The China factor in United States decision-making toward Vietnam, 1945--1965

Date of Completion

January 1990


History, United States|Political Science, General|Political Science, International Law and Relations




A significant study of American Vietnam policy has been written by political scientists Leslie H. Gelb and Richard K. Betts, who argue that, despite the failure of external policy, the U.S. decision-making system "worked." Their view, based on the "Rational Actor Model" of decision making, depends on three general criteria--the consistent pursuit of the core consensual goal of U.S. foreign policy, the accommodation of various opinions by compromise, and the consideration of all views and recommendations without illusions during the decision-making process. There remains, however, a legitimate question concerning the validity of Gelb's and Betts' thesis and its framework of decision-making theory. They ignore crucial changes in international reality, especially China as a factor in U.S. decisions regarding Vietnam involvement.^ This study therefore proposes to examine the influence of the China factor on five decisions--the 1945 U.S. decision to support the French reoccupation of Indochina, the 1950 recognition of the Bao Dai government in Vietnam, the 1955 Americanization of intervention, the 1961 deployment of American advisers and special forces, and the 1965 decision to commit toward major war--in a "structured, focused comparison." Such a comparison uses a single set of standardized general questions to assure the acquisition of comparable data from the several case studies in an effort to develop scientific generalizations or at least general laws of a probabilistic character.^ This empirical research will, thus, lead not only to a re-evaluation of Gelb's and Betts' thesis, but will allow for generalized explanations of the foreign-policy decision-making process with regard to the international environment or world politics. The research has several purposes: to contribute to an understanding of the role of the China factor in U.S. decisions with regard to American involvement in Vietnam--the role that so far has been the object of only limited research; to improve theoretical understanding of foreign policy decision-making; to open a way to further research on decision-making; and to suggest important implications for policy. ^