SEATO Is Founded Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The United States entered into a multilateral defensive alliance with the United Kingdom, France, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Thailand, and Pakistan in order to protect Southeast Asia and the western Pacific from external aggression or internal subversion.

Summary of Event

Delegates from the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Thailand, and Pakistan signed the Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty (SEACDT) in Manila on September 8, 1954. This treaty created the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO). The stated purpose of SEATO was the collective defense of member nations in Southeast Asia and the western Pacific. Specifically, it protected states south of 21° 30′ north latitude. By design, the northern boundary prohibited the Nationalist Chinese on Formosa (Taiwan), the Republic of Korea, and Japan from joining the organization. A protocol was attached to the treaty that extended the benefits of membership to Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam, even though these former French colonies were not permitted to join officially. Southeast Asia Treaty Organization Manila Pact (1954) Cold War;mutual defense agreements [kw]SEATO Is Founded (Sept. 8, 1954) Southeast Asia Treaty Organization Manila Pact (1954) Cold War;mutual defense agreements [g]Southeast Asia;Sept. 8, 1954: SEATO Is Founded[04610] [g]Philippines;Sept. 8, 1954: SEATO Is Founded[04610] [c]Diplomacy and international relations;Sept. 8, 1954: SEATO Is Founded[04610] [c]Organizations and institutions;Sept. 8, 1954: SEATO Is Founded[04610] [c]Cold War;Sept. 8, 1954: SEATO Is Founded[04610] Dulles, John Foster [p]Dulles, John Foster;Cold War pacts Ho Chi Minh Eisenhower, Dwight D. [p]Eisenhower, Dwight D.;Cold War

The creation of SEATO came about as a result of the collapse of the French colonial empire in 1954. Prior to World War II, the United States and several European powers had maintained colonial control over much of Southeast Asia. The Japanese took control of these colonies during World War II, and after Japan’s defeat, many states in the region expected that they would finally receive independence. However, the French sought to maintain control of Indochina (Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam) and refused to grant their colonies full independence. As a result, Ho Chi Minh led a rebellion in Vietnam Anticolonial movements;Vietnam and fought a bitter war against French forces. France France;colonial empire fared poorly in the war, and Vietnamese forces defeated the French at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu Dien Bien Phu, Battle of (1954) in May, 1954.

During the spring and summer of 1954, Geneva hosted an international peace conference in the hopes of generating a peace treaty officially to end the Korean War. The timing of the French defeat allowed the nations meeting at Geneva to include discussion of a peace settlement for Indochina at the conference. The Vietnamese victory at Dien Bien Phu ensured that the French would have to make major concessions, which U.S. secretary of state John Foster Dulles feared would make any outcome at Geneva unacceptable. As a result, Dulles sought an alternative means of guaranteeing political stability in Southeast Asia.

Dulles hoped the Geneva Conference would produce fruitful results, but he believed in the necessity of a separate course of action, because he accepted what has come to be called the “domino theory.” This theory posited that if any Asian nation, such as Indochina, became communist, then the rest of Asia would also adopt communism: Revolution would spread from nation to nation like a row of falling dominoes. To prevent this possibility, Dulles came to believe that a coordinated regional defense system could be utilized to halt further communist expansion without directly committing American troops. This idea built on existing mutual-security treaties with friendly nations such as Australia, New Zealand, and the Philippines. President Dwight D. Eisenhower concurred with Dulles, and his administration soon began making plans to create a regional alliance in Southeast Asia.

By the end of June, 1954, plans for a regional security pact had advanced enough to allow the United Kingdom to take part in the creation process alongside the United States. The British agreed that the region needed a collective defense system, and the two nations began a joint study group that produced the basic alliance treaty. During the planning sessions, they agreed that the treaty should contain provisions to help guard against overt or subversive communist activity in the region. Neither the United States nor the United Kingdom wished to participate in a non-communist-related fight.

The British and the Americans also decided that Japan, Nationalist China, the Republic of Korea, and Hong Kong, along with any other colonial possessions, should not be allowed to join the treaty in order to obtain the largest possible body of neutral Asian membership. They agreed that the new alliance would not be a strong military organization like the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), because they believed that they already had sufficient strength to deal with the Soviets and the Chinese in the event of war with the communist powers. Therefore, rather than military strength, they wanted to increase the amount of territory they were committed to defending in order to prevent the spread of communism.

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While meeting with the British, the U.S. State Department also consulted with Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, and the Philippines to ensure that these nations found elements of the proposed treaty acceptable, but these nations did not have as much influence over the treaty wording as did the United States and the United Kingdom. The United States did not initially confer with France in order to avoid disrupting the Geneva peace conference, but with the end of the Geneva Conference in early August, 1954, the French were belatedly consulted. Planning concluded by mid-August, and with the presentation of a draft treaty, the involved nations invited other nations who wished to join an Asian collective security arrangement to meet in Manila on September 6, 1954.

Pakistan was the only additional nation to attend the Manila meeting, and the eight nations debated the proposed treaty from September 6 to September 8. During the brief Manila conference, several nations expressed concerns that the United States wanted the alliance to target only communist aggression, and even the British questioned the legality of including the word “communism” in the treaty. As a result, references to communism were removed, but Dulles attached a clause to the American signature that stated the United States intended to honor the treaty only in the event of communist aggression. Since the United States had the strongest military of all the treaty’s signatories, the U.S. stipulation made it unlikely that the treaty would ever be activated, except in the event of attack by a communist nation.

Another point of debate at the Manila conference was the fate of Vietnam and the rest of Indochina. The United States had initially intended these nations to join, but the Geneva peace accords specifically prohibited the former French colonies from joining a military alliance. As a result, they could not be allowed to join, but the SEACDT included a separate protocol that extended protection to Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia even though they were not signatories. With these issues settled, the attendees signed the treaty on September 8.

Significance

Once the treaty was in place, the SEATO powers set up a headquarters in Bangkok, Thailand, to oversee management of the organization. Although it was generally considered a military alliance, SEATO improved cultural and economic relationships between its members. Particularly important was the creation of the SEATO Graduate School of Engineering in 1959, which provided a quality technical education to students from the member nations in an effort to improve the level of technology in Asia. The school was privatized in 1967 and was renamed the Asian Institute of Technology.

SEATO also increased medical training and technology in the region and funded research designed to eradicate malaria. Despite these accomplishments, SEATO primarily remained a military organization, and the United States invoked the treaty in 1964, when it passed the Tonkin Gulf Resolution and entered the Vietnam War. Not all of the organization’s members supported the U.S. action. Pakistan withdrew from the organization in 1968, and Great Britain and France contributed very little to the war effort. With the ultimate victory of Ho Chi Minh and the communists in 1975, the organization began to dissolve, and it ceased to exist in 1977. Southeast Asia Treaty Organization Manila Pact (1954) Cold War;mutual defense agreements

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Buckley, Roger. The United States in the Asia-Pacific Since 1945. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002. An overview of American relations with East Asia since the end of World War II that puts the creation of SEATO into context and examines such themes as Asian concerns about colonialism and the American fear of communism.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Buszynski, Leszek. SEATO: The Failure of an Alliance Strategy. Kent Ridge, Singapore: Singapore University Press, 1983. Describes SEATO as a military alliance that failed to provide a significant deterrent to communist aggression in Southeast Asia.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">McMahon, Robert J. The Limits of Empire: The United States and Southeast Asia Since World War II. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999. Brief examination of U.S. relations with Southeast Asia that shows SEATO as part of a policy designed to contain communism while maintaining near imperial control of the region.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Marks, Frederick W. Power and Peace: The Diplomacy of John Foster Dulles. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1995. Biography of Dulles that describes the creation of SEATO as his most important accomplishment.

Ho Chi Minh Organizes the Viet Minh

Philippines Regains Its Independence

Nationalist Vietnamese Fight French Control of Indochina

Vietnam Is Named a State

Cambodia Gains Independence from France

Operation Passage to Freedom Evacuates Refugees from North Vietnam

Vietnamese Generals Overthrow Diem Regime

United States Enters the Vietnam War

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