An Escalation to End Detente?

Foreign Policy

IN THE LAST four weeks, the war in Vietnam has accelerated while negotiations to end it have broken off. North Vietnam's special emissary Le Duc Tho has offered to resume negotiations with the United States, but Washington has demanded that Hanoi and the PRG stop their offensive before talks can begin. The U.S. has now sent B-52 bombers to hit Haiphong. The resumption of large-scale fighting in Vietnam is not only on dangering Nixon's "era of negotiations, but they may well plunge the world into a second cold war. Some perspective on Southeast Asian diplomacy during the last six months may cast light on this situation.

Secret talks in Paris failed to take place last November 20 for essentially three reasons: the presence of five U.S. aircraft carriers off the Vietnamese coast, the extensive civilian relocation in the northern part of South Vietnam, and the acceleration of Salgon's Phoenix program to wipe out communist sympathizers and political dissidents.

On October 26, President Thieu told the French paper L'Aurore that the war had lost its political significance because there was no longer any fighting near urban areas: it "is now becoming a military affair." In the interview, Thieu said that he wanted his splintered opposition to unite in the formation of a "loyal opposition" against the Communists who would be forced to surrender or be destroyed.

North Vietnam and its allies refused to capitulate. On November 20, Prince Souphanouvong of the Pathet Lao wrote his half-brother Souvanna Phouma that unless Phouma gave up his U.S. support, the Lao people would not "tolerate" his policies any longer. Subsequent fighting began in Laos and Cambodia.

As late as the end of November, North Vietnam retained some hope for negotiation. North Vietnamese Foreign Minister Nguyen Duy Trinh wrote in Hoc Tap that "diplomacy is a front of strategic importance as it has its own forces and potentialities and does not merely reflect the successes of armed and political struggle at home but also plays a positive role of its own."


One month later, U.S. planes bombed North Vietnam extensively. In January, President Nixon revealed secret negotiations that had been taking place in Paris since August 1969. In February Nixon went to Peking, and a month later he ended the Paris negotiations.

Nixon called off the talks at a time when Hanoi was angrily denouncing the Sino-American communique of February 27. In an article in Nhan Dan on March 13 entitled "The Devil's Commitments," a "Commentator" castigated Nixon's efforts to maintain his treaty commitments while simultaneously feigning peaceful intentions:

Our people will continue to advance firmly in their march to crush the plan for the Vietnamization of the war. Without a doubt, the revolutionary wave will sweep away every counterrevolutionary alliance and "commitment" and drown both the Yankee imperialists and their allies.

NIXON'S CESSATION of the Paris negotiations had yet another significance. Now that he had returned from Peking and would soon be in Moscow, Nixon wanted to show Hanoi precisely how little it's fate mattered to the "great councils" of the world. It may be, however, that Nixon has misjudged his influence with China and Russia.

The Peking leadership is under internal pressure because of the publicity it gave Nixon during his visit. In a recent article in the army paper, Honggi, Chi Ping indirectly justified the publication of the Nixon visit and of the Shanghai communique by allusion to Mao's saying that the masses can only learn by negative example. Chi wrote. "Some comrades admit the role played by teachers by negative example, but they are doubtful about publishing the latter's counter-revolutionary sayings and actions. They think that poisonous weeds will have a passive influence on the masses. Such worries are unwarranted."

However, the writer added. "Teachers by negative example can be really used only by exposing and criticizing them. All reactionary fallacies and shameless slanders by these teachers are at once openly reactionary and fairly deceptive. If no earnest study and incisive criticism are carried out, people often cannot discern and understand very well where the poison is and how deceptive these fallacies and slanders are. Only through revolutionary mass cricism in which such wares have been thoroughly criticized and reactionary fallacies refuted and their deceptive and counter-revolutionary essence exposed can the masses' militant determination to struggle against the enemy be stimulated."

The Chinese have thus committed themselves to condemning Nixon's policies--and it is wholly unlikely that Nixon's bombing of Haiphong will make them any more friendly to him.

In speeches last week. Nixon chided the Russians for their support of the North Vietnamese. The news that the B-52s hit a Russian freighter in Haiphong harbor cannot make Moscow any friendlier. The bombing of Haiphong and Nixon's statements concerning Russia may raise questions as to whether Nixon really wants his summit in Moscow to be a success.

Surely, the big corporations would love to keep getting their contracts from Uncle Sam on nuclear related weaponry, contracts that would cease coming if a Salt agreement is signed. And the big corporations can always provide "big" money during an election year...

The escalation of the war in Vietnam can only lead to worsening U.S. relations with China and Russia. Now that Nixon has sent B-52s to hit Hanoi it is unclear what else he is prepared to do and what other risks he is willing to take.

Unless Nixon begins serious negotiations with the North Vietnamese and agrees to a political compromise in South Vietnam, he will have thoroughly nullified his own "era of negotiations." The shallow roots of friendship that he and other presidents have painstakingly established with Russia and China may well be washed away. In their stead, an accelerated arms race and the politics of confrontation will threaten man's existence

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