The Vietnam War and Its Impact - The peace agreement

The basic elements of the Agreement on Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam—signed at the International Conference Center in Paris on 27 January 1973—provided for the end of the fighting and the withdrawal of American forces. The United States committed itself to ending all air and naval actions against North Vietnam and to dismantling or deactivating all mines in the waters of North Vietnam. Within two months after the signing of the agreement, all forces of the United States and of U.S. allies would depart Vietnam. The United States was barred from sending new war materials or supplies to South Vietnam and was required to dismantle all military bases there. The armed forces of the GVN and the NLF were allowed to remain where they were, but the cease-fire barred the introduction of new troops, military advisers, military personnel—including technical military personnel—armaments, munitions, and war material from North Vietnam or anywhere else. The disposition of Vietnamese armed forces in South Vietnam would be determined by the two South Vietnamese parties in a spirit of "national reconciliation and concord." In addition, the accord required the return of all captured military personnel and foreign civilians during the same two-month period. The two South Vietnamese parties would handle the return of Vietnamese civilians. The United States and North Vietnam promised to uphold the principles of self-determination for the South Vietnamese people, which included free and democratic elections under international supervision.

Even more unusually, the treaty called for a Four-Party Joint Military Commission to be constituted by the four signatories for implementing and monitoring compliance with the provisions on withdrawal, cease-fire, dismantling of bases, return of war prisoners, and exchange of information on those missing in action. An International Commission of Control and Supervision (ICCS), consisting of Canada, Hungary, Indonesia, and Poland, would oversee the agreement and report violations. In No Peace, No Honor (2001), Larry Berman utilized recently declassified records to show that Nixon had little faith in the Paris accord and expected that the accord would be violated, which would trigger a brutal military response. Permanent war (air war, not ground operations) at acceptable political cost was what Nixon expected from the signed agreement. President Thieu received repeated assurances that when the communists violated the accord, the B52s would return to punish Hanoi, but the Watergate scandal prevented such a retaliation.

Not a moment of peace ever came to Vietnam. Following the return of the American POWs, there was little adherence to the Paris agreements from either North or South Vietnam. The U.S. troops departed Vietnam sixty days after the Paris agreement was signed, but the level of violence had not significantly declined. Watergate was about to destroy the Nixon presidency and a new antiwar Congress had little interest in continuing economic support to the South. Faced with funding a $722 million supplement to stave off a collapse of South Vietnam, Congress refused to act. For many Americans, the last image of Vietnam was that of ambassador Graham Martin carrying a folded American flag during the final evacuation. This bitter aftermath left Americans searching for explanations as to what had gone wrong and who was responsible for failure.

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