Eva Dragosits

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Semester of Degree Completion


Thesis Director

Wolfgang Schlauch


This paper intends to provide a coherent analysis of the United States position at the Geneva Conference on Indochina in 1954. The paper is based on U.S. State Department documents, edited in 1981 in the Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series.

At the Berlin Conference in January 1954, the French, against the will of the United States, placed Indochina on the agenda of the Geneva Conference, which was to start on May 8, 1954. The United States, concerned that the French might accept an unfavorable Communist settlement, regarded participation in the Conference as essential in light of their global anticommunist containment theory.

From the Berlin Conference on until the middle of June, the United States tried to prevent a settlement which would result in the loss of Indochina to the Communists. Favoring a French military victory over the Vietminh, the United States indicated willingness to intervene on the French side in order to strengthen French determination to continue fighting. The documents show that the United States obviously designed military intervention in order to prevent a French surrender to the Communists, but not as a real alternative to end the war.

While hoping for a French victory, the United States vigorously opposed the negotiations at Indochina. After the fall of the Laniel government on June 12, the new premier Pierre Mendes-France's determination to negotiate a settlement on Indochina forced the United States to rethink its position towards negotiations. The U.S. administration faced two possibilities, namely disassociation from the Conference, which might cause a worldwide loss of American prestige, or continued participation, which would make the United States responsible for the further development at Indochina. The administration knew that in all probability continued participation would result in American responsibility for a partition of Vietnam.

With the decision to continue high-level representation at Geneva, President Dwight D. Eisenhower had decided for the latter option. His decision put the United States in a position where it could further support the Diem regime. Having participated in the Conference, the United States could also justify the maintenance--and later expansion--of the number of its Military Advisers as a necessary means to protect the democratic South Vietnamese regime.

With the decision to continue participation at the Geneva Conference and in Indochina, the United States laid the foundations for later American involvement in Indochina. In light of this analysis, the Geneva Conference was a crucial step on the American road to Vietnam.