Peacekeeping in Vietnam: Canada, India, Poland, and the International Commission
Contains Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
Sidney Allinson is a Victoria-based communications consultant, Canadian
news correspondent for Britain’s The Army Quarterly and Defence, and
author of The Bantams: The Untold Story of World War I.
There can possibly have been no more futile a peace-keeping task than that set for the International Commission for Supervision and Control in Vietnam from 1954 to 1973. The political and military realities in that ceaselessly war-torn region were (and still are) of a harshness that many Westerners find hard to comprehend. That all sides involved there displayed bad faith at one time or another was in itself a hopeless enough factor. However, what surely doomed every effort of the ICSC was the Communist forces’ determination that their complete domination of the country was the only acceptable final result.
That wasn’t all. As Ramesh Thakur details so carefully in Peacekeeping in Vietnam, another conflict of sorts evolved within the Commission itself. The three avowedly neutral delegations making up the ICSC — India, Poland, and Canada — soon found themselves taking opposite sides in the war.
It seems that the Poles were from the start unabashedly supportive of the socialist forces, making every opportunity to indict the South Vietnamese, and later the American forces. The Canadians, despite their proud record of peacekeeping in Egypt and Cyprus, found it increasingly hard to remain impartial, particularly when U.S. troops became involved. The Indians saw themselves as being in the middle. “India had a most difficult and delicate job in trying to hold the balance between Canada and Poland... and between North and South Vietnam.” Later, they also found themselves trying to juggle judgments of the good and bad aspects of U.S. conduct of the war.
Sad to say for traditional Commonwealth goodwill, it was in Vietnam that the considerable Canadian exasperation with the Indians contributed to the demise of the special relationship the two countries had previously enjoyed. Apparently, our men gained the impression that the Indians sided too often with the Poles. One observer is quoted as saying that “almost all the Canadian political officers who served there came back to Canada as firm supporters of United States policy in Indochina, and with profound distaste and contempt for Indian policy in Indochina and for the Indians they had served with.” The unhappy lot of the Indian commissioners was not helped by some of the official statements made by their country’s government, condemning the United States in Vietnam.
As Ramesh Thakur points out, of the three ICSC delegations, the Poles had probably the least complicated task. They simply had to be good communists and, failing that, good allies of the USSR. When Hanoi, Peking, and Moscow were in agreement, the Poles had no difficulty in advocating the same line in the Commission. The rest of us folks, far from the ceaseless roar of guns in Southeast Asia, would have hoped for a more clean-cut way of helping to resolve conflict. If the peacemakers themselves kept falling out, small wooden that their mission failed, as indeed has every other effort there.
In all, the book is most valuable to students of the issues for its unique perspective on the work of the ICSC. It is of particular interest to Canadians, in that it describes the important yet little-known role played by our countrymen to try to keep the peace in that unhappy region.