US foreign policy in South East Asia in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s was ostensibly anti-communist. It involved civil and military action in a wide number of countries in this region.

Most notably, in connection with the Domino theory, the United States tried to prevent the spread of political and economic change by civil and military action towards Soviet-style politics and economics.

In the opinions of some participants, this action gave breathing space for existing capitalist states to solidify their power. For example, here's a quote by modern Singapore's Founding Father, Lee Kuan Yew:

Although American intervention failed in Vietnam, it bought time for the rest of Southeast Asia. In 1965, when the US military moved massively into South Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines faced internal threats from armed communist insurgents and the communist underground was still active in Singapore. Indonesia, in the throes of a failed communist coup, was waging konfrontasi, an undeclared war against Singapore. The Philippines was claiming Sabah in East Malaysia. Standards of living were low and economic growth slow. America's action enabled non-communist Southeast Asia to put their own houses in order. By 1975 (when the Vietnam war ended) they were in better shape to stand up to the communists. Had there been no US intervention, the will of these countries to resist them would have melted and Southeast Asia would have most likely gone communist. The prosperous emerging market economies of Asean ( Association of Southeast Asian Nations) were nurtured during the Vietnam War years.1

  1. Is the belief that US military action in South East Asia gave time and space to these countries held by a significant body of scholars? If so, what is their opinion.
  2. In what ways did other US civil and military actions impact on the development of secure capitalist states in South East Asia?
  3. Is there any scholarly critique of opinions such as Yew's of US involvement in South East Asia? If so, what is the content of this critique?
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    This seems speculative. I'm skeptical that an answer can be crafted in less than book length.
    – MCW
    Feb 5, 2014 at 17:36
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    Both RI Swamp Yankees answer and ComeAndGo's comment are correct. Meaning that this is a matter of opinion. Feb 6, 2014 at 4:10
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    Thank you Mark. Seems that I can't make it fit though, so I'll vote to close. Feb 6, 2014 at 14:41
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    @ComeAndGo "unless they had some sort of political agenda." What do you think the ruler of a viciously anti-communist state has regarding the American war? The reason why we have historiography instead of just lists of primary sources is precisely due to the lack of distance in time and politics from the events in question which most primary sources possess. Feb 8, 2014 at 0:14
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    No, because of methodology. Yew's direct involvement is the chief reason to doubt his capacity to provide an analysis at the standards demanded of historical analysis. He may incidentally have the right opinion, but his argument from personal experience is a bad one. Moreover, the place to start wouldn't be with his public pronouncements, but with Singaporean cabinet documents, in particular public order documents. Yew has every reason to lie about the state of public order in Singapore (as would any head of state). This is why primary sources are rarely relied upon for their analysis. Feb 8, 2014 at 9:00

2 Answers 2


As a Filipino who has lived thru the 1970's, the US foreign policy against Communism has a deep impact in our country. Communism was used as a reason by Former Philippines President (dictator in some accounts) Ferdinand Marcos to declare Martial Law (http://www.gov.ph/featured/declaration-of-martial-law/). Also the US was very aware of the said declaration.

You might say that the US policy may not be a cause of the declaration of Martial Law, but the mere fact that Communism was the reason used by Marcos, then it should be blamed.

Regarding the effect on the country, the economy of the Philippines in 1970's suffered. (http://countrystudies.us/philippines/57.htm)


This argument only makes sense if the war in Vietnam drew away money, manpower and attention from the other regional Communist fights - in other words, did volunteer brigades from Singapore and Malaysia and the Phillipines take up the fight for North Vietnam? Did communists in those countries lend significant aid to the NVA or Viet Cong that stalled their own ambitions domestically?

No, they did not. The Pathet Lao and Khmer Rouge did, and their nations wound up under communist regimes. So the opposite of the author's assertion appears to be true. The United States radicalized and legitimatized communist rebels in neighboring nations through inept and callously brutal strategy, allowing them to gain and consolidate power.

As to the notion that the resources of Vietnam's larger allies - the Soviet Union and its European allies and China - were enmired in the conflict, this is dismissed by noting the successful anti-colonial revolutions in Africa occurring at the same time (Mozambique, Guinea-Bisseau, Congo, Angola, etc.) that were backed by money, men and material from the communist powers.

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    -1 This argument only makes sense... : IMO this is all wrong: If the USA had not intervened in Vietnam, the emboldened and strengthened communist regime there, backed by the Chinese, could have quickly combined forces with the rest of the communist groups in SE Asia and dominated the entire region. Because the US intervened, the Viet-Cong and the Chinese were held at bay, and in other places the communists movements were left far more to their own devices and so were not successful. That's the "breathing room" Lee Kuan Yew is referring to.
    – user2590
    Feb 5, 2014 at 20:55
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    This chat shows my general problem with personal opinion answers on subjects like these. Its eminently arguable. To be honest, I personally could probably argue somewhat persuasively for either side. It would be far better to survey the opinions of experts on the subject (if such a thing exists), and leave it at that.
    – T.E.D.
    Feb 6, 2014 at 19:12
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    @RISwampYankee - Since Lee Kuan Yew is a primary source on this matter and was intimately involved with the politics of the region in question, I'm not sure why anyone would want to dispute him without very solid substantiation, unless they had some sort of political agenda RE the Vietnam War. As for your logic, none of it holds water at all IMO. But I opt for T.E.D.'s comment...
    – user2590
    Feb 7, 2014 at 9:29
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    -1 I am afraid. There is another way in which Yew's statement makes sense (though it may be wrong): Management is 80% about the prioritization of goals, so the Communist leadership on a worldwide scale (and there were 2 such rival leaderships by the time Vietnam was finished) too had to prioritize its goals. By putting Vietnam at the top of the list they by default prioritized the takeover of other countries lower. The present answer, alas, ignores this interpretation. Feb 8, 2014 at 19:55
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    @James - Communism was a straw man in the Domino theory - Communism was no straw man - there were communist initiatives driven by the USSR all over the world. And post USSR there is still plenty of fuel left in the communist gas tanks, particularly in Latin America. Of course, if you're a Marxist, that's good....
    – user2590
    Feb 8, 2014 at 23:32

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