Historical Dictionary



As the Chinese moved to neutralize non-communist Asia against the Americans during the Geneva Conference, the Americans, led by John Foster Dulles, accelerated their efforts to create an anti-communist collective security organization for Southeast Asia. Hardly a month after the ink had dried on the Geneva Accords, the Americans presided over the signing of the Manila Treaty on 8 September 1954, creating the South East Asia Treaty Organization or SEATO as it is more commonly known. Its members included: the United States, France, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Pakistan, and Thailand.

Together with the Bagdad Pact, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and the treaty signed with Taiwan at about the same time, SEATO was the Southeast Asian link in Washington’s global containment of Sino–Soviet communist expansion via the South. As Dulles put it, SEATO was a “no trespassing” sign telling the Soviet Union and China to keep out of Southeast Asia. While Laos, Cambodia, and the Republic of Vietnam had been barred by the Geneva agreements from joining such a foreign military pact, a special protocol in the Manila Treaty included these countries within the SEATO zone (even though they were not officially members of the pact). Based in Bangkok, SEATO was in the end more of a deliberative and consultative body. Unlike NATO, SEATO had no troops under its command, no military structure, nor did it bind its members to respond if one member state were attacked. They would consult and respond as dictated by their own national political systems.

If certain Asian states, such as India, Burma, and Indonesia, did not take part in SEATO, it was largely because they had opted for a neutral path, something which membership in SEATO would have denied them. On 29 September 1954, Jawaharlal Nehru told his parliament that the Manila Treaty was “dangerous” for “any Asian state”. Not everyone saw it this way, however. Membership in SEATO and the continued presence of the Expeditionary Corps in lower Vietnam allowed the French to maintain their claim to being a world power on the same level as the British. In April 1956, the French withdrew the Expeditionary Corps from Indochina and concentrated their attention on the Algerian War. It was only after the Evian Accords in 1962 that Charles de Gaulle, the man who had led France into the Indochina War, could distance France from the Americans, their war in Vietnam, and SEATO. See also NEUTRALIZATION OF INDOCHINA.