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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The International Control Commission for Vietnam; the diplomatic and military context Brosnan, Vivienne


On July 21, 1954, Canada was asked to assume, with Poland and India, the supervision of the Cease Fire Agreements (CFA) in what had been French Indochina. The CFA marked the end of French rule in Indochina, a rule that had never been unquestioned, and that, since December of 1946, had involved France in a bitter and costly war. At the end of 1953 a series of events led to a decision to seek a negotiated peace in Indochina. After eight years of fighting that had drained away manpower and resources, France had lost control of large areas of Vietnam. The death of Stalin in Russia brought new leaders to power who were anxious to secure a lessening of international tensions so that they could turn their attention to improving the lot of the average Russian. The Chinese were about to embark on their first Five Year Plan, and wished to be free of the heavy burden that supplying the Vietminh war machine entailed. The Vietminh and the Americans, on the other hand, seem to have come to the conference table only on the insistence of their allies. The Vietminh considered that final victory was within their grasp and did not wish to stop short of their objective - control over the whole of Vietnam. The new Republican administration in the U.S. was committed to "rolling back" Communism, and foresaw another victory for Communism in the proposed peace conference. Proceedings at the Geneva Conference soon showed the diversity and conflict of aims among the participants. The U.S. soon retired for all practical purposes from active participation, and for quite long periods there was not even an official head of the U.S. Delegation present in Geneva. The Laniel Government fell in France during the negotiations, and Laniel was replaced by Mendès France, largely on the strength of his promise to conclude a peace within thirty days. Britain and the USSR acted as co-chairmen of the Conference and were active in moving their allies closer together; they share the responsibility for the eventual successful outcome of the Conference. Of the differences that developed between the two sides at Geneva, the most significant was the difference of opinion over the composition of an International Control Commission (ICC) to supervise the Cease Fire. A compromise was finally reached on India, Poland and Canada. During the first two years of the Commission's existence it supervised the withdrawal and regroupment of forces provided for in the Geneva Agreement. Particularly in the evacuation of Haiphong and Hanoi the ICC was able to render valuable service. By the end of this two year period, however, the French Union Forces (FUF) had left Vietnam, leaving the South Vietnamese to continue to enforce the Cease Fire Agreement, and the RVN had of course refused to consider itself bound by the Agreements. The Diem Government refused to contemplate the holding of elections that would have re-unified the country and brought to an end the ICC's task in Vietnam. Of all the members of the ICC, it was India's foreign policy that most affected the decisions and the work of the Commission. Indian policy was non-aligned, and must even more importantly be clearly seen to be non-aligned. At the same time India had an almost instinctive dislike of Communism, a dislike that appeared in India's lukewarm support for anti-colonial struggles in Asia that were dominated by Communists. Although the Indian Delegation sided with the Poles more often than with the Canadians during the life of the Commission, on important decisions that affected the South's ability to maintain its security, India sided with the Canadians. After 1956, the Commission became increasingly ineffective. Its freedom to investigate was eroded, financial support was lacking, and eventually the increasing tempo of the war in Vietnam swept the ICC aside as largely irrelevant. The ICC is only one of many peacekeeping operations in which Canada has been involved. UN missions have tended to be popular within Canada, while service on the ICC has not been generally approved. In fact Canada has not been as neutral or as partisan as public opinion has assumed. Certain conditions tend to ineffectiveness in peacekeeping missions, and these conditions have been present in other missions as well as in the ICC. In recent years, Canada has been increasingly reluctant to take on peacekeeping duties where it is judged the chance for effective action has not been great. But Canada has not been involved in peacekeeping simply because it has suited her to be involved. In future dangerous and difficult situations the pressures on us to participate might well be too strong to resist.

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