Laos in the Vietnam War: The Politics
of Escalation, 1962-1973
Patit Paban Mishra, Ph.D.
Department of History
The landlocked country of Lao Peopleís Democratic Republic has passed through vicissitudes of history facing problems like foreign invasion, external interference, and ideological conflict. Beginning from First Indochina War (1946-1954), fate of Laos was linked very closely with that of Vietnam. With the escalation of conflict, a solution to problem of Laos was nowhere in sight. The present article makes an endeavour to analyze the events of 1960s and shows how the fate of Laos was subordinated to that of Vietnam.
The Japanese interlude in the Second World War opened new avenues for the Lao elite to chart out a course of independence. The proclamation of Lao Issara (Free Laos) was short-lived and the French began to reconquer its colonial Empire of Indochina. The conciliatory measures of the colonial government were opposed by many. By the Franco-Laotian Convention of July 1949, Laos received internal autonomy only. The Pathet Lao under Souphanovoung, the Communist faction with pro-Vietnamese leanings vociferously opposed the French move. Laos was soon engulfed in the First Indochina War. The three communist factions formed the Viet-Khmer-Lao alliance on 11 March 1951 and fought the First Indochina War. The United States with its containment strategy in cold war period was viewing with concern the threat from a monolithic communist world. The collapse of Dien Bien Phu on 7 May 1954 ended the French colonial rule. The Geneva Conference of 1954 did not solve the problem. The three major strands in Laos; Pathet Lao, neutralists and the rightists became a constant feature of Lao politics. Neither 1957 Vientiane Agreements nor 1962 Geneva Accords give the country any respite from civil war. Laos was going to be embroiled in the Vietnam War and there was no peace in sight unless a solution was there in Vietnam. Laos became a sideshow in Vietnam War.
Both the United States and North Vietnam came into conflict, as they were committed to help their respective allies in Laos, and regarded the otherís action in Laos as harmful to their interest in South Vietnam. An agreement on Laos became contingent upon ending the war in Vietnam. The net result of outside intervention was prolongation of conflict in Laos. The gulf between the internal factions in Laos widened, and the freedom of choice was restricted for the belligerents in Laos. The problem of Laos remained unsolved and there was de facto balkanization of the country. A solution to Lao conflict was in sight after the Geneva accords of 1962. However, the gradual linkage of the country with the Vietnam War made the solution of dependent upon the outcome of conflict in Vietnam. By that time, whole of Indochina became red.