Geneva Conference (1954)
The Geneva Conference (April 26 – July 20, 1954) was a conference which took place in Geneva, Switzerland, whose purpose was to attempt to find a way to settle outstanding issues on the Korean peninsula and discuss the possibility of restoring peace in Indochina. The Soviet Union, the United States, France, the United Kingdom, and the People’s Republic of China were participants throughout the whole conference while different countries concerned with the two questions were also represented during the discussion of their respective questions, which included the countries that sent troops through the United Nations to the Korean War and the various countries that ended the First Indochina War between France and the Việt Minh.
The part of the conference on the Korean question ended without adopting any declarations or proposals. On Indochina, the conference produced a set of documents known as the Geneva Accords. These agreements temporarily separated Vietnam into two zones, a northern zone to be governed by the Việt Minh, and a southern zone to be governed by the State of Vietnam, then headed by former emperor Bảo Đại.
A Conference Final Declaration, issued by the British chairman of the conference, provided that a general election be held by July 1956 to create a unified Vietnamese state. Although presented as a consensus view, this document was not accepted by the delegates of either the State of Vietnam or the United States. In addition, three separate ceasefire accords, covering Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam, were signed at the conference.
On February 18 1954, at the Berlin Conference it was agreed that "the problem of restoring peace in Indochina will also be discussed at the Conference [on the Korean question] to which representatives of the United States, France, the United Kingdom, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the Chinese People's Republic and other interested states will be invited.":436
The armistice signed at end of the Korean War required a political conference within three months—a timeline which was not met—“to settle through negotiation the questions of the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Korea, the peaceful settlement of the Korean question, etc.”
After the defeat of the Japanese Empire in 1945, the Provisional Government of the French Republic restored colonial rule in French Indochina. Nationalist and communist movements in Vietnam led to the First Indochina War in 1946. This colonial war between the French Union's Expeditionary Corps and Hồ Chí Minh's Việt Minh guerrillas turned into a Cold War crisis in January 1950. The communist Việt Minh received support from the newly proclaimed People's Republic of China and the Soviet Union, while France and the newly created Vietnamese National Army received support from the United States.
The Battle of Điện Biên Phủ started on March 13, 1954 and continued during the conference. The course of the battle hung over the conference as both sides sought a strategic victory that would strengthen their negotiating position.
On the Korean question
The South Korean representative proposed that the South Korean government was the only legal government in Korea, that UN-supervised elections should be held in the North, that Chinese forces should withdraw, and that UN forces—a belligerent party to the war—should remain as a police force. The North Korean representative suggested that elections be held throughout all of Korea, that all foreign forces leave beforehand, that the elections be run by an all-Korean Commission that is made up of equal parts from North and South Korea, and to generally increase relations economically and culturally between the North and the South.
The Chinese delegation proposed an amendment to have a group of “neutral nations” supervise the elections, which the North accepted. The U.S. supported the South Korean position and saying that the USSR wanted to turn North Korea into a puppet state. Most allies remained silent and at least one, Britain, thought that the U.S.-South Korean proposal would be deemed unreasonable.
The South Korean representative then made a new proposal where there would be all-Korea elections but that they would be held according to South Korean constitutional procedures and still under UN-supervision. On June 15, the last day of the conference on the Korean question, the USSR and China both submitted declarations in support of a unified, democratic, independent Korea, and that negotiations to that end should resume at an appropriate time. The Belgian and British delegations said that while they were not going to accept “the Soviet and Chinese proposals, that did not mean a rejection of the ideas they contained.” In the end, however, no declaration was adopted.
While the delegates began to assemble in Geneva from late April, the discussions on Indochina only commenced on May 8, 1954; the Viet Minh had acheived their decisive victory over the French Union forces at Dien Bien Phu the previous day.:549
The Western allies did not have a unified position on what the Conference was to acheive in relation to Indochina. Anthony Eden leading the French delegation favored a negotiated settlement to the conflict. Georges Bidault leading the French delegation vacillated - keen to preserve something of France's position in Indochina and justify past sacrifices even as its military situation deteriorated.:559 The U.S. had been supporting the French in Indochina for many years and the Eisenhower Administration wanted to ensure that it could not be accused of another "Yalta" or having "lost" Indochina to the Communists as they had accused the Truman Administration of having "lost China" previously. The Eisenhower Administration had considered air strikes in support of the French at Dien Bien Phu, but were unable to obtain a commitment to united action from key allies such as the United Kingdom and Eisenhower was wary of becoming drawn into "another Korea" that would be deeply unpopular with the American public. U.S. domestic politics heavily influenced the U.S. position at Geneva.:551-3 Columnist Walter Lippman wrote on April 29 that "the American position at Geneva is an impossible one,so long as leading Republican senators have no terms for peace except unconditional surrender of the enemy and no terms for entering the war except as a collective action in which nobody is now willing to engage.":554 At the time of Geneva the U.S. did not recognize the People's Republic of China and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, a virulent anti-Communist, forbade any contact with the Chinese delegation, even refusing to shake hands with Zhou Enlai, the lead Chinese negotiator.:555 Dulles fell out with the UK delegate Anthony Eden over the perceived failure of the UK to support united action and U.S. positions on Indochina and left Geneva on May 3 being replaced by his deputy Walter Bedell Smith.:555-8 The State of Vietnam refused to attend the negotiations until Bidault wrote to Bao Dai assuring him that any agreement would not partition Vietnam.:550-1
Bidault opened the conference on May 8 by proposing a cessation of hostilities, a ceasefire in place, a release of prisoners and a disarming of irregulars, notwithstanding the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu the previous day.:559-60
On May 10, Pham Van Dong, leader of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) delegation set out their position which proposed a ceasefire, separation of the opposing forces, a ban on the introduction of new forces into Indochina, exchange of prisoners, independence and sovereignty for Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, elections for unified governments in each country, withdrawal of all foreign forces and the inclusion of the Pathet Lao and Khmer Issarak representatives at the Conference.:560Following their victory at Dien Bien Phu and given the worsening French security position around the Red River Delta, a ceasefire and partition would not appear to have been in the interests of the DRV, however it appears that the DRV leadership saw the balance of forces as uncomfortably close and were worried about morale problems among their troops and supporters after 8 years of war.:561
On May 12, the State of Vietnam rejected any partition of the country and the U.S. expressed a similar position the next day. The French sought to implement a physical separation of the opposing forces into enclaves throughout the country, known as the "leopard-skin" approach. The DRV/Viet Minh would be given the Cà Mau Peninsula, 3 enclaves near Saigon, large areas of Annam and Tonkin, however the French Union forces would retain most urban areas and the Red River Delta, including Hanoi and Haiphong allowing it to resume combat operation in the north if necessary.:562-3
Behind the scenes the U.S. and French Governments continued to discuss the terms for possible U.S. military intervention in Indochina.:563-6 By May 29 the U.S. and the French had reached agreement that if the Conference failed to deliver an acceptable peace deal Eisenhower would seek Congressional approval for military intervention in Indochina.:568-9 However, following discussions with the Australian and New Zealand Governments where it became clear that neither would support U.S. military intervention, reports of the plummeting morale among the French Union forces and opposition from Army Chief of Staff Matthew Ridgway the U.S. position began to move away from intervention, however they could still not support a negotiated settlement.:569-73 By early-mid June the U.S. began to consider the possibility that rather than supporting the French to stay in Indochina, it might be preferable for the French to leave Indochina and for the U.S. to support the new Indochinese states without the perception of French colonialism. As they were unwilling to support the proposed partition or intervention, by mid-June the U.S. decided to withdraw from major participation in the Conference.:574-5
On June 15 Molotov had proposed that the ceasefire should be monitored by a supervisory commission chaired by neutral India. On June 16, Zhou Enlai stated that the situations in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos were not the same and should be treated separately, Laos and Cambodia could be treated as neutral nations provided they had no foreign bases. On June 18 Pham Van Dong said the Viet Minh would be prepared to withdraw their forces from Laos and Cambodia provided no foreign bases were established in Indochina.:581 This apparent softening of the Communist position appeared to arise from a meeting between the DRV, Chinese and Soviet delegations on June 15 where Zhou warned the Viet Minh that their military presence in Laos and Cambodia threatened to undermine negotiations in relation to Vietnam. This represented a major blow to the DRV as they had tried to ensure that the Pathet Lao and Khmer Issarak would join the governments in Laos and Cambodia respectively, under the leadership of the DRV. It is likely that the Chinese also sought to ensure that going forward Laos and Cambodia were not under Vietnam's influence, but China's.:581-3
On June 18, following a vote of no-confidence the Laniel government fell and was replaced by a coalition with Radical Pierre Mendès France as Prime Minister by a vote of 419 to 47 with 143 abstentions.:579 A long-time opponent of the war Mendès France had pledged to the National Assembly that he would resign if he failed to acheive a ceasefire within 30 days.:575 Mendès France retained the Foreign Ministry for himself and Bidault left the Conference.:579 On June 23, Mendès France secretly met with Zhou Enlai at the French Embassy in Bern, Zhou outlined the Chinese position of the need for an immediate ceasefire, the view that the three nations should be treated separately and recognition that two governments existed in Vietnam.:584. Mendès France returned to Paris and the following day met with his main advisers on Indochina, General Ely outlined the deteriorating military position in Vietnam and Jean Chauvel suggested that the situation on the ground called for partition at the 16th or 17th parallel, all agreed that the Bao Dai government would need time to consolidate its position and that U.S. assistance would be vital. The possibility of retaining Hanoi and Haiphong or just Haiphong was dismissed as it was felt preferable to seek partition with no Viet Minh enclaves in the south.:585-7
In the same week, Bao Dai appointed Ngo Dinh Diem as Prime Minister to replace Bửu Lộc. Diem was a staunch nationalist both anti-French and anti-Communist with strong political connections in the U.S.:576. Diem was strongly opposed to partition of Vietnam.
On June 28 following an Anglo-U.S. summit in Washington a joint communique was issued that included a statement that if the Conference failed "the international situation will be seriously aggravated." The parties also agreed a secret list of seven minimum outcomes that both parties would "respect", these included the integrity of Cambodia and Laos including removal of Viet Minh forces, preserving the southern half of Vietnam and preferably an enclave in the Red River Delta, no provision that would risk the loss of retained areas to Communists and the possibility of ultimate reunification.:593-4
Also on June 28, Tạ Quang Bửu a senior DRV negotiator called for the line of partition to be at the 13th parallel, the withdrawal of all French Union forces from the north within 3 months of the ceasefire and the Pathet Lao to have virtual sovereignty over eastern Laos.:595-6
From July 3-5 Zhou Enlai met with Ho Chi Minh and other senior DRV leaders in Liuzhou. Most of the first day was spent discussing the military situation and balance of forces in Vietnam, General Giáp explained that while "Dien Bien Phu had represented a colossal defeat for France, he began, but she was far from defeated. She retained a superiority in numbers - some 470,000 troops, roughly half of them Vietnamese, versus 310,000 on the Viet Minh side as well as control of Vietnam's major cities (Hanoi, Saigon, Hue, Tourane). A fundamental alteration of the balance of forces had thus yet to occur, Giap continued, despite Dien Bien Phu, at which point Wei Guoqing, the chief Chinese military adviser to the Viet Minh spoke up to say he agreed. "If the U.S. does not interfere," Zhou asked, "and assuming France will dispatch more troops, how long will it take for us to seize the whole of Indochina?" In the best-case scenario, Giap replied, full victory could be acheived in two to three years. Worst case? Three to five years.":596. That afternoon Zhou "offered a lengthy exposition on the massive international reach of the Indochina conflict...and on the imperative of preventing an American intervention in the war. Given Washington's intense hostility to the Chinese Revolution...one must assume that the current administration would not stand idly by if the Viet Minh sought to win complete victory. Consequently, "if we ask too much at Geneva and peace is not acheived, it is certain that the U.S. will intervene, providing Cambodia, Laos and Bao Dai with weapons and ammunition, helping them train military personnel, and establishing military bases there....The central issue," Zhou told Ho, is "to prevent America's intervention" and "to acheive a peaceful settlement." Laos and Cambodia would have to be treated differently and allowed to pursue their own paths, provided they did not join a military alliance or permit foreign bases on their territory. The Mendes France government, having vowed to acheive a negotiated solution, must be supported, lest it fall and be replaced by one committed to continuing the war.":597 Ho pressed hard for the partition line to be at the 16th parallel while Zhou noted that Route 9, the only land route from Laos to the South China Sea ran closer to the 17th parallel.:597
Several days later the party's Sixth Central Committee plenum took place. Ho Chi Minh and General Secretary Trường Chinh took turns articulating the need for an early political settlement so as to prevent a military intervention by the United States, now the "main and direct enemy" of Vietnam. "in the new situation we cannot follow the old program." Ho declared. "before, our motto was, "war of resistance until victory." Now, in view of the new situation, we should uphold a new motto: peace, unification, independence, and democracy." A spirit of compromise would be required by both sides to make the negotiations succeed, and there could be no more talk of wiping out and annihilating all the French troops. A demarcation line allowing the temporary regroupment of both sides would be necessary...The plenum endorsed Ho's analysis, passing a resolution supporting a compromise settlement to end the fighting. But Ho and Truong Chinh plainly worried that following such an agreement at Geneva, there would be internal discontent and "leftist deviation" and in particular that analysts would fail to see the complexity of the situation and underestimate the power of the American and French adversaries. They accordingly reminded their colleagues that France would retain control of a large part of the country, and that people living in this area might be confused, alienated and vulnerable to enemy manipulations. "We have to make it clear to our people," Ho said, that "in the interest of the whole country, for the sake of long-term interest, they must accept this, because it is a glorious thing and the whole country is grateful for that. We must not let people have pessimistic and negative thinking; instead, we must encourage the people to continue the struggle for the withdrawal of French troops and ensure our independence.":597-8
The Conference reconvened on July 10 and Mendès France arrived to lead the French delegation.:599 The State of Vietnam continued to protest against partition but this had become inevitable with the only issue being where the line should be drawn.:602 Walter Bedell Smith arrived in Geneva on July 16, but the U.S. delegation was under instructions to avoid direct association with the negotiations.:602 On July 18 Zhou broke a deadlock on the composition of the supervisory commission winning approval for Poland, Canada and India as chair.:603
The negotiators were unable to agree on a date for the elections for reunification, the DRV, argued that the elections should be held within 6 months of the ceasefire, while the Western allies, aware that Ho Chi Minh would win such a vote, sought to have no deadline. Molotov proposed June 1955, then later softened this to any time in 1955 and finally July 1956.:610
By the afternoon of July 20 the remaining outstanding issues were resolved as the parties agreed that the partition line should be at the 17th parallel and that the elections for reunification should be in July 1956, two years after the ceasefire.:604
While the three agreements (later known as the Geneva Accords) were dated July 20 (to meet Mendès France's 30 day deadline) they were in fact signed on the morning of July 21.:605
The Geneva Accords, which were issued on July 21, 1954, set out the following terms in relation to Vietnam:
- a "provisional military demarcation line" running approximately along the 17th Parallel "on either side of which the forces of the two parties shall be regrouped after their withdrawal".
- a 3 miles (4.8 km) wide demilitarized zone on each side of the demarcation line
- French Union forces to regroup to the south of the line and Viet Minh to the north
- free movement of the population between the zone for three hundred days
- neither zone to join any military alliance or seek military reinforcement
- establishment of the International Control Commission comprised of Canada, Poland and India as chair to monitor the ceasefire:605
The agreement was signed by the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, France, the People's Republic of China, the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom. The State of Vietnam rejected the agreement. while the United States stated that it "took note" of the ceasefire agreements and declared that it would "refrain from the threat or use of force to disturb them.:606
To specifically put aside any notion that the partition was permanent, an unsigned Final Declaration, stated in Article 6: "The Conference recognizes that the essential purpose of the agreement relating to Vietnam is to settle military questions with a view to ending hostilities and that the military demarcation line is provisional and should not in any way be interpreted as constituting a political or territorial boundary" 
Reactions to the Geneva Accords
The DRV at Geneva accepted a much worse settlement than the military situation on the ground indicated. "For Ho Chi Minh, there was no getting around the fact that his victory, however unprecedented and stunning was incomplete and perhaps temporary. The vision that had always driven him on, that of a "great union" of all Vietnamese, had flickered into view for a fleeting moment in 1945-6, then had been lost in the subsequent war. Now, despite vanquishing the French military, the dream remained unrealized...":620 This was partly as a result of the great pressure exerted by China (Pham Van Dong is alleged to have said in one of the final negotiating sessions that Zhou Enlai double-crossed the DRV) and the Soviet Union for their own purposes, but the Viet Minh had their own reasons for agreeing to a negotiated settlement, principally their own concerns regarding the balance of forces and fear of U.S. intervention.:607-9
France had acheived a much better outcome than could have been expected. Bidault had stated at the beginning of the Conference that he was playing with "a two of clubs and a three of diamonds" whereas the DRV had several aces, kings and queens,:607 however Jean Chauvel was more circumspect saying "There is no good end to a bad business.":613
In a press conference on July 21, President Eisenhower expressed satisfaction that a ceasefire had been concluded but stated that the U.S. was not a party to the Accords or bound by them as they contained provisions that his administration could not support.:612
Post declaration events
On October 9 1954 the tricolore was lowered for the last time at the Hanoi Citadel and the last French Union forces left the city, crossing the Paul Doumer Bridge on their way to Haiphong for embarkation.:617-8
For Communist forces, which were instrumental in the defeat of the French, the ideology of communism and nationalism were linked. Many communist sympathisers viewed the South Vietnamese as a French colonial and later an American puppet regime. On the other hand, as many others viewed the North Vietnamese as a puppet of Communist International.
After the cessation of hostilities, a large migration took place. 1,000,000 North Vietnamese, many were Catholics, intellectuals, business people, land owners, anti-communist democrats, and members of the middle-class moved south of the Accords-mandated ceasefire line during Operation Passage to Freedom. The CIA attempted to further influence Catholic Vietnamese with slogans such as 'the Virgin Mary is moving South'. At the same time, 52,000 people from the South went North, mostly Viet Minh members and their families.
The U.S. replaced the French as a political backup for Ngo Dinh Diem, then Prime Minister of the State of Vietnam and he asserted his power in the South. Diem refused to hold the national elections, citing that the South did not sign and were not bound to the Geneva Accords and that it was impossible to hold free elections in the communist North, and went about attempting to crush communist opposition.
On May 20 1955, French Union forces withdrew from Saigon to a coastal bases and on April 28 1956 the last French forces left Vietnam.:650
North Vietnam established military operations in the South in violation of the Geneva Accords, by providing military supplies and equipment, weaponry, and military personnel and leadership to the Viet Cong in the South. Guerrilla activity in the South escalated, while U.S. military advisers continued to support the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, which was created as a replacement for the Vietnamese National Army. The failure of reunification led to the creation of the National Liberation Front (better known as the Vietcong) by Ho Chi Minh's government. They were closely aided by the Vietnam People's Army (VPA) of the North, also known as the North Vietnamese Army. The result was the Second Indochinese War, more commonly known as the Vietnam War.
John Lewis Gaddis, a historian, said that the 1954 accords "were so hastily drafted and ambiguously worded that, from the standpoint of international law, it makes little sense to speak of violations from either side."
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