State to the effect that the U.S. defensive perimeter in the Pacific did not include South Korea, had encouraged Communist aggression. Now, with the scheduled evacuation of French armies from Indochina by mid-1956, there emerged the distinct possibility that such a military vacuum would recur, this time in southern Vietnam. 'Vietnam,' warned one American scholar familiar with the region, 'may very soon become either a dam against aggression from the north or a bridge serving the communist block to transform the countries of the Indochinese peninsula into satellites of China.' 7
The American Response
It was in the face of this uncertain situation on the Southeast Asian mainland that the Elsenhower administration moved to discourage renewed Communist military activity. First, the United States sought to create a regional international organization to promote collective military action under the threat of aggression. This was obtained on 8 September 1954 when eight nations-the United States, Great Britain, France, New Zealand, Australia, the Philippines, Pakistan, and Thailand- signed the Manila Pact. The treaty area encompassed by the pact included Southeast Asia, the Southwest Pacific below 1131' north latitude, and Pakistan. Two weeks later the pact was transformed into the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO). In a separate protocol, the member nations agreed that Cambodia, Laos, and the
'Free Territory under the jurisdiction of the State of Vietnam' all resided within their defense sphere.8
Next, after several months of hesitation, the United States settled on a policy of comprehensive assistance to South Vietnam, as the area south of the 1954 partition line was already being called. As conceived, the immediate objective of the new American policy was to bring political stability to South Vietnam. The longer range goal was the creation of a bulwark to discourage renewed Communist expansion down the Indochinese Peninsula. In this scheme, military assistance was to play a key role. 'One of the most efficient means of enabling the Vietnamese Government to become strong,' explained Elsenhower's Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, 'is to assist it in reorganizing the National Army and in training that Army.'9 In short, the State Department's position was that a stronger, more responsive Vietnamese National Army would help Premier Diem consolidate his political power. Later that same force would serve as a shield behind which South Vietnam would attempt to recover from the ravages of the French-Indochina War and the after effects of the Geneva Agreement.
So by early 1955 a combination of circumstances-South Vietnam's position adjacent to a Communist state, the unsavory memories of the Korean invasion, and the impending withdrawal of the French Expeditionary Corps-had influenced the United States to adopt a policy of military support for Premier Diem's struggling government.
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