The Search for a Negotiated Settlement of the Vietnam War

The Search for a Negotiated Settlement of the Vietnam War

The Search for a Negotiated Settlement of the Vietnam War

The Search for a Negotiated Settlement of the Vietnam War

Excerpt

The American conception of negotiation is a process of bargaining and concession, the outcome of which is compromise. Americans expect to bargain, and we expect that a military stalemate will cause our adversaries to do the same.

In the case of the Vietnam negotiations, this expectation proved unwise and frustrating. Hanoi used negotiations as a tactic of warfare to buy time to strengthen its military capabilities in South Vietnam and weaken the will of those on the side of Saigon. Rather than serving as an alternative to warfare, consequently, the Vietnam negotiations were an extension of it.

In describing the decade-long search for a negotiated settlement of the Vietnam War, it was not my original objective to develop or test theories of negotiation. Looking back today on the experience—and in light of the course I now teach at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service on the theory and practice of international negotiation — I do find that in each phase of the negotiations there is considerable support for the theories of bargaining that underscore the importance of adroit public diplomacy and internal policy coordination to effective international negotiation. Where the U.S. government, in particular, fell short on these qualities—and why—is highlighted in the chapters that follow.

But it is also important to remember that many American policy makers knew at the time that they were negotiating under less than optimal conditions and in ways that raised doubts about the efficacy of U.S. strategy and tactics. Vietnam, thus, is not a case where American diplomats were all too eager to sacrifice vital interests for the sake of an agreement; as U.S. presidents repeatedly demonstrated, they were not after a settlement at any price. Instead, the United States consistently sought the status quo ante bellum (though frequently lowering our expectations of what Hanoi was required to give to attain that condition).

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