CWIHP Working Paper 81
Mediating the Vietnam War: Romania and the First Trinh Signal, 1965-1966
Larry L. Watts
This Working Paper examines Romania’s lesser-known early mediation during the Vietnam War and its contribution to the “Trinh signal” of January 1967, commonly considered the first real breakthrough in movement towards peace talks. The Working Paper explains how and why the Romanian approach differed from that of other Warsaw Pact intermediaries, and why those differences resonated with the North Vietnamese leadership. Watts suggests that Romania’s mediation during 1965-1966 was far more significant, consistent and influential than previously thought, setting the stage for its more spectacular role as Washington’s principle channel to Hanoi in the autumn of 1967 and contributing to the overwhelmingly positive impression of its efforts by the Johnson Administration.
Since 2011 Larry L. Watts has teaching Cold War and Intelligence studies at the University of Bucharest. Prior to that he was security sector reform advisor to Romania’s National Security Adviser, Police General Inspectorate, Defense Ministry, Foreign Intelligence Service and Senate Defense Oversight Committee. He has been officially recognized for promoting military reform and NATO integration, implementing democratic oversight, promoting ethnic reconciliation, and fostering Romanian-American relations. He also served as senior consultant to the Princeton-based Project on Ethnic Relations during 1991-1997 and continues to be involved in ethnic mediation efforts. Watts has lectured at the State Department’s Foreign Services Institute, the National Intelligence University, Romania’s National Defense University and Military Technical Academy, the Dutch National Military Academy, and various other universities and institutions in the United States and Europe. He is the author of With Friends Like These: The Soviet Bloc’s Clandestine War Against Romania (2010); Extorting Peace: Romania And The End Of The Cold War, 1978-1989 (2013); and Incompatible Allies: Romania, Finland, Hungary And The Third Reich (2014). He is currently working on his forthcoming book on mediation in the Vietnam War as well as the third volume of his Cold War trilogy and a volume on post-1989 intelligence service reform in Romania.
Mediating the Vietnam War:
Romania and the First Trinh Signal, 1965-1966
Larry L. Watts
This working paper examines the little-known Romanian role in the search for a peaceful solution to the Vietnam War during 1965-1966 and leading up to the January 1967 “Trinh Signal,” in which North Vietnam officially accepted the possibility of negotiating with the United States.1 Forty-one accompanying documents from the Romanian National Archives spanning the period from March 1965 to January 1967 are translated and published in English here for the first time.2 These documents indicate that Romania actively encouraged negotiations during 1965-1966 and was far more influential with the North Vietnamese than traditionally thought. They also suggest that Bucharest played a significant role in achieving what is commonly considered the first real breakthrough in movement towards peace talks.
Changing Paradigms and Third Party Efforts
For decades after the Vietnam War the central criterion for assessing the performance of third parties in the search for a negotiated end to that conflict was the degree to which an intermediary shared US perspectives on the preferred resolution of the conflict and promoted the Johnson administration’s “peace initiatives.” Iconic in this regard is that most influential of analyses drawn up during 1967-1968 by the US Department of Defense, colloquially known as the Pentagon Papers.3 Its diplomatic volumes judged the seriousness of intermediaries on this basis primarily, setting the tone for academic evaluations for the next 40 years.4
1 This study was made possible by a Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars short-term grant.
2 Ten of the documents have previously appeared in the original Romanian. Four of these published by former RCP CC Secretary for Foreign Relations Paul Niculescu-Mizil, who took part in the visits to Hanoi during 1966. Paul Niculescu-Mizil, România şi războiul americano-vietnamez [Romania and the American-Vietnamese War], Bucharest, Editura Roza Vânturilor, 2008. Another six appear in the Romanian Foreign Ministry and National Archives collection coordinated by former Ambassador to China, Romulus Ioan Budura, Politica independentă a României şi relaţiile Româno-Chineze, 1954-1975: Documente [Romania’s Independent Policy and Romanian-Chinese Relations, 1954-1975], Bucharest, The National Archives, 2008 and Relaţiile Româno-Chineze, 1880-1974: Documente [Romanian-Chinese Relations, 1954-1975: Documents], Bucharest, Romanian Foreign Ministry and National Archives, 2005. The remaining thirty-one documents are published here for the first time. The author wishes to thank Gabriela Dumitraşcu and Doina Sima of the Romanian National Archives for their kind and expert assistance.
3 Officially titled Report of the Office of the Secretary of Defense Vietnam Task Force.
4 See, for example, two of the essential earlier works on diplomacy in the Vietnam conflict: Wallace J. Thies, When Governments Collide: Coercion and Diplomacy in The Vietnam Conflict, 1964-1968, Berkeley University of California Press, 1980 and George C. Herring, The Secret Diplomacy of The Vietnam War: The Negotiating Volumes of the Pentagon Papers, Austin: University of Texas Press, 1983.
To read “Mediating the Vietnam War: Romania and the First Trinh Signal, 1965-1966,” please download the full paper HERE.