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Geneva Agreement on Laos

Geneva Agreement on Laos (1962).In Southeast Asia, Laos had descended by 1961 into a threeway civil war that was becoming internationalized as part of the Cold War. Struggling to control the country were Pathet Lao Communists, backed by North Vietnam and the Soviet Union; Souvanna Phouma's neutralist Laotian government, which at times enjoyed the favor of the Soviet Union, the People's Republic of China (PRC), and the United States; and a revolutionary committee headed by Gen. Phoumi Nosavan, which received covert support from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

The administration of President John F. Kennedy believed that geography made Laos a poor place to use military force to stop the spread of communism in Southeast Asia. Pathet Lao advances, however, suggested that covert U.S. support would be insufficient to save General Nosavan or prevent Souvanna Pouma from falling under the sway of the Communists. Several military actions were considered to stem a Pathet Lao victory; the most drastic proposal called for 60,000 American soldiers to occupy southern Laos.

On 11 May 1961, Soviet and British officials defused the impending crisis in Laos by orchestrating a truce and by reactivating the International Control Commission (associated with the 1954 Geneva Agreement on Indochina that led to the division of Vietnam). Five days later, a second Geneva conference was convened by the PRC, Cambodia, France, Laos, the Soviet Union, Great Britain, the United States, South Vietnam, North Vietnam, India, Canada, Poland, Burma, and Thailand. The negotiations led to the 23 July 1962 Declaration and Protocol on the Neutrality of Laos. These second Geneva accords called for a peaceful, neutral, independent, and democratic Laos, and for the removal of foreign military units from Laotian soil.

Hope faded quickly that the accords would lead to real neutralization, although the agreement reflected a tacit understanding that conflict in Laos would remain limited. The North Vietnamese preferred to use the country to infiltrate soldiers and material into South Vietnam. The United States, which concentrated its efforts in Vietnam, used a CIA‐led army of Laotian Hmong tribesmen to harass North Vietnamese infiltrators in Laos. The Geneva accords helped turn Laos into a sideshow to the Vietnam War, but they did not save the Laotian people from years of bloodshed.
[See also Vietnam War.]


Timothy N. Castle , At War in the Shadow of Vietnam: U.S. Military Aid to the Royal Lao Government 1955–1975, 1993.

James J. Wirtz

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