Coalitions in Wartime




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Thank you to the following reviewers of the curriculum: Andrew Demko, Rainier Junior/Senior High School; Mark Lawrence, University of Texas at Austin; Susan Tomlinson, Franklin Central High School. 



Why might other countries have chosen to support or not to support the United States in Vietnam?

During US involvement in Vietnam, a few nations chose to support US efforts and many others chose to refrain from entering the conflict, either militarily or politically, for a variety of reasons.

On slide 1, you see a safe conduct pass issued by forces allied with South Vietnam—on it you can identify the South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, and Philippines flags. These countries lent the greatest degree of support to the US by sending combat forces to fight in Vietnam.

Among the greatest commitments made was that of South Korea, which sent over 300,000 combat troops to fight in South Vietnam (see slide 2 for Korean troops in Vietnam). Slide 3 shows a 1961 meeting in Washington between President Kennedy and South Korean president Park Chung-hee, an authoritarian leader who had recently seized power in a coup-d’etat. The US had established a strong relationship with Park Chung-hee, and the desire to maintain the strength of that relationship was a motivating factor in providing both political and material support to the US in Vietnam. In 1965, South Korea sent battalions to Vietnam after President Johnson agreed to several conditions including increased American economic aid to South Korea, replacement of South Korean military equipment, and defraying of expenses. South Korea had 4407 combat deaths in Vietnam.

Australia was another nation that chose to send combat troops into South Vietnam in 1965 to assist the US-led effort (see slide 4). In 1964, in the face of little support from traditional Western allies, the State Department under President Lyndon Johnson led a “More Flags” campaign in an attempt to rally international support for the cause of saving South Vietnam. While some nations, like Australia, responded positively with both political support against the expansion of communism and military support by sending a total of over 60,000 combat troops (from 1962 to 1973), many others, including all of America’s closest allies in Western Europe, expressed concern and hesitation about getting involved in the conflict. Australia had 521 combat deaths in Vietnam.

Great Britain, for example, expressed concern at various points regarding both political and military involvement in Vietnam. Ask students to read the excerpt of Robert Thompson’s 1964 memo included on slide 6. What are some of his stated concerns regarding getting involved in Vietnam? Despite pleas from the US government, including a possible exchange of financial support for the pound sterling for British combat troops, Britain chose to refrain from involvement in Vietnam, with doubt that US objectives in Vietnam could be met, particularly not with military escalation.

On slide 7 you see Lester Pearson, who served as the prime minister of Canada from 1963 to 1968. In the midst of US escalation in Vietnam, Canada stood alongside Great Britain as a nation hesitant to enter the coalition against North Vietnam. In 1965, Pearson visited the US and delivered a speech at Temple University in which he said regarding the conflict in Vietnam: “A settlement is hard to envisage in the heat of battle, but it is now imperative to seek one.” Like Great Britain, the Canadian government was skeptical of US foreign policy in Vietnam and sought to push the US toward negotiations rather than military escalation. Among the top concerns were the ability of the US to achieve its objectives in Vietnam and disagreement regarding the strategic importance of Vietnam.

France was another Western nation (and member of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization) that refrained from joining the US coalition in Vietnam, for various reasons. On slide 8, you see a 1963 meeting between President Johnson and the French president Charles de Gaulle. Having fought and lost a war in Vietnam nearly ten years earlier, the French government had no intention of repeating past mistakes, and de Gaulle, like the leaders of Britain and Canada, urged neutralization as soon as possible.

Since Vietnam, US-led military conflicts have had varying degrees of coalition support, with a variety of reasons for or against participation. Look at the map on slide 9, which shows the coalition support the US received during the 1990 Gulf War. How many countries are in color? Which countries sent the greatest numbers of troops? Why do you think the US received strong global support for that particular war?

In contrast, observe the map on slide 10, which lists the countries that supported the 2003-2011 US war in Iraq. How many different flags are seen on the map? How does that number compare with the number from the previous map? Why do you think the US received less global support for the Iraq war?

Finally, coalition building is occurring today, as the US escalates military efforts against ISIS/Da’esh in Iraq and Syria. Watch the September 2014 news clip included on slide 11 on the state of the US coalition against ISIS. According to the clip, how many countries are in the coalition thus far? Does the clip indicate any reasons or motivations for the support of those countries? Because it is always a significant decision to commit forces to conflict, it is important to understand and evaluate the reasons why the United States has succeeded or failed in generating support for its military interventions in the past.