Vietnam: Strategy for a Stalemate

Vietnam: Strategy for a Stalemate

Vietnam: Strategy for a Stalemate

Vietnam: Strategy for a Stalemate

Excerpt

Much has been written about Vietnam. Most of the time the authors set out to explain (a) why the United States lost, (b) why the North Vietnamese won, or (c) both. The principal actors are usually the United States and the Vietnamese, and quite often only the United States really counts. But the war actually was played out against a larger backdrop. The United States wanted to preserve an independent non-communist South Vietnam. But more than the welfare of the people in Vietnam had to have been at stake for the United States to commit an army to combat in Asia. The United States thought it was containing communism in general and Chinese communism in particular when it developed an open-ended commitment to the Republic of Vietnam. The Soviet Union made a fundamental commitment to supply North Vietnam with the military materiel that gave the North Vietnamese the capability to match the American buildup. Without Soviet support, the North Vietnamese could not have escalated the level of conflict. Yet the reason the Soviets bore the costs and took the risks had less to do with Vietnam and more to do with China. And in China there was a violent struggle for power. The issue which ultimately decided which camp a Chinese politician supported was whether the United States military presence in Vietnam threatened China. One group said yes and China should therefore cooperate with the Soviet Union. The other group said no and there was no need to cooperate with the Soviet Union. Forces external to the conflict had a great impact on the conflict. The conflict had great impact beyond Vietnam.

The Soviet Union exploited the conflict by supplying weapons to North Vietnam that resulted in an escalating conflict and an escalating requirement for US troops. The Soviets portrayed the fact of growing American presence in their diplomacy and propaganda as a threat to the entire socialist camp in general and to China specifically. As a result, the Soviets made "unity of action over Vietnam" the centerpiece of their diplomacy within the socialist camp. They hoped to force China to reestablish the Sino-Soviet . . .

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