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THE CONSEQUENCES of the war in Vietnam and Laos for U.S. relations with neighboring Southeast Asian states not directly involved in the conflict, as well as for the regional mutual defense organizations, are the focus of the documentary volume, Foreign Relations, 1964-1968, volume XXVII, Mainland Southeast Asia; Regional Affairs, released on September 21, 2000, by the Department of State. The volume documents U.S. policy toward countries on the periphery of the war in Southeast Asia.

The two regional compilations concentrate on the Australia-New Zealand-United States pact (ANZUS) and the Southeast Treaty Organization (SEATO). U.S. efforts in the ANZUS concentrated on encouraging the deployment of Australian and New Zealand troops to Vietnam, thus demonstrating that the war was not exclusively an American and South Vietnamese one. In return Australians sought to involve the United States in the defense of Malaysia and Singapore in anticipation of Britain’s projected withdrawal from East of Suez. During 1964-1968 SEATO proved to be a weakening regional grouping, too diverse and too conflicted to agree on a unified strategy for defending Southeast Asia. Despite the lack of a strong regional consensus about the war in Southeast Asia, President Johnson boldly proposed economic development of the area when he asked the U.S. Congress to make a $1 billion investment in the area in order to develop the Mekong River as a source for food, water, and power. Although this enterprise never lived up to Johnson’s expectations of becoming a Southeast Asian version of the TVA, it helped create the Asian Development Bank.

A small compilation of documents on Burma highlights U.S. efforts to engage the Burmese leader, Ne Win, diplomatically even as Burma withdrew into isolation and the “Burmese Way to Socialism.” Ne Win’s State visit to Washington was a means of assuring the Burmese leader that the United States did not view Burmese nonalignment as counter to U.S. interests in Southeast Asia.

Long compilations on Cambodia and Thailand reflect the importance of those nations for U.S. policymakers as the war in Vietnam escalated and dominated U.S. foreign policy in the region. In early 1964 Cambodian Prince Sihanouk, in the face of the growing war, desperately sought an international guarantee of Cambodian neutrality and territorial integrity in order to insulate Cambodia from the fighting and to resolve long-standing border problems with South Vietnam and Thailand. The failure of his efforts, which Sihanouk attributed to U.S. influence, and escalating incursions of U.S. and South Vietnamese forces into Cambodia in hot pursuit of Viet Cong forces, caused Sihanouk to break diplomatic ties with the United States.

The problem of North Vietnamese/Viet Cong use of Cambodian territory was a concern in both Washington and Saigon. The Central Intelligence Agency, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Department of State debated the best way to encourage Cambodia to prevent the North Vietnamese/Viet Cong from using Cambodian territory as a sanctuary for its operations against the South Vietnamese forces. The Department recommended reconciliation with Sihanouk; the JCS, citing the danger to U.S. troops in Vietnam, sought President Johnson’s approval to carry the war to the sanctuaries. By the end of the Johnson administration there was still no military/civilian consensus on either the significance of Cambodia to the Viet Cong/North Vietnamese war effort in South Vietnam or an agreed strategy to resolve the problem.

Thailand also became drawn into the war in South Vietnam and Laos. With the deterioration of non-Communist forces in Laos, Thailand and the United States engaged in joint military consultations and bilateral contingency planning. Thailand’s airfields provided vital bases for the U.S. air war in Southeast Asia. An ongoing dispute between the State and Defense Departments about military aid for Thailand ensued. The State Department wanted to reward the Thais for their “integral and vital” role; the Defense Department wanted to make increased aid dependent on reform of the Thai military and more attention to the local insurgent threat in Thailand’s northeast.

During the Johnson administration the Thais began to gear up to hold elections under a new constitution. The ruling military/civilian alliance sought U.S. assistance and advice in creating a government political party which won the elections held in 1969.   

  The Office of the Historian has prepared a summary of the volume. For further information, contact David S. Patterson, General Editor of the Foreign Relations series, at (202) 663-1127; fax: (202) 663-1289; e-mail: The texts of the volume, the summary, and this press release will soon be available on the Office’s Web site. Copies of volume XXVII can be purchased from the Government Printing Office.

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