Geneva Conference 1954: Lessons for Vietnam’s diplomatic sector

23:11 | 07/18/2014

( - Sixty years have passed after the Geneva Agreement signed, with changes of the international situation as well as Vietnam's position. Peace, co-operation and development have become the trend and great aspiration of countries. However, the complicated impacts of the changing world situation still pose significant challenges for the national development. Precious lessons from the Geneva Conference preserve their values for foreign affairs nowadays.


Deputy Defence Minister Ta Quang Buu, on behalf of the Government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, signs an armistice agreement on Indochina, on July 21, 1954.

One day after the Dien Bien Phu Victory, the Geneva Conference on termination of wars and restoring peace in Indochina opened in Geneva, Switzerland on May 8, 1954.

After 75 days of negotiating, with over eight overall sessions and 23 small-scale meetings, along with a range of informal diplomatic activities, on July 20, 1954, the Geneva Agreement ending hostilities in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, was signed.

On July 21, the Geneva Conference ended, declaring a joint statement with important issues including the cessation of hostilities; establishing, maintaining and strengthening of peace; holding general elections to unify the country; and enforcement of the agreement for the entire Indochina.

The nation’s revolution entered a new phase.

Since the victory in Geneva, Vietnam has gone through many stages of history: 21 years of prolonged resistance to wipe out invaders and unite the country; 10 years of fighting against embargoes; and nearly 30 years of innovation, putting the country firmly on the path of development, industrialisation, modernisation and international integration.

The 1954 Geneva Conference on Indochina took place in a complex context. In the early 1950s, the Cold War spread from Europe to Asia. The major countries sought to avoid direct military confrontations and gradually moved close together.

At the February 1954 meeting in Berlin, the big players decided to convene a conference in Geneva to discuss issues on the Korean peninsula and Indochina.

Before discussing the possibility of restoring peace in Indochina, the world powers intended to apply the Korean peninsula scenario on Vietnam – that was, a ceasefire solution, dividing the country and only solving military problems.

Consistent with the fundamental goals of independence, sovereignty, unity, and territorial integrity of Vietnam, as well as other countries on the Indochinese Peninsula, Vietnam insisted on a struggle for a comprehensive solution on both military and political terms. Militarily, the solution was a ceasefire agreement with withdrawal of foreign troops and restoring peace in Indochina. Political terms were to ensure peace, independence, unity and territorial integrity of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, ending French colonial rule in Indochina.

Right from the day the conference started, the Vietnamese delegation implemented proactive diplomacy and international mobilisation. In parallel with the struggles on the negotiating table, Vietnam actively worked with the Soviet Union, China and France, organising press conferences and holding meetings with hundreds of French social organisations and political circles to express Vietnam’s goodwill and determination, in addition to combatting the aggression and conspiracy of enemy forces.

These activities turned the French and international public opinion in favour of Vietnam’s stance, forcing the French government to adopt a plan of comprehensive solutions for Vietnam and Indochina.

In his call after the success of Geneva Conference dated July 22, 1954, President Ho Chi Minh wrote: “The Geneva Conference ended. Vietnamese diplomacy earned a big win”.

For the first time in national history, the world powers had to recognise the basic rights of Vietnamese people, including national sovereignty, independence, unification and territorial integrity. The French military had to withdraw from Vietnam.

The conference document also stated that the demarcation line separating Vietnam into two regions was temporary, and after two years the two regions would hold elections to unify the country.

The Geneva Conference has left many valuable lessons to Vietnam’s foreign affairs nowadays, especially the following:

The first is the lesson on considering the national interest as both the objective and the highest principle in foreign affairs.

At the conference, nascent Vietnamese diplomacy participated in a complex multilateral negotiating forum for the first time, which was dominated by larger players. Vietnam's diplomatic sector confronted the relationship of co-operation and confrontation between the major powers, the relationship between big countries and small countries, as well as friction among calculations for interest between countries.

In this context, being acutely aware of national interests as the fulcrum for the diplomatic struggle, Vietnam fought a comprehensive solution, considering independence, sovereignty, unification and territorial integrity as the highest benefit and the basic objective to be achieved in the Geneva Conference.

Prior to the convention of the Geneva Conference, on November 26, 1953, in an interview granted to the Swedish newspaper Expressen, President Ho Chi Minh stated that: “The basis of the cessation of hostilities in Vietnam is the French government honestly respecting the real independence of Vietnam”.

The second is the lesson on maintaining independence and self-reliance in foreign affairs. The Geneva Conference was held under the initiative of powerful countries and these countries, for their sake, sought to induce Vietnam to accept a solution beneficial for them. The Democratic Republic of Vietnam took part in the conference as the winner of the Dien Bien Phu battle and Vietnam had clearly defined its negotiation goals. However, detailed steps related to negotiation plans, opening and concluding time of negotiations, co-ordination of assigned forces during negotiations and others had always been intervened in by powerful countries.

In the meantime, the Vietnamese delegation to the conference lacked experience and many necessary means, particularly means of communications and in making decisions, Vietnam had to rely on evaluations from foreign friends which affected the country's efforts in mastering the negotiating process and maintaining the initiative during the conference. Thus, the lesson on holding independence and self-reliance in diplomatic negotiations in Geneva in 1954 is extremely precious.

The third is the lesson on the importance of combining military affairs, politics and diplomacy to create synergy under which, strength in battle is the decisive factor for the success of the negotiations. The Dien Bien Phu historic victory was the factor deciding the success of the Geneva Conference.

The fourth is the lesson on the art of winning victory step by step. Understanding the real strength of Vietnam, the benefits of strong countries including the Soviet Union and China and the international context, Vietnam decided to sign the Geneva Agreement with provisions inadequately reflecting Vietnam's victory on the battlefield. This decision is an example of the gradual victory of Vietnam foreign policy.

The fifth is the lesson on close combination between diplomatic struggles with public opinion struggles, enlisting the support of the international community. Vietnam went to the Geneva Conference with a righteous posture, striving for peace, independence, national unification and territorial integrity, in accordance with the common aspirations of mankind, including the advanced French people. Through talks and contacts with the press at the conference, Vietnam made the public understand its goodwill as well as plots and actions of hostile forces which forced Vietnam to accept a disadvantaged solution. Taking advantage of international support at the Geneva conference is a specific example of the combination of national strength with the power of age.

Sixty years have passed, with changes of the international situation as well as Vietnam's position. The Cold War has ended and globalisation and international integration have increased the interdependence between countries. Peace, co-operation and development have become the trend and great aspiration of countries. However, the complicated impacts of the changing world situation still pose significant challenges for security and development of the nation and national foreign affairs.

At the 28th diplomatic congress in December 2013, Party General Secretary, Nguyen Phu Trong said that the diplomatic sector should continue to take the leading role in ensuring a favourable environment for the cause of national construction and defence, industrialisation, modernisation and other strategic tasks on socio-economic development, to make Vietnam basically become an industrialised country by 2020. In wartime, soldiers must take the lead in the battlefield to protect the country and in peace time, diplomatic officials must take the lead in peacemaking, protecting the nation and attracting resources for national development. This is a great responsibility that the Party and State entrusted to the generations of diplomats. To accomplish this task, we should carefully study lessons from the Geneva Conference and creatively apply these valuable lessons to today's practice.


Pham Binh Minh, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs (Source: Nhan Dan)

Ministry of National Defence - Socialist Republic of VietNam
Address : No. 7 Nguyen Tri Phuong, Ba Dinh, Ha Noi, Viet Nam
* Tel: +84-69.553215 *
©2021 Ministry of National Defence. All rights reserved.