2009 Volume 2009 Issue 156 Pages 156_90-106
In 1963, about one and a half year after he had ended the Algerian War, French President Charles de Gaulle started to publicly criticize the US military intervention in Vietnam and proposed “Neutralization” as a path to peace settlement. But the US government, especially the Johnson administration, already familiar with and tired of, de Gaulle's critical attitudes, flatly rejected this proposal, considering it just another way of attacking the US government and its policies. Then de Gaulle's criticism toned up, culminating in his infamous Phnom Penh speech in 1966, that increased the tension across the Atlantic.
What was the purpose of de Gaulle's peace initiatives? This article reexamines de Gaulle's Vietnam policy in light of new archives disclosed recently (in 2003) in France as well as in the US.
According to my analysis, the new documents seem to show that, contrary to the American perception, with his “Neutralization” proposal, De Gaulle was really trying to mediate a peace between the US, North Vietnam and the NLF. Based on lessons drawn from the disastrous colonial wars in Indochina and Algeria, he was sincerely convinced that it would be absolutely impossible even for the US to win the war against such a well-rooted nationalist movement.
If so, however, another puzzle arises. Why did de Gaulle fail to persuade the American government of the utility of his peace plan? What was the cause for this fundamental misunderstanding between the two presidents?
In order to answer these questions, the author is focusing on the duality of de Gaulle's diplomacy toward the US. It is certain that his peace initiative on Vietnam was initially meant as serious and friendly advice. As one of the American allies, France didn't want to see the leader of the Western camp stuck in the mud of Vietnam. It was feared that the American power wasted in Southeast Asia might eventually cause US withdrawal from Western Europe. De Gaulle was far from being a simple anti-American, as was assumed by the Americans. On the other hand, however, De Gaulle's “Neutralization” proposal was inseparable from his World strategy, seeking to enhance the French international influence and status with all possible means. His criticism of the Vietnam War stemmed also from his strong desire to gain France more autonomy from the US hegemony. It is well know that attaining equality with the US was one of de Gaulle's diplomatic ambitions. This position was also so flagrant in his Vietnam proposal that the Americans couldn't help simply rejecting it.