United States – Vietnam Relations, 1945–1967: A Study Prepared by the Department of Defense/IV. A. 1. U.S. MAP for Diem: The Eisenhower Commitments, 1954–1960

United States – Vietnam Relations, 1945–1967: A Study Prepared by the Department of Defense  (1967) 
the Pentagon
IV. A. 1. U.S. MAP for Diem: The Eisenhower Commitments, 1954–1960

IV. A. 1.



Because the SEATO Treaty has been used by the Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson Administrations to justify U.S. policy, aid, and presence in Vietnam, and because many have questioned this justification, the treaty has become a center of controversy. The issue is whether by intent of the parties and by treaty terminology the U.S. was obligated to use force to help defend the territorial independence and integrity of South Vietnam. No one seriously challenges U.S. military and economic aid provisions under the SEATO Treaty; the thrust of the criticism is the use of U.S. ground combat forces.

There are plentiful statements over time by the U.S. Government on the importance of SEATO.

President Eisenhower stated: "We gave military and economic assistance to the Republic of Vietnam. We entered into a treaty — the Southeast Asia Security Treaty — which plainly warned that an armed attack against this area would endanger our own peace and safety and that we would act accordingly."

President Kennedy stated: "...The SEATO Pact...approved by the Senate with only, I think, two against it, under Article 4, stated that the United States recognized that aggression by means of armed attack against Vietnam would threaten our own peace and security. So since that time the United States has been assisting the government of Vietnam to maintain its independence...The attack on the government by communist forces, with assistance from the north, became of greater and greater concern to the Government of Vietnam and the Government of the United States."

Secretary Rusk, speaking for the Johnson Administration, made the strongest statement of all: "We have sent American forces to fight in the jungles...because South Viet-Nam has, under the language of the SEATO Treaty, been the victim of 'aggression by means of armed attack.' Those who challenge this rationale contend that unlike the NATO Treaty which specifically included the 'use of armed force' and unambiguously intended such action, the SEATO Treaty was not meant by its U.S. framers as an umbrella for American military intervention."

This is the kind of issue that can readily be argued either way. It is obvious the language of the SEATO Treaty allows the signatories the choice of military means. And, a respectable argument can be made for the further step of obligation. For example, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Report on the treaty in 1954 stated:

"The committee is not impervious to the risks which this treaty entails. It fully appreciates that acceptance of these additional obligations commits the United States to a cause of action over a vast expanse of the Pacific. Yet these risks are consistent with our own highest interests. There are greater hazards in not advising a potential enemy of what he can expect of us, and in failing to disabuse him of assumptions which might lead to a miscalculation of our intentions."

To the contrary, a statement before the Foreign Relations Committee by Secretary Dulles himself can be cited to demonstrate more modest, less obligatory designs:

"I might say in this connection, departing somewhat from order of my presentation, that it is not the policy of the United States to attempt to deter attack in this area by building up a local force capable itself of defense against an all-out attack by the Chinese Communists if it should occur. We do not expect to duplicate in this area the pattern of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and its significant standing forces. That would require a diversion and commitment of strength which we do not think is either practical or desirable or necessary from the standpoint of the United States.
"We believe that our posture in that area should be one of having mobile striking power, and the ability to use that against the sources of aggression if it occurs. We believe that is more effective than if we tried to pin down American forces at the many points around the circumference of the Communist world in that area.
"It may very well be that other countries of the area will want to dedicate particular forces for the protection of the area under this treaty. But we made clear at Manila that it was not the intention of the United States to build up a large local force including, for example, United States ground troops for that area, but that we rely upon the deterrent power of our mobile striking force."

By looking into the words of the treaty in the light of its origins and the interests of the U.S. as perceived in 1954, and by comparing these with NATO language, origins, and development, it is possible to make a tentative judgment on the issue of obligation. Whereas it is clear that NATO was intended for deterrence against aggression and defense with U.S. forces should deterrence fail, SEATO seems to have been designed with a view only toward deterrence. Defense, especially with U.S. ground forces, was not seriously contemplated.

There are three pieces of evidence in support of this contentious conclusion: (1) the stringent preconditions which the U.S. delegation to the Manila Conference to establish SEATO were instructed to insist upon; (2) the lack of institutional and force structure development in SEATO as compared to NATO; and (3) the fact that SEATO and NATO treaty terminology differ in respect to the use of force and other matters.

Unlike the guidance under which U.S. negotiators helped to frame NATO, U.S. representatives to the conference establishing SEATO were given four uncompromisable pre-conditions:

(a) The U.S. would refuse to commit any U.S. forces unilaterally;

(b) Were military action to be required, one or more of the European signatories would have to participate;

(c) The U.S. intended to contribute only sea and air power, expecting that other signatories would provide ground forces;

(d) The U.S. would act only against communist aggression.

These instructions not only clearly exempt the use of U.S. ground forces, but presuppose multilateral action before the U.S. would act in any capacity.

With respect to the comparative development of SEATO and NATO, U.S. behavior also indicates great restraint and avoidance of commitment. NATO was formed in 1949, and within two years it was well institutionalized — combined command forces in-being and a Standing Group for policy guidance. The U.S. consistently resisted the efforts of its SEATO partners for comparable institutions. Secretary Dulles, in fact, sought to discourage public identification of SEATO with NATO. Only in 1959, did the U.S. accede to the formation of a modest SEATO secretariat. Moreover, SEATO had to wait until 1960 before the U.S. would participate in the development of a series of SEATO contingency plans. Most important, no U.S. troops have ever been designated specifically for SEATO.

Comparing the specific terminology of the operative sections of the SEATO and NATO treaties gives additional credence to the non-obligation argument. The key articles of both treaties are those calling for action against an enemy threat. Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty declares that the member nations "agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all," and that in that event each will take "forthwith...such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force...." The correlative phraseology in the Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty Article IV declares that "each Party recognizes that aggression by means of armed attack against any of the Parties, or against any state or territory which the Parties by unanimous agreement may hereafter designate, would endanger its own peace and safety, and agrees that it will in that event act to meet the common danger in accordance with its constitutional process." The SEATO wording is thus intentionally ambiguous on the point of just what response would be made by the members in the event of an armed attack. Such an attack against one of the SEATO members would be viewed as a "common danger" rather than as an "attack on all." Where NATO prescribes action "forthwith," SEATO requires only that the "common danger" be "met" in accordance with "constitutional processes." SEATO also forecloses action on the treaty of any threatened state without the consent of that state — a qualification designed to reassure members that their independence was not threatened by neocolonialism or other domination in a SEATO guise.

In some respects, however, the SEATO Pact is broader than its NATO counterparts. The nature of the threat is loosely defined in Article IV as "any fact or situation that might endanger the peace of the area" and provision is made to protect threatened member countries of the region. The area of applicability is left flexible. Moreover, Article II of the SEATO Treaty applies the pact against not only "armed attack" but also "subversive activities directed from without against [members] territorial integrity and political stability." Also, unlike the North Atlantic Treaty, there is no clause in the SEATO Treaty implying a dependence on United Nations intervention to restore peace once the treaty were invoked.


Paragraph Page
1. Genesis A-5
a. Truman Doctrine, 1947 A-5
b. Marshall Plan, 1947 A-6
c. ERP and NATO, 1948–1949 A-7
d. The China Aid Program A-8
e. MDAP, 1949 A-8
f. Precursor Pacts in Asia A-9
g. Indochina and United Action, 1954 A-10
h. Manila Conference, 1954 A-13
(1) Force Commitment
(2) Anti-Communism
2. The Treaties Compared A-15
a. Introductory Articles Alike A-16
b. The Key Articles A-16
c. Extent of Treaty Areas A-19
d. UN and Other Pacts A-19
e. Treaty Institutions A-19
f. Treaty Longevity A-20
g. The Appended U.S. "Understanding" A-20
h. The Vietnam–Laos–Cambodia Protocol A-21

3. Evolution of the Treaty Organization A-23
a. NATO Develops Rapidly A-23
b. SEATO Unstructured by U.S. Preference A-23
c. SEATO Contingency Planning A-27
(1) Laos Planning
(2) Vietnam Planning
(3) Thailand Planning
(4) The Future
Footnotes A-32
Appendix A – A Comparison of the Wording of the NATO and SEATO Treaties A-37
Appendix B – Organizational Charts A-46
IV. A. 1. NATO and SEATO: A Comparison
1. Genesis
a. Truman Doctrine, 1947

In 1946, Winston Churchill perceived a postwar threat in a wartime ally:

"Nobody knows what Soviet Russia and its communist international organization intends to do...what are the limits, if any, to their expansive and proselytizing tactics...From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent..."1

And he also depicted a counter:

"Neither the sure prevention of war, nor the continuous rise of world, organization will be gained, without... a special relationship between the British Commonwealth and Empire and the United States..."

These insights were reinforced in early 1947 by influential analyses of George Kennan and others of Soviet motives and capabilities, which pointed out that occasional and sporadic efforts to foil Soviet policy were severely disadvantaged. These analysts held that the West should seek to oppose Soviet expansionism by what the Foreign Affairs "X" article of January, 1947, called "the adroit and vigilant application of counter-force."2 Such a strategy, it was held, would force the Soviet to reassess and adjust its policies, and the U.S. could expect eventually the "break-up or the gradual mellowing of Soviet power." Out of these, and similar appreciations of Soviet intent emerged the concept of a U.S. strategy of involvement.

Theory was swiftly abetted by event. The British notified the U.S. that it would be unable to extend its economic and military aid to Greece and Turkey beyond March, 1947. The U.S., rather than accept the distinct possibility of a Soviet intrusion following British withdrawal, chose to take up the burden the British were laying down in the eastern Mediterranean. Congress authorized in May, 1947, some $400 million for direct aid to those countries, acting upon the recommendation of President Truman in the March, 1947, message known since as the "Truman Doctrine":

"I believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures. I believe we must assist free peoples to work out their own destinies in their own way..."3

The President went on to underscore the U.S. determination to commit its resources to contain communism, clearly subordinating military aid to economic and political means. Finally:

"To insure the peaceful development of nations, free from coercion, the United States has taken a leading part in establishing the United Nations. The United Nations is designed to make possible freedom and independence for all its members. We shall not realize our objectives, however, unless we are willing to help free peoples to maintain their free institution and their national integrity against aggressive movements that seek to impose upon them totalitarian regimes."
b. Marshall Plan, 1947

The U.S. Secretary of State on June 5, 1947, proposed the cooperative international economic aid subsequently entitled the European Recovery Program (ERP), but known widely as the Marshall Plan. ERP was at first explicitly designed to permit and even attract Soviet cooperation:

"Our policy is directed, not against any country or doctrine but against hunger, poverty, desparation and chaos. Its purpose should be the revival of a working economy in the world so as to permit the emergence of political and social conditions in which free institutions can exist."4

But the Soviet rebuffed the Marshall Plan, turned Bloc propaganda against it as an adjunct of the Truman Doctrine, and by so doing, bifurcated Europe. Moreover, among three top-level U.S. committees examining ways of bringing U.S. resources to bear on European recovery, the Committee on Foreign Aid (Harriman Committee) found that:

"The interest of the United States in Europe...cannot be measured simply in economic terms. It is also strategic and political. We all know that we are faced in the world today with two conflicting ideologies...Our position in the world has been based for at least a century on the existence in Europe of a number of strong states committed by tradition and inclination to the democratic concept..."5

The bipolar world had begun to emerge. In January, 1948, the British Foreign Secretary, following talks with the U.S. Secretary of State, proposed an alliance among the U.K., France, and the Benelux nations, referring to "the conception of the unity of Europe and the preservation of Europe as the heart of western civilization."6 At the end of February, 1948, western Europe was shocked by the fall of the Czechoslovakian government to a communist coup d'etat. In March, the British-proposed alliance was contracted as the Brussels Pact, a fifty-year treaty of collective defense and economic collaboration. U.S. approval was immediate; the President told Congress that:

"Its significance goes far beyond the actual terms of the agreement itself. It is a notable step in the direction of unity in Europe...This development deserves our full support. I am confident the United States will, by appropriate means, extend to the free nations the support which the situation requires..."7
c. ERP and NATO, 1948–1949

On 1 April, 1948, the Soviets initiated the blockade of Berlin. In late April, the President called a conference of his senior advisers to consider the Soviet threat, as well as the possibility of communist fomented uprisings in France and Italy. John Foster Dulles, then State Department consultant, later reported that the conferees agreed that:

"...Only a decisive pronouncement by the United States would check the fear that was inspired by Moscow...[and that the U.S. should] proceed along the lines of a North Atlantic regional pact..."

Dulles also stated that Senator Vandenberg:

"...Felt that the Senate liked the idea of regional associations and would be disposed to approve in principle a further developing of such associations for collective defense."8

In May, 1948, Senator Vandenberg introduced a resolution adopted by the Senate on June 11, 1948, by a vote of 64 to 4, advising the Executive to undertake the:

"...Progressive development of regional and other collective arrangements for individual and collective self-defense in accordance with the purposes, principles, and provisions of the Charter [of the UN] association of the United States, by constitutional process, with such regional and other collective arrangements as are based on continuous and effective self-help and mutual aid, and as affect its national security."

The Department of State later explained to Congress that "the contents of this resolution...became our guide in the discussion and subsequent negotiations which led to the North Atlantic Pact."10

In June, 1948, Congress also passed the Economic Cooperation Act, establishing the Economic Cooperation Administration (ECA) to administer a program of foreign aid. The following month, armed with the Economic Cooperation Act and the Vandenberg Resolution, the U.S. opened exploratory talks on an alliance with the Brussels Pact members and Canada. Subsequently, the talks were broadened to include twelve nations. On April 4, 1949, the North Atlantic Treaty was signed, and in late July ratified by the Senate. It entered into force August 24, 1949.

d. The China Aid Program

In the meantime, U.S. policy suffered, a setback in Asia. A China Aid Program had been enacted by Congress in June, 1948, in the same omnibus foreign assistance legislation which authorized ERP and ECA. The China Aid Program met almost immediate failure, for Mao's armies spread unchecked over the China mainland, and by late 1949, the position of the Nationalists there was untenable. This "failure" of U.S. aid — it was termed such by Congressional critics — no less than the urgent situation in Europe figured in Congressional action on military assistance legislation placed before it in 1949.11

e. MDAP, 1949

In September 1949, the Soviets exploded their first nuclear device. On October 6, 1949, Congress passed the Mutual Defense Assistance Act, designed as a comprehensive law, providing a Mutual Defense Assistance Program (MDAP) through which U.S. arms, military equipment and training assistance might be provided for collective defense. In the first appropriations under MDAP, NATO countries received 76% of the total, and Greece and Turkey (not yet NATO members), 16%.12 But Korea and the Philippines received modest aid, and the legislators clearly intended the law to underwrite subsequent appropriations for collective security in Asia. The opening paragraph of the law not only supported NATO, but foreshadowed SEATO:

"An Act to Promote the Foreign Policy and Provide for the Defense and General Welfare of the United States by Furnishing Military Assistance to Foreign Nations, Approved October 6, 1949.
"Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That this Act may be cited as the 'Mutual Defense Assistance Act of 1949.'
"The Congress of the United States reaffirms the policy of the United States to achieve international peace and security through the United Nations so that armed force shall not be used except in the common interest. The Congress hereby finds that the efforts of the United States and other countries to promote peace and security in furtherance of the purposes of the Charter of the United Nations require additional measures of support based upon the principle of continuous and effective self-help and mutual aid. These measures include the furnishing of military assistance essential to enable the United States and other nations dedicated to the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter to participate effectively in arrangements for individual and collective self-defense in support of those purposes and principles. In furnishing such military assistance, it remains the policy of the United States to continue to exert maximum efforts to obtain agreements to provide the United Nations with armed forces as contemplated in the Charter and agreements to achieve universal control of weapons of mass destruction and universal regulation and reduction of armaments, including armed forces, under adequate safeguards to protect complying nations against violation and evasion.
"The Congress hereby expresses itself as favoring the creation by the free countries and the free peoples of the Far East of a joint organization, consistent with the Charter of the United Nations, to establish a program of self-help and mutual cooperation designed to develop their economic and social well-being, to safeguard basic rights and liberties and to protect their security and independence.
"The Congress recognizes that economic recovery is essential to international peace and security and must be given clear priority. The Congress also recognizes that the increased confidence of free peoples in their ability to resist direct or indirect aggression and to maintain internal security will advance such recovery and support political stability."13
f. Precursor Pacts in Asia

With the Nationalist evacuation to Formosa in November, 1949, an urgent situation developed in Asia that in ways paralleled the conditions that prompted formation of NATO. The rise of Mao's Peoples Republic of China (PRC) seemed to project the monolithic power of Soviet communism to the eastern shores of Asia, menacing the relatively small nations along China's periphery like the Russians threatened Western Europe. The Chinese parroted the Kremlin's aggressive announcements, participated in the assault on South Korea, and provided aid to Ho Chi Minh in Southeast Asia.

U.S. counteraction was forthcoming. By 1951, in an effort to bolster the defensive capabilities of the area, the U.S. had become a partner in five separate defense treaties in the region. Four bilateral arrangements linked the U.S. with Japan, South Korea, Nationalist China, and the Philippines, forming an arc around, the periphery of Communist China. In addition, the ANZUS Treaty was signed in 1951, and the Five-Power Staff Agency (composed of Australia, New Zealand, France, UK, and US) was formed in 1953 "to facilitate coordination on problems in Southeast Asia." In 1954, John Foster Dulles recalled that:

"When I went out to the Pacific area in 1950 to begin the negotiations which resulted in the Japanese Peace Treaty and a series of security treaties, the original hope had been that we could have a fairly broad collective security arrangement. As it happened, it was not possible to do at that time, and we were content perforce with a series of treaties...But those treaties themselves indicated that we did not regard them as an end, but only as a beginning..."14

From 1949 through 1953 the National Security Council maintained the view that a broader regional defense pact or association should be initiated by the countries of the area.15 In the following 1950 exchange with Congressman Fulton, Secretary of State Acheson expressed Administration policy:

"MR. FULTON: May I read to the Secretary from the second paragraph of the Mutual Defense Assistance Act:
'The Congress hereby expresses itself as favoring the creation by the free countries and free peoples of the Far East, of a joint organization consistent with the Charter of the United Nations to establish a program of self-help and mutual cooperation designed to develop their economic and social well-being, to safeguard, the basic rights and liberties, and to protect their security and independence.'
"Now may I point out that is a bipartisan policy, because it was two Republicans and two Democrats on this committee who put that amendment in. My question then is to the Secretary and to the State Department, why, when this was passed clear back in 1949, October 6, has not the State Department taken steps to put into effect the declared bipartisan foreign policy of the Congress? "
"SECRETARY ACHESON: Mr. Fulton, I think it is important for you to really look at your own words. You said that the Congress expresses itself as favoring the creation by the free countries and free peoples of the Far East of certain things. Now the President stated he favors that. On all occasions he has stated it and I have stated that that is the attitude of the Government of the United States. I should think that the President and I and the Congress are all agreed that the very important words are that this organization should be created by the free peoples of the Far East and not created by the United States. We are not calling these nations together and you never asked us to call these nations together and tell them they should create something. I know that your knowledge of the Far East is sufficient to lead you to conclude that if we did that it would have exactly the opposite effect of the one which you wish to achieve. The President of the Philippines has been going forward to accomplish this. We have stated to him, and publicly, that we are most sympathetic to this activity on his part, but it is most important that it should be a spontaneous Asian action."16
g. Indochina and United Action, 1954

In the spring of 1954, however, the deterioration of the French situation in Indochina caused a re-evaluation of U.S. policy on collective security in Asia and precipitated proposals by the U.S. to the French, the British and several other countries to establish some kind of Southeast Asian coalition. On 6 April 1954, the NSC, asked to consider "appropriate action regarding Indochina and the need for U.S. military intervention," replied that the best alternative was a regional grouping with maximum Asian participation.17 On 13 May, the NSC looked to "avoid the loss of Indochina and to resolve the colonial problem by the creation of a regional grouping."18 Crisis transformed the U.S. position on a wide regional alliance from that of a potential joiner to that of an anxious organizer.

When the U.S. position changed, the pendulum swung far, producing not only the general concept of "united action," but also several specific plans for U.S.–allied intervention in Indochina in a variety of circumstances. Secretary Dulles approached the British and French directly with a plan in which a ten-nation coalition would confront communist expansion in Southeast Asia. On 12–14 April, Dulles visited London to get Eden's support for this plan, but was turned down. Eden thought it best to wait and see what could be accomplished at the Geneva Conference, then in preparation. Dulles did get what he thought was Eden's agreement to a plan for an ad hoc group of the same nations to meet and discuss plans for collective action in case it became necessary, and a public statement in favor of a broad Asian alliance.

Congressional reaction to the latter was immediate. The House Foreign Affairs Committee was at the time holding hearings, and promptly issued, a statement endorsing the Dulles and Eden action, and citing the MDAP legislation. The following is from the Hearings:

"MR. VORYS. Now, could I read a paragraph from the text of the recent statement issued by Messrs. Dulles and Eden... this paragraph was what caught my attention this morning. [Reading:]
'Accordingly we are ready to take part with the other countries principally concerned in the examination of the possibility of establishing a collective defense within the framework of the charter of the United Nations Organization, to assure the peace, security, and freedom of Southeast Asia, in the western Pacific.'
"I have changed our proposed statement slightly.
'The Committee on Foreign Affairs notes with approval the statement issued in London on April 13, 1954, by the Secretary of State and the British Foreign Secretary which is in line with recommendations previously expressed by the Committee and Congress in 1949.'
"The second paragraph reads as follows:
'This paragraph was drafted by the Committee on Foreign Affairs and incorporated in the original Mutual Defense Assistance Act. A similar paragraph was incorporated in the Mutual Security Act of 1953 by the Committee on Foreign Affairs and passed by the House of Representatives. This language was left out of the act as finally passed, because the committee of conference regarded the existing paragraph of the Mutual Defense Assistance Act as giving adequate expression of congressional policy."19

The U.S. moved immediately to assemble the ad hoc group Dulles had discussed with Eden, inviting representatives of some 10 nations to meet in Washington on 20 April. Two days before the meeting was to take place, the British announced they would be unable to attend. They had not realized, they said, that the meeting would take place so soon, and they had not been given the opportunity to pass on the conferees.20 The meeting was held anyway, but became a general briefing of the twenty nations comprising the allied side at the Geneva Conference.

In the meantime, other coalition plans were in the making. An early concept, the first of many to be advanced, provided a choice of two courses of action:

"The U.S. is prepared to join actively in two regional groupings. The first such grouping will include nations ready immediately to intervene in Indochina provided certain conditions are met. The second such grouping should be defined, with wider participation, to guarantee against communist aggression or subversion of all Southeast Asia with the exception of Indochina so long as active fighting continues."21

The first of these groupings was to contain the U.S., France, the Associated States of Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam, Thailand, and the Philippines. The second was to be composed of "all countries who wish to join" including the Colombo Plan countries (Burma, Ceylon, India, Indonesia, Pakistan), Korea, and "perhaps" the Chinese Nationalists. The U.S. wished to avoid a "white man's party"22 in the formation of any regional group, but the powers able to contribute substantial military support to the plans were not Asian. Neither coalition materialized before Geneva.

The dramatic fall of Dien Bien Phu served notice to the world of French military impotence in Indochina. When the participants of the Indochina fighting moved to the conference table in April, 1954, the U.S., fresh from the bitter experience of Panmunjom, looked on the upcoming discussions apprehensively, fearing that the French tactical defeat presaged strategic disaster. At one time or another during the Geneva Conference, the U.S. considered: (1) merely urging the French to a greater effort, (2) assisting the French with material support in varying degrees, (3) intervening in conjunction with the British, (4) taking military action with all those prepared to do so, and (5) working out a long range Southeast Asia alliance. None of these courses of action proved practicable. Nonetheless, the outcome of the Geneva Conference did catalyze SEATO. Within the councils of the U.S. Government, the concession of half of Vietnam to the communists was considered another retreat before communist expansion. Secretary of State Dulles publicly drew two lessons from Geneva: (1) that popular support was essential to combat communist subversion, and (2) collective defense against aggression could not be devised after the aggression was in progress.23 He went on to assert that a collective security system in Southeast Asia could in the future check both outright aggression and subversion. The U.S. moved promptly to convene an international conference at Manila in late summer, 1954, to devise such a security system.

h. Manila Conference, 1954

The outlook at Manila, however, tended to be more retrospective than futuristic. Vice Admiral A. C. Davis, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (ISA) and chief DOD representative in the U.S. delegation observed in his report that:

"...the Manila Conference convened, following communist military achievements in Indochina and political and psychological successes at Geneva. Against this background the effort of the Manila Conference to construct a collective defense arrangement for Southeast Asia and the Southwest Pacific was directed in large measure to recovering from the psychological blow thus administered to the Free World. Much of what was said at the Conference bore witness to the preeminence of psychological objectives in the thinking of the participating States. In a real sense, the Treaty that emerged at Manila is a response to the Geneva Agreements."24

The task facing the conferees was formidable compared with that Atlantic planners had faced six years earlier. The Geneva reverse provided a small basis for common action. NATO had been created in a relatively uncomplicated political situation, in an atmosphere of understanding and common need, to meet an unambiguous threat. Moreover, the North Atlantic nations could build collective defense on an infrastructure of shared culture, political ideals, and interdependent economies. Commitments of the member nations could be clarified to stipulate standing forces, command structures, and roles in planning. The nations at Manila, on the other hand, confronted a complex of dilemmas. Anti-communism was no unifying force. Throughout the region, potential communist aggressors were likely to adopt causes of anti-colonialism, anti-traditionalism, racism, religion, or irredentism. Moreover, the conferees represented disparate cultures in countries scattered across the world. Of the eight nations present, only two were Asian; several nations whose location made them logical candidates for an Asian coalition chose not to attend.

The U.S. representatives at the Manila Conference in September, 1954, arrived with instructions to insist on a number of preconditions for U.S. military action in Southeast Asia. First, with its commitments in Europe, the U.S. would refuse to act unilaterally in Asia; further, any such action would have to involve not only Asian nations, but also major European partners. Moreover, the U.S. would not be prepared to commit ground troops into combat in Asia; other nations would do the ground fighting under a cover of U.S. sea and air power. In addition, the U.S. defined the communist threat as the only real danger in the area; the U.S. did not want to be drawn into an alliance directed against any other sort of enemy, particularly desiring to avoid colonial conflicts. Hence, the U.S. sought to restrict the applicability of any U.S. commitment to a few specified nations especially vulnerable to communist aggression. Each of these two major U.S. qualifications — the proscriptions against land forces, and emphasis on anti-communism — created its own dilemmas, solutions to which proved to be elusive.

(1) Force Commitment

The resource — political as well as military — the U.S. was prepared to commit to SEATO was bound to constitute its principal strength. But the U.S., with its NATO commitments already a sizeable burden, was not prepared to pay the price of a strong coalition. In no sense was the U.S. prepared to commit itself to SEATO as it had to NATO, (it is interesting that Dulles was so concerned with avoiding a public identification of SEATO with NATO that he tried to have the new treaty called "MANPAC," for "Manila Pact."25) Rather, the U.S. searched for ways in which other nations would provide troops. But few nations in 1954 possessed the capability to field an army of significance within the SEATO region.

Vice Admiral Davis noted that:

"The United States was faced in this issue, I believe, with the dilemma of attempting to attain two objectives that were not completely compatible; on the one hand there was a desire to place the communists on notice as clearly as possible that further aggression on the area would meet with effective collective counteraction. Such unequivocal notification would tend to enhance the psychological effect of the Treaty on the Free World and the deterrent effect on the communists. Yet on the other hand, in spite of the greater psychological effect that a strongly worded Treaty might have, the attainment of this objective was necessarily limited by the extent to which the United States, in its own interest, could undertake advance military commitments under the Treaty in restriction of its freedom of action."26

While the U.S. continued to call the prospective pact "regional," a region existed only in the sense that a certain geographical area was considered to be threatened by the expansion of communism. The membership solicited for the SEATO conference was worldwide; potential force contributors were overbalanced on the European side; and even within the region itself, several countries did not desire to become participants, and others were not invited. Determined not to become enmeshed in Southeast Asia without help from Europe, the U.S. settled for a SEATO based on unspecified forces from eight nations, five of which were ethnically European — a position which apparently dismissed from consideration the disadvantages which would accrue to armies drawn from former metropole nations.

Several of the states at Manila were acutely disappointed at the reluctance of the U.S. to place its military forces at the disposal of the pact; they were expecting a NATO-like commitment and they were surprised when it was not forthcoming. Admiral Davis reported that:

"With respect to the military aspects of the Treaty, most of the participating States, notably the Philippines and Thailand, urged provisions that would explicitly commit the Treaty Parties to take military action in event of aggression in the Treaty area. The commitment of the United States to such action, of course, was the purpose of these urgings. Much was said about the desirability of the NATO as opposed to the allegedly weaker ANZUS formula. Most of the participating States argued that explicit commitments to take action were necessary if the Treaty was to have the desired deterrent effect on the communists."27

But the U.S. delegates maintained their opposition, arguing that the U.S. had to retain its freedom of action, and could not accept a treaty commitment that was inconsistent with Constitutional requirements, and therefore prejudicial to ratification of the treaty by the Senate.

(2) Anti-Communism

At the beginning of the Manila Conference, the U.S. served notice that it looked on the future SEATO agreement as an anti-communist pact, and that it would react only against a communist threat. The U.S. agreed to "consult" with the other members to decide future action, if faced with a non-communist threat. This, of course, had the effect of emphasizing once again the qualified nature of the U.S. commitment: the strongest power in the pact reserved the right to opt out of contingencies. Other nations present at Manila saw many other threats to regional peace, some of which seemed to them a good deal more dangerous than communism (e.g. Indonesian relations with Malaya, and Indian relations with Pakistan). There was, as a result, some hesitance to look on the pact as a mutual banding together against all dangers. Few missed the irony of the U.S. being the chief advocate of the SEATO pact, and also its prime qualifier.28

2. The Treaties Compared

Although Secretary of State Dulles wished to avoid comparisons of SEATO with NATO, such were inevitable. Similarities were in fact intended by many of the Manila Conferees, and emerged in the wording of the treaties. All the delegations at Manila, the U.S. included, took pains with treaty terminology, calculating carefully the effect it would have on their own domestic politics, as well as on the communist countries. As Admiral Davis reported:

"The Treaty is a document that speaks to many audiences; it supports self-determination of peoples, self-government and independence in deference to Asian nationalism; it provides for economic and technical cooperation as an inducement to present Asian 'neutralist' countries to associate themselves with the Treaty; it permits the accession of other states, thus avoiding the charge that the Treaty members form an exclusive club with aggressive designs 'against' other States;...These elements of the Treaty attest to the importance the member States place on the effect of the document upon their respective publics...The success that the Treaty may have in enhancing the defense of the area will therefore have to be judged in light of the fact that it has psychological and economic as well as military objectives."29
a. Introductory Articles Alike

The initial article of both treaties is the same, word for word.[1] The member nations promise not to use force in any manner inconsistent with the principles of the United Nations. Article 2 of NATO conforms to Article III of SEATO: an undertaking to strengthen free institutions and promote economic progress, and is identical except for specific mention in SEATO of technical assistance and promotion of social well-being, wording which is not in the NATO version. The reversal of the order of presentation of the second and third articles is interesting. In NATO, the article committing the members to strengthen free institutions precedes the article on developing collective capacity to resist attack. The order is changed in SEATO, perhaps emphasizing defense over other considerations. Article 3 of NATO corresponds to Article II of SEATO: an expression of resolve to develop a collective capacity to resist armed attack. There is, however, a significant difference in the SEATO article with the addition of a clause applying the Treaty specifically to subversion. This clause, in combination with the provision of SEATO Article IV that the parties shall consult immediately on measures of common defense if threatened by other than armed attack, places subversive aggression, in the form of externally fomented or supported insurgency, or coup d'etat, within the purview of the treaty.

b. The Key Articles

Central to analysis of the two treaties is comparison of the articles calling for action to meet an enemy threat. These are Articles 4 and 5 of the NATO Treaty, and Article IV of the SEATO Treaty. In general, the SEATO article has come under heavy criticism for lack of forcefulness. As presented below, the SEATO article has been transposed to parallel the two articles of NATO, but no words have been added or deleted.

NATO Art. 4 & 5


The Parties will consult together whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the Parties is threatened. If, in the opinion of any of the parties, the inviolability or the integrity of the territory or the sovereignty or political independence of any Party in the Treaty Area or of any other State or territory to shich the provisions of paragraph 1 of this Article from time to time apply is threatened in any way other than by armed attack or is affected or threatened by any fact or situation which might endanger the peace of the area, the Parties shall consult immediately in order to agree on the measures which should be taken for the common defense.
The Parties agree that an armed attack Each Party recognizes that aggression by means of armed attack
against one or more of them against any of the Parties or against any state or territory which the Parties by unanimous agreement may hereafter designate
in Europe or North America In the Treaty area
shall be considered an attack against them all would endanger its own peace and safety
and consequently they agree that and agrees that
if such an armed attack occurs, each of them it will in that event
in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defense recognized by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations
will assist the party or parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other parties act to meet the common danger in accordance with its constitutional processes
such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force.
to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic Area.

any such armed attack and all measures taken as a result thereof shall immediately be reported to the Security Council. measures under this paragraph shall be immediately reported to the Security Council of the United Nations
Such measures shall be terminated when the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security.
It is understood that no action on the territory of any state designated by unanimous agreement or on any territory so designated shall be taken except at the invitation or with the consent of the government concerned.

As the American delegation at Manila noted, the SEATO Article IV was in line with the wording used in the U.S., Philippine, Korean, and ANZUS pacts. The issue of precommitment to react to armed attack was side-stepped:

"Secretary Dulles pointed out during the conference that the wording of the North Atlantic Treaty, which speaks of an attack on one as an attack on all, nevertheless provides that the Parties will act in accordance with their constitutional processes. He persuaded the Conference that the final agreed wording of Article IV would be better received by the Senate, should tend to minimize debate, and would facilitate ratification by the United. States."30

The SEATO Treaty wording is thus intentionally ambiguous on the point of just what response would be made by the members in the event of an armed attack. Such an attack against one of the SEATO members would be viewed as a "common danger" rather than as an "attack on all." Where the NATO Treaty notes that action taken "forthwith" might include the "use of armed force," the SEATO Treaty states merely that "common danger" would be "met" in accordance with "constitutional processes." SEATO also makes the provision that no action shall be taken on the territory of any threatened state without the consent of that state, a qualification necessary to reassure small-country members that their independence was not threatened by neocolonialism or other domination, and recognition of one of the most significant differences in the environment of the two treaty organizations.

In some respects, nevertheless, Article IV of the SEATO Treaty is broader than its NATO counterparts. The nature of the threat is loosely defined as "any fact or situation that might endanger the peace of the area," and provision is made to respond to threatened countries that are non-members of the pact. In addition, there is no clause implying dependence on the Security Council of the UN to step in to "restore and maintain international peace and security," as there is in the NATO Treaty. Yet, the main point evident is that both the wording of NATO and that of SEATO provide the basis for a strong defensive strategy or, indeed, would admit of a weak one. There is enough room for interpretation under the SEATO Treaty for membersto devise all the defensive protection that NATO offers, and more.

c. Extent of the Treaty Areas

NATO Article 6 is the equivalent of SEATO Article VIII, dealing with definition of the treaty area. Both are broad, but the SEATO article is the more flexible of the two. In SEATO the area is limited on the north at latitude 21 degrees, 30 minutes, thus eliminating Formosa, Hong Kong, Korea, and Japan. The rest of the area is defined only as "the general area of South-East Asia" and "the general area of the South-West Pacific." The area, the treaty notes, can be modified at any time by unanimous agreement. The phrase that permitted inclusion of "the entire territories of the Asian parties" was noted by the U.S. delegation as having the advantage of bringing in West Pakistan "under the protection of the Treaty even though it is not in Southeast Asia."31

d. UN and Other Pacts

Except for a change in two or three unimportant words, NATO 7 and 8 are summed up and repeated in SEATO VT; these articles declare that agreements between SEATO members and the UN, or by members with other countries are not, nor will be, in conflict with SEATO responsibilities.

e. Treaty Institutions

NATO 9 and SEATO V establish a council for military and other planning. In the NATO Treaty this council is authorized to set up "subsidiary bodies," while in the SEATO Treaty such authorization is not given. This was a disappointment to several of the delegations at the Manila Conference. The Australians came forward with a request for a strong organization, but the U.S. delegation was able to persuade them to accept a modification of their proposal, substituting a concept of "consultation":

"During the sessions of the Working Group it became evident that some countries would propose wording calling for the establishment of military machinery, possibly along NATO lines. Recalling the position of [the U.S. State] Department that military participation should be consultative along lines of the ANZUS arrangement rather than permanent and formal as in NATO, the Defense Representative...proposed that consideration be given to the inclusion of the following wording after the first sentence of Article IV: 'To this end the Parties to the Treaty will consult with regard to military planning as required "by the situation in the area. Shortly thereafter the Australian delegation proposed the following addition to Article V: 'The Council shall set up such subsidiary machinery as may be necessary to achieve the military and other objectives of the Treaty.' Since the Australian proposal involved an open ended commitment, this Department and the Joint Chiefs of Staff opposed it and accepted the wording suggested by the Defense Representative. The Department of State agreed, and instructed the U.S. Delegation to support incorporation of this wording in Article IV."32

Secretary Dulles was able to bring about deletion of the references to periodic or regular consultation that had been introduced into the draft treaty.

f. Treaty Longevity

The final NATO articles (11–14) are administrative, covering ratification of the treaty, the length of time it is to remain in force, provisions for review of the articles, and archival responsibilities. These are paralleled in SEATO articles IX–XI. The NATO Treaty provides for withdrawal of its members after 1969; members are to give a year's notice prior to such action. The SEATO Treaty is to remain in force indefinitely, but members also may withdraw on one year's notice.

g. The Appended U.S. "Understanding"

Throughout the discussions at Manila the U.S. insisted that the focus of the pact be on the prevention of further communist expansion in the treaty area. When the other nations would not acquiesce to a wording of the treaty to make anti-communism its specific objective, the U.S. requested that an "understanding" be appended to the treaty. This was a U.S. unilateral statement of intent — a qualifier upon the first paragraph of Article IV., in which the members agreedthat in the event of aggression they will "act to meet the common danger in accordance with constitutional processes." The U.S. in the understanding restricts the applicability of its agreement to act, stating that only communist aggression will be recognized as warranting immediate response. In the event of other kinds of aggression, the U.S. would consult with the other member nations. Admiral Davis reported disagreement over this point at the conference:

"All participating States except the United States supported exclusion of the word 'Communist' from the Treaty. The U.S. draft originally referred to 'Communist aggression' in the preamble and in Article IV. The chief reason advanced by the other signatories for the deletion was the desire of most of the Parties that the Treaty cover any kind of aggression in the area. Pakistan, for example, wished that the Treaty would apply to possible aggression by India. The United States position was that the United States could not properly say that any aggression in Southeast Asia would endanger its own peace and safety, and that it could accept the obligations of Article IV only in respect to Communist aggression. For this reason, the United States attached an 'understanding' to the Treaty in this sense. All other participants accepted the Treaty with the U.S. 'understanding.'"33

In the "understanding" the U.S. further complicated the matter by changing "aggression by means of armed attack" of Article IV to "aggression and armed attack"; in the same sentence, the understanding uses "aggression or armed attack" to refer to paragraph 2 of Article IV, which in fact is worded "threatened in any way other than by armed attack." The admixture of terms accentuates one of the major difficulties of the alliance: the governments of the SEATO treaty area were threatened by a complicated variety of destructive movements that might be called aggression against a member state. The appellation could be fitted in anywhere between "armed attack" and "fact or situation which might endanger the peace." The U.S. insistence on this point of "understanding" was probably superfluous. The latitude that the U.S. wanted already was built into the treaty, in Article IV. The emphatic nature of such an appendix to the treaty may have been calculated as a way to call the attention of the world to a powerful U.S. stand against further encroachments of communism. Such a call would have been consistent with the U.S. feeling of a necessity to re-establish a psychological position in the face of the "defeats" of Geneva. Nevertheless, the confirmation of U.S. single-mindedness that made a communist threat the only valid call for immediate response narrowed SEATO at its inception.

h. The Vietnam–Laos–Cambodia Protocol

The final item of the SEATO Treaty is a "protocol," which states unanimous agreement among the members to include Cambodia, Laos, and "the free territory under the jurisdiction of the State of Vietnam" under the protection of Articles III and IV of the Treaty. In other words, these countries, without actually becoming members of the pact, would be entitled to "economic measures including technical assistance" and also to defense against any attack, overt or not, from without or within. The U.S. had wanted to include these countries in SEATO, but membership might have seemed legally a contravention of the Geneva Agreements. At Geneva, Laos had not signed any agreement prejudicial to such a pact, but the Laotian Government, on the final day of that conference, had made the following declaration:

"The Royal Government of Laos will never join in any agreement with other states if this agreement includes the obligation for the Royal Government of Laos to participate in a military alliance not in conformity with the principles of the United Nations or with the principles of the [Geneva] Agreement on the Cessation of Hostilities..."34

South Vietnam, on the other hand, was coextensive with one of the "zones" described in Article 19 of the armistice, which specifies:

"The two Parties shall ensure that the zones assigned to them do not adhere to any military alliance and are not used for the resumption of hostilities or to further an aggressive policy."35

France — one of the "Parties" to the armistice — was thus not in a position to admit the GVN to SEATO. However, nothing in the Geneva Accords appeared to exclude all three countries from being extended protection under such a pact without member status.36 This was pointed out by the French delegation:

"At French suggestion specific reference to Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam was removed from the text of the Treaty, but these States are covered by the provisions of the Treaty in a separate protocol...The French felt that this method of extending the application of the Treaty to the Associated States was less likely to be construed as a violation of the spirit of the Geneva Agreements."37

At the conclusion of the Manila Conference, Admiral Davis wrote:

"I believe the Manila Conference accomplished the objective expected of it from the United States point of view. In my judgment our Defense representation in the U.S. Delegation succeeded in its efforts to insure that the Treaty is consistent in its military implications with the positions taken by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and by this Department."38

The U.S. had, in effect, made a public statement of its intent to counter further communist moves in SEA, but left vague the specifics of its response. The pact, as intended, was fundamentally "consultative." There was to be no unified command, no bases, and no contribution of forces to a standing group; the U.S. accepted these lacks, and stressed the psychological gains of merely bringing a treaty into existence, pointing out that SEATO opened the way to a stronger and more all-encompassing defense of Southeast Asia than had theretofore been possible.

3. Evolution of the Treaty Organization
a. NATO Develops Rapidly

NATO rapidly acquired institutions.[2] The treaty entered into force in August, 1949. By September, a Military Committee, a Standing Group, and the Regional Planning Groups had been created. By November a Financial and Economic Board and a Military Production and Supply Board had been set up. By December agreement had been reached on a strategic concept for the integrated defense of the NATO area. A year later a centralized command and control structure was formulated, becoming operational as SHAPE on 2 April 1951, with headquarters in the old Hotel Astoria, in Paris. Spurred on by the events occurring in Korea, NATO was further simplified and streamlined in the Ottawa meeting of September 1951, where a Temporary Council Committee chaired by W. Averell Harriman was set up. This became a permanent council, in March, 1952, a month after the accession of Greece and Turkey to the pact.39 In the wake of a major setback when the French Assembly refused to ratify the European Defense Community (EDC) proposal in August, 1954, the Paris Agreements were pushed through in October, providing for the accession of West Germany to NATO, and the establishment of a combined field command.[3] Early in 1956 the NATO Council appointed a Committee of Three Ministers (Martino of Italy, Lange of Norway, and Pearson of Canada) to study ways that further cooperation could be achieved within NATO. The report of this Committee was approved by the Council on 14 December, 1956. Consultation within NATO was to become "an integral part of the making of national policy."40 The meeting of 16–19 December 1957 of the NATO Council included the heads of government, with Eisenhower and Macmillan. This meeting symbolized the significance which all the NATO countries attached to the pact — and it was this sense of meaningfulness, commonality, and necessity, more than the terms of the North Atlantic Treaty, that accounted for the rapid organizational growth.

b. SEATO Unstructured by U.S. Preference

The Manila Conference eventuated in a pact termed the "Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty and Protocol Thereto, September 8, 1954"; the treaty was ratified by the U.S. Senate by a vote of 82 to 1, and entered into force on February 19, 1955.41 The history of the development of SEATO thereafter is quite different from NATO's, since the initial policy of the U.S. was to discourage, rather than to assist, the evolution of a permanent structure. SEATO military staff consultations were held frequently, but were attended by relatively low-ranking U.S. officers, carefully instructed on limits of their planning flexibility. At the SEATO conference in Bangkok in February 1955, the U.S. position on military arrangements under the pact was to avoid discussion of permanent formal organization. A Defense Department memorandum on the U.S. stance again recommended that the ANZUS pact be used as a model:

"The U.S. desires to make no commitments of U.S. forces for use under the Manila pact. (This view has not been conveyed to the other powers.)
"With regard to military machinery for the coordination of measures to combat overt aggression, the U.S. is opposed to the establishment of formal military machinery or of a permanent SEATO staff. Instead, the U.S. supports the establishment of military advisors, who would meet periodically, formulate their own rules of procedure and any necessary organizational arrangements, designate planning assistants to work on specified projects, and insure that military planning activities are coordinated with those designed to counter subversive activities.
"While not explicitly so stated, the U.S. position is one of confining its activities and commitments to the scope of those made under the ANZUS Fact. Such apparent concessions to the other powers as have been made in the Working Group papers do not alter the fact that the U.S. is unwilling to commit any forces to the defense of Southeast Asia, opposes any military organizational arrangement which would require the integration of U.S. and allied war plans, and prefers to deal with its allies bilaterally rather than multilaterally."42 [Emphasis added]

The U.S., although it refused to become deeply committed in advance to a military organization styled along NATO lines, was well aware of the necessity to be prepared to fight in the SEATO area. U.S. unilateral plans and preparations had been set in motion when, in January, 1955, the Secretary of Defense requested the JCS to provide "a concept of the possible application of U.S. military power in the implementation of Article IV of the Manila Pact" under two different assumptions: (1) prohibition of nuclear weapons; (2) permission to employ nuclear weapons. Requirements were established for:

"1. Broad outline plans for U.S. action...to deter or counter overt aggression by Communist China or, where applicable, by Viet Minh, against each of the Southeast Asian nations which are parties to the Manila Pact or against the free areas of Indochina which might be covered by the Pact. [Emphasis added]

"2. ...a statement as to the readiness capability of U.S. armed forces, in the next few years, to conduct operations in implementation of Article IV, 1, of the Manila Pact."43

The U.S. forces would constitute a "mobile reserve" ready for commitment to the treaty area, but the U.S. would enter no fixed agreement as to what those forces might be, or under what circumstances they would be used. Despite this unilateral planning, however, instructions for the delegates to the Bangkok conference indicated that planning for or creation of combined commands were not to be considered within the scope of the SEATO Pact. Suppression of guerrillas was to be handled by "indigenous forces only" unless these proved incapable of coping with the problem.

At the 1955 Bangkok Conference the Australians and New Zealanders repeated their willingness to make troop commitments to a SEATO force, but the U.S. representatives, following instructions, evaded discussion of the subject.44 The pressures on the U.S. team were strong, and the members came away with the conviction that the major factor "to contend with" in future meetings was bound to be

"...the obvious desire of the Asian nations to establish a NATO-type SEATO organization with everything that it implies in the nature of force commitments."45

Later in 1955, U.S. planners once more were approached by counterparts of several other countries with the proposal that, as a step toward some kind of SEATO standing group, a small secretariat be set up to study methods of creating a "possible future organizational structure." The report of the U.S. representatives stated, "The establishment of such an ad hoc arrangement should not prejudice the eventual creation or evolution of a standing group... should the need become necessary because of inadequacies revealed by experience."46 The JCS commented:

"The Joint Chiefs of Staff have no objection to the establishment of a small permanent secretariat, which would be an instrument of the Military Advisers and subordinate planning committees. However, the Joint Chiefs of Staff would not agree to the possible evolution of such a secretariat into an organization of a standing nature...."47

This was the same point of view expressed by CINCPAC, who noted with apparent relief that:

"The recognition of the requirement for a small permanent secretariat has definitely forestalled for the foreseeable future any determined insistence for either a permanent staff planners organization, a standing group, or a combined staff."48

The U.S. members attending the SEATO Military Staff Planners Conference in Pearl Harbor in November, 1955, received basically the same instructions as had been given to earlier planners:

(1) No acceptance of a permanent "standing group" staff organization.
(2) No U.S. participation in the development of combined plans.
(3) No commitment of U.S. forces.49

A demonstration by the U.S. 25th Infantry Division was considered quite impressive by the conference delegates, but did not assuage the appetite among other SEATO nations for strong, concrete U.S. force commitments. The chief U.S. delegate, Rear Admiral A. P. Storrs, recommended to his superiors that the U.S. add "substance" to SEATO by:

(1) Accepting the concept of a permanent staff organization.
(2) Accepting the concept of combined planning.
(3) Maintaining a U.S. division in the Central Pacific.50

Storrs felt that these actions might satisfy the rest of the SEATO nations and quiet their demands for a permanent U.S. force commitment, but he focused on a fading issue. While some SEATO members, especially Australia and New Zealand, kept up an insistence on a stronger organization for the pact, others began to show less and less interest in SEATO per se. By the end of 1955, the U.S. realized that SEATO would fall apart unless something were done to provide a permanent structure. Admitting that the Asian countries were "losing faith" in SEATO, the State Department decided to reexamine the U.S. position pertaining to a permanent staff organization for the SEATO Council.51 A decision for a permanent body of staff planners was taken at a meeting of SEATO Military Advisers in Karachi in March, 1956.52 The advisers agreed on a staff organization headed by a chief of staff with flag rank. Bangkok was selected as the site for SEATO headquarters.

At the ninth conference of SEATO Military Advisers, in February 1959, it was agreed that a series of outline plans for the "introduction of a SEATO force into threatened areas" would be prepared.53 The plans would be based on the assumption that the initial requirement would be for one brigade group or regimental combat team with appropriate naval support. Discussion of a command structure to implement these plans was postponed to a later meeting, over the objections of the Pakistani delegate, who insisted that the time for action was "now":

"Until a command structure, even if only in skeleton form, for SEATO forces has been evolved, SEATO is not in a position, collectively, to operate instantaneously....A study on command structure should be started now."54

At the following meeting, in September 1959, a SEATO command was established in embryo when the U.S. agreed to the reorganization of the Military Planning Office into a configuration that could be assimilated by the planning staff of a permanent SEATO headquarters along the lines of SHAPE.55[4] By the twelfth SEATO Military Advisers Conference in Washington in May 1960, Secretary of Defense Gates was able to make the public announcement that SEATO had advanced significantly in organization and planning:

"National forces of the Southeast Asia countries, backed by powerful mobile forces, contribute to the deterrent.... Coordinated SEATO military plans have been prepared and are capable of rapid execution to parry any likely Communist threat.... SEATO exercises have progressed from simple observer type to... sophisticated maneuvers...."56
c. SEATO Contingency Planning

During the winter of 1959–1960 a series of plans was prepared for contingencies throughout the SEATO area. By the spring of 1961 these SEATO plans, numbered 1 through 6, came under consideration in the first "invoking" of the SEATO Treaty, when the Pathet Lao forces threatened to overrun Laos and invade Thailand57 From the U.S. point of view, the SEATO plans were derivatives of U.S. unilateral plans for Southeast Asia covering "action up to and including action with Communist China." The then current U.S. master plan, PACOM Operations Plan 32–59, served as the basis for U.S. contributions to the SEATO Plans.58

The U.S. led the way in preparation of a series of six contingency plans for the treaty area. By the fall of 1961 some of these plans had been approved and others were under discussion at Bangkok.59 Of these plans, at least three were concerned with the SEATO Protocol states of Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. Plan #4 provided for the defense of Southeast Asia, including Pakistan, against attack by forces of Communist China and the DRV. The general concept was:

(1) "To launch air and naval attacks; local forces to delay the enemy's advance as feasible while rapidly reinforcing with external SEATO forces."
(2) "To establish ground defenses in order to hold the enemy forward of vital areas in South Vietnam, Thailand and East Pakistan, and to build up forces behind them while conducting air and naval offensive against enemy forces, base areas, LOC's and war-making capacity."

(3) "After appropriate build-up, to launch a counter offensive, including a major amphibious assault on North Vietnam, to inflict a decisive defeat on enemy military forces and at the same time liberate occupied territory."60

Plan 5 provided U.S. troops to release the Royal Laotion forces for offensive operations and to assist them "to regain areas lost." The U.S. would also provide "additional military and logistic support." This was a fully developed and approved plan, for which "the Field Force Commander's plan is complete."61 Plan 6 provided for the defense of the protocol states against attack by forces of the DRV. The general concept was:

(1) "To hold the enemy as far forward as possible and to provide defense in depth, securing main ports of entry and bases for build-up and deployment of forces for counter-offensive."
(2) "To destroy the enemy's forces, LOC's and capacity to wage war through an intensive interdiction program conducted by SEATO air and naval forces supported by such air and naval forces under national command as are made available."
(3) "While maintaining the defense, forces for the counteroffensive phase will be assembled and built up. When appropriate, a general offensive to include a major amphibious assault against North Vietnam will be mounted to inflict a decisive defeat on the enemy military forces and to liberate the territory overrun by the DRV."62

U.S. ground force commitment to the plans was a corps consisting of three infantry divisions plus a Marine Expeditionary Force of one division. Air support was a tactical bomber squadron, two tactical fighter squadrons, and a Marine air wing. Anticipated support of the plans by other SEATO countries is evident in available ground force troop lists for plans 4 and 6:63


Plan 4 (SEA) Plan 6 (VN-L-C)
Thailand 3 4 2 3
Pakistan 1 1 1
United Kingdom 1 1
Australia 1 1
New Zealand 1 1
France 1 1
Philippines 1 1
South Vietnam 4 1 4 1 3
Total Non-U.S. 11 6 2 9 5 5
CINCPAC Est. Rqmt 15 8 12[5] 7[5] 5[5]
Shortage 4 1-1/3 3 2
(1) Laos Planning

A modification of Plan #5 existed under the temporary title of "Plan 5-plus," drafted by the JCS in September 1961 as a proposed contingency plan for intervention in Laos. In this concept, 25,400 troops would be sent into Laos. The force would consist of the following:64

Country In Laos Support and Reserves
U.S. 5,500 11,000
Thailand 11,400 3,300
Commonwealth (UK, Australia, NZ) 4,100 3,500
Pakistan 1,400 4,700
Philippines 200
GVN 2,700

These troops would augment the Royal Laos forces of 38,500 in the Regular Army, 11,000 Meos, and 29,800 other defense forces. In this modification of Plan 5, it was assumed that the Royal Laotian Government would appeal to SEATO for assistance. This would initiate an airlift of SEATO forces into key points along the Mekong River at Vientiane, Paksane, Thakkek, Savannakhet, and Pakse. These forces would support the Royal Laotian troops against communist forces in the areas of northern Laos bordering on Thailand and from all of the Laotian panhandle. At the same time, Thai forces would operate around Luang Prabang and GVN troops would operate along the GVN–Laos border.65

(2) Vietnam Planning

The JCS, in a memorandum to the Secretary of Defense on 5 October, 1961, noted that although recommendations had been forwarded on the subject of intervention in Southeast Asia, nothing had been done. "The time is past," they stated, "when action short of intervention could reverse the rapidly worsening situation." The JCS considered that "the execution of SEATO Plan 5, or a suitable variation thereof" was the "military minimum commensurate with the situation."66 Defense replied on the same day, requesting JCS analysis of two concepts for SEATO intervention in Vietnam:

"There appear to be two principal military possibilities. One would involve the use of SEATO forces at the greatest possible number of entry points along the whole of the South Vietnamese border, probably excluding that part of the 17th parallel now held in force by the Vietnamese Army itself. An alternative possibility would be the use of SEATO forces to cover solely the 17th parallel itself, which includes some major infiltration routes, and thus to free the Vietnamese forces now stationed there for engagement against the Viet Cong. Under either possibility, planning should envisage maximum possible use of the SEATO forces to establish effective communications in as wide an area of Viet-Nam as possible, and to serve as a means for introducing new techniques into the Vietnamese forces themselves. The forces would, of course, be entitled to take all necessary action for their own security, but would not (unless the concept were later expanded) engage in offensive operations against the Viet Cong that were not strictly necessary to their own security. Your military recommendations for the refinement of these guidelines into more precise rules of engagement should be a part of your response."67

The JCS reply, on 9 October 1961, noted that the use of SEATO troops all along the border was "not feasible" because the VC could bypass such forces or attack them piecemeal. Further, the concept of use of SEATO troops at the 17th parallel was "feasible....but militarily unsound" because the area was not the VC main avenue of approach, and also because the move could easily be interpreted as aggression against the DRV. The JCS recommended, instead, that:

"...the over-all objective could best be served by the implementation of SEATO Plan 5/61 or a variation thereof, now."68

If this action could not be taken, the JCS continued, then the U.S. could "provide a degree of assistance" to the GVN and could "free certain South Vietnamese forces for offensive actions against the Viet Cong." No action was taken to implement the SEATO plan.

(3) Thailand Planning

In May 1962 when the Pathet Lao threat against Thailand became acute, a U.S. battle group was dispatched on joint training exercises within the country. President Kennedy announced that more U.S. troops would be sent, and by 15 May a second contingent landed. On the same day, newspapers reported that the U.S. was seeking SEATO help, and that W. Averell Harriman, then Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs, had "outlined the U.S. position in separate conferences with envoys of Australia, New Zeland, Pakistan, and the Philippines."69 Within two days, all the SEATO members except France had agreed to send help if necessary. The U.S. sent 4,000 troops into Thailand. Three other SEATO nations actually put forces (albeit token forces) into Thailand. The UK sent 10 Hunter jet fighters, Australia sent a jet squadron, and New Zealand sent 100 parachute troops and three transport aircraft. The Philippines and Pakistan publicly noted that they were standing by to help.

(4) The Future

Discussions on the best method under SEATO to "meet the common danger" in Vietnam have not produced an overall agreement, and three of the eight SEATO nations — the UK, France, and Pakistan — have not responded to Vietnam's invitation to commit troops there. Of the five SEATO nations now fighting in Vietnam, the strength figures as of 17 October 1967 were:

U.S. 169,000
Australia 6,500
Thailand 2,500
Philippines 2,000
New Zealand 400
Total 480,40070

One non-member of SEATO, the Republic of Korea, was contributing 18,000 troops to the fighting as of that date, raising the Free World Forces total to 528,400. France, in view of past policies, could not be expected to make a contribution; the amount of SEATO "unity" displayed by French participation would be offset by other obvious considerations. Pakistani assistance might be welcomed as a gesture of support for SEATO. But the major shortfall to date in SEATO has been the British decision that it is unable to participate militarily in Vietnam.

With all its weaknesses, the majority of the SEATO pact nations have actually collaborated in regional defense in the Vietnam war. In fact, given the range of disparity among the members, it is a source of wonder that support of SEATO nations for Vietnam has been as strong as it has been. The conflict In Vietnam is a crucible for SEATO; the future of the alliance will be profoundly affected by the outcome of the war.

  1. Appendix A, Comparison of the Wording of the NATO and SEATO Treaties
  2. Appendix B, Organizational Charts
  3. In the same month — October, 1954 — the Warsaw Pact came into being.
  4. See Appendix B for present organization.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Includes a two division reserve held outside the theater of operations and two RCT-size airborne units held in SVN.