The Paris Peace Accords in 1973: Nixon, Kissinger & North Vietnam

The Paris Peace Accords in 1973: Nixon, Kissinger & North Vietnam
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  • 0:01 Long Road to Peace
  • 1:27 Negotiating from 1969 to 1970
  • 3:18 Negotians Continue, 1971-1973
  • 4:43 Peace Provisions
  • 5:49 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Adam Richards

Adam has a master's degree in history.

It was a long and daunting journey toward the signing of the Paris Peace Accords in 1973. Learn about the history of the negotiations between the United States and North Vietnam, as well as the final outcome, in this lesson.

Long Road to Peace

The road to the signing of the Paris Peace Accords, or the agreement that ended the American presence in the Vietnam War, on January 27, 1973, between the United States and North Vietnam, was long and tenuous. When President Richard Nixon entered office in 1969, his goal was to end the war honorably, which essentially meant arranging an agreement that avoided the image of defeat and preserved the credibility of the United States in the international arena.

Initially, Nixon refused anything less than a settlement that included the release of American prisoners of war, the removal of North Vietnamese troops from South Vietnam and the preservation of South Vietnam and its president, Nguyen Van Thieu. The demands of Nixon and the United States were deemed unacceptable to North Vietnam.

Instead, the North Vietnamese negotiating team called for the complete withdrawal of the United States from Vietnam, as well as the removal of Thieu from power. North Vietnam maintained that if South Vietnam continued to exist following a negotiated settlement, then its entire premise for fighting the war would have been irrelevant. Remember, North Vietnam was battling for a unified nation: one country, one leader.

Over the course of four years, 1969-1973, the United States and North Vietnam clashed over a peace settlement. The period witnessed 'secret talks,' show-of-force negotiating tactics, the acceptance of an agreement and the creation of the 'decent interval' concept. Let's take a look at the history of the negotiating process and the final outcome.

Negotiating from 1969 to 1970

Early in 1969, Nixon emphasized the importance of ending the war in Vietnam. He fully expected to draw the conflict to an end by 1970. In order to encourage North Vietnam to come to the negotiating table, Nixon perpetuated a tactic known as the 'madman theory,' or using unpredictability to psychologically terrorize North Vietnam into accepting an agreement.

Nixon wanted the North Vietnamese to believe that he would stop at nothing short of nuclear war to end the conflict. When Nixon's initial concessions were rejected by North Vietnam, he called for Operation Menu. Menu was an extensive bombing campaign that dropped thousands of bombs on North Vietnamese sanctuaries in Cambodia. His aggression was fruitless; North Vietnam simply waited out the attack and refused to compromise.

In the summer of 1969, Nixon ordered Henry Kissinger, National Security Advisor, to begin secret talks with North Vietnamese representative Le Duc Tho in Paris, France. Kissinger warned Tho that Nixon was considering a plan, known as Operation Duck Hook, that would use tactical nuclear strikes to end the war if the North Vietnamese were not willing to negotiate by the fall.

North Vietnam proved intransigent once again, but Nixon never authorized Duck Hook. Instead, he called for an offensive, known as the Cambodia Incursion, beginning in April 1970, to eliminate the North Vietnamese in areas known as the Parrot's Beak and Fish Hook. His hope was that he could coerce North Vietnam through another show of force and bring the conflict to an end by 1971.

Unfortunately for Nixon, his plan backfired, not because of North Vietnam, but due to the overwhelming opposition he faced by the American public over his aggressive actions. By the end of 1970, Congress repealed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution and passed the Cooper-Church Amendment, which restricted American ground activity to Vietnam only. Nixon's show-of-force strategy had become hamstrung.

Negotiations Continue, 1971-1973

The secret talks continued between Kissinger and Tho through 1971 and into the winter of 1972. Yet, very little productivity came from the meetings between the two representatives as North Vietnam remained adamant about its stipulations. Tho eventually broke off talks with Kissinger as a result.

It was not until the spring of 1972 that the United States was finally presented with a window of opportunity to force the hand of North Vietnam. This came as a result of the disastrous effects of the failed Easter Offensive launched by North Vietnam. The campaign was the second attempted invasion of South Vietnam by North Vietnam, and it was a catastrophic defeat. The South Vietnamese, with the assistance of American firepower, were able to repel the invading North Vietnamese while inflicting severe damage on the enemy. North Vietnam, paralyzed by defeat, quickly resumed talks with the United States.

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