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Negotiations in Vietnam


U.S. forces in South Vietnam seem to be trying everything short of outright fighting to stem the growing strength of the guerilla revolt. But plush relocation camps to concentrate the peasants and helicopter supply lifts cannot sustain unpopular President Diem's rule without direct U.S. military support. Even such military action, however, would be likely to succeed only in the distant future. If U.S. policy continues, as guerilla fighting spreads and more American troops pour into Vietnam, the U.S. will doubtless be involved, in a shooting capacity, with a long and messy jungle war.

Because some of the Communist-led guerillas are non-Communists who oppose President Diem's authoritarianism, such a war could hardly be waged in the name of democracy. Because many are South Vietnamese, American intervention would mean, at best, meddling in a civil war; at worst, suppressing a popular rebellion. But the principle of national self-determination has guided American policy only when its Cold War strategy permits. Unfortunately, the U.S. has tied itself to Diem, so that if he goes out, the Communists win.

Ethics aside, U.S. involvement is also alarming from a military viewpoint. The Chinese and Russians can hardly react favorably to increasing American military personnel. Indeed, military aid to North Vietnam from Communist bloc countries has grown considerably in the past few months and the Chinese have already made threatening noises. The geography of South Vietnam makes it rather easy for guerillas in the South to receive military reinforcement from the North. The only way then to win the war conclusively would be to eliminate these supply lines. And this would mean fighting in North Vietnam, which could lead to a major war between the great powers.

Present U.S. policy thus faces a future either of stalemate or of fast and loose brinkmanship. It seems ridiculous to waste American lives in action that can be nowhere near conclusive, especially when American aims in this region are far from clear-cut.

To call for negotiations these days has become a cliche. yet a neutral, unified Vietnam, the best solution to everyone's problems, can be achieved only through bargaining. The United States, the South Vietnamese guerillas, and the North Vietnamese regime would have to make concessions. A cease-fire might entail large U.S. troop reductions, if not complete withdrawal. Steps toward unification would have to be slow and conservative, starting perhaps in areas such as postal service and student exchange. In the end, if negotiations do nothing else, they will at least give the U.S. a more concrete idea of who the guerillas represent and of what their goals really are.

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