In April 1949, as Chinese communist forces routed their nationalist opponents and crossed the Yangzi on their way to taking all of China, the French accelerated their overtures to the United States concerning military and financial assistance. It was clear that a Chinese communist victory could provide the French adversary, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV), with a major source of assistance. At the same time, the Western bloc’s creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in April 1949 obligated France to play a leading military role in the defense of Western Europe. The possible rearmament of West Germany only aggravated the pressure on Paris to invest militarily in Europe instead of Indochina.

Faced with these increasing financial commitments in both Indochina and Europe, the French turned to the Americans for help. On 15 September 1949, the French minister of Foreign Affairs, Robert Schuman, asked the American Secretary of State Dean Acheson to assist the French financially in the Indochina War. Determined to contain communism, the Truman administration viewed such requests favorably. The French and the American governments agreed to a provisional military convention on assistance on 30 December 1949, followed by the Accords of Principles in February 1950. This document established that American assistance would be financial and material. The French fired off their first orders to the American government and in August 1950 the first American ships carrying war material arrived and were unloaded in Saigon, sparking off a Vietnamese demonstration opposed to American intervention in the war.

The outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950 hardened the American resolve to aid the French in Indochina. On 8 December 1950 an agreement was reached that codified and normalized American aid to the French. General Jean de Lattre de Tassigny personally visited Washington to request more American assistance for the outfitting of the new armies of the Associated States of Indochina and the modernization of his Expeditionary Corps. Between September 1950 and May 1953, the Americans supplied 286,000 tons of material to the Expeditionary Corps. In 1953, the Americans took over the financing of the Associated States of Indochina so that the French could concentrate on military investments in Europe. In 1952, the Americans had assumed around 40 percent of the financial burden of the Indochina War. By 1954, however, this number reached almost 80 percent before American aid ended in July of that year.

As French historian Hugues Tertrais has provocatively put it, the Americans were in effect “buying the war from the French”. They were certainly “assuming the burden” as Mark Lawrence has argued. Massive and modern American aid also increased the intensity of the war, especially the use of airpower against what was increasingly becoming a modern DRV army willing to take the battle to the French. See also AID, CHINESE COMMUNIST; AID, MALAYSIA; AID, SOVIET; AIR FORCE, FRANCE; ARMY, ASSOCIATED STATE OF CAMBODIA; ARMY, ASSOCIATED STATE OF LAOS; ARMY, ASSOCIATED STATE OF VIETNAM; EXPERIENCE OF WAR; FINANCIAL COST OF INDOCHINA WAR, FRANCE; NAPALM.