When the Laotian peace agreement is signed, it will be the third time in the past two decades that the left-wing Pathet Lao and the Royal Laotian government have attempted to settle their differences at the conference table.
Each of the two previous settlements--the 1954 Geneva agreements and a special 1962 Geneva pact--established the neutrality of Laos as a first principle upon which a lasting peace would necessarily depend.
And both previous settlements evaporated when a combination of rightest Laotians and the United States government sought to undermine Laotian neutrality and shift the country into the Western camp.
In 1962, for example, the United States, as one of the signatories to the Declaration on the Neutrality of Laos, pledged to "respect and observe in every way the sovereignty, independence, and neutrality" of the country.
Yet within several weeks after the agreements were formally approved, U.S. Air Force reconnaisance jets thundered over Pathet Lao camps, and the CIA continued to airlift aid to the pro-American Meo tribesmen.
U.S. bombing began in earnest in mid-1964, peaking in 1969 and ending only last February. The aerial onslaught, which lasted longer than the bombing by any country of another in world history, carpeted sections of Laos with hundreds of thousands of bomb craters and turned between one-third and one-half of Laos's three million people into homeless refugees.
American policymakers justified the relentless bombardment on the grounds that it was meant to interdict North Vietnamese troops moving south into southern Vietnam and that it would also protect Laos from a purported North Vietnamese "invasion."
Both rationales were spurious. Much of the bombing was directed against the Plain of Jars in northeast Laos, hundreds of miles away from what the United States has dubbed the "Ho Chi Minh trail."
As for the "invasion," the U.S. was making the same mistake--perhaps intentionally--that it would later make in neighboring Cambodia. The Pathet Lao were not North Vietnamese in disguise, but native Laotians who had attempted since their movement was founded in 1950 to achieve a blend of revolution, independence and economic development for the benefit of the Laotian people.
80 Per Cent
Each time the neutrality agreements have been subverted, the Pathet Lao have added to their support and expanded their sphere of control. The outlines of the latest reported peace settlement appear to assign them about 80 per cent of the country.
The new agreement merely confirms through institutional arrangements the augmented influence of the Pathet Lao.
Prince Souvanna Phouma will probably remain as premier, but the first deputy premiership will be assigned to a member of the Pathet Lao, as will the ministry of foreign affairs.
In addition, the two capitals--Vientiane and Luang Prabang--will be neutralized, and the country will be divided into two zones, with the Pathet Lao controlling by far the most territory. Pathet Lao troops will be stationed in the two capitals.
U.S. Logic Fails Again
Almost a decade of aerial destruction have gained nothing for the United States. The settlement is on terms far more amenable to the Pathet Lao than the 1962 agreements which the U.S. subverted.
As in Cambodia, which will fall to the revolutionary Khmer Rouge shortly after the American bombing stops August 15, American foreign policy--even by its own inhumane logic--has failed once again.