The United States and the Civil War in Laos : Part 1
寺地, 功次Koji, Terachi
共立国際研究 : 共立女子大学国際学部紀要 = The Kyoritsu journal of international studies
115 , 2016-03
This study looks at U.S. policy toward Laos after the elections in May, 1958, through the outbreak of the civil war in August, 1960, and examines how U.S. involvement in Lao politics contributed to the deteriorating situation in Laos. This paper constitutes the first part of the study and examines the period through early 1959.The supplementary elections held in May, 1958, were a turning point in nation building in Laos after the Geneva Conference of 1954. The Geneva agreement stipulated the holding of general elections for national integration in Laos. The Royal Government of Laos (RGL) held the elections in December, 1955, but the leftist Pathet Lao (PL) boycotted them and the elections were not held in the two PL-controlled provinces. But, after two years of negotiations, the RGL and the PL agreed on the creation of a coalition government in late 1957. They also agreed to hold supplementary elections in the two provinces in May, 1958.The outcome of the May elections came as a great shock to the RGL and the U.S. leaders. The Neo Lao Hak Xat (NLHX), the PL's political arm, and the neutralist Santiphab won nearly two-thirds of the national seats contested. The election result prompted the U.S. to exert strong pressure on the Lao conservatives or "old" politicians to form a single conservative party in preparation for the next general elections. The conservative parties merged to form the RPL (Rassemblement du Peuple Laotien) in June. At the same time, U.S. policymakers realized the need for an "intensive search" for "new faces" in Lao politics. Young conservative leaders from the business community, government and the military formed the CDNI (the Committee for the Defense of National Interests) two days after the formation of the RPL. It is not known to what extent U.S. officials were directly involved in its formation, but the CDNI thereafter gained strong support from the U.S.The election result prompted another shift in U.S. policy. U.S. policymakers increasingly saw the importance of the Lao military as "an active political force" in Laos. Some top military leaders were CDNI members and U.S. officials maintained close contact with them.The formation of Phoui Sananikone's cabinet with CDNI members as well as "old" politicians from the RPL after the May elections ushered in another phase in post-Geneva Laos. With strong pressure from the U.S., the Lao leaders excluded the NLHX from the government. Prime Minister Phoui adopted the monetary reform that the U.S. had strongly demanded to correct the abuse of U.S. aid money caused by the unofficial dollar-kip exchange rate. Phoui also changed the "neutralist" foreign policy and introduced a more western-oriented policy by establishing formal consulate relations with South Vietnam and Taiwan.In January, 1959, Phoui requested and was granted 12-month special powers by the National Assembly. This was partly prompted by the border incident with North Vietnam in late December, but there were talks of a coup and Phoui's action may have been taken against such a contingency or under pressure from the more conservative, anti-communist CDNI/military.Gaining special powers did not mean that Phoui consolidated his power in the government. The monetary reform which was detrimental to the interests of his conservative allies and the RPL-CDNI rivalry undermined his influence over Lao politics. Phoui had no choice but to include more CDNI members, including three military leaders, in his new cabinet formed in late January.The U.S. strongly supported Phoui, the RPL and the CDNI/military all along in this shift to the right in Lao politics. In addition, the U.S. expanded its military presence in Laos by increasing ten-fold the number of plain-clothes military advisors for the training of the Lao military. But the widening split among the Lao politicians and the increasing influence of the CDNI/military would plague U.S. policymaking for Laos in later years.The year 1958 was a turning point in both postwar Lao politics and U.S. involvement in Laos. The collapse of the coalition government, the exclusion of the NLHX and the further leaning to the right of the Lao conservatives along with the beginning of the Lao military's involvement in politics paved the way for a later confrontation between the RGL and the PL. The U.S. became further involved in Lao politics, but U.S. support of the conflicting conservative forces in Laos and more emphasis on the role of the military prepared for a quagmire in Laos.