May 2012 27 Negotiating While Fighting: Peace Initiatives, British Policy and the Vietnam War FCO and I am the son and grandson of a history teacher, so it is a subject I enjoy very much. Fourth, I asked for this a while ago. I am curious as to what prevented the United Kingdom becoming more involved in the Vietnam War and what that did to its relationship with the United States. And on the basis of total ignorance, I asked a question and my very kind colleagues from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Historians said, ‗Here‘s the answer: chair the session‘, and so I do. Sylvia Ellis, reader in history at the University of Northumbria, will start and talk for about 10 minutes. Then we will have some present-at-the-creation folks, first Dick Fyjis-Walker. He was First Secretary in the South East Asia department. No longer presumably. Sir Robert, after being in Planners, was First Secretary and Head of Chancery in Saigon. Professor John Young of the University of Nottingham will then wrap things up from the panel. I hope you will not speak for too long, folks, because I would quite like to hear the discussion. If not, I will just provoke it anyway. We aim to wrap up by about five. Sylvia Ellis Reader in History, University of Northumbria I. Preamble I would like to echo the thanks of the earlier speakers, particularly for inviting me to attend. I would like to thank you, Alex, for your involvement. I am particularly impressed that you managed to arrange for helicopters to fly over to remind us of Vietnam. II. The British Stance on Vietnam I would like to say a little about the British position on Vietnam before going on to make some quite cursory observations on the Sunflower initiative. As to the British stance on Vietnam, it was one of broad support. The Labour Government led by Harold Wilson provided valuable diplomatic support for the US effort in Vietnam. However, despite Johnson‘s ‗more flags‘ campaign, which was largely a failed effort to gain more international allies, Britain refused to send troops to South East Asia. There were a number of reasons for this. Wilson could not be persuaded to send even a platoon of bag pipers, as Dean Rusk requested, but the reasons ranged from Britain‘s role as the Geneva co-chair, to military overextension but, most obviously, it was the unpopularity of the war within the Prime Minister‘s own party and the wider public, who saw the war generally as immoral and illegal. Wilson had to take those protests seriously. Thus, from the very beginning he portrayed himself as a leader who could take initiatives for peace, not least because of his own experience with the Russians. So although he desired a close relationship with the Americans, not least because obviously the pound was in such a perilous state, he had to balance that with keeping his party on side. The political tightrope he walked on Vietnam meant two things: first, a need to distance Britain from the tactics the US deployed in Vietnam, whilst obviously maintaining an overall position of support. Thus, he made statements to the House saying that Britain was not supplying arms to America for use in Vietnam, and he dissociated Britain from the bombing of Hanoi in June 1966. Second, it also meant that Wilson continued in his efforts to play the honest broker, leading him to take some initiatives behind the scenes and some in public. For instance, secret attempts to engage the Russians began as early as March 1965 when, during a visit by Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko to London, Wilson raised the possibility of reconvening the Geneva conference. The Russians were not interested. Wilson then went on to suggest having a 9 May 2012 28 Negotiating While Fighting: Peace Initiatives, British Policy and the Vietnam War FCO Russian-backed conference on Cambodia, again to no avail. But there were two high-profile British peace gambits: the June 1965 Commonwealth peace commission and the subsequent dispatch of a British Labour MP, Harold Davies, to Hanoi in July 1965. These efforts were not entirely welcomed by the Americans, as Jim suggested earlier this afternoon, but they were a price worth paying for Britain‘s continuing support. III. 1. The Sunflower Initiative Introduction To move on to the Sunflower peace initiative, again this is one of those lost chances. Wilson called it a historic opportunity that had been missed; Robert McNamara also felt that the WilsonKosygin talks were very, very close to a breakthrough. Joseph Sisco, Assistant Secretary of State, singled out that occasion in London as marking the best hope for peace in the late 1960s. It is one of the initiatives that historians including myself have looked at. 2. George Brown’s Visit to Moscow I was glad Jim mentioned the preamble to Sunflower which was George Brown‘s visit to Moscow. The fact that the British were kept in the dark about Marigold led to a situation of tension between Britain and America. Consequently, Chester Cooper was sent to try to brief the British to keep them up to date on the latest initiatives. Chester Cooper stayed on for the Wilson-Kosygin talks. 3. a. The Wilson-Kosygin Talks Russian approach Let me skip straight to the Wilson-Kosygin talks. I make a number of observations about them. One that strikes me most obviously is the positive noises made by the Russians in the lead up to the talks and during the talks. Jim‘s book is very good at showing some of the reasons for that positivity. Some of the signals from North Vietnam, for example the ‗Trinh formula‘, suggested that maybe the North Vietnamese were relaxing their conditions for talks. The first thing that strikes me is that there was a positive attitude. We have clear evidence that Kosygin was in direct contact with the North Vietnamese during his stay in London. b. American approach The second point—for whatever reasons and we might want to discuss the possibilities—is that the Americans were still not prepared to be candid with the British during preparations for the talks, despite Chester Cooper‘s presence and during the talks themselves. Washington did not reveal during the Wilson-Kosygin talks that parallel peace efforts were taking place. They were pursuing direct peace talks via the Russians through the US diplomat John Guthrie who was talking to a North Vietnamese diplomat, Le Chang. Most noticeably, they did not let Wilson know about President Johnson‘s letter to Ho Chi Minh, which was delivered on 8 February during the Kosygin visit. That letter set out the following offer: ‗I am prepared to order a cessation of bombing against your country and the stopping of further augmentation of US forces in South Vietnam as soon as I am assured that infiltration into South Vietnam by land and sea has stopped.‘ The operative words were ‗has stopped‘. The British did not know of that change to the Phase A/B formula. 9 May 2012 29 Negotiating While Fighting: Peace Initiatives, British Policy and the Vietnam War FCO c. British approach My third point is that the British, Chet Cooper and David Bruce were also caught up in the high spirits about the odds of success of these particular talks. The American representatives admitted later that Wilson might not have been so enthusiastic about the chances of success had he known Washington‘s true views. Again, we might want to discuss that. d. Confusion and misunderstanding Fourth, these talks are again littered with misunderstandings, suspicions and tensions. The confusion over Phase A and Phase B was the issue that led to a serious falling out in AngloAmerican relations. Essentially, on the first day of the talks Wilson gave Kosygin what he saw as the current version of Phase A/Phase B. When he continued his talks with Kosygin on the fourth day he presented him with what he thought was the final version, only to check with the Americans and find a change in tense. It is crucial to understand this change of tense. The version Wilson gave to Kosygin said, ‗The US will stop bombing North Vietnam as soon as they are assured that the infiltration from the north to the south will stop‘, and the key change was ‗has stopped‘. Obviously, Wilson was livid over that change of tense. 4. Conclusion Despite that change in tense—obviously, it made life difficult for Wilson—he doggedly pursued the peace initiative by trying to get an extension of the bombing pause. He offered Kosygin the original deal. He said to the Americans, ‗If they bite, can we go with that?‘ The Americans said yes and allowed a very short extension to the bombing truce, but not nearly enough time for the message to be relayed back to North Vietnam. The outcome of these talks, as Jim Hershberg mentioned, was pretty catastrophic for AngloAmerican relations and led to a post mortem. I would be interested to hear what the Foreign Office people remember of that particularly unsavoury week. Alex Ellis Goodness me, that introduction provokes many thoughts and questions in my mind. I think we are going to get the answer now from Dick. Richard Fyjis-Walker Former First Secretary, South East Asia Department I. Preamble I am a bit overwhelmed. You have been shown Vietnam from the peaks of historical research. My perspective is really from the foothills across the road from No.10. From 1966 to 1970 I was, as has been said, assistant head of the South East Asia Department responsible on my side for Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia and was, most importantly, a sidekick to Donald Murray, the key departmental official during those heady times. Following best Foreign Office practice, I was a Middle Easterner just expelled from Cairo. In August 1967 I lost the Vietnam War, according to the then Consul-General in Hanoi, because I 9 May 2012 30 Negotiating While Fighting: Peace Initiatives, British Policy and the Vietnam War FCO refused to show the Americans his dispatch claiming that the North Vietnamese were about to crack under American bombing. They were not. Indeed, later under even more intense bombing they were only prepared to move their government only up country taking the consulate with them. II. The Foreign Office Position on Vietnam In the department we understood well enough the broad parameters of what we were doing: avoiding engagement in the war while preserving the Anglo-American relationship; doing what we could to promote a peaceful solution and enhance our, and especially the Prime Minister‘s, international standing through the UK‘s chairmanship with the Russians of the 1954 Geneva conference. It was really a hopeless quest, since neither the Russians nor the Americans had any taste for it. For the rest, we very often felt we were at a point where the fogs of war, diplomacy, international differences, especially Anglo-American, internal politics and heated public opinions on both sides of the Atlantic were all swirled together by a hostile media that basically enveloped us in a huge pea-souper—so much so that, according to one commentator, even some of the principal players were dazed by the speed and complexity of what was going on. The South East Asia department as a department was in effect the first line of defence against tremendous pressures. In front there was LBJ‘s constant demand that we contribute militarily to the war and blindly support any escalation demanded by the US military; from behind, there was a fractious parliament and governing party and a restive and increasingly anti-war public opinion, manifesting itself in demonstrations and peace marches, and, for our purposes, sacks of letters to Ministers and MPs, and add in a largely hostile press. This is a bit anecdotal, but I remember that the crucial American challenge came in 1966 with the decision to dissociate from the bombing of Hanoi and Haiphong. That was essential for domestic political reasons, but it was a betrayal to LBJ. I think our statement played pretty skilfully to both sides of the House and showed that, as a junior partner, we could assert our own national interest without irredeemably, although temporarily, wrecking our big power relationship. ‗Yo, Blair‘, of course, took exactly the opposite line. The most exciting moment was indeed the Kosygin visit, I think, where our American link man, Chet Cooper, secreted in a Chequers bedroom, failed to deliver the Americans to the deal Wilson hoped Kosygin might sell to the North Vietnamese. The pace was indeed break-neck, such as when catching Kosygin with the revised and degraded American position literally within minutes of boarding his train for Scotland. In the background all the time was the pressure from the American military to resume bombing while Kosygin was still in London. Confusion on all sides, as has been said by others, made a tense and emotionally fraught time for everyone involved. III. Tet Offensive In my time perhaps the most frightening was the Tet offensive of 1968 when it seemed we might be seeing an American Dien Bien Phu. Most surreal was the tables‘ war over the shape of the negotiating table at the Paris peace talks: round, square or separated by a pencil width. Basically, it was evidence that neither side saw the need to abandon the hope of victory that was unlikely to be achieved by negotiation. At home there was an absolutely outrageous scatological cartoon by Gerald Scarfe lampooning Wilson‘s sycophancy towards LBJ, but it reflected the mood of much of the country. Parliamentary pressure reflected divisions within the Labour Party and a restive opposition. The record number of parliamentary questions we had to answer in one day was 16, but there were half a dozen every FCO question time. They ranged from the comic, when a very ancient peer demanded to know querulously what the empire troops were doing, to the deceptively simple PQ that needed very careful scrutiny to discern the supplementary dagger concealed within it. Early 9 May 2012 31 Negotiating While Fighting: Peace Initiatives, British Policy and the Vietnam War FCO day motions and debates, all of which required enormous preparation for Ministers, were not rare. Letters from the public were so numerous that we had one Third Secretary dealing with them full time. All these pressures were so great that at one point Donald Murray refused point blank a demand from No.10 for an immediate review of Marigold. I wish Michael Palliser was here because he could tell us the other side of the story. IV. 1. Lessons to be Learned Preamble One wonders whether there are lessons to be learned. I am sure everyone here would agree with Alice‘s white queen that it is a poor sort of memory that works only backwards. Contemporary events have to be approached in the light of their antecedents. Barbara Tuchman traced the march of folly from the Trojan Wars to Vietnam. If she were alive today, I am sure she would be documenting its advance to Afghanistan. Yet Vietnam memories seem to be fading. 2. Afghanistan On coming to office Obama found himself in much the same spot over Afghanistan as LBJ did when the latter confessed about Vietnam: ‗I can‘t get out; I can‘t win with what I‘ve got. What the hell am I to do?‘ After three months of intense soul-searching Obama came back to the NixonKissinger template: Vietnamisation and pacification, involving of course Westmoreland‘s one more push towards the light at the end of the tunnel, to be followed by immense and increased civilian and military aid. I think all of these are echoed in today‘s Afghanisation of the fighting and security and the military and civilian support programmes; the Petraeus surge; and sporadic attempts to open negotiation while hoping to evade the real issue and the real players. As with LBJ, this is the result of growing war weariness; the realisation of the truth of Kissinger‘s dictum that conventional armies lose if they do not win; and the consequent shift from pursuit of victory on the battlefield to the search for a way out. There are obvious conclusions: avoid war. Morals and cost aside, victory is usually pyrrhic, and wars like Vietnam and Afghanistan too often turn out to be mere — but tragic for millions—sideshows in the long-term development of their regions. It follows that in today‘s competition for resources, markets and influence, in which we are all engaged, foreign policy should aim to make friends rather than establish dominance of ideology, mismatch to local culture or to acquire resource by force of one sort or another. Better to respect local nationalism; better to respect the logic of smaller nations‘ perceptions of their own vital interests—something that really has not been done in the case of Pakistan vis-à-vis the Afghan Taliban. Attempts to re-make smaller nations in one‘s own image politically, socially or economically, whether out of visionary idealism or the pursuit of one‘s own interests, are usually self -defeating. In Vietnam the French and the Americans, and in Afghanistan the British and Russians, have all lost out by ignoring that over almost 200 years. Tactically, it seems to me that Afghanistan, like Vietnam, shows that pitting conventional forces against ideologically-driven nationalist insurgencies using guerrilla methods is hazardous, unless those forces are prepared to undertake a permanent occupation or negotiation with hard-line opponents. Installing puppets is no substitute. Caught between their people and their masters, puppets rarely deliver what is expected of them. In Afghanistan the coalition is hardly winning. Yet, unless Obama is serious about negotiating with the Taliban leadership, his pact with Karzai to maintain a significant military presence after 2014 surely risks only perpetuating the insurgency. 9 May 2012 32 Negotiating While Fighting: Peace Initiatives, British Policy and the Vietnam War FCO I think that behind the current way of conducting our foreign affairs lies what Eisenhower warned against: the malign influence of an over-powerful industrial/military complex in a democracy. Obama‘s negotiations with Petraeus, as recounted by Bob Woodward, over the size of the surge was a rerun of LBJ‘s experience of the military trying to get another 206,000, or whatever it was. I think the churning dynamo of Pentagon expenditure, combined with the need to justify losses by appealing to patriotism, is now tempting Obama to base much of his re-election campaign on his links with military prowess. While the Chinese seem, internationally at least —not internally—to recognise the superior rewards of soft power, the Americans look like sticking with their comfort zone: military force. Hence, their introduction of B52 and grunts into Australia, virtually China‘s back yard, and the claim, not only by George W. Bush‘s maverick at the UN, John Bolton , but also by a senior serving American general, that the military conquest of outer space may not be America‘s right but is certainly her destiny. Perhaps drawing from the history of Vietnam, the best lesson for us is still the need to temper the hegemonistic tendencies of our most powerful ally. I think the best advice to our leaders may be: beware of presidents; they flatter in their interests, not yours. Alex Ellis Thank you for taking us to the moon. I had not been ready for that. I now turn to Sir Robert. Sir Robert Wade-Gery First Secretary and Head of Chancery in Saigon (1967–1968) I. Introduction I think you have got the wrong man in my case. I was in Saigon for only a few months. I got there in 1967 and left in 1968, so all the excitement you have been talking about —Marigold and Sunflower—were over by then. Insofar as I was aware of them in my previous incarnation in the Planning staff, not much has remained in my memory. I think the best I can do is give you a few aperçus on what life seemed like during my rather brief time in Vietnam in 1967 and 1968. II. Tet Offensive The central event of those months was the Tet offensive, which came about half-way through my time. The change that took place in the attitudes of the local Americans was quite remarkable. As somebody who knew very little about South East Asia, I spent most of my time in Vietnam talking to the Americans rather than the Vietnamese. I knew a number of the Americans involved quite well. It was very striking that until the Tet offensive, sometimes grudgingly and sometimes enthusiastically, they thought they were winning. After the Tet offensive they were clear that they were not. One saw the American agencies one by one after the Tet offensive changing sides. Characteristically, the CIA changed first. They were always better informed than anybody else. Almost within days of the end of the Tet offensive the local CIA staff were quite clear that the war was unwinnable and they had to get out with the minimum loss of face. That was a very big and important change. 9 May 2012 33 Negotiating While Fighting: Peace Initiatives, British Policy and the Vietnam War FCO III. Lyndon Johnson An illustration of how far that had gone is the moment in 1968 when Johnson decided he was not going to stand again. Effectively, that was Johnson giving up. The day he made that announcement I was having lunch in the American Embassy. I was told, ‗The president will be speaking at quarter to one our time, so I suppose we‘d better listen to the old boy.‘ They put him on the radio. He started talking about peace and everything he had done, and that it was none of his fault. After about a quarter of an hour of this my American host said, ‗We‘ve hear d all this crap before. Turn him off.‘ They turned him off, but right at the end of his speech he announced that he would not stand again. A white-faced aide appeared in the dining room to say, ‗Have you heard what the old boy said at the end of his speech?‘ It was striking that it was only then people realised that the feeling you could not win had got as far as the president. Once it had got there, that was that. IV. Comparison with Malaysia I make one last point before I shut up, but I hasten to say I am happy to answer any questions I can. When I was there the Americans used to spend quite a lot of time asking us about our Malayan experience and how we had managed to do in Malaysia what they were failing to do in Vietnam, i.e. put down an insurgency. The big point they always came up against was that we were the sovereign power in Malaysia and they were not. They were very anxious to preserve that difference. I used to spend quite a lot of my time going round talking to the very brave Americans who were not in Saigon but out in the small outposts. We had an Embassy aeroplane and I could get there quite easily, spend the night and have dinner. One heard the Vietcong going round outside, and occasionally there was an incoming round, but it was reasonably peaceful. One of my close American friends, who was very able and well informed, said, ‗The tragedy of the situation is that here am I as the senior American running a great chunk of the American involvement in Vietnam. Every day I get up in the morning and I say, ‗I swear to God that I will not take over more of the administration of this province from the Vietnamese in the course of today‘, and by the time I go to bed I‘ve done it; I just get sucked in further and further. One can‘t sit there watchi ng them doing it wrong and do nothing.‘ You get sucked in and end up seizing the sovereignty you do not have, thereby undermining, even in your own eyes let alone anybody else‘s, your moral position. Alex Ellis Thank you very much, Sir Robert. John Young Professor of International History, University of Nottingham I. Preamble Maybe on behalf of historians who are present I will thank the Foreign Office for starting what I suppose will become a series entitled ‗Learning from History‘. It is good to know that perhaps we can add some value to you and you to us. 9 May 2012 34 Negotiating While Fighting: Peace Initiatives, British Policy and the Vietnam War FCO II. 1. UK Involvement in Vietnam British Activity in East Asia I thought that in summing up I would address the question of how the UK avoided being dragged into Vietnam, because it has obvious parallels to the debate around involvement in Iraq in 2003 and also Afghanistan. It is interesting that it went the other way: Britain did not get involved in the way it has become involved in Iraq and Afghanistan. There was certainly plenty of pressure for involvement in the mid-1960s. The United States was Britain‘s key ally; there was very close co-operation with them on most diplomatic questions, as well as in the intelligence field and defence field. It was in the depths of the Cold War, so they were united behind anti-communism. There were precedents for them acting together, not least in the Korean War which was also in East Asia and was only a decade before. The Korean War ended in 1953. There was plenty of pressure applied by Lyndon Johnson on Harold Wilson as part of the ‗more flags‘ campaign to get American allies to involve themselves on the ground. The UK at that time was a player in East Asia. It still had bases east of Suez; it was still in Singapore; it had its colony in Hong Kong, so it had a stake in the area. Matthew Jones and I co-operated a couple of years ago in writing an article on Harold Wilson‘s scheme for sending Polaris submarines to the Indian Ocean as a way of keeping Britain as a key player in the world. They would act as part of an anti-Chinese strategy. It was a very interesting scheme which came to nothing. Britain was also part of the South East Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO) at that time, so arguably there were certain treaty obligations. And, at that time the UK was probably more in need of US support than at other times because of the position of the pound and the desire not to devalue it, and the need for American support on international money markets. So there were all sorts of reasons why one might have wanted to become involved in Vietnam, especially if Lyndon Johnson had been satisfied with a platoon of bag pipers. After all, it need not have cost very much, so simply sending the flag and a platoon of bag pipers is not a great economic cost. 2. How the UK Avoided Getting Involved How did Britain avoid getting involved? Sylvia Ellis suggested some reasons earlier. Ben Pimlott, who wrote a very good biography of Harold Wilson, said that Wilson himself was probably the least likely post-war British prime minister to get involved in a war. His heart was not involved in that kind of thing, and maybe he started off with a general disposition against war. It is interesting that he came into office in October 1964, just a matter of four months or so before the Rolling Thunder bombing campaign took off, so it fell into Wilson‘s premiership. He was leading a Labour government where leftist opposition to the war developed very quickly once it began. In the parliamentary Labour Party, at the annual conferences and even within the Cabinet, people like Barbara Castle and Richard Crossman were critics of the Vietnam War. There is an issue here about whether it was due to specific factors in the period 1964 to 1966. Labour had just come into office. There were other specific problems Wilson had to deal with. The 1964 election victory had been very close—I think it was a matter of five seats or so—and it rapidly went down to three. He then lost those before the 1966 election, so he was in a very vulnerable position in Parliament if he was to take the risk of starting a war. I do not think we have mentioned in this particular context the confrontation with Indonesia. At the time Britain was fighting a war in East Asia, in Borneo, against Sukarno‘s Indonesia because of Indonesia‘s opposition to the creation of a Malayan federation and claims to northern Borneo. So you had British troops engaged in a war in East Asia. There was an argument that one need not get involved. 9 May 2012 35 Negotiating While Fighting: Peace Initiatives, British Policy and the Vietnam War FCO Wilson used one other more general arguments, namely that Britain in the person of Anthony Eden had been co-chair of the Geneva conference back in 1954. The assumption was that if one was to bring peace in Vietnam one would have a recall of the Geneva conference and Britain would have to act as co-chair along with the Soviets. Wilson was able to argue with Johnson that Britain‘s position would be compromised if it had troops fighting on the ground. Wilson did not send troops but did other things to try to please the Americans. He gave them verbal support. There was military training for US troops in jungle warfare in Malaysia, a school there. I believe intelligence information was provided to them and certain arms as well. It was enough to keep the Americans happy but not to send troops there. I suppose Wilson‘s position eased by the middle of 1966 for two reasons. One is that in the March 1966 election he got a much bigger majority; it was about 100 seats. The other is that the confrontation with Indonesia had ended, but by the middle of 1966, which was the period when Dick was in the South East Asia department, the war by then was already a quagmire, and, given the antiwar demonstrations that had already broken out in Britain, no British Government was going to get involved in Vietnam by the time you got to 1966. The reason I suggest Britain managed to avoid war is to do with specific historical circumstances in the key period 1964 to 1966 as the Americans were getting involved in the war. Sir Robert Wade-Gery One important factor at that point was the extent to which British public opinion simply did not think the Americans could win. Alex Ellis That is fascinating and it provokes many questions in my brain, but I am the chair so I had better find somebody else to ask the questions for me. Questions and Answers John Thompson I put a counter-factual related to Britain and the Vietnam War, on which maybe we should not be focusing. Both Sylvia and John have emphasised Wilson‘s personality and Labour Party opinion. Would you speculate about whether if it had been a Conservative government it would have made a big difference? Alex Ellis Perhaps we may pick up one or two other questions. I am also very interested in that, too. I was going to ask questions about opposition politics in the UK at the time. Sir Brian Crowe I want to comment on Robert‘s remark about the Americans asking for our experience in Malaysia. A crucial reason why Malaysia and Vietnam were not at all similar was that there was no common frontier and therefore no external supplies to the communist terrorists in Malaysia. When I did my 9 May 2012 36 Negotiating While Fighting: Peace Initiatives, British Policy and the Vietnam War FCO national service it was in Malaya - we were fighting with all the modern weapons that the British Army then had. We even had new semi-automatic FN rifles. By the end the rifles used by the communist terrorists were more of a danger to them than to us, because if they fired them they would blow up in their faces. There was no resupply, and that made a huge difference. Another difference was that the communist terrorists were Chinese, a minority in the population, and therefore the nationalism that existed in Vietnam did not exist in Malaya. Tim Dowse As part of the ‗more flags‘ campaign, some Commonwealth countries did participate: Australia and New Zealand. I wondered whether that was a factor at all in the UK‘s calculations. Were the Australians and New Zealanders trying to persuade Britain to come on board, and did that have any effect? John Young Let me respond to all three questions. As to the question about the Conservatives, because in about 1964 and 1965 they had a problem, in that Douglas-Home was still leader. In that period Conservatives probably would not have been confident about getting involved in Vietnam either. It is interesting to speculate about what would have happened if Heath had already been leader in about 1965 and the Conservatives were in office. Heath was a very strong supporter of the Americans in Vietnam. In his memoirs there is an extraordinary sentence. Bearing in mind this was written in the 1990s, he said something like, ‗I had no doubt the Americans would win the Vietnam W ar.‘ What would have happened if Heath had been in power is an interesting question. On the Malayan emergency, that lasted for 12 years from 1948 until 1960 despite all the advantages the British had: no resupply over a common border. The border of South Vietnam was enormously long and it was impossible to stop it being penetrated by the communists. As to the involvement of the Australians and New Zealanders, one managerial problem facing Wilson was to do with the Commonwealth. On the one hand, Australia and New Zealand were involved in the war and expected British support, and he needed their support over the confrontation with Indonesia. On the other hand, people like Kwame Nkrumah, Jomo Kenyatta and various others were bitter critics of the Americans. I think that was another reason why Wilson took the middle course of, on the one hand, not getting involved in the war directly but, on the other hand, being sympathetic to the war when it came to public statements. He was prepared to stand up in Parliament and support the war in Vietnam. It was another managerial problem for him. Richard Fyjis-Walker There was also a SEATO problem which fits in with that. The Americans hoped to use our commitment to SEATO to get us into the Vietnam War. Of course, that was where the Australians and New Zealanders were particularly involved, and it was just another strand of the pressures. Sir John Margetson I thought I was here under false pretences because I never had any dealings with Vietnam until 1968, when I succeeded Robert as Head of Chancery in Saigon. We were going to discuss peace initiatives in the earlier years, but the discussion has broadened now so I thought I might make one or two remarks. 9 May 2012 37 Negotiating While Fighting: Peace Initiatives, British Policy and the Vietnam War FCO As to the earlier session, I entirely agree with those who said they thought the title of the book was a little misleading. When all is said and done, if they had succeeded in having these talks would they really have created peace in Vietnam? With the advantage of hindsight, we can say it would not have succeeded. That brings me to a rather important point about which I felt strongly when I was in Saigon. People certainly in the Embassy underestimated the sheer determination of the North Vietnamese under Ho Chi Minh to unify their country with a communist government. It is an extraordinary story. Their implacable courage and determination just went on and on. If they sat round the table and talked peace, okay; I dare say it was useful, but it did not in any way remove anything from their determination to achieve, by hook or by crook, however long it took, the unification of Vietnam. I do not know whether anyone here one has had the unfortunate experience I have had of reading the collected works of Ho Chi Minh, Pham Van Dong, Le Duan and the fourth one, whose name I cannot remember, but it does not matter. When I was in Hanoi from 1978 to 1980 sometimes reading these incredibly dull things was a way one passed the evenings. However, in reading those dull things you got an impression of the crusading spirit that they would win, whatever. We underestimated this terribly. Robert said that in Saigon after the Tet offensive the Americans got rather pessimistic. By the time I got there and was feeling my way around they had regained their nerve. Our ambassador, who was the splendid Murray MacLehose, was deeply influenced, wrongly I thought, by that formidable American ambassador Ellsworth Bunker in creating a feeling in the Embassy that you could be ‗cautiously optimistic‘. Those were his words and the words carried on by his successor. Not so much in the Foreign Office, but certainly in the field, there was cautious optimism that it would all go well for the Americans. It was absolute nonsense. On the other side, there was a total misjudgement of the ability of the South Vietnamese as a military force. They were constantly overestimated by our military. We were overflowing with colonels in the Embassy who were there to observe this war. I just thought they were taken for a ride by the Americans who thought their training was very successful. The Americans tried incredibly hard and supplied every bit of equipment anyone would ever want, but they misled themselves and their friends about the state of the ARVN, the South Vietnamese Army, who reflected, apart from anything else, an immense amount of corruption in South Vietnam. If you wanted to command a brigade in the ARVN it did not matter whether as an army officer you were good or bad; what mattered was who your friend was and whether he knew President Thieu. We now know that President Thieu and Vice President Ky were both as corrupt as you could possibly be. They were getting enormous incomes from drugs. I am afraid that in our general effort to estimate where the Vietnam War was going this helped to mislead us very seriously. Derek Tonkin That has all the shades of Afghanistan, but the question I want to ask is: why did you underestimate the North Vietnamese? Dien Bien Phu should, surely, have demonstrated their will and capability. Sir John Margetson I think I must answer that one subjectively. I did not underestimate them. I made myself very unpopular in the Embassy as a result. Someone was good enough to say after it was all over —I was long since away from Vietnam— ―John was right.‖ I did not underestimate them, but I think it was due to the influence of the Americans, in particular Ellsworth Bunker who was extraordinarily persuasive, as were a lot of other high-powered Americans who were there. They had an 9 May 2012 38 Negotiating While Fighting: Peace Initiatives, British Policy and the Vietnam War FCO incredibly powerful lot there. The Embassy had four people of ambassadorial rank at the top. They were quite a force. Sir Brian Crowe They have five ambassadors in Kabul. Sir John Margetson They need them all. As to jungle warfare and Malaysia, what we promised to do was help them in any way short of military intervention. We went quite far. There was always one British military VIP allowed to come every year to have a jolly good look at how things were going. Of course, he was totally misled by the Americans to whom he talked. He did not talk to the Vietnamese at all. What the Americans wanted from Wilson came down to one thing: the Black Watch. It was thought they would put the fear of God into the Vietcong. I think Dean Rusk asked specifically for the Black Watch. Alex Ellis I will come back to ‗cautious optimism‘. You hear those words in so many posts around the world. James Hershberg To follow up on John‘s point, having been in Hanoi with Robert McNamara in the late 1990s, he still had not got over his underestimation of what you call the sheer determination of the North Vietnamese. McNamara at some point made himself very awkwardly unpopular by endlessly, as was his wont, reciting the statistics of how many North Vietnamese had been killed and yet they continued. He just could not believe their determination. You mentioned Dien Bien Phu as a reason for not underestimating them. To the Americans, it was, ‗Well, they were the French‘. To the Americans the logical analogy was with Korea, and if you inflicted enough punishment sooner or later they would just give in. They could not believe they had been wrong. That is why you have the famous body counts: if they reach a high enough point they will reach their breaking point. Let me ask a question for the two of you who were in Saigon even a year or two after Marigold and Sunflower. I am just curious as to whether you have any particular memories of the International Control Commission, which after all was the product of a glittering achievement of British foreign policy, or whether they were completely outside your consciousness as a historical artefact. Alex Ellis Before you answer, let me ask the gentleman who wanted to speak earlier. Derek Tonkin I am Derek Tonkin. With a name like Tonkin, it was inevitable that I should be involved with Vietnam. I followed John Margetson as ambassador from 1980 to 1982. One country that has not been mentioned at all but which is very important is the former colonial power, France. During my time in Phnom Penh in the early 1960s the French convinced me within half an hour that the 9 May 2012 39 Negotiating While Fighting: Peace Initiatives, British Policy and the Vietnam War FCO Americans could not possibly win. Why? It had taken them from 1890 to 1954 to work this out. How long would it take the Americans? The answer was that it took them until about 1973, which was pretty good going because it could have gone on and on. I was always in the right places at the right time, but knew nothing about what was going on, mainly in the South East Asia Department from 1962 to 1966 and then in Warsaw with Tom Brimelow as political Head of Chancery but below the level at which great things were happening in the stratosphere. During my time in Hanoi the Foreign Minister, Nguyen Co Thach, tried to explain to me why the union flag was listed among those western countries which had supported the puppet regime. When I said, ‗I thought it should be taken out.‘ He said, ‗Ah! You will surely be aware that there were special British forces fighting with the Americans ‗on a volunteer basis‘, and you had dog handling teams in Saigon and that is why the flag is there.‘ A week later he had removed it. I am eternally grateful to the Vietnamese for this. That is my contribution. Sir John Margetson Perhaps I may answer the question about the ICC. When I was in Saigon no one took any notice of the ICC at all. I just had a tremendous argument once with a Canadian, but that is neither here nor there. What is important is that their plane came down regularly once a month. It was a dreadful plane; it was a Lockheed. You said it was a DC3. James Hershberg They called it that earlier in the 1960s. Sir John Margetson It was a very old plane, and I was rather frightened that it would fall to pieces. James Hershberg So were they! Sir John Margetson We had a Consul General in Hanoi. He relied on me to fill the ICC plane with butter, sausages, which I particularly remember, and every sort of goody you could imagine to keep the Consul General alive. That was the main purpose of the ICC from the British Embassy‘s point of view. It had no money. They would come to me and say, ‗We want to put some more petrol in this plane. Would you please supply some?‘ We had a vote on which I used to draw to fill this ICC plane with petrol. It kept it in the air, but that was all I saw of the ICC in the two years I was there. Sir Robert Wade-Gery I wanted to come back to an earlier point about the difference in morale between the North and South Vietnamese. When I was there it was very obvious to everybody, even the most bullish Americans that the South Vietnamese, as then constituted, were hopeless and ran like hares whenever there was a fight, unless they had been stiffened by American troops. Indeed, what sucked the Americans further in was the need to stiffen them all the time. By contrast, one could 9 May 2012 40 Negotiating While Fighting: Peace Initiatives, British Policy and the Vietnam War FCO only enormously admire the courage of the North Vietnamese who had every conceivable logistic disadvantage and kept coming. They were very brave, and everybody recognised that. If that slipped it was definitely later because in my time nobody had any doubt at all. In some ways it was rather like the problem of Afghanistan now. We all know that the Afghan police are hopeless, and handing it over to them seems a terrible idea. They are saying to us all the time, ‗What shall we do to strengthen the Afghan police so they can take over?‘ That was roughly what the Americans were saying in South Vietnam: ‗How on earth can we put some fire into these people‘s bellies?‘ It never seemed to produce an answer, but that was what they were worried about all the time, and quite rightly. Alex Ellis We have time for a last round of questions, and then I will turn to the panel for a word from each at the end. Matthew Jones I want to make a comment about the importance of Konfrontasi in British policy. It is important not to underrate this. Eighty thousand British troops were deployed in South East Asia, 20,000 in Borneo, and 200 aircraft and 60 ships. This was a major commitment. It was only with the end of Konfrontasi in 1966 that the British Government could then begin to look towards savings in defence spending. The whole trajectory of British defence policy was withdrawal from South East Asia and the Far East at that time rather than further commitment. Therefore, Konfrontasi really let the British Government take some decisions it really wanted to take about reducing its defence expenditure in the Far East. Dean Rusk even joked in the summer of 1966 that he was interested perhaps in encouraging the Indonesians to keep on with Konfrontasi because it would be a way of holding the British in South East Asia rather than letting them go. James Hershberg I have one question for Sylvia. She mentioned the failed British initiative to reconvene Geneva in early 1965 and described how the Soviets would not go along with that, as indeed they did not. There is some evidence that the Soviets were not completely averse to the idea, but that really it was the Chinese who blocked them. To be subversive, interestingly, the Chinese Foreign Ministry archives have opened through 1965. It may be possible to pin that down, because initial soundings in Moscow—I got this from the Pubic Record Office PRO 15 years ago so I know they are open—were not entirely negative. After some further checking they came back and rebuffed that. That might have been a case where the Chinese put their foot down in favour of armed struggle, especially at that moment. Tim Dowse Thank you for letting me have a second bite. We have heard a lot about how UK officials did not think the Americans could win, even though a lot of Americans thought that, and it was an unwinnable war. At the same time, did UK analysts subscribe to the domino theory? Did we think that if this was an unwinnable war South East Asia as a whole would be at risk? As a comment, looking from today‘s perspective, where unified Vietnam is now regarded as probably one of the more corrupt countries of the world, one begins to wonder who in the end took over whom. When we have the Vietnamese inviting the US Navy to return to Cam Ranh Bay, I just wonder whether at this distance the Vietnam conflict, in the greater sweep of history, is perhaps not as significant as all the words that have been written about it would suggest. 9 May 2012 41 Negotiating While Fighting: Peace Initiatives, British Policy and the Vietnam War FCO Sylvia Ellis I think the British were less convinced on the domino theory. When I looked at the Foreign Office records I found broad agreement that this would be a disaster for America. How could Britain as a loyal ally best try to steer the Americans? There were some very interesting proposals. One particularly interesting suggestion—this went around the Foreign Office and was seriously considered, until Michael Stewart said no quite bluntly—was that the Americans and British should find a Pacific island somewhere where they could relocate the South Vietnamese. This was seriously considered. Clearly, they were desperate for ideas to take to Washington. We should not underestimate that Wilson behind the scenes did push the Americans quite a lot, and Michael Stewart criticised the Americans quite heavily over the use of gas in March 1965. I think that, broadly, British Foreign Office got it right. Alex Ellis Are there any final words from the panel? Richard Fyjis-Walker I would make only two comments. One is about the extraordinary depth of the parallels with Afghanistan today which go on reverberating almost daily. The only other point is how easily selfdeluded diplomats abroad can be. John Colvin, whom I quoted, was convinced in 1966 and 1967 that the North Vietnamese were cracking. He cited things like juvenile malnutrition as proof that the North Vietnamese could not stand this and would crack. It is a kind of self-delusion based on preconceived ideas of what you would like to see in your evidence and intelligence. It is an interesting and horrific thought. John Young Let me go back to something that Dick hinted at earlier. If you want a lesson from history, a good rule is: try to stay out of wars whenever you can. They are not sensible things to get into and they become terribly unpredictable. Who would have thought that a superpower would effectively be defeated by an underdeveloped state in the 1960s? James Hershberg I think you are using a polite term; Johnson would have used other language. John Young Perhaps he would; he used quite flowery language on certain occasions. Closing Remarks Alex Ellis I did ask a question a few months ago and now I have heard some answers to it. It is fascinating to me. Cautious optimism is the curse of most people at post. Supporting the great power of the time who is an ally is easier than standing up and saying, ‗Actually, I don‘t think this is going to work.‘ You can do that, but you take a higher risk. That is a slightly depressing observation. 9 May 2012 42 Negotiating While Fighting: Peace Initiatives, British Policy and the Vietnam War FCO All I know about this is from being ambassador to Portugal during the commemorations of the Peninsular W ar. Wellington‘s approach was, ‗First, work with the side which is defending its own territory because, my goodness me, they will go to extremes that are unimaginable to those attacking that territory; second, if you are going to run the war, you had better run the country‘, which was what he was able to do at the same time, ‗but be very wary of going into anyone else‘s territory.‘ He went in and out of Spain three times until he was sure he could secure the advantage there. Something big beneath all this is economics. The state of British budget finances and the pound is a fascinating subject. It is one of the things that has gone from the UK-US relationship. It was obviously present among those people making policy through the 1950s and 1960s. That is very interesting to me. It is good to be reminded of the degree of British commitment elsewhere in the region at the time. I was at a debate last week with American policymakers about what the UK has to offer in terms of security in Asia. The answer 50 years ago would be a very different from the answer now in terms of the interests there. I went to Vietnam for the first time a few weeks ago. It is the most pragmatic nation I have ever visited. I could talk to the Vietnamese about almost anything. They would nod very politely but their real interest was their relationship with their large neighbour, China. I am extremely cheered by Dick Fyjis-Walker‘s description of having a whole Third Secretary answering letters from members of the public. Dick, there are a couple of jobs vacant in the Middle East Department answering a great many letters. If you think you were in a frenetic peasouper in 1966, I would welcome you back with open arms to the Near East and North Africa department at present trying to formulate policy in the current circumstances. Sometimes it still remains a pea-souper. I finish by thanking our speakers in this session, which has been absolutely fascinating to me, and the historians for organising this, and long may it continue. I shall keep asking those questions. http://www.ubiqus.co.uk / firstname.lastname@example.org Edited by Aurelie Basha (LSE IDEAS), Tara Finn and Isabelle Tombs (FCO Historians) 9 May 2012 43