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The Soviet Perception of American Goals in Vietnam 1966-70

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American objectives in Vietnam have long been a source of considerable confusion to most Americans. Even the publication of the Pentagon Papers did little to clarify American goals in Vietnam. While it was clear that the intent of American involvement was some combination of containment of Communism, defense of an ally, and protection of trading lanes or resource areas,1 many unknowns still existed. What "brand" of Communism was being contained? How reliable was the ally the United States was defending? How important were the trading lanes or resource areas being protected, and were they even being threatened ? These and similar other uncertainties lay at the heart of the answer to the question "What were American goals in Vietnam?" Today, more than two years after the Republic of Vietnam succumbed to the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, these uncertainties still exist. However, as is so often the case, a nation's objectives appear much more complicated to intimate observers than to distant observers.2 While Americans debated the objectives of U.S. intervention, American allies and enemies had in many instances already arrived at conclusions about U.S. objectives. This was particularly true of the Soviet Union. To the Soviet leadership, U.S. policy toward Vietnam emanated from the alleged imperialist nature of American society itself. The Soviet perception of American goals in Vietnam was thus relatively stable throughout the height of the American involvement, and American policies toward the Southeast Asian area were continually interpreted in light of a relatively unchanging objective. The "Johnson Doctrine," "Asian Doctrine," and "Nixon Doctrine" were all viewed as different manifestations of American "neo-colonialism." This essay will examine the Soviet perception of American objectives in Vietnam during and immediately after the height of U.S. involvement in Vietnam (1966-70), explore the reasons the Soviet Union adopted the perceptions it did, and examine the effects of those perceptions on Soviet policy.

Affiliations: 1: (Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA, U.S.A.


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