SEATO and the defence of Southeast Asia 1955-1965

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Copyright: Fenton, Damien
Despite the role played by the South East Treaty Organisation (SEATO) in the defence of Western interests in that region during the Cold War, there has to date been no scholarly attempt to examine the development and performance of the organisation as a military alliance. This thesis is thus the first attempt to do so and as such seeks to take advantage of the recent release of much SEATO-related official material into the public domain by Western governments. This material throws new light upon SEATO s aims and achievements, particularly in regard to the first ten years of its existence. Because SEATO was eventually rendered irrelevant by the events of the Second Indochina War (1965-1975) a popular perception has arisen that it was always a Paper Tiger lacking in substance, and thus easily dismissed. This thesis challenges this assumption by examining SEATO s development in the decade before that conflict. The thesis analyses SEATO s place in the wider Cold War and finds that it was part of a rational and consistent response within the broader Western strategy of containment to deter, and if need be, defeat, the threat of communist aggression. That threat was a very real one for Southeast Asia in the aftermath of the First Indochina War and one that was initially perceived in terms of the conventional military balance of power. This focus dominated SEATO s strategic concepts and early contingency planning and rightly so, as an examination of the strength and development of the PLA and PAVN during this period demonstrates. SEATO developed a dedicated military apparatus, principally the Military Planning Office (MPO), that proved itself to be perfectly capable of providing the level of co-ordination and planning needed to produce a credible SEATO deterrent in this regard. SEATO enjoyed less success with its attempts to respond to the emergence of a significant communist insurgent threat, first in Laos then in South Vietnam, but the alliance did nonetheless recognise this threat and the failure of SEATO in this regard was one of political will rather than military doctrine. Indeed this thesis confirms that it was the increasingly disparate political agendas of a number of SEATO s members that ultimately paralysed its ability to act and thus ensured its failure to meet its aims, at least insofar as the so-called Protocol States were concerned. But this failure should not be allowed to completely overshadow SEATO s earlier achievements in providing a modicum of Western-backed stability and security to the region from 1955-1965.
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Fenton, Damien
Grey, Jeffrey
Dennis, Peter
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PhD Doctorate
UNSW Faculty
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