Friday, July 19, 2019, 13:56 (GMT+7)
The Geneva Accords of 1954 and lessons on the art of securing the victory step by step

Assessing the results of the Geneva Conference (1954) on Indochina, most of scholars from many countries agreed that it had been a victory of Vietnam and a success of its strategy to achieve the victory step by step in the war for national liberation.

Nearly 24 hours after the fall of the French garrison at Dien Bien Phu, the Geneva Conference on Indochina (hereafter the Geneva Conference) officially commenced. That was the fourth official meeting between France and Vietnam since the latter had become independent. In spite of the fact that those meetings basically shared the same purpose, there was a huge difference in the context and status between the two sides at the fourth meeting. While the French delegation was headed by French Foreign Minister Georges Bidault, the Vietnamese delegation led by Deputy Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam Pham Van Dong came to the Conference as the victor of the war.

The Geneva Conference in 1954 (file photo)

After over 70 days of negotiation with 31 sessions and many bilateral and multilateral meetings on the sidelines of the Conference, on July 20th 1954, Vietnam and France signed the armistice agreement and issued an ultimate statement together with other relevant parties on July 21st 1954. The Geneva Conference ended with the signing of the Accords on Indochina as an international document for the solutions to ending the war and restoring peace in Vietnam comprehensively in the military, political, social, diplomatic, and legal terms, opening a new period for our people’s struggle for national liberation. That victory derived from our military and people’s patriotic tradition, willpower, knowledge, and courage as well as the close combination between the military struggle in the 1953-1954 Winter Spring Offensive with the historic Victory of Dien Bien Phu as its peak and the diplomatic struggle. More importantly, that victory was attributed to our Party and President Ho Chi Minh’s clear-headed assessments of the international situation and the balance of power between us and the enemy at that time. Based on those assessments, the Party formulated the sound policy to lead and direct the struggle for national liberation. It was the art of “knowing the enemy and ourself” and knowing how to “halt” properly that helped us consolidate, build, and develop the force, accumulate materials, create new strength, make progress step by step, and fulfil the cause of national liberation. The Geneva Conference provides us with many valuable lessons, including those on the art of securing the victory step by step as follows.

First, the Geneva Accords of 1954 - the first international legal document affirming Vietnam’s independence, sovereignty, unification, and territorial integrity. In the Declaration of Independence delivered on September 2nd 1945 by President Ho Chi Minh, he formally announced the birth of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam to the people and the world with sufficient rights to freedom and independence of a sovereign nation. However, in fact, Vietnam was only known as a French colony, “free nation”, and part of the Indochinese Federation under the French Union. The victory of the three Indochinese countries in the resistance war against the French Colonialists and especially the resounding victory of the strategic battle of Dien Bien Phu led to the Geneva Conference. That was an international conference with the participation of all 5 permanent members of the UN Security Council. Although each country had certain calculations when attending the Conference, all of them agreed to sign the Joint Statement. That was a massive victory of Vietnam. It was the first agreement on Vietnam in which all major powers officially recognized Vietnam’s independence, sovereignty, unification, and territorial integrity; no other countries had done it since the end of the World War II. That meant the Vietnamese people’s aspirations for national independence and freedom were realized on the half of the country. That was the initial victory which was legitimate internationally, helped our people fight against the intervention of the US Imperialists, and encouraged our people’s struggle against the US invasion of Vietnam.

Reality proved that with the exploitation of the Geneva Accords’ legitimacy and our all-round struggle, we exposed the US intention of invading Vietnam and accused the enemy of violating the Geneva Accords, damaging our general elections, and plotting to divide Vietnam for a long time. Within the legal framework of the Accords, we valued the Southern people’s right to self-determination, established the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam, created the legitimacy of the struggle against the US Imperialists and their lackeys, and advocated an independent, democratic, and neutral South Vietnam for national unification step by step. Notably, when the US Imperialists deployed their troops to the South (1965) and escalated the war, the Government of Democratic Republic of Vietnam employed Vietnam’s basic national right stipulated in the Geneva Accords to issue the renowned 4-point standpoint. That provided a solid foundation for the struggle against the US Imperialists and gained the support of many politicians and people from other countries and those who loved peace and justice all over the world.

Second, the Geneva Accords a prerequisite for Vietnam to build the North into a strategic rear base in support of the South’s battlefield. After the signing of the Geneva Accords, France had to withdraw all troops, peace was restored in the Indochina, and North Vietnam was completely liberated. With the territory and complete structure of an independent nation, the whole Party, Military, and people focused on consolidating, building, and developing the North under the direction of socialist revolution and transforming it into a strategic rear base which mobilized human and material resources for the South’s front line. According to the 2nd Party Central Committee’s 8th Plenum, “the North is our base. In any situation, the North must be consolidated”. The 3rd National Party Congress (1960) emphasized that the socialist revolution in the North played a role of decisive importance to the whole revolution of Vietnam; therefore, it was imperative to build, defend, and turn the North into a revolutionary base of the entire country and a strategic rear base for the struggle for the liberation of the South. In fact, thanks to the peaceful environment and the Party’s sound leadership, our people in the North overcame all difficulties to fuflil the plan for land reform, victoriously completed the period of economic recovery, and healed the wounds of war. The North strived to implement the 3-year, 5-year plans for socio-economic development and defence-security consolidation, proactively foiling the enemy’s plots to escalate the war, becoming a solid rear base for the South, fulfilling the cause of national liberation and unification together with the South. According to the statistics of 30 years of the war for national liberation and protection, in the 1975 Spring General Offensive and Uprising alone, over 80% of military troops, 81% of weapons, 60% of fuel, 65% of medicine and medical equipment, and 85% of transport vehicles were provided by the North. Those figures once again proved the great value of the Geneva Accords as an important basis for “half of the country” to successfully perform its function as a revolutionary base of the whole country.

Third, the Geneva Accords - lessons on proactiveness, independence, and self-reliance; a determinant to the victory of the Paris Peace Accords of 1973. According to Khac Huynh, an expert in diplomatic history, “the Geneva Accords, in fact, were an international compromise arranged by major powers in which each signatory received a piece of the cake”. In other words, the Geneva Conference was the result of “arrangement” between major power, and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam was invited to join the Conference as a relevant party only. Thus, in spite of the fact that Vietnam was one of the two main subjects on the agenda, it was not consulted about the process of convening the Conference or the participants in the Conference. That situation pushed us into passivity during negotiations as 6 out of 9 delegations in the Conference took the opponent’s side while 3 delegations took our side (Vietnam was the only representative of the resistance force in the Indochina together with its two allies of Soviet Union and China). In spite of being the victor on the battlefield, we could not force France or promote the military victory during negotiations, and we had numerous difficulties in dealing with major powers. It was a valuable lesson that we applied to the Paris Conference in which we brought into play our independence and self-reliance, made elaborate preparations in terms of guidelines, strategy, method, and force for combat. We quickly grasped the enemy’s intent and seized all chances to open the diplomatic front with the request for direct, bilateral negotiations with America (although the Conference was changed into a quadrilateral one, the balance of power between us and the opponent was maintained). That condition facilitated our nearly-5-year negotiations and helped us take the initiative and resolutely force the enemy to sign the Paris Peace Accords of 1973 on the basis of the Geneva Accords.

Looking back on the 65-year history of the Geneva Conference on Indochina, we could affirm that the great victory of the Vietnamese revolution proved the soundness of our Party’s guidelines on revolutionary offensive and its art of directing the revolutionary war in which we knew how to halt and make steady progress properly. To lead the durable resistance war against the French Colonialists to victory, our Party adopted a strategic vision and proper method of revolutionary struggle, not being arrogant with the victory, not being discouraged by the failure, knowing how to achieve the victory step by step. Nowadays, in the condition of our increasingly deep and wide international integration, the settlement of disputes and issues related to national interest by peaceful means is a trend of the times. Thus, studying and developing the lessons on the art of securing the victory step by step in the Geneva Conference will provide the basis for introducing highly feasible measures in order to develop the Party and State’s diplomatic guidelines and make contributions to successfully fulfilling the two strategic tasks of national construction and protection in the new situation.

Tran Viet Thai, PhD

Nguyen Xuan Cuong, MA

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