Contested American hegemony and regional order in postwar Asia: the case of Southeast Asia Treaty Organization

Contested American hegemony and regional order in postwar Asia: the case of Southeast Asia Treaty... Abstract Why did American-led postwar institution building lead to different types of security orders in Asia and Europe? The article investigates the failure of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO)—the only postwar multilateral security organization in the Asia-Pacific region that resembled NATO—as contrasted with NATO’s survival. Despite the popular notion of ‘American liberal hegemony’, the US-led multilateral security institution in fact faced serious resistance in Southeast Asia during the early years of the Cold War, as regional players viewed SEATO as yet another form of Western imperialism threatening their independence. The article makes a theoretical argument for the role of delegitimation in hegemonic order formation and shows that the Asian historical experience of Western colonialism had structural consequences for American-led hegemonic order building in Asia. China-India joint delegitimation strategies against the United States invoked local actors’ collective beliefs against colonialism portraying SEATO as a vehicle of Western domination. Once established, the United States’ European allies within SEATO placed constraints on the exercise of American hegemonic power, by taking advantage of the multilateral rules of SEATO and refusing to act collectively in the local crises in Laos. Archival evidence suggests that such delegitimation and restraint strategies were fairly successful in terms of limiting SEATO membership and blocking interventions in Indochina, strengthening Asian neutrality rather than creating a pro-US bloc in the region. 1 Introduction The United States took the lead in the formation of various security institutions in Europe and Asia in the post-World War II period, including the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1949 (NATO), the Australia-New Zealand-United States Treaty in 1951 (ANZUS), and the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization in 1955 (SEATO). The postwar international order was linked to these institutions, which were based on American power and liberal principles of governance. According to John Ikenberry (2001, 2011), an ‘American-led hegemonic order’—or a ‘liberal hegemony’, a hegemonic order with distinctively liberal characteristics—emerged from this postwar institution building. However, American-led efforts at postwar institution building led to remarkably different outcomes in terms of the types of security orders in Europe and Asia. NATO, a highly institutionalized 12-member alliance, became the focus of a regional order characterized by consensus, institutionalization, and multilateralism in Europe, whereas the postwar order building in the Asia-Pacific region resulted in a different type of order, one based on what James Baker has called a ‘hub-and-spokes’ bilateral system. SEATO—the only postwar multilateral security organization in Asia that resembled NATO in terms of the number of participants—collapsed in 1977 in the midst of the Cold War. Why did the postwar American hegemonic order take on a different, much less multilateral, character in Asia? This article sheds light on this question, using SEATO as a case of a failed attempt at American-led multilateral security cooperation in postwar Asia. Understanding why SEATO could not develop into an ‘Asian NATO’ helps to elucidate an important aspect of the origins of postwar American hegemonic order in the region. American order building was in fact highly contested in Southeast Asia, leading some observers such as Amitav Acharya (2014, chapter 3) to declare the notion of American liberal hegemony a ‘myth’. In September 1954, the United States signed the Manila Pact that established SEATO as a buffer against communist expansion in Southeast Asia. But the responses of regional actors to this US-led multilateral security institution turned out to have the opposite effect of enhancing China’s status in the region, culminating in 1955 at the Bandung Conference and continuing throughout the latter part of the 1950s. By the early 1960s, SEATO was ‘testimony to the failure of Asian collective defense’ (Buszynski, 1983, p. 220) after the Laotian crises of 1959 and 1960–61 revealed the alliance’s inability to act as originally intended. In what Henry Kissinger called ‘a very curious phenomenon’, there were only two Southeast Asian countries (Thailand and the Philippines) in a collective defense organization for Southeast Asia (United States National Security Council, 1973). Of the 10 countries that the United States and Britain encouraged to join SEATO—the Philippines, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, Ceylon, India, Pakistan, Burma, Indonesia, and France (United States Department of State, 1952–1954, vol. 12, part 1, pp. 662–665), four Asian powers declined the invitation. At the request of Britain, Washington had invited the Asian states represented at the Colombo Conference earlier that year in April and May 1954—India, Indonesia, Ceylon, Pakistan, and Burma, known as the Colombo Powers (Buszynski, 1983, p. 19). However, only Pakistan joined SEATO. SEATO failed to receive even modest support from the missing Colombo powers, and instead was criticized as a vehicle for US ‘aggression’ toward China. When one approaches the postwar American hegemonic order through the United States’ power and preferences only, SEATO’s developments as described above are a puzzle. Consider that both SEATO and NATO were created by the United States under similar geostrategic environments for similar purposes. That is, at the end of World War II, the United States had to deal with the defeat of revisionist powers in both Europe and Asia—Germany and Japan—and had to find a way to rebuild international order against a backdrop of mistrust by regional players toward defeated powers (Duffield, 2003). Both of these institutions emerged as the United States assumed the role of hegemon, taking responsibility for thwarting the spread of communism both in Europe and Asia (Leffler, 1994). But the fate of SEATO was remarkably different from that of NATO. The case of SEATO shows that creating hegemonies and security institutions entails a process that is essentially social in nature. Much of the scholarship on hegemony explains the formation of hegemonic orders in terms of the dominant state’s projection of its power or ideology, while assuming that the specific type of order is a reflection of the leading power’s strategies or preferences only (see for example, Gilpin, 1981; Keohane, 1984; Ikenberry, 2001). The theory of US liberal hegemony, too, assumes that the American postwar order was an outcome of the United States’ decision to use institutions and to turn raw power into legitimate order (Ikenberry, 2001, 2011). Scholars who have studied the origins of the postwar order in Asia have similarly focused on the United States, paying little attention to the role played by less powerful actors (Hemmer and Katzenstein, 2002; He and Feng, 2012; Cha, 2016). This article takes issue with the literature that considers the less powerful powers as unimportant or that simply assumes that their interests were exogenously given. The prevailing view in the literature is that less powerful states lean toward multilateral security arrangements rather than bilateral arrangements to stave off the possibility of great power domination and to ensure that their voices are heard (Ikenberry, 2001: 50–79). However, this view fails to consider that building an international order requires social interactions that are grounded in specific cultural and historical contexts, within which not only the dominant state but also other less powerful actors draw on their own collective beliefs, identities, and norms. In this article, I show that the absence of postwar multilateral security cooperation in Asia was not only a reflection of US preferences and strategic choices, but also stemmed from those of other less powerful actors which were operating in the specific social context of decolonization across Asia. There is no denying that the United States did not intend to institutionalize SEATO to the degree that it did for NATO to begin with (United States Department of State, 1952–1954, vol. 12, part 1, p. 680). However, this US angle is only half the story and fails to explain why Asia’s non-communist states refused to join SEATO. The specific ways in which SEATO developed and collapsed can be better explained when viewed through the United States’ interactions at least with the other two groups—regional players in postwar Asia, especially those that declined the invitation to join SEATO and the US’ junior partners within SEATO. First, under the specific Southeast Asian context of ‘the proliferation of new sovereign states’ following the withdrawal of colonial powers that were in all cases Western (Cruickshank, 1967, p. 93), regional actors including the Colombo Powers interpreted the US-led multilateral security arrangement as yet another form of Western imperialism (Acharya, 2011). Key players such as India and Indonesia used strategies of active delegitimation of SEATO as a case of the United States imposing its interests on less powerful Asian actors and thus threatening their sense of sovereignty. China, too, pursued the strategy of linking of SEATO with Western colonialism to discourage uncommitted countries in Asia from joining the organization. Between 1954 and 1959, China’s and India’s joint delegitimation strategies invoked local actors’ collective beliefs against colonialism and great power politics, and the fear of their return in the guise of SEATO, dividing the non-communist regimes in Asia into those that joined SEATO and those that did not (Thomas, 1957, pp. 926–936). At a deeper level, this article presents an argument that SEATO’s failure was rooted in legitimacy issues enmeshed with actors’ concerns for security and tasks of nation building, which influenced their decision regarding SEATO membership. According to a cultural and sociological legitimation view of the historical institutionalist literature (Thelen, 2004), institutions embody collectively defined cultural and social understandings about the way the world works. Institutional development hinges on whether or not and to what extent actors view an institution as legitimate. In postwar Southeast Asia, actors’ pursuit of security and national interests was informed by their notions of legitimacy, which were tied to the specific context of decolonization, leading them to value independence, anti-colonialism, and peaceful coexistence over anticommunism. Second, on the part of the United States’ allies in SEATO, the primary motivations for SEATO membership rested on their desire to influence the policy of the United States through their participation. Former European colonial powers Britain and France joined the alliance not because they were concerned about communist expansion in Asia, but because they sought to maintain their privilege and great power status in the region (Buszynski, 1983). Furthermore, they were worried that Washington’s policy in Asia would likely divert US strength and commitment away from Europe. The focus of their SEATO participation was, therefore, placed on restraining and controlling US behavior. SEATO’s Asian ally Thailand, facing the threats of Viet Minh communist subversion at home and in the neighboring Laos and Cambodia, denounced the British and the French position of undercommitment and the tactics that restrained American power. After SEATO failed to intervene in Laos, the 1962 Rusk formula—the United States’ promise of bilateral as well as multilateral security commitment to Thailand to mitigate the latter’s abandonment fears—signified that SEATO had become ‘a forum of disagreement’ (Dimitrakis, 2012, p. 85). International relations literature often proposes that although hegemonic powers are averse to international regimes that they cannot dominate, ‘lesser powers like them precisely because they strengthen the many against the one’ (Joffe, 2002, p. 176). However, empirical evidence from SEATO shows quite convincingly that such a view requires further qualification. Some European powers of SEATO indeed preferred the multilateral rules of SEATO (such as the unanimous vote for interventions) because multilateralism helped them control what they considered to be reckless US adventures in Asia. However, other powers like the Philippines, Thailand, and Australia found their bilateral arrangements with the US to be more favorable and essential to their security, challenging the view that the less powerful always prefer multilateralism to bilateralism. In the next section, I take an eclectic approach and show how the existing realist, institutionalist, and constructivist accounts should consider the specific social context of decolonization and its impact on the workings of the US-led multilateral security institution in Southeast Asia. I then provide an argument that explains strategies of the less powerful—‘strategies of delegitimation and restraint’—in hegemonic order formation in postwar Asia. I examine the essay’s theoretical arguments against the two critical junctures—one in 1954–55 during SEATO’s formation and the other in 1959–61 during the Laotian crises—that proved consequential for the failure of SEATO. I conclude by summarizing the article’s findings in terms of our understanding of the American postwar order building in Asia. 2 Why no NATO in postwar Asia The existing realist, institutionalist, and constructivist accounts each shed light on important aspects of SEATO’s developments and collapse. The section takes an eclectic approach (see Sil and Katzenstein, 2010) and contrasts SEATO’s failures with NATO’s survival across their lifespans. According to Hemmer and Katzenstein (2002, p. 578), such comparisons are theoretically justifiable, as the two institutions constitute ‘something like a natural experiment’ to students of international relations. The case of SEATO shows that one should consider the role played by less powerful actors and how their threat perceptions, strategic interests, and collective beliefs collided with those of the United States, particularly in the specific historical context of post-colonial Asia. 2.1 Threats explanations To most neorealist scholars, the formation, management, and termination of alliances are a function of balance of power or threats. Security cooperation is rare in the world of anarchy, and security institutions collapse when the threats against which they were built disappear (Mearsheimer, 1994/95). In the case of SEATO, at first glance it might appear that the US’ pursuit of détente with China spurred the formal disintegration process of SEATO after a series of crises in Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia. Subsequent to the Sino-Soviet split beginning in 1956, US policymakers had believed that China was not intent on waging an international conflict with the United States (United States Office of the Director of Central Intelligence, 1961). The 1972 Sino-US détente significantly assuaged the US’ perception of threat vis-à-vis China, signaling important changes in the Asian balance of power. Following in the footsteps of the United States, the Philippines and Thailand decided to seek rapprochement with China as well. However, it deserves attention here that SEATO was defunct prior to the Sino-US détente of 1972. According to Leszek Buszynski (1983, chapter 3), SEATO became more or less defunct as a collective defense organization after the Laotian crises of 1959 and 1960–61, but for reasons that had little to do with shifts in the balance of power or threats in Asia. SEATO’s failure had more to do with the organization’s inadequacy in cases of internal communist subversion. Consider that in Southeast Asia, it was not just communism but also colonialism, with which Southeast Asians associated threats. Despite massive American military power, without a host-government invitation, SEATO could not intervene without incurring the criticism that Western powers were interfering with weaker Asian states’ internal problems. A more convincing realist-constructivist synthesis argument can be made when we focus on how in 1954 potential allies of SEATO defined threats differently in the first place, which contributed to limited Asian membership. In the minds of US policymakers, the formation of SEATO rested on their ‘popular perception of a ubiquitous Soviet threat’ (Blum, 1982: 218) and the anti-communism that had become part of everyday American political life (Leffler, 1994, p. 69 and p. 121). However, in the words of Indonesian President Sukarno, ‘So many of us in Asia feel our blood tingle at the very mention of the words “imperialism” and “colonialism” for it carries with it memories whose scars are too recent to be lightly forgotten’ (cited in Idle, 1956, p. 241). Burma, India, and Indonesia all refused to join SEATO in 1954 and pursued the strategy of accommodation with China in the latter half of the 1950s. Of the two Southeast Asian countries that joined SEATO, it is worth noting that Thailand was the only country that avoided colonialization by a Western power, while the Philippines acquired independence peacefully from the United States, for which their elites felt grateful (cited in Idle, 1956, p. 129). 2.2 Institutionalization explanations If threat arguments suggest why regional actors in Southeast Asia chose not to join SEATO in the first place, institutionalists’ focus on common interests is useful in elucidating why SEATO suffered from self-defeating dynamics that adversely affected alliance cohesion. According to institutionalist theory, the key to answering the question of why certain alliances endure while others collapse depends on the differing degrees to which they are institutionalized (Wallander and Keohane, 1999, pp. 21–47). The institutionalist logic suggests that SEATO’s failure to become an ‘Asian NATO’ must consider why SEATO and NATO were institutionalized to differing degrees, in conjunction with alliance cohesion and collective action issues. After the initial phases of institution building, there were noticeable differences in the levels of institutionalization between SEATO and NATO. For example, Robert McCalla (1996) and Christian Tuschhoff (1999) attribute the persistence of NATO to its institutional density and depth. NATO developed elaborate political apparatuses for consultation, policy coordination, and joint decision making, as well as an integrated military planning and command structure. SEATO’s permanent organization involved less binding guarantees, few common policymaking structures, little joint military planning, and minimal military infrastructure. SEATO had no unified command structure or unified standing forces (Modelski, 1962, pp. 3–45). Perhaps one of the most important aspects of the differing levels of institutionalization is the degree to which the two institutions were willing to institutionalize the ‘indivisibility of security’ (see Ruggie, 1993). Compared with Article V of NATO’s treaty, in which an attack on any member state is considered an attack on all, Article IV(2) of the Manila Pact, which established SEATO, stated that members could only consult on whether an event constituted a threat to peace and security, thereby leaving latitude for members’ responses on a case-by-case basis. Any intervention under SEATO required the unanimous consent of all member states. There is no denying that without the inclusion of the non-communist states of major US interest—Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan—as members, the United States’ preference was to ensure its freedom of action, so that SEATO would not become an ‘Asian NATO’ (Buszynski, 1983, pp. 221–222). Less than two months before the signing of the Manila Pact, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles wrote to the British embassy: We do not envisage SEA security pact developing into NATO-type organization with large permanent machinery under which large local forces in being are to be created with substantial US financial support and to which US would be committed to contribute forces for local defense (United States Department of State, 1952–1954, vol. 12, part 1, p. 680). The goal of the Eisenhower administration was to ‘draw a line which, if crossed, would permit [the US] to retaliate at the source of aggression and to do so with the support of other nations’ (United States Department of State, 1952–1954, vol. 12, part 1, p. 666). By establishing SEATO, the United States hoped to demonstrate unity as a deterrent to the communist states China and the Soviet Union, but without providing the resources required for its credibility. Thus, the seeds of failure in the Laotian crises had been planted by Washington during the formative institution building process. However, in order to paint the full picture of SEATO’s failure to become an ‘Asian NATO’, it is not enough to examine only the role that the United States played. Britain, having agreed to join SEATO to preserve its great power status through its ‘special relationship’ with Washington while steering the latter’s commitment toward Commonwealth interests (Buszynski, 1983), never intended to institutionalize the military structure of SEATO (Dimitrakis, 2012). France, having worked to enlist American power in Vietnam to maintain its colonial power in Indochina in the 1940s (Lawrence, 1998), joined SEATO but consistently opposed any SEATO action to the extent that the Thai Foreign Minister hoped France would withdraw because France ‘only impeded its business’ (Dimitrakis, 2012, p. 116). 2.3 Collective beliefs explanations Constructivist scholars have long recognized that an international institution is not simply an aggregate of national interests of participating state actors, but an expression of collective identities, values, norms, and beliefs (Keohane, 1988; Acharya, 2009, 2011; Meunier and McNamara, 2007). The constructivist literature on the formation of NATO suggests why NATO enjoyed a high level of institutionalization by showing that the collective beliefs of US policymakers were consequential. According to Patrick Jackson (2003), NATO’s ‘indivisibility of security’ between the United States and Europe was justified in terms of the United States acting on behalf of the ‘Western civilization’. Steve Weber (1992) shows that Europe might have developed bilateral security arrangements similar to those in Asia if it were not for the Eisenhower administration’s belief in multilateralism with its European allies and acknowledgment of their great power status as an ‘appropriate’ way to organized international politics. Constructivist insights complement the preceding institutionalization explanations by yielding compelling arguments that consider why actors defined their interests the way they did in Southeast Asia. According to Hemmer and Katzenstein (2002), the lack of multilateral security arrangements in Asia cannot be explained without considering US policymakers’ collective identity and cognitive biases against Asia as being inferior to Europe. Acharya (2009, 2011) argues that the collective beliefs and norms of local Asian actors, especially those shaped by Western imperialism, help explain local agents’ rejection of great power-controlled institutional arrangements. The essay builds on this line of thinking to acknowledge the role of the collective beliefs of anti-colonialism and its implications for contested American hegemonic order building experiences. The history of Western colonialism in Southeast Asia shaped local actors’ collective image of the United States to be the new ‘imperialist bogey-man’ that could plunge Asia into a war against communism (Jennings 1954, p. 348). Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru insisted that all non-Asian military forces should withdraw from Asian countries, including US forces in Japan, and that colonial areas such as Indonesia should be liberated from Western powers. In the eyes of Indonesians, the prevailing view of SEATO was that joining the US-led military alliance would be ‘dishonorable’, an act equivalent to ‘selling the country’s independence’ (Weinstein, 1972, p. 361). Across Southeast Asia, the US acquired a reputation that it was not peace-loving; alliances sponsored by the US were believed to be conducive to war (Idle, 1956; Weinstein, 1972). 3 Strategies of the weaker and hegemonic power An understanding of SEATO’s failure as contrasted with NATO’s survival raises theoretical questions about legitimation and its structural consequences for order formation at least in two ways. First, whether or not and to what extent a future hegemon can successfully legitimate its power hinges not just on the content of its justifying ideologies, but also on the degree to which such ideologies resonate with other actors’ collective beliefs in their specific cultural and social contexts (Lee, 2016). As Patrick Jackson (2006, p. 17) puts it, the concept of legitimacy is ‘sociologically relative rather than transcendentally absolute’. Second, the dominant state’s legitimacy deficit can facilitate potential adversaries and other actors in mobilizing countervailing forces and delegitimation campaigns against the dominant state. Delegitimation of a dominant state is likely to be more successful when the delegitimating rhetoric resonates with the collective beliefs of the target audiences. The use of political labels such as Nazis, imperialists, colonialists, fascists, or capitalists, for example, constitutes an important delegitimation strategy. Delegitimation strategy involves ‘categorization of groups into negative social categories’, and such categories are ‘culture bound’ (Bar-Tal, 1989, p. 170 and p. 171). Therefore, labeling the Soviets as ‘communists’ during the Cold War would not make it a delegitimating act, but labeling Americans as ‘communists’ would (Bar-Tal, 1989, pp. 171–172). According to Schweller and Pu (2014: 44), delegitimation has two components: ‘a delegitimating rhetoric (the discourse of resistance) and cost-imposing strategies that fall short of full-fledged balancing behavior (the practice of resistance)’. Delegitimation is thus essentially a mechanism of power politics. SEATO and NATO—both initiated by the United States and justified on the same normative basis of countering Communist aggression and expansion—were received differently in Southeast Asia and in Europe. One must consider the differences in the historical and cultural contexts in order to determine if the normative content of the US’ justifying ideology (i.e. anti-communism) were legitimate in the eyes of local actors. After all, legitimation is essentially a social process, requiring the approval of and support from less powerful actors whose notions of legitimacy draw on their own social and cultural contexts. Consider, for example, that to newly independent Asian countries that embraced neutrality as a foreign policy goal, Ho Chi Minh was waging struggles against colonialism (Weinstein, 1972, p. 230-231). Therefore, successful legitimation hinges on how much political actors can publicly justify their position in ways that resonate with the collective beliefs of the audiences. Restraint strategy is another way through which less powerful actors might exercise control over the formation, management, and/or termination of an alliance by constraining the unilateral behavior of a more powerful ally. The idea that alliances are not just about balancing against external threats but play the role of constraining the behavior of alliance partners is not new. In the words of Paul Schroeder (1976, p. 230), ‘all alliances in some measure functioned as pacts of restraint (pacta de contrahendo), restraining or controlling the actions of the partners in the alliance themselves’. According to Cha (2016), the dominant state may construct an asymmetric alliance in order to maximize its ability to control its alliance partners, especially those that are deemed to be risk-taking and reckless. The restraint logic thus focuses on the desire to control an ally’s unilateral behavior and to reduce entrapment fears. Scholars have already shown that multilateral rules are effective when less powerful allies try to control a more powerful one. From the perspective of less powerful member states, the US’ construction of an asymmetric but multilateral alliance—as in the case of SEATO—gave them the leverage upon which they exerted control over what they considered the United States’ reckless plans to intervene in Indochina. France and Britain chained the US to undercommitment in the Laotian crises, and then sat out the conflict in the Vietnam crisis. The United States’ feeling that its security was tied to that of its European allies led it to create a multilateral arrangement in Southeast Asia. But because these European allies sought to prevent the US from overcommitting rather than sharing the goal of forging anti-communism in Asia, the US soon faced situations where its own strategic preferences were undermined due to its membership in SEATO. 4 SEATO as the return of Western imperialism In the late 1940s and 1950s, a majority of Southeast Asian countries India, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Ceylon, and Indonesia all experienced communist-led rebellions or infiltrations, leading them to basically oppose communism. Even those Asian powers that rejected SEATO membership did in fact fear China for Beijing’s support for communist insurgencies within their border, if not outright aggression. But why did these states refuse to join SEATO and instead sought to improve relations with China? From a realist point of view, it can be argued that their strategy was aimed at bandwagoning with China and/or balancing against the United States. However, the standard realist logic that focuses only on material power fails to explain the specific manner in which these states handled the United States and China. Rather than joining alliances as a way of increasing their security and relative power, they asserted neutrality and independence (Fig. 1). Figure 1 View largeDownload slide The pattern of informal alignments among noncommunist Asian powers. Author’s figure. Note that Pakistan, despite having joined SEATO, distanced itself from the United States and moved closer to China. Figure 1 View largeDownload slide The pattern of informal alignments among noncommunist Asian powers. Author’s figure. Note that Pakistan, despite having joined SEATO, distanced itself from the United States and moved closer to China. According to Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, a policy of neutrality means ‘a position of aloofness from power combinations, particularly power combinations that were at war or threatening war between themselves’ (cited in Chaudhry and Vanduzer-Snow, 2008, p. 326). Based on this stance, Nehru considered United States’ policies in Indochina wrong on moral grounds and ineffective. For example, he was critical of the US’ policy that tied the provision of aid to Laos’ exclusion of communists and communist sympathizers in its cabinet. During this period, India’s rocky relations with the United States had much to do with its power balance calculations vis-à-vis Pakistan. However, viewing India’s opposition to SEATO and US Asia policy only through the lens of Pakistan fails to consider that Nehru’s approach toward SEATO rested on his broader foreign policy aims that involved the creation of pan-Asian regional identities, as well as new regional norms (Singh, 2011). This type of diverging approaches to regional affairs of the US and India proved perhaps most consequential in terms of their attitudes toward China. According to Frankel (2004: 29), India was interested in cooperating with China as a means to building an Asian balance that can limit Western imperialist influences. Whereas the US considered regional actors’ neutralism as ‘impairing’ regional stability, Nehru believed that the US’ power politics and isolation of China would make Beijing more aggressive. In 1954, in what Norbu (1997, p. 1080) called ‘the biggest concession to China in modern Asian history’, Nehru decided to give up India’s extra territorial rights in Tibet and recognize it as a region of China. The decision originated not just from the difficulty of dislodging the Chinese People’s Liberation Army from Tibet but his desire to enhance Asian solidarity. Until the 1959 revolt in Tibet and the 1962 Sino-Indian border war turned their bilateral relations sour, it was Nehru’s actions that helped China to break out of international isolation, urging the US to recognize China. The formation of SEATO greatly upset India, Indonesia, and other regional actors, as well as China. There was the palpable fear that smaller Asian powers would assume an ‘inferior position’ and become ‘second class nation(s)’ if they join a military alliance with their former colonial powers including Britain, France, and possibly the Netherlands (Weinstein, 1972, p. 357). In India’s House of the People, SEATO was criticized as ‘an organization of certain imperial Powers and some others, who may have an interest in joining together to protect a territory which they say is in danger. We are part of that territory and we say that we do not want to be protected’ (as cited in Thomas, 1957, p. 933, n. 24). SEATO was denounced as a vehicle of Western domination. Such delegitimating rhetoric resonated with the collective beliefs among regional actors including China. A conversation between Chairman Mao Zedong and Prime Minister Nehru in October 1954, one month after the creation of SEATO, reveals that the two leaders constructed the United States and the Western powers as the ‘other’, and jointly denounced them: Mao: ‘Historically, all of us, people of the East, have been bulled by Western imperialist powers … . In spite of differences in our ideologies and social systems, we haven an overriding common point, that is, all of us have to cope with imperialism. Nehru: … You are absolutely right in saying that over the past two hundred years, our two countries and many other countries in Asia have suffered from the oppression and domination of foreign colonial powers.1 1 The paragraph draws on ‘Minutes of Chairman Mao Zedong’s First Meeting with Nehru’, 19 October 1954. Wilson Center Digital Archive. http://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/117825 (25 October 2017, date last accessed). The US formula for Southeast Asian peace through military alliance with former colonial powers was viewed by many Asian powers with suspicion as ‘forgetting or ignoring Asia, especially when these problems are Asian’ (Government of India Press Information Bureau, 1954). The success of China’s and India’s delegitimating campaigns against SEATO during the formation phase was thus in no small part attributable to the appeal of anti-Western imperialism rhetoric itself. 4.1 China’s and India’s loose coalition against SEATO From the Chinese point of view, SEATO targeted China as its main enemy. Against the backdrop of US’ participation in the Korean War, the basing of its forces on Taiwan, and the US aid to the French in Indochina, SEATO’s formation deeply worried the Chinese leadership that the United States was replacing France as the dominant Western power in Indochina, especially in Vietnam (Richardson, 2005, p. 48). How did Chinese policymakers respond to the creation of SEATO and the overall US strategies in the region? In addition to developing its conventional forces as well as a nuclear capability, Beijing pursued a strategy of delegitimating SEATO as an American device designed to exploit Asia’s weaker powers. China’s diplomatic efforts focused on drawing them into the neutralist orbit and thus addressing other Asian powers’ fears toward China and reassuring them of its peaceful intentions. According to Premier Zhou, China would have to make the peoples of the world believe that China sought to resolve disputes through peaceful means, whereas the United States insisted on using hostility. The decision was thus made that China would make a diplomatic breakthrough and make friends, especially with India (Pang, 2015). In 1954, Zhou accepted an invitation from Nehru—who, in the minds of the Chinese leadership, was ‘the most important leader of India’s independence movement’ and highly regarded among the newly sovereign states (Zhang, 2007, p. 519)—to visit New Delhi. According to an internal cable prior to the visit, Chinese intentions for the India visit were ‘to conduct preparation work for signing some form of Asian peace treaty and to strike a blow at the United States’ conspiracy to organize a Southeast Asian invasive bloc’.2 2 Cable from Zhou Enlai, ‘Premier’s Intentions and Plans to Visit India’, 22 June 1954. Wilson Center Digital Archive. http://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/112437 (25 October 2017, date last accessed). Zhou stated, ‘We will emphasize that Southeast Asian countries should unite against the invasion of the United States’.3 3 Cable from Zhou Enlai, ‘Premier’s Intentions and Plans to Visit India’, 22 June 1954. Wilson Center Digital Archive. http://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/112437 (25 October 2017, date last accessed). During that meeting in June 1954, Nehru’s proposal for ‘a peaceful zone’ in Asia—‘neutral, free of military bases, and no interference or aggression’—was welcomed by Zhou, who suggested applying the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence to India, Burma, Indonesia, Pakistan, Ceylon, Laos, and Cambodia (Zhang, 2007, p. 519). At both the Geneva and the Bandung conferences, Chinese diplomats endeavored to combat negative images of China, especially in the wake of the second Taiwan crisis, while using the rhetoric of nationalism, sovereignty, and anticolonialism, making it difficult for the United States to brand China as an aggressive power (Pang, 2015). Beijing considered the Bandung Conference to be of ‘historic importance’, and when the Colombo Powers were still debating over China’s attendance, Beijing contacted Indonesia to express its desire to be invited.4 4 Cable from the Chinese Foreign Ministry, ‘Receiving the Prime Ministers of India and Other Countries and Attending the Asian-African Conference’, 9 December 1954. Wilson Center Digital Archive. http://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/114600 (25 October 2017, date last accessed). The report from Chinese Foreign Ministry states that Beijing ‘should concentrate [its] efforts to isolate the American force, actively win over the ‘peace and neutral’ countries (i.e. India, Burma, and Indonesia) and try to split the countries closely following the USA and hostile to China (i.e. Thailand and the Philippines)’.5 5 Report from the Chinese Foreign Ministry, ‘Draft of the Tentative Working Plan for Participating in the Asian-African Conference’, 16 January 1955. Wilson Center Digital Archive. http://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/113189 (25 October 2017, date last accessed). At the conference, Zhou invited Prince Wong of Thailand to dispatch an inspection party to China to make sure that China did not have its troops along the Sino-Thai border in preparation for attacking Thailand. A similar offer was made to the Philippines to clear their suspicions of Chinese intentions. After the conference, the Ceylonese Prime Minister said that Zhou was not as bad as other people had said he was.6 6 ‘Chinese Foreign Ministry Reference Document No.1’, 28 April 1955. Wilson Center Digital Archive. http://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/114684 (25 October 2017, date last accessed). By launching diplomacy aimed at reassuring Asian powers, China in the mid-1950s successfully helped drive uncommitted Asian powers away from the United States and into the neutralist orbit. Unlike the United States’ approach of urging Asian powers to choose to join the bloc against the Soviet Union and China, China’s strategy was to link itself to the smaller Asian powers’ desire for neutrality and independence. Beijing’s decisions not to try to draw them into the communist bloc and a Cold War great power competition thus proved consequential, because other Asian powers viewed such a stance as respecting their independence and sovereignty (Palmer, 1955). At the Bandung Conference, the common denominator that brought the 29 states together in what Nehru called an ‘odd assortment’ was the experience of having been ‘subjected to Western imperialism in one form or another within the past hundred years, (United States Central Intelligence Agency, 1955). The conference was a site where SEATO was delegitimized, while legitimating the alternative vision of China and India, which rested on the Five Principles. Prior to the conference, Burmese premier Nu said, ‘If we discuss colonialism we may have some disparaging remarks about colonial powers and those are mostly Western powers’ (United States Central Intelligence Agency, 1955). Sukarno’s opening speech declared that the Asian countries were ‘no longer the victims of colonialism’ (cited in Pang, 2009, p. 63). China’s premier Zhou warned other powers that ‘the rule of colonialism in this region has not yet come to an end and new colonialists are attempting to take the place of the old ones’.7 7 ‘Main Speech by Premier Zhou Enlai, Head of the Delegation of the People's Republic of China, Distributed at the Plenary Session of the Asian-African Conference’, 19 April 1955. Wilson Center Digital Archive. http://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/121623 (25 October 2017, date last accessed). A key reason for China’s diplomatic success had to do with its partnership with India, especially in terms of discouraging the Colombo Powers from joining SEATO. As part of India’s own foreign policy goals, Nehru connected the Chinese Premier with other Asian leaders to help assuage their fear of China.8 8 ‘Chinese Foreign Ministry Intelligence Department Report on the Asian-African Conference,’ 4 September 1954. Wilson Center Digital Archive. http://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/112440 (25 October 2017, date last accessed). Over the course of China’s reassurance diplomacy, India’s influence in the region, especially among the Colombo Powers was indispensable; without it, SEATO would have been more appealing to other nations (Modelski, 1962, pp. 205–215). At the Colombo Conference in April and May 1954, all of the Colombo Powers agreed that China should be recognized and admitted to the UN (Wriggins, 1960, p. 440). Nehru was clearly aware that Asian powers were afraid of China and thus did not try to minimize the significance of their fear in dealing with China. In his conversation with Mao in October 1954, Nehru suggested to Mao that ‘if the Five Principles are carried out, it will help reduce fear’,9 9 ‘Minutes of Chairman Mao Zedong’s First Meeting with Nehru’, 19 October 1954. Wilson Center Digital Archive. http://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/117825 (25 October 2017, date last accessed). noting that the smaller powers feared both imperialism and the bigger powers such as China and India. 4.2 How delegitimation worked China and India could not have succeeded in delegitimating SEATO, without the other Colombo Powers’ own preferences for neutralism against great power politics. Of the other Colombo Powers that declined SEATO membership—Indonesia, Burma, and Ceylon— Indonesia’s foreign relations with China, the United States, India, and other Asian neighbors in the 1950s perhaps best illustrates how the history of Western colonialism influenced the ways in which regional players responded to SEATO in the midst of the Cold War rivalries. First of all, it is important to keep in mind that Indonesia’s refusal to join SEATO should be understood in the light that policy elites came to hold the view that ‘none of the big powers could be relied on to help Indonesia’ (Weinstein, 1972, p. 103). This line of thinking, which dates back to the country’s struggles for independence, formed the basis for Jakarta’s ‘independent and active foreign policy’ during its revolutionary period (1945–49), but went on well into the 1950s. According to the interview findings of all Indonesian foreign policy elites of the 1928, 1945, and 1966 generations, a majority of the policy elite (69%) said that a military pact with Western great powers would endanger their national security and identity as a newly independent state, as well as harm Indonesia’s international image and self-respect (Weinstein, 1972, pp. 356–364). During that time, most Indonesian elites felt that they needed to unite with newly independent, like-minded Asian powers to keep the Western powers out of the region. In particular, Indonesia formed friendly relations with India to pursue its own independent foreign policy; India and Indonesia voted alike at the UN in pursuit of anti-colonialism (Idle, 1956). Despite its suspicions of internal communist intent after a rebellion involving the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), Indonesia’s decision to recognize China in 1950 took shape because of the people’s strong demands for independence. While the Sukarno-Hatta administration was interested in foreign aid from the United States and the Netherlands for economic development projects, it had to drop the idea and instead pursue diplomatic relations with China to avoid criticisms levelled by the PKI and other political parties that the administration was ‘a semi-colonial state’ (Sukma, 1999, p. 22). In the 1950s, Indonesia’s foreign policy toward the US was still conditioned by what it perceived as Washington’s disappointing behavior during Indonesia’s struggle for independence (Weinstein, 1972). In 1952, Washington’s demands that Jakarta sign a mutual security agreement as a condition of receiving US military aid led to the Sukiman administration’s downfall (Simpson, 2008, p. 17). In July 1954, when US ambassador to Indonesia Cumming broached the topic of joining SEATO to Indonesia, President Sukarno told him that trying to change the Indonesian rejection of the invitation to SEATO ‘would doubtlessly be futile’. Doing so would invite criticism of the United States for pressuring a neutral state (United States Department of State, 1952–1954, vol. 12, part 1, p. 659). That Indonesia’s denunciation of SEATO came from its opposition to Western imperialism becomes clearer, when one examines a conversation in March 1954 between the Soviet ambassador to Indonesia, Zhukov and the Indonesian minister of foreign affairs, Sunario. Sunario expressed his fear that the Dutch might join SEATO and said that he viewed the upcoming Bandung Conference as a countermeasure to SEATO.10 10 ‘Journal Entry of Ambassador Zhukov: Record of Conversation with the Indonesian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sunario’, 12 April 1955. Wilson Center Digital Archive. http://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/110262 (25 October 2017, date last accessed). Burma had a reputation for being the ‘prototype of a small, neutralist country’ (Johnstone, 1963, p. 2) due to its continued pursuit of neutrality and independence since 1948. Whereas India regarded two Asian powers of SEATO, Thailand and the Philippines, as ‘American stooges’, it considered Burma a friendly country (United States Department of State, 1952–1954, vol. 12, part 1, p. 568). Since its independence, Burmese foreign policy had followed strict neutrality; the country would ‘establish the friendliest relations with all nations whenever possible’ and that it would ‘accept from any country any assistance … provided such assistance is given freely and does not violate our sovereignty’ (Johnstone 1963, p. 70). In this way, its refusal to join SEATO was somewhat expected, as Rangoon sought to avoid being drawn into Cold War politics when it had to tackle more pressing tasks of economic development and other internal issues. The case of Burma’s rejection of SEATO shows an aspect of neutrality as a practical foreign policy choice on the part of a weak state, in the midst of Cold War power politics. With the help of Nehru, in June 1954 Chinese Premier Zhou paid his first visit to Burma and met with Burmese Prime Minister U Nu.11 11 ‘Record of the First Meeting between Premier Zhou and Prime Minister U Nu’, 28 June 1954. Wilson Center Digital Archive. http://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/112438 (25 October 2017, date last accessed). ‘Record of the Second Meeting between Premier Zhou and Prime Minister U Nu’, 29 June 1954. Wilson Center Digital Archive. http://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/120364 (25 October 2017, date last accessed). Burma had been troubled by the communist insurgencies within its borders, which it believed China supported. The Burmese were also worried that the Chinese Nationalist troops in northeastern Burma might provoke China into invading their country (United States Department of State, 1952–1954, vol. 12, part 2, p. 54). The 1954 Zhou-U meeting is a good example of China’s reassurance policy toward a neutral state in the 1950s. Zhou commended Burma’s independent foreign policy, particularly its opposition to the US desire to establish military bases in Burma. He reaffirmed that China was ‘willing to see Burma independent of the freedom to choose the system approved by the majority of the people’. Zhou also urged U Nu to study the China–India Five Principles of Peaceful Existence. The meeting apparently left a positive impression on the Burmese prime minister. Burma was the most vocal advocate in favor of sending an invitation to China to the Bandung Conference. By January 1955, the US’ intelligence report assessed that China’s prestige and influence in Burma were on the rise (United States Central Intelligence Agency, 1955). Until the Cultural Revolution interrupted bilateral ties in the 1960s, Rangoon and Beijing’s accommodation toward each other included the signing of the 1960 Border Agreement and the Treaty of Friendship and Non-Aggression, which stipulated ‘not to take part in any military alliance directed against the other party’ (Holmes, 1972, p. 241). In case of Ceylon, both the invitation extended to Ceylon to join SEATO and Ceylon’s decline cannot be separated from its relations with other Colombo Powers. Two considerations were at work. One is that the majority of the cabinet, the public, and the media were against it. The US Ambassador to Ceylon noted in his report that American support of Western colonial powers France and Britain led people of all classes to oppose ‘American imperialism’. He further stated, ‘Having been successively invaded and occupied for the past three hundred years by first the Portuguese then the Dutch and finally the British, the Ceylonese say that they have good reason to turn a quizzical eye on any maneuvers of the white races in this part of the world’. The other is more social in nature. When assessing Ceylon’s interest in joining SEATO, he noted that the Ceylonese government first had to consult with other Colombo powers (United States Department of State, 1952–1954, vol. 12, part, 2, p. 1616 and p. 1620-1621), which opposed the organization. Ceylon’s decision not to join SEATO was a result of peer pressure from the other Colombo powers, especially India (Modelski, 1962, pp. 206–208). The Ceylonese Prime Minister was anti-communist and in principle, supported SEATO (United States Department of State, 1952–1954, vol. 12, part, 2, p.1607 and p. 1621). 5 SEATO’s restraints on American power After SEATO’s failure to attract major regional players during the formative period, another critical juncture leading to SEATO’s formal demise in 1977 was the alliance’s handling of the Laotian crises of 1959 and 1960–61. Understanding the Laotian crises is important for this study, because as predicted by US, British, and Thai policymakers at that time (see for example, United States Department of State, 1961–63, p. 116), SEATO became largely irrelevant afterwards. The Geneva Agreements of 1954, signed after the Viet Minh’s defeat of France’s attempt to restore colonial rule in Indochina (Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia), established neutrality in these three countries. In Laos, the Agreements granted the Viet Minh-supported communists known as the Pathet Lao control over two provinces close to the Vietnamese border to the north. Both Moscow and Beijing advocated neutrality in Indochina, trying to rein in Ho Chi Minh to maintain the status quo under the Agreements (Gaiduk, 2003). Washington, concerned about a possible communist take-over of Laos, supported the Laotian Royal army with aid. The crisis in 1959 originated from Premier Phoui’s design to destroy the aforesaid communist Pathet Lao-controlled provinces, which led him to declare that the Geneva Agreements had been fulfilled and to call on Washington’s direct support. China changed its policy to support the Viet Minh’s resort to arms. The Soviet Union, alarmed by US involvement in the situation and yet reluctant to approve armed struggle, sought to restore the status quo through the International Control Commission (Gaiduk, 2003). In August 1960, Captain Kong Le (a neutralist supported by Moscow) overthrew the US-backed government led by General Phoumi Nosovan. Kong Le formed a neutralist government with Souvanna Phouma (a neutralist) and recognized the communist Pathet Lao. Soon, Phoumi, supported by the US aid, marched on the capital, which led Moscow to provide supplies to Kong Le. By December 1960, a new pro-US government led by Boun Oum was installed, which intensified the US-Soviet rivalry of offering aid. The question of how the Laotian crisis contributed to SEATO’s eventual demise is linked to the reasons why, despite its own anticolonial traditions, the United States failed to effectively counter local actors’ delegitimation campaigns discussed in the preceding section. Of course, compared to China, an Asian actor whose experiences of Western imperialism made it relatively easier for it to appeal to other Asian actors, an identity-based legitimation was not possible for the United States in the 1950s. However, the United States was clearly aware of the dissonance of legitimacy notions between itself and major actors in Southeast Asia. US secretary of state Dulles, the chief architect of SEATO, accurately assessed such dissonance. In the summer of 1954, the Bureau of Far Eastern Affairs’ regional planning advisor warned of ‘an inexorable propensity for approaching the colonial and former colonial parts of the world under the most unfavorable auspices’, thereby ‘handicapping’ the US position in Asia. (United States Department of State, 1952–1954, vol. 12, part 1, p. 663). How did the United States fail to support decolonization and legitimate its position as hegemon in Southeast Asia? United States policies toward Southeast Asia in the 1950s were caught in this dilemma between America’s anti-colonialism on the one hand, and its Europe-first policy and anti-communism on the other. The creation of SEATO can be viewed as an expression of the United States’ pursuit of the latter, giving priority to the goals of anti-communism and relationships with European allies. Despite the view that Vietnamese nationalism was an ‘irresistible force of history’ (Lawrence, 1998, p. 90), US officials were more concerned about ‘offending French sensibilities’ (Lawrence, 1998: 87) should the French interest in Indochina be ignored. In their contemplation of Southeast Asia strategy, US policymakers felt that if Washington was going to war with China, it had to work with France and Britain, ‘for without their support [they] might lose the whole NATO structure’ (United States Department of State, 1952–1954, vol. 12, part 1, p. 60). However, by January 1961, it had become apparent to President Eisenhower and US policymakers that the British were reluctant, and the French were unhelpful, and that ‘our own ally is working against us’. The United States saw ‘evidence of obstruction, at least on the part of certain French personnel, to the defense of Laos’. Further, ‘SEATO becomes a means whereby restraint is imposed on us by our allies against action which we might be willing and able to take unilaterally and which might be generally acceptable’ (United States Department of State, 1961–63, vol. 24, p. 30). As the Laotian crisis deepened, the US’ initial position was clearly in favor of taking military measures if the lack of military action meant a communist takeover in Laos. The Kennedy administration seriously considered a SEATO operation involving the movement of forces into Laos (United States Department of State, 1961–63, pp. 126–129). Eventually, however, President Kennedy abandoned the idea of SEATO intervention in Laos in the face of reluctant allies. Britain responded to President Kennedy’s call that there should be no differences among France, Britain, and the US over Laos. But internally, it was a great concern that a possible SEATO intervention would divert US strength from NATO to the SEATO region, especially at a time of the Berlin Crisis, and also that it might entrap Britain into a war in Asia. In order to continue to influence the US’ future policy in Asia and elsewhere, Britain’s strategy was to ‘boost morale but avoid fresh commitments’ (United Kingdom Embassy in Thailand, 1961). Its initial policy direction was to ‘do everything possible to avoid a situation in which America takes decisions openly to intervene in Laos’ (United Kingdom Embassy in Thailand, 1961). The secret memo to the Prime Minister reveals the British perception that London and Washington were ‘in danger of getting entangled in all sort of troubles around the world just as Berlin is coming to a head. These entanglements must please the Russians very much’ (United Kingdom Prime Minister, 1961). France agreed that Laos should not be completely overtaken by the Communists, but expressed unequivocal opposition to SEATO intervention (United Kingdom Embassy, United States, 1961). The attitude of de Gaulle was widely perceived as being a ‘complicating factor’ among US policymakers (United States Department of State, 1961–63, vol. 24, p. 26). A US official likened France’s attitude toward the US policy toward Southeast Asia to ‘sort of a dog in the manger complex with great jealousy of any US activity in Laos’ (United States Department of State, 1961–63, vol. 24, p. 2). During the May 1961 summit meeting between Presidents de Gaulle and Kennedy, de Gaulle said to Kennedy that in Southeast Asia, the West can have influence only through non-military means and that the United States should avoid providing aid to Southeast Asian countries to exercise influence in the region (United States Department of State, 1961–63, vol. 24, p. 216). Witnessing the SEATO developments toward Laos, Thailand grew increasingly nervous that ‘SEATO would be paralyzed by French and British unwillingness to take military action in defense of Thailand’ (United States Department of State, 1961–63, vol. 23, p. 23). Thailand proposed that SEATO should revise voting procedures so that interventions would not require unanimous consent. Washington seriously debated whether they should remove the rule of unanimity. By that point, not only Thailand, Pakistan, and the Philippines openly blamed French and British behavior, but Australia also expressed concerns about Britain’s reluctance to the United States (United States Department of State, 1961–63, p. 23). The US estimated that if Washington decided to accept the Thai proposal, Australia and New Zealand would probably follow, but not France or Britain. Not surprisingly, France, Britain, Australia, and New Zealand opposed this proposal (United States Department of State, 1961–1963, p. 35). The alternatives were either the dissolution of SEATO, or the withdrawal of France and Britain from it. Facing a real possibility of Thailand’s withdrawal from SEATO, the United States went for a separate bilateral arrangement with the Thais, while keeping the existing SEATO voting procedures. In March 1962, US Secretary of State Dean Rusk issued a joint communique with the Thai Foreign Minister, stating that the United States would come to its aid for Thailand’s defense against communism. Under this framework, the deployment of US forces in Thailand would not follow SEATO procedures. The 1962 Rusk formula is worth noting because the birth of this formula shows how, despite SEATO’s existence, an Asian SEATO ally (Thailand) formed bilateral arrangements with the United States. By the mid-1960s, the United States noted: ‘If SEATO cannot meet Vietnam crisis, questions arises as to what purpose organization serves’ (United States Department of State, 1964–68, vol. 27, p. 163). Amid the US’ air strikes against North Vietnam, in May 1965, the US considered a direct reliance on SEATO for intervention to meet aggression in South Vietnam. France declined to send even an observer to SEATO meetings; Britain refused to send any forces; Pakistan stopped participating SEATO military activities, while tightening relations with China; and Thailand grew increasingly dissatisfied with the purpose of the alliance. 6 Conclusions Postwar American hegemony in Asia took on a much less multilateral character compared to that in Europe not just because of the US’ preferences but also those of other less powerful actors. Taking an eclectic analytic framework, I have argued that the Asian experience of Western colonialism led actors to contest the American-led hegemonic order in postwar Southeast Asia. Although standard realist and institutionalist accounts offer important insights for SEATO’s failure against NATO’s survival, these accounts are insufficient without taking into account the strategic dimensions of the United States’ legitimacy deficit in the post-World War II period. The United States’ lack of legitimacy in the eyes of local Southeast Asian opened room for China and India to successfully undermine US strategy and delegitimize hegemony in the region. It is worth noting that China’s own shared experience of Western imperialism gave it a surprisingly high level of legitimacy even among Asian countries that were afraid of China and of communist infiltration within their borders. Another crucial factor behind SEATO’s failure is the role of the US’ European allies in SEATO. 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Wallander (eds), Imperfect Unions: Security Institutions over Time and Space , pp. 21 – 47 . Oxford : Oxford University Press . Weber S. ( 1992 ) ‘ Shaping the postwar balance of power: multilateralism in NATO’ , International Organization , 46 ( 3 ), 633 – 680 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Weinstein F. ( 1972 ) The Uses of Foreign Policy in Indonesia (Doctoral Dissertation). ProQuest Dissertations & Theses. (Order No. 7300365). Wriggins H. ( 1960 ) Ceylon: Dilemmas of a New Nation . Princeton : Princeton University Press . Zhang S.G. ( 2007 ) ‘ Constructing “Peaceful Coexistence”: China's diplomacy toward the Geneva and Bandung conferences, 1954–55’ , Cold War History , 7 ( 4 ), 509 – 528 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS © The author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press in association with the Japan Association of International Relations; all rights reserved. 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Contested American hegemony and regional order in postwar Asia: the case of Southeast Asia Treaty Organization

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Abstract Why did American-led postwar institution building lead to different types of security orders in Asia and Europe? The article investigates the failure of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO)—the only postwar multilateral security organization in the Asia-Pacific region that resembled NATO—as contrasted with NATO’s survival. Despite the popular notion of ‘American liberal hegemony’, the US-led multilateral security institution in fact faced serious resistance in Southeast Asia during the early years of the Cold War, as regional players viewed SEATO as yet another form of Western imperialism threatening their independence. The article makes a theoretical argument for the role of delegitimation in hegemonic order formation and shows that the Asian historical experience of Western colonialism had structural consequences for American-led hegemonic order building in Asia. China-India joint delegitimation strategies against the United States invoked local actors’ collective beliefs against colonialism portraying SEATO as a vehicle of Western domination. Once established, the United States’ European allies within SEATO placed constraints on the exercise of American hegemonic power, by taking advantage of the multilateral rules of SEATO and refusing to act collectively in the local crises in Laos. Archival evidence suggests that such delegitimation and restraint strategies were fairly successful in terms of limiting SEATO membership and blocking interventions in Indochina, strengthening Asian neutrality rather than creating a pro-US bloc in the region. 1 Introduction The United States took the lead in the formation of various security institutions in Europe and Asia in the post-World War II period, including the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1949 (NATO), the Australia-New Zealand-United States Treaty in 1951 (ANZUS), and the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization in 1955 (SEATO). The postwar international order was linked to these institutions, which were based on American power and liberal principles of governance. According to John Ikenberry (2001, 2011), an ‘American-led hegemonic order’—or a ‘liberal hegemony’, a hegemonic order with distinctively liberal characteristics—emerged from this postwar institution building. However, American-led efforts at postwar institution building led to remarkably different outcomes in terms of the types of security orders in Europe and Asia. NATO, a highly institutionalized 12-member alliance, became the focus of a regional order characterized by consensus, institutionalization, and multilateralism in Europe, whereas the postwar order building in the Asia-Pacific region resulted in a different type of order, one based on what James Baker has called a ‘hub-and-spokes’ bilateral system. SEATO—the only postwar multilateral security organization in Asia that resembled NATO in terms of the number of participants—collapsed in 1977 in the midst of the Cold War. Why did the postwar American hegemonic order take on a different, much less multilateral, character in Asia? This article sheds light on this question, using SEATO as a case of a failed attempt at American-led multilateral security cooperation in postwar Asia. Understanding why SEATO could not develop into an ‘Asian NATO’ helps to elucidate an important aspect of the origins of postwar American hegemonic order in the region. American order building was in fact highly contested in Southeast Asia, leading some observers such as Amitav Acharya (2014, chapter 3) to declare the notion of American liberal hegemony a ‘myth’. In September 1954, the United States signed the Manila Pact that established SEATO as a buffer against communist expansion in Southeast Asia. But the responses of regional actors to this US-led multilateral security institution turned out to have the opposite effect of enhancing China’s status in the region, culminating in 1955 at the Bandung Conference and continuing throughout the latter part of the 1950s. By the early 1960s, SEATO was ‘testimony to the failure of Asian collective defense’ (Buszynski, 1983, p. 220) after the Laotian crises of 1959 and 1960–61 revealed the alliance’s inability to act as originally intended. In what Henry Kissinger called ‘a very curious phenomenon’, there were only two Southeast Asian countries (Thailand and the Philippines) in a collective defense organization for Southeast Asia (United States National Security Council, 1973). Of the 10 countries that the United States and Britain encouraged to join SEATO—the Philippines, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, Ceylon, India, Pakistan, Burma, Indonesia, and France (United States Department of State, 1952–1954, vol. 12, part 1, pp. 662–665), four Asian powers declined the invitation. At the request of Britain, Washington had invited the Asian states represented at the Colombo Conference earlier that year in April and May 1954—India, Indonesia, Ceylon, Pakistan, and Burma, known as the Colombo Powers (Buszynski, 1983, p. 19). However, only Pakistan joined SEATO. SEATO failed to receive even modest support from the missing Colombo powers, and instead was criticized as a vehicle for US ‘aggression’ toward China. When one approaches the postwar American hegemonic order through the United States’ power and preferences only, SEATO’s developments as described above are a puzzle. Consider that both SEATO and NATO were created by the United States under similar geostrategic environments for similar purposes. That is, at the end of World War II, the United States had to deal with the defeat of revisionist powers in both Europe and Asia—Germany and Japan—and had to find a way to rebuild international order against a backdrop of mistrust by regional players toward defeated powers (Duffield, 2003). Both of these institutions emerged as the United States assumed the role of hegemon, taking responsibility for thwarting the spread of communism both in Europe and Asia (Leffler, 1994). But the fate of SEATO was remarkably different from that of NATO. The case of SEATO shows that creating hegemonies and security institutions entails a process that is essentially social in nature. Much of the scholarship on hegemony explains the formation of hegemonic orders in terms of the dominant state’s projection of its power or ideology, while assuming that the specific type of order is a reflection of the leading power’s strategies or preferences only (see for example, Gilpin, 1981; Keohane, 1984; Ikenberry, 2001). The theory of US liberal hegemony, too, assumes that the American postwar order was an outcome of the United States’ decision to use institutions and to turn raw power into legitimate order (Ikenberry, 2001, 2011). Scholars who have studied the origins of the postwar order in Asia have similarly focused on the United States, paying little attention to the role played by less powerful actors (Hemmer and Katzenstein, 2002; He and Feng, 2012; Cha, 2016). This article takes issue with the literature that considers the less powerful powers as unimportant or that simply assumes that their interests were exogenously given. The prevailing view in the literature is that less powerful states lean toward multilateral security arrangements rather than bilateral arrangements to stave off the possibility of great power domination and to ensure that their voices are heard (Ikenberry, 2001: 50–79). However, this view fails to consider that building an international order requires social interactions that are grounded in specific cultural and historical contexts, within which not only the dominant state but also other less powerful actors draw on their own collective beliefs, identities, and norms. In this article, I show that the absence of postwar multilateral security cooperation in Asia was not only a reflection of US preferences and strategic choices, but also stemmed from those of other less powerful actors which were operating in the specific social context of decolonization across Asia. There is no denying that the United States did not intend to institutionalize SEATO to the degree that it did for NATO to begin with (United States Department of State, 1952–1954, vol. 12, part 1, p. 680). However, this US angle is only half the story and fails to explain why Asia’s non-communist states refused to join SEATO. The specific ways in which SEATO developed and collapsed can be better explained when viewed through the United States’ interactions at least with the other two groups—regional players in postwar Asia, especially those that declined the invitation to join SEATO and the US’ junior partners within SEATO. First, under the specific Southeast Asian context of ‘the proliferation of new sovereign states’ following the withdrawal of colonial powers that were in all cases Western (Cruickshank, 1967, p. 93), regional actors including the Colombo Powers interpreted the US-led multilateral security arrangement as yet another form of Western imperialism (Acharya, 2011). Key players such as India and Indonesia used strategies of active delegitimation of SEATO as a case of the United States imposing its interests on less powerful Asian actors and thus threatening their sense of sovereignty. China, too, pursued the strategy of linking of SEATO with Western colonialism to discourage uncommitted countries in Asia from joining the organization. Between 1954 and 1959, China’s and India’s joint delegitimation strategies invoked local actors’ collective beliefs against colonialism and great power politics, and the fear of their return in the guise of SEATO, dividing the non-communist regimes in Asia into those that joined SEATO and those that did not (Thomas, 1957, pp. 926–936). At a deeper level, this article presents an argument that SEATO’s failure was rooted in legitimacy issues enmeshed with actors’ concerns for security and tasks of nation building, which influenced their decision regarding SEATO membership. According to a cultural and sociological legitimation view of the historical institutionalist literature (Thelen, 2004), institutions embody collectively defined cultural and social understandings about the way the world works. Institutional development hinges on whether or not and to what extent actors view an institution as legitimate. In postwar Southeast Asia, actors’ pursuit of security and national interests was informed by their notions of legitimacy, which were tied to the specific context of decolonization, leading them to value independence, anti-colonialism, and peaceful coexistence over anticommunism. Second, on the part of the United States’ allies in SEATO, the primary motivations for SEATO membership rested on their desire to influence the policy of the United States through their participation. Former European colonial powers Britain and France joined the alliance not because they were concerned about communist expansion in Asia, but because they sought to maintain their privilege and great power status in the region (Buszynski, 1983). Furthermore, they were worried that Washington’s policy in Asia would likely divert US strength and commitment away from Europe. The focus of their SEATO participation was, therefore, placed on restraining and controlling US behavior. SEATO’s Asian ally Thailand, facing the threats of Viet Minh communist subversion at home and in the neighboring Laos and Cambodia, denounced the British and the French position of undercommitment and the tactics that restrained American power. After SEATO failed to intervene in Laos, the 1962 Rusk formula—the United States’ promise of bilateral as well as multilateral security commitment to Thailand to mitigate the latter’s abandonment fears—signified that SEATO had become ‘a forum of disagreement’ (Dimitrakis, 2012, p. 85). International relations literature often proposes that although hegemonic powers are averse to international regimes that they cannot dominate, ‘lesser powers like them precisely because they strengthen the many against the one’ (Joffe, 2002, p. 176). However, empirical evidence from SEATO shows quite convincingly that such a view requires further qualification. Some European powers of SEATO indeed preferred the multilateral rules of SEATO (such as the unanimous vote for interventions) because multilateralism helped them control what they considered to be reckless US adventures in Asia. However, other powers like the Philippines, Thailand, and Australia found their bilateral arrangements with the US to be more favorable and essential to their security, challenging the view that the less powerful always prefer multilateralism to bilateralism. In the next section, I take an eclectic approach and show how the existing realist, institutionalist, and constructivist accounts should consider the specific social context of decolonization and its impact on the workings of the US-led multilateral security institution in Southeast Asia. I then provide an argument that explains strategies of the less powerful—‘strategies of delegitimation and restraint’—in hegemonic order formation in postwar Asia. I examine the essay’s theoretical arguments against the two critical junctures—one in 1954–55 during SEATO’s formation and the other in 1959–61 during the Laotian crises—that proved consequential for the failure of SEATO. I conclude by summarizing the article’s findings in terms of our understanding of the American postwar order building in Asia. 2 Why no NATO in postwar Asia The existing realist, institutionalist, and constructivist accounts each shed light on important aspects of SEATO’s developments and collapse. The section takes an eclectic approach (see Sil and Katzenstein, 2010) and contrasts SEATO’s failures with NATO’s survival across their lifespans. According to Hemmer and Katzenstein (2002, p. 578), such comparisons are theoretically justifiable, as the two institutions constitute ‘something like a natural experiment’ to students of international relations. The case of SEATO shows that one should consider the role played by less powerful actors and how their threat perceptions, strategic interests, and collective beliefs collided with those of the United States, particularly in the specific historical context of post-colonial Asia. 2.1 Threats explanations To most neorealist scholars, the formation, management, and termination of alliances are a function of balance of power or threats. Security cooperation is rare in the world of anarchy, and security institutions collapse when the threats against which they were built disappear (Mearsheimer, 1994/95). In the case of SEATO, at first glance it might appear that the US’ pursuit of détente with China spurred the formal disintegration process of SEATO after a series of crises in Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia. Subsequent to the Sino-Soviet split beginning in 1956, US policymakers had believed that China was not intent on waging an international conflict with the United States (United States Office of the Director of Central Intelligence, 1961). The 1972 Sino-US détente significantly assuaged the US’ perception of threat vis-à-vis China, signaling important changes in the Asian balance of power. Following in the footsteps of the United States, the Philippines and Thailand decided to seek rapprochement with China as well. However, it deserves attention here that SEATO was defunct prior to the Sino-US détente of 1972. According to Leszek Buszynski (1983, chapter 3), SEATO became more or less defunct as a collective defense organization after the Laotian crises of 1959 and 1960–61, but for reasons that had little to do with shifts in the balance of power or threats in Asia. SEATO’s failure had more to do with the organization’s inadequacy in cases of internal communist subversion. Consider that in Southeast Asia, it was not just communism but also colonialism, with which Southeast Asians associated threats. Despite massive American military power, without a host-government invitation, SEATO could not intervene without incurring the criticism that Western powers were interfering with weaker Asian states’ internal problems. A more convincing realist-constructivist synthesis argument can be made when we focus on how in 1954 potential allies of SEATO defined threats differently in the first place, which contributed to limited Asian membership. In the minds of US policymakers, the formation of SEATO rested on their ‘popular perception of a ubiquitous Soviet threat’ (Blum, 1982: 218) and the anti-communism that had become part of everyday American political life (Leffler, 1994, p. 69 and p. 121). However, in the words of Indonesian President Sukarno, ‘So many of us in Asia feel our blood tingle at the very mention of the words “imperialism” and “colonialism” for it carries with it memories whose scars are too recent to be lightly forgotten’ (cited in Idle, 1956, p. 241). Burma, India, and Indonesia all refused to join SEATO in 1954 and pursued the strategy of accommodation with China in the latter half of the 1950s. Of the two Southeast Asian countries that joined SEATO, it is worth noting that Thailand was the only country that avoided colonialization by a Western power, while the Philippines acquired independence peacefully from the United States, for which their elites felt grateful (cited in Idle, 1956, p. 129). 2.2 Institutionalization explanations If threat arguments suggest why regional actors in Southeast Asia chose not to join SEATO in the first place, institutionalists’ focus on common interests is useful in elucidating why SEATO suffered from self-defeating dynamics that adversely affected alliance cohesion. According to institutionalist theory, the key to answering the question of why certain alliances endure while others collapse depends on the differing degrees to which they are institutionalized (Wallander and Keohane, 1999, pp. 21–47). The institutionalist logic suggests that SEATO’s failure to become an ‘Asian NATO’ must consider why SEATO and NATO were institutionalized to differing degrees, in conjunction with alliance cohesion and collective action issues. After the initial phases of institution building, there were noticeable differences in the levels of institutionalization between SEATO and NATO. For example, Robert McCalla (1996) and Christian Tuschhoff (1999) attribute the persistence of NATO to its institutional density and depth. NATO developed elaborate political apparatuses for consultation, policy coordination, and joint decision making, as well as an integrated military planning and command structure. SEATO’s permanent organization involved less binding guarantees, few common policymaking structures, little joint military planning, and minimal military infrastructure. SEATO had no unified command structure or unified standing forces (Modelski, 1962, pp. 3–45). Perhaps one of the most important aspects of the differing levels of institutionalization is the degree to which the two institutions were willing to institutionalize the ‘indivisibility of security’ (see Ruggie, 1993). Compared with Article V of NATO’s treaty, in which an attack on any member state is considered an attack on all, Article IV(2) of the Manila Pact, which established SEATO, stated that members could only consult on whether an event constituted a threat to peace and security, thereby leaving latitude for members’ responses on a case-by-case basis. Any intervention under SEATO required the unanimous consent of all member states. There is no denying that without the inclusion of the non-communist states of major US interest—Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan—as members, the United States’ preference was to ensure its freedom of action, so that SEATO would not become an ‘Asian NATO’ (Buszynski, 1983, pp. 221–222). Less than two months before the signing of the Manila Pact, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles wrote to the British embassy: We do not envisage SEA security pact developing into NATO-type organization with large permanent machinery under which large local forces in being are to be created with substantial US financial support and to which US would be committed to contribute forces for local defense (United States Department of State, 1952–1954, vol. 12, part 1, p. 680). The goal of the Eisenhower administration was to ‘draw a line which, if crossed, would permit [the US] to retaliate at the source of aggression and to do so with the support of other nations’ (United States Department of State, 1952–1954, vol. 12, part 1, p. 666). By establishing SEATO, the United States hoped to demonstrate unity as a deterrent to the communist states China and the Soviet Union, but without providing the resources required for its credibility. Thus, the seeds of failure in the Laotian crises had been planted by Washington during the formative institution building process. However, in order to paint the full picture of SEATO’s failure to become an ‘Asian NATO’, it is not enough to examine only the role that the United States played. Britain, having agreed to join SEATO to preserve its great power status through its ‘special relationship’ with Washington while steering the latter’s commitment toward Commonwealth interests (Buszynski, 1983), never intended to institutionalize the military structure of SEATO (Dimitrakis, 2012). France, having worked to enlist American power in Vietnam to maintain its colonial power in Indochina in the 1940s (Lawrence, 1998), joined SEATO but consistently opposed any SEATO action to the extent that the Thai Foreign Minister hoped France would withdraw because France ‘only impeded its business’ (Dimitrakis, 2012, p. 116). 2.3 Collective beliefs explanations Constructivist scholars have long recognized that an international institution is not simply an aggregate of national interests of participating state actors, but an expression of collective identities, values, norms, and beliefs (Keohane, 1988; Acharya, 2009, 2011; Meunier and McNamara, 2007). The constructivist literature on the formation of NATO suggests why NATO enjoyed a high level of institutionalization by showing that the collective beliefs of US policymakers were consequential. According to Patrick Jackson (2003), NATO’s ‘indivisibility of security’ between the United States and Europe was justified in terms of the United States acting on behalf of the ‘Western civilization’. Steve Weber (1992) shows that Europe might have developed bilateral security arrangements similar to those in Asia if it were not for the Eisenhower administration’s belief in multilateralism with its European allies and acknowledgment of their great power status as an ‘appropriate’ way to organized international politics. Constructivist insights complement the preceding institutionalization explanations by yielding compelling arguments that consider why actors defined their interests the way they did in Southeast Asia. According to Hemmer and Katzenstein (2002), the lack of multilateral security arrangements in Asia cannot be explained without considering US policymakers’ collective identity and cognitive biases against Asia as being inferior to Europe. Acharya (2009, 2011) argues that the collective beliefs and norms of local Asian actors, especially those shaped by Western imperialism, help explain local agents’ rejection of great power-controlled institutional arrangements. The essay builds on this line of thinking to acknowledge the role of the collective beliefs of anti-colonialism and its implications for contested American hegemonic order building experiences. The history of Western colonialism in Southeast Asia shaped local actors’ collective image of the United States to be the new ‘imperialist bogey-man’ that could plunge Asia into a war against communism (Jennings 1954, p. 348). Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru insisted that all non-Asian military forces should withdraw from Asian countries, including US forces in Japan, and that colonial areas such as Indonesia should be liberated from Western powers. In the eyes of Indonesians, the prevailing view of SEATO was that joining the US-led military alliance would be ‘dishonorable’, an act equivalent to ‘selling the country’s independence’ (Weinstein, 1972, p. 361). Across Southeast Asia, the US acquired a reputation that it was not peace-loving; alliances sponsored by the US were believed to be conducive to war (Idle, 1956; Weinstein, 1972). 3 Strategies of the weaker and hegemonic power An understanding of SEATO’s failure as contrasted with NATO’s survival raises theoretical questions about legitimation and its structural consequences for order formation at least in two ways. First, whether or not and to what extent a future hegemon can successfully legitimate its power hinges not just on the content of its justifying ideologies, but also on the degree to which such ideologies resonate with other actors’ collective beliefs in their specific cultural and social contexts (Lee, 2016). As Patrick Jackson (2006, p. 17) puts it, the concept of legitimacy is ‘sociologically relative rather than transcendentally absolute’. Second, the dominant state’s legitimacy deficit can facilitate potential adversaries and other actors in mobilizing countervailing forces and delegitimation campaigns against the dominant state. Delegitimation of a dominant state is likely to be more successful when the delegitimating rhetoric resonates with the collective beliefs of the target audiences. The use of political labels such as Nazis, imperialists, colonialists, fascists, or capitalists, for example, constitutes an important delegitimation strategy. Delegitimation strategy involves ‘categorization of groups into negative social categories’, and such categories are ‘culture bound’ (Bar-Tal, 1989, p. 170 and p. 171). Therefore, labeling the Soviets as ‘communists’ during the Cold War would not make it a delegitimating act, but labeling Americans as ‘communists’ would (Bar-Tal, 1989, pp. 171–172). According to Schweller and Pu (2014: 44), delegitimation has two components: ‘a delegitimating rhetoric (the discourse of resistance) and cost-imposing strategies that fall short of full-fledged balancing behavior (the practice of resistance)’. Delegitimation is thus essentially a mechanism of power politics. SEATO and NATO—both initiated by the United States and justified on the same normative basis of countering Communist aggression and expansion—were received differently in Southeast Asia and in Europe. One must consider the differences in the historical and cultural contexts in order to determine if the normative content of the US’ justifying ideology (i.e. anti-communism) were legitimate in the eyes of local actors. After all, legitimation is essentially a social process, requiring the approval of and support from less powerful actors whose notions of legitimacy draw on their own social and cultural contexts. Consider, for example, that to newly independent Asian countries that embraced neutrality as a foreign policy goal, Ho Chi Minh was waging struggles against colonialism (Weinstein, 1972, p. 230-231). Therefore, successful legitimation hinges on how much political actors can publicly justify their position in ways that resonate with the collective beliefs of the audiences. Restraint strategy is another way through which less powerful actors might exercise control over the formation, management, and/or termination of an alliance by constraining the unilateral behavior of a more powerful ally. The idea that alliances are not just about balancing against external threats but play the role of constraining the behavior of alliance partners is not new. In the words of Paul Schroeder (1976, p. 230), ‘all alliances in some measure functioned as pacts of restraint (pacta de contrahendo), restraining or controlling the actions of the partners in the alliance themselves’. According to Cha (2016), the dominant state may construct an asymmetric alliance in order to maximize its ability to control its alliance partners, especially those that are deemed to be risk-taking and reckless. The restraint logic thus focuses on the desire to control an ally’s unilateral behavior and to reduce entrapment fears. Scholars have already shown that multilateral rules are effective when less powerful allies try to control a more powerful one. From the perspective of less powerful member states, the US’ construction of an asymmetric but multilateral alliance—as in the case of SEATO—gave them the leverage upon which they exerted control over what they considered the United States’ reckless plans to intervene in Indochina. France and Britain chained the US to undercommitment in the Laotian crises, and then sat out the conflict in the Vietnam crisis. The United States’ feeling that its security was tied to that of its European allies led it to create a multilateral arrangement in Southeast Asia. But because these European allies sought to prevent the US from overcommitting rather than sharing the goal of forging anti-communism in Asia, the US soon faced situations where its own strategic preferences were undermined due to its membership in SEATO. 4 SEATO as the return of Western imperialism In the late 1940s and 1950s, a majority of Southeast Asian countries India, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Ceylon, and Indonesia all experienced communist-led rebellions or infiltrations, leading them to basically oppose communism. Even those Asian powers that rejected SEATO membership did in fact fear China for Beijing’s support for communist insurgencies within their border, if not outright aggression. But why did these states refuse to join SEATO and instead sought to improve relations with China? From a realist point of view, it can be argued that their strategy was aimed at bandwagoning with China and/or balancing against the United States. However, the standard realist logic that focuses only on material power fails to explain the specific manner in which these states handled the United States and China. Rather than joining alliances as a way of increasing their security and relative power, they asserted neutrality and independence (Fig. 1). Figure 1 View largeDownload slide The pattern of informal alignments among noncommunist Asian powers. Author’s figure. Note that Pakistan, despite having joined SEATO, distanced itself from the United States and moved closer to China. Figure 1 View largeDownload slide The pattern of informal alignments among noncommunist Asian powers. Author’s figure. Note that Pakistan, despite having joined SEATO, distanced itself from the United States and moved closer to China. According to Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, a policy of neutrality means ‘a position of aloofness from power combinations, particularly power combinations that were at war or threatening war between themselves’ (cited in Chaudhry and Vanduzer-Snow, 2008, p. 326). Based on this stance, Nehru considered United States’ policies in Indochina wrong on moral grounds and ineffective. For example, he was critical of the US’ policy that tied the provision of aid to Laos’ exclusion of communists and communist sympathizers in its cabinet. During this period, India’s rocky relations with the United States had much to do with its power balance calculations vis-à-vis Pakistan. However, viewing India’s opposition to SEATO and US Asia policy only through the lens of Pakistan fails to consider that Nehru’s approach toward SEATO rested on his broader foreign policy aims that involved the creation of pan-Asian regional identities, as well as new regional norms (Singh, 2011). This type of diverging approaches to regional affairs of the US and India proved perhaps most consequential in terms of their attitudes toward China. According to Frankel (2004: 29), India was interested in cooperating with China as a means to building an Asian balance that can limit Western imperialist influences. Whereas the US considered regional actors’ neutralism as ‘impairing’ regional stability, Nehru believed that the US’ power politics and isolation of China would make Beijing more aggressive. In 1954, in what Norbu (1997, p. 1080) called ‘the biggest concession to China in modern Asian history’, Nehru decided to give up India’s extra territorial rights in Tibet and recognize it as a region of China. The decision originated not just from the difficulty of dislodging the Chinese People’s Liberation Army from Tibet but his desire to enhance Asian solidarity. Until the 1959 revolt in Tibet and the 1962 Sino-Indian border war turned their bilateral relations sour, it was Nehru’s actions that helped China to break out of international isolation, urging the US to recognize China. The formation of SEATO greatly upset India, Indonesia, and other regional actors, as well as China. There was the palpable fear that smaller Asian powers would assume an ‘inferior position’ and become ‘second class nation(s)’ if they join a military alliance with their former colonial powers including Britain, France, and possibly the Netherlands (Weinstein, 1972, p. 357). In India’s House of the People, SEATO was criticized as ‘an organization of certain imperial Powers and some others, who may have an interest in joining together to protect a territory which they say is in danger. We are part of that territory and we say that we do not want to be protected’ (as cited in Thomas, 1957, p. 933, n. 24). SEATO was denounced as a vehicle of Western domination. Such delegitimating rhetoric resonated with the collective beliefs among regional actors including China. A conversation between Chairman Mao Zedong and Prime Minister Nehru in October 1954, one month after the creation of SEATO, reveals that the two leaders constructed the United States and the Western powers as the ‘other’, and jointly denounced them: Mao: ‘Historically, all of us, people of the East, have been bulled by Western imperialist powers … . In spite of differences in our ideologies and social systems, we haven an overriding common point, that is, all of us have to cope with imperialism. Nehru: … You are absolutely right in saying that over the past two hundred years, our two countries and many other countries in Asia have suffered from the oppression and domination of foreign colonial powers.1 1 The paragraph draws on ‘Minutes of Chairman Mao Zedong’s First Meeting with Nehru’, 19 October 1954. Wilson Center Digital Archive. http://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/117825 (25 October 2017, date last accessed). The US formula for Southeast Asian peace through military alliance with former colonial powers was viewed by many Asian powers with suspicion as ‘forgetting or ignoring Asia, especially when these problems are Asian’ (Government of India Press Information Bureau, 1954). The success of China’s and India’s delegitimating campaigns against SEATO during the formation phase was thus in no small part attributable to the appeal of anti-Western imperialism rhetoric itself. 4.1 China’s and India’s loose coalition against SEATO From the Chinese point of view, SEATO targeted China as its main enemy. Against the backdrop of US’ participation in the Korean War, the basing of its forces on Taiwan, and the US aid to the French in Indochina, SEATO’s formation deeply worried the Chinese leadership that the United States was replacing France as the dominant Western power in Indochina, especially in Vietnam (Richardson, 2005, p. 48). How did Chinese policymakers respond to the creation of SEATO and the overall US strategies in the region? In addition to developing its conventional forces as well as a nuclear capability, Beijing pursued a strategy of delegitimating SEATO as an American device designed to exploit Asia’s weaker powers. China’s diplomatic efforts focused on drawing them into the neutralist orbit and thus addressing other Asian powers’ fears toward China and reassuring them of its peaceful intentions. According to Premier Zhou, China would have to make the peoples of the world believe that China sought to resolve disputes through peaceful means, whereas the United States insisted on using hostility. The decision was thus made that China would make a diplomatic breakthrough and make friends, especially with India (Pang, 2015). In 1954, Zhou accepted an invitation from Nehru—who, in the minds of the Chinese leadership, was ‘the most important leader of India’s independence movement’ and highly regarded among the newly sovereign states (Zhang, 2007, p. 519)—to visit New Delhi. According to an internal cable prior to the visit, Chinese intentions for the India visit were ‘to conduct preparation work for signing some form of Asian peace treaty and to strike a blow at the United States’ conspiracy to organize a Southeast Asian invasive bloc’.2 2 Cable from Zhou Enlai, ‘Premier’s Intentions and Plans to Visit India’, 22 June 1954. Wilson Center Digital Archive. http://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/112437 (25 October 2017, date last accessed). Zhou stated, ‘We will emphasize that Southeast Asian countries should unite against the invasion of the United States’.3 3 Cable from Zhou Enlai, ‘Premier’s Intentions and Plans to Visit India’, 22 June 1954. Wilson Center Digital Archive. http://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/112437 (25 October 2017, date last accessed). During that meeting in June 1954, Nehru’s proposal for ‘a peaceful zone’ in Asia—‘neutral, free of military bases, and no interference or aggression’—was welcomed by Zhou, who suggested applying the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence to India, Burma, Indonesia, Pakistan, Ceylon, Laos, and Cambodia (Zhang, 2007, p. 519). At both the Geneva and the Bandung conferences, Chinese diplomats endeavored to combat negative images of China, especially in the wake of the second Taiwan crisis, while using the rhetoric of nationalism, sovereignty, and anticolonialism, making it difficult for the United States to brand China as an aggressive power (Pang, 2015). Beijing considered the Bandung Conference to be of ‘historic importance’, and when the Colombo Powers were still debating over China’s attendance, Beijing contacted Indonesia to express its desire to be invited.4 4 Cable from the Chinese Foreign Ministry, ‘Receiving the Prime Ministers of India and Other Countries and Attending the Asian-African Conference’, 9 December 1954. Wilson Center Digital Archive. http://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/114600 (25 October 2017, date last accessed). The report from Chinese Foreign Ministry states that Beijing ‘should concentrate [its] efforts to isolate the American force, actively win over the ‘peace and neutral’ countries (i.e. India, Burma, and Indonesia) and try to split the countries closely following the USA and hostile to China (i.e. Thailand and the Philippines)’.5 5 Report from the Chinese Foreign Ministry, ‘Draft of the Tentative Working Plan for Participating in the Asian-African Conference’, 16 January 1955. Wilson Center Digital Archive. http://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/113189 (25 October 2017, date last accessed). At the conference, Zhou invited Prince Wong of Thailand to dispatch an inspection party to China to make sure that China did not have its troops along the Sino-Thai border in preparation for attacking Thailand. A similar offer was made to the Philippines to clear their suspicions of Chinese intentions. After the conference, the Ceylonese Prime Minister said that Zhou was not as bad as other people had said he was.6 6 ‘Chinese Foreign Ministry Reference Document No.1’, 28 April 1955. Wilson Center Digital Archive. http://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/114684 (25 October 2017, date last accessed). By launching diplomacy aimed at reassuring Asian powers, China in the mid-1950s successfully helped drive uncommitted Asian powers away from the United States and into the neutralist orbit. Unlike the United States’ approach of urging Asian powers to choose to join the bloc against the Soviet Union and China, China’s strategy was to link itself to the smaller Asian powers’ desire for neutrality and independence. Beijing’s decisions not to try to draw them into the communist bloc and a Cold War great power competition thus proved consequential, because other Asian powers viewed such a stance as respecting their independence and sovereignty (Palmer, 1955). At the Bandung Conference, the common denominator that brought the 29 states together in what Nehru called an ‘odd assortment’ was the experience of having been ‘subjected to Western imperialism in one form or another within the past hundred years, (United States Central Intelligence Agency, 1955). The conference was a site where SEATO was delegitimized, while legitimating the alternative vision of China and India, which rested on the Five Principles. Prior to the conference, Burmese premier Nu said, ‘If we discuss colonialism we may have some disparaging remarks about colonial powers and those are mostly Western powers’ (United States Central Intelligence Agency, 1955). Sukarno’s opening speech declared that the Asian countries were ‘no longer the victims of colonialism’ (cited in Pang, 2009, p. 63). China’s premier Zhou warned other powers that ‘the rule of colonialism in this region has not yet come to an end and new colonialists are attempting to take the place of the old ones’.7 7 ‘Main Speech by Premier Zhou Enlai, Head of the Delegation of the People's Republic of China, Distributed at the Plenary Session of the Asian-African Conference’, 19 April 1955. Wilson Center Digital Archive. http://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/121623 (25 October 2017, date last accessed). A key reason for China’s diplomatic success had to do with its partnership with India, especially in terms of discouraging the Colombo Powers from joining SEATO. As part of India’s own foreign policy goals, Nehru connected the Chinese Premier with other Asian leaders to help assuage their fear of China.8 8 ‘Chinese Foreign Ministry Intelligence Department Report on the Asian-African Conference,’ 4 September 1954. Wilson Center Digital Archive. http://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/112440 (25 October 2017, date last accessed). Over the course of China’s reassurance diplomacy, India’s influence in the region, especially among the Colombo Powers was indispensable; without it, SEATO would have been more appealing to other nations (Modelski, 1962, pp. 205–215). At the Colombo Conference in April and May 1954, all of the Colombo Powers agreed that China should be recognized and admitted to the UN (Wriggins, 1960, p. 440). Nehru was clearly aware that Asian powers were afraid of China and thus did not try to minimize the significance of their fear in dealing with China. In his conversation with Mao in October 1954, Nehru suggested to Mao that ‘if the Five Principles are carried out, it will help reduce fear’,9 9 ‘Minutes of Chairman Mao Zedong’s First Meeting with Nehru’, 19 October 1954. Wilson Center Digital Archive. http://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/117825 (25 October 2017, date last accessed). noting that the smaller powers feared both imperialism and the bigger powers such as China and India. 4.2 How delegitimation worked China and India could not have succeeded in delegitimating SEATO, without the other Colombo Powers’ own preferences for neutralism against great power politics. Of the other Colombo Powers that declined SEATO membership—Indonesia, Burma, and Ceylon— Indonesia’s foreign relations with China, the United States, India, and other Asian neighbors in the 1950s perhaps best illustrates how the history of Western colonialism influenced the ways in which regional players responded to SEATO in the midst of the Cold War rivalries. First of all, it is important to keep in mind that Indonesia’s refusal to join SEATO should be understood in the light that policy elites came to hold the view that ‘none of the big powers could be relied on to help Indonesia’ (Weinstein, 1972, p. 103). This line of thinking, which dates back to the country’s struggles for independence, formed the basis for Jakarta’s ‘independent and active foreign policy’ during its revolutionary period (1945–49), but went on well into the 1950s. According to the interview findings of all Indonesian foreign policy elites of the 1928, 1945, and 1966 generations, a majority of the policy elite (69%) said that a military pact with Western great powers would endanger their national security and identity as a newly independent state, as well as harm Indonesia’s international image and self-respect (Weinstein, 1972, pp. 356–364). During that time, most Indonesian elites felt that they needed to unite with newly independent, like-minded Asian powers to keep the Western powers out of the region. In particular, Indonesia formed friendly relations with India to pursue its own independent foreign policy; India and Indonesia voted alike at the UN in pursuit of anti-colonialism (Idle, 1956). Despite its suspicions of internal communist intent after a rebellion involving the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), Indonesia’s decision to recognize China in 1950 took shape because of the people’s strong demands for independence. While the Sukarno-Hatta administration was interested in foreign aid from the United States and the Netherlands for economic development projects, it had to drop the idea and instead pursue diplomatic relations with China to avoid criticisms levelled by the PKI and other political parties that the administration was ‘a semi-colonial state’ (Sukma, 1999, p. 22). In the 1950s, Indonesia’s foreign policy toward the US was still conditioned by what it perceived as Washington’s disappointing behavior during Indonesia’s struggle for independence (Weinstein, 1972). In 1952, Washington’s demands that Jakarta sign a mutual security agreement as a condition of receiving US military aid led to the Sukiman administration’s downfall (Simpson, 2008, p. 17). In July 1954, when US ambassador to Indonesia Cumming broached the topic of joining SEATO to Indonesia, President Sukarno told him that trying to change the Indonesian rejection of the invitation to SEATO ‘would doubtlessly be futile’. Doing so would invite criticism of the United States for pressuring a neutral state (United States Department of State, 1952–1954, vol. 12, part 1, p. 659). That Indonesia’s denunciation of SEATO came from its opposition to Western imperialism becomes clearer, when one examines a conversation in March 1954 between the Soviet ambassador to Indonesia, Zhukov and the Indonesian minister of foreign affairs, Sunario. Sunario expressed his fear that the Dutch might join SEATO and said that he viewed the upcoming Bandung Conference as a countermeasure to SEATO.10 10 ‘Journal Entry of Ambassador Zhukov: Record of Conversation with the Indonesian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sunario’, 12 April 1955. Wilson Center Digital Archive. http://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/110262 (25 October 2017, date last accessed). Burma had a reputation for being the ‘prototype of a small, neutralist country’ (Johnstone, 1963, p. 2) due to its continued pursuit of neutrality and independence since 1948. Whereas India regarded two Asian powers of SEATO, Thailand and the Philippines, as ‘American stooges’, it considered Burma a friendly country (United States Department of State, 1952–1954, vol. 12, part 1, p. 568). Since its independence, Burmese foreign policy had followed strict neutrality; the country would ‘establish the friendliest relations with all nations whenever possible’ and that it would ‘accept from any country any assistance … provided such assistance is given freely and does not violate our sovereignty’ (Johnstone 1963, p. 70). In this way, its refusal to join SEATO was somewhat expected, as Rangoon sought to avoid being drawn into Cold War politics when it had to tackle more pressing tasks of economic development and other internal issues. The case of Burma’s rejection of SEATO shows an aspect of neutrality as a practical foreign policy choice on the part of a weak state, in the midst of Cold War power politics. With the help of Nehru, in June 1954 Chinese Premier Zhou paid his first visit to Burma and met with Burmese Prime Minister U Nu.11 11 ‘Record of the First Meeting between Premier Zhou and Prime Minister U Nu’, 28 June 1954. Wilson Center Digital Archive. http://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/112438 (25 October 2017, date last accessed). ‘Record of the Second Meeting between Premier Zhou and Prime Minister U Nu’, 29 June 1954. Wilson Center Digital Archive. http://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/120364 (25 October 2017, date last accessed). Burma had been troubled by the communist insurgencies within its borders, which it believed China supported. The Burmese were also worried that the Chinese Nationalist troops in northeastern Burma might provoke China into invading their country (United States Department of State, 1952–1954, vol. 12, part 2, p. 54). The 1954 Zhou-U meeting is a good example of China’s reassurance policy toward a neutral state in the 1950s. Zhou commended Burma’s independent foreign policy, particularly its opposition to the US desire to establish military bases in Burma. He reaffirmed that China was ‘willing to see Burma independent of the freedom to choose the system approved by the majority of the people’. Zhou also urged U Nu to study the China–India Five Principles of Peaceful Existence. The meeting apparently left a positive impression on the Burmese prime minister. Burma was the most vocal advocate in favor of sending an invitation to China to the Bandung Conference. By January 1955, the US’ intelligence report assessed that China’s prestige and influence in Burma were on the rise (United States Central Intelligence Agency, 1955). Until the Cultural Revolution interrupted bilateral ties in the 1960s, Rangoon and Beijing’s accommodation toward each other included the signing of the 1960 Border Agreement and the Treaty of Friendship and Non-Aggression, which stipulated ‘not to take part in any military alliance directed against the other party’ (Holmes, 1972, p. 241). In case of Ceylon, both the invitation extended to Ceylon to join SEATO and Ceylon’s decline cannot be separated from its relations with other Colombo Powers. Two considerations were at work. One is that the majority of the cabinet, the public, and the media were against it. The US Ambassador to Ceylon noted in his report that American support of Western colonial powers France and Britain led people of all classes to oppose ‘American imperialism’. He further stated, ‘Having been successively invaded and occupied for the past three hundred years by first the Portuguese then the Dutch and finally the British, the Ceylonese say that they have good reason to turn a quizzical eye on any maneuvers of the white races in this part of the world’. The other is more social in nature. When assessing Ceylon’s interest in joining SEATO, he noted that the Ceylonese government first had to consult with other Colombo powers (United States Department of State, 1952–1954, vol. 12, part, 2, p. 1616 and p. 1620-1621), which opposed the organization. Ceylon’s decision not to join SEATO was a result of peer pressure from the other Colombo powers, especially India (Modelski, 1962, pp. 206–208). The Ceylonese Prime Minister was anti-communist and in principle, supported SEATO (United States Department of State, 1952–1954, vol. 12, part, 2, p.1607 and p. 1621). 5 SEATO’s restraints on American power After SEATO’s failure to attract major regional players during the formative period, another critical juncture leading to SEATO’s formal demise in 1977 was the alliance’s handling of the Laotian crises of 1959 and 1960–61. Understanding the Laotian crises is important for this study, because as predicted by US, British, and Thai policymakers at that time (see for example, United States Department of State, 1961–63, p. 116), SEATO became largely irrelevant afterwards. The Geneva Agreements of 1954, signed after the Viet Minh’s defeat of France’s attempt to restore colonial rule in Indochina (Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia), established neutrality in these three countries. In Laos, the Agreements granted the Viet Minh-supported communists known as the Pathet Lao control over two provinces close to the Vietnamese border to the north. Both Moscow and Beijing advocated neutrality in Indochina, trying to rein in Ho Chi Minh to maintain the status quo under the Agreements (Gaiduk, 2003). Washington, concerned about a possible communist take-over of Laos, supported the Laotian Royal army with aid. The crisis in 1959 originated from Premier Phoui’s design to destroy the aforesaid communist Pathet Lao-controlled provinces, which led him to declare that the Geneva Agreements had been fulfilled and to call on Washington’s direct support. China changed its policy to support the Viet Minh’s resort to arms. The Soviet Union, alarmed by US involvement in the situation and yet reluctant to approve armed struggle, sought to restore the status quo through the International Control Commission (Gaiduk, 2003). In August 1960, Captain Kong Le (a neutralist supported by Moscow) overthrew the US-backed government led by General Phoumi Nosovan. Kong Le formed a neutralist government with Souvanna Phouma (a neutralist) and recognized the communist Pathet Lao. Soon, Phoumi, supported by the US aid, marched on the capital, which led Moscow to provide supplies to Kong Le. By December 1960, a new pro-US government led by Boun Oum was installed, which intensified the US-Soviet rivalry of offering aid. The question of how the Laotian crisis contributed to SEATO’s eventual demise is linked to the reasons why, despite its own anticolonial traditions, the United States failed to effectively counter local actors’ delegitimation campaigns discussed in the preceding section. Of course, compared to China, an Asian actor whose experiences of Western imperialism made it relatively easier for it to appeal to other Asian actors, an identity-based legitimation was not possible for the United States in the 1950s. However, the United States was clearly aware of the dissonance of legitimacy notions between itself and major actors in Southeast Asia. US secretary of state Dulles, the chief architect of SEATO, accurately assessed such dissonance. In the summer of 1954, the Bureau of Far Eastern Affairs’ regional planning advisor warned of ‘an inexorable propensity for approaching the colonial and former colonial parts of the world under the most unfavorable auspices’, thereby ‘handicapping’ the US position in Asia. (United States Department of State, 1952–1954, vol. 12, part 1, p. 663). How did the United States fail to support decolonization and legitimate its position as hegemon in Southeast Asia? United States policies toward Southeast Asia in the 1950s were caught in this dilemma between America’s anti-colonialism on the one hand, and its Europe-first policy and anti-communism on the other. The creation of SEATO can be viewed as an expression of the United States’ pursuit of the latter, giving priority to the goals of anti-communism and relationships with European allies. Despite the view that Vietnamese nationalism was an ‘irresistible force of history’ (Lawrence, 1998, p. 90), US officials were more concerned about ‘offending French sensibilities’ (Lawrence, 1998: 87) should the French interest in Indochina be ignored. In their contemplation of Southeast Asia strategy, US policymakers felt that if Washington was going to war with China, it had to work with France and Britain, ‘for without their support [they] might lose the whole NATO structure’ (United States Department of State, 1952–1954, vol. 12, part 1, p. 60). However, by January 1961, it had become apparent to President Eisenhower and US policymakers that the British were reluctant, and the French were unhelpful, and that ‘our own ally is working against us’. The United States saw ‘evidence of obstruction, at least on the part of certain French personnel, to the defense of Laos’. Further, ‘SEATO becomes a means whereby restraint is imposed on us by our allies against action which we might be willing and able to take unilaterally and which might be generally acceptable’ (United States Department of State, 1961–63, vol. 24, p. 30). As the Laotian crisis deepened, the US’ initial position was clearly in favor of taking military measures if the lack of military action meant a communist takeover in Laos. The Kennedy administration seriously considered a SEATO operation involving the movement of forces into Laos (United States Department of State, 1961–63, pp. 126–129). Eventually, however, President Kennedy abandoned the idea of SEATO intervention in Laos in the face of reluctant allies. Britain responded to President Kennedy’s call that there should be no differences among France, Britain, and the US over Laos. But internally, it was a great concern that a possible SEATO intervention would divert US strength from NATO to the SEATO region, especially at a time of the Berlin Crisis, and also that it might entrap Britain into a war in Asia. In order to continue to influence the US’ future policy in Asia and elsewhere, Britain’s strategy was to ‘boost morale but avoid fresh commitments’ (United Kingdom Embassy in Thailand, 1961). Its initial policy direction was to ‘do everything possible to avoid a situation in which America takes decisions openly to intervene in Laos’ (United Kingdom Embassy in Thailand, 1961). The secret memo to the Prime Minister reveals the British perception that London and Washington were ‘in danger of getting entangled in all sort of troubles around the world just as Berlin is coming to a head. These entanglements must please the Russians very much’ (United Kingdom Prime Minister, 1961). France agreed that Laos should not be completely overtaken by the Communists, but expressed unequivocal opposition to SEATO intervention (United Kingdom Embassy, United States, 1961). The attitude of de Gaulle was widely perceived as being a ‘complicating factor’ among US policymakers (United States Department of State, 1961–63, vol. 24, p. 26). A US official likened France’s attitude toward the US policy toward Southeast Asia to ‘sort of a dog in the manger complex with great jealousy of any US activity in Laos’ (United States Department of State, 1961–63, vol. 24, p. 2). During the May 1961 summit meeting between Presidents de Gaulle and Kennedy, de Gaulle said to Kennedy that in Southeast Asia, the West can have influence only through non-military means and that the United States should avoid providing aid to Southeast Asian countries to exercise influence in the region (United States Department of State, 1961–63, vol. 24, p. 216). Witnessing the SEATO developments toward Laos, Thailand grew increasingly nervous that ‘SEATO would be paralyzed by French and British unwillingness to take military action in defense of Thailand’ (United States Department of State, 1961–63, vol. 23, p. 23). Thailand proposed that SEATO should revise voting procedures so that interventions would not require unanimous consent. Washington seriously debated whether they should remove the rule of unanimity. By that point, not only Thailand, Pakistan, and the Philippines openly blamed French and British behavior, but Australia also expressed concerns about Britain’s reluctance to the United States (United States Department of State, 1961–63, p. 23). The US estimated that if Washington decided to accept the Thai proposal, Australia and New Zealand would probably follow, but not France or Britain. Not surprisingly, France, Britain, Australia, and New Zealand opposed this proposal (United States Department of State, 1961–1963, p. 35). The alternatives were either the dissolution of SEATO, or the withdrawal of France and Britain from it. Facing a real possibility of Thailand’s withdrawal from SEATO, the United States went for a separate bilateral arrangement with the Thais, while keeping the existing SEATO voting procedures. In March 1962, US Secretary of State Dean Rusk issued a joint communique with the Thai Foreign Minister, stating that the United States would come to its aid for Thailand’s defense against communism. Under this framework, the deployment of US forces in Thailand would not follow SEATO procedures. The 1962 Rusk formula is worth noting because the birth of this formula shows how, despite SEATO’s existence, an Asian SEATO ally (Thailand) formed bilateral arrangements with the United States. By the mid-1960s, the United States noted: ‘If SEATO cannot meet Vietnam crisis, questions arises as to what purpose organization serves’ (United States Department of State, 1964–68, vol. 27, p. 163). Amid the US’ air strikes against North Vietnam, in May 1965, the US considered a direct reliance on SEATO for intervention to meet aggression in South Vietnam. France declined to send even an observer to SEATO meetings; Britain refused to send any forces; Pakistan stopped participating SEATO military activities, while tightening relations with China; and Thailand grew increasingly dissatisfied with the purpose of the alliance. 6 Conclusions Postwar American hegemony in Asia took on a much less multilateral character compared to that in Europe not just because of the US’ preferences but also those of other less powerful actors. Taking an eclectic analytic framework, I have argued that the Asian experience of Western colonialism led actors to contest the American-led hegemonic order in postwar Southeast Asia. Although standard realist and institutionalist accounts offer important insights for SEATO’s failure against NATO’s survival, these accounts are insufficient without taking into account the strategic dimensions of the United States’ legitimacy deficit in the post-World War II period. The United States’ lack of legitimacy in the eyes of local Southeast Asian opened room for China and India to successfully undermine US strategy and delegitimize hegemony in the region. It is worth noting that China’s own shared experience of Western imperialism gave it a surprisingly high level of legitimacy even among Asian countries that were afraid of China and of communist infiltration within their borders. Another crucial factor behind SEATO’s failure is the role of the US’ European allies in SEATO. 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Published: Dec 11, 2017

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