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In the Korean war from 1950 to 1953, a lot of countries including the U.S., the U.K., France, Canada, Australia, and even Colombia, the Philippines and Ethiopia participated in the war under the U.N. resolution. However, those countries didn't participate in the Vietnam War. The two wars seem to have similar characteristics, i.e. a war caused by (fought for) an ideology, a proxy war between the U.S. and the former USSR.

  1. Was there any particular reason that the U.S. couldn't get necessary supports from its allies such as the U.K. and France for the Vietnam War?

  2. France colonized Indochina and controlled it until they (Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia) became independent after the First Indochina War. France helped the U.S. in various wars including the American Revolutionary War, but didn't in the Vietnam War. Was there any particular reason?

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    The France one is pretty simple: they were the basically the original Vietnam war. The start of serious U.S. involvement basically WAS the defeat and pulling out of the French in Vietnam. – Jimbo Jonny Dec 27 '15 at 5:31
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The Korean War and the Vietnam War are fundamentally very different conflicts.


With the former, South Korea was unambiguously invaded by North Korea in an explicit war of conquest. Due to lucky political circumstances, United Nations was able to sanction a military operation to defend South Korea.

The Security Council,

Having determined that the armed attack upon the Republic of Korea by forces from North Korea constitutes a breach of the peace,

(...)

Recommends that the Members of the United Nations furnish such assistance to the Republic of Korea as may be necessary to repel the armed attack and to restore international peace and security in the area.

- UN Security Council Resolution 83 (1950) of 27 June 1950

Thus, the military forces of the free world rallied to South Korea under the banner of the United Nations. While many were also American allies, they joined the fighting not out of treaty obligations to the United States, but instead as member states of the United Nations.


In contrast, the Vietnam War was a essentially a prolonged counter-insurgency operation within the territories of South Vietnam. There was no treaty to oblige American allies to participate in such a conflict. Nor was there any call to arms by the United Nations for defending South Vietnam.

The United States could ask and apply pressure on her allies for help. Nonetheless, with the lack of any real legal obligation, it fell to each government to decide whether participation was worthwhile. New Zealand, for example, was reluctantly pressured into sending a token force. Great Britain resolutely refused to officially participate, but sent assistance covertly - British soldiers ended up fighting in Australian and New Zealand units, for instance.

French arms had already fought in Vietnam before, and were bloodied by it. I don't think French public opinion could have supported a second trip to the quagmire especially now that they had no empire to fight for in Indochina.

Moreover, French-American relations were not the best during the 1960s. Around the same time the Untied States began committing significant combat troops, France was in fact withdrawing from NATO.

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    Britain successfully fought a 12 year war in Malaya (1948 to 1960) against a communist insurgency. Apart from some logistical support, they received no help from the USA though Australia and New Zealand participated. In the 1960s, at the time of Viet Nam Britain was deeply committed (alone)in places like Kenya and Cyprus, There were limits to the extent of involvement in foreign wars, that a country like Britain could make. Remember that in WW2 Britain was the only country, either Allied or Axis who was both in at the beginning (1939) and still there at the end (Aug 1945). – WS2 Dec 26 '15 at 0:56
  • France never withdrew from NATO. They took their forces out of the European NATO command structure -- just as many US forces were never under SHAPE to start with. – o.m. Dec 26 '15 at 8:57
  • @o.m. So... they withdrew their forces from NATO. And it's nonsensical to call that "just as" Americans having troops in other theatres outside NATO's main focus. – Semaphore Dec 26 '15 at 9:13
  • @Semaphore, it is indeed nonsensical if you think of France as a minor European power focussed solely on their role in the European theater, like Belgium or Denmark. It makes sense if you think of France as a global power with their own defense policy. And that was (and is) the question: does France have the weight to play an independent, global role? Or are they just a regional power? They did not want to put their forces under the peacetime command of SACEUR, an US general. – o.m. Dec 26 '15 at 16:35
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    @DaleM "China" was in the UN, but it was held by the recently ousted Nationalist government which fled to Taiwan, and naturally sides with the United States. – Semaphore Dec 27 '15 at 7:07
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Let me add a few details to Semaphore's answer. One is that the Vietnam war actually ended with the North Vietnam invasion of South Vietnam. This happened soon after the US withdrawal, and in violation of the peace treaty. The UN Security Council could not react properly because the Soviets had the right of veto in it. (As it could not react in 2014 on the Russian invasion of Ukraine).

An interesting question is why the Soviets did not use their right of veto in the case of Korean war. It turns out that this was just a blunder of the Soviet UN delegation: when the discussion started, they just left the meeting as a protest.

It probably did not cross their minds that in this very meeting a decision on military action could be made. At the time of Vietnam, Soviet diplomats were already more experienced.

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    @Rathony: speculations on alternative history are useless, but my impression is that at that time the US were able to make a coalition even without the UN endorsement. Of course the UN sanction helped a lot. – Alex Dec 25 '15 at 21:12
  • Do you have a citation that the lack of a veto was due to the Soviets leaving the meeting? – March Ho Dec 26 '15 at 11:54
  • @March Ho 3: I do not have it ready, have to search. This story was "well-known" in Soviet Union, I also remember it was mentioned in British/American documentary movies on Korean war, but for a book or paper I have to search. – Alex Dec 26 '15 at 15:00
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    To be clear, the Soviet representative left not to protest action in Korea, but over the issue of Chinese representation (the Republic of China then held the Chinese seat at the UN, and the USSR supported the People's Republic's claim to it). – Max Dec 27 '15 at 8:50
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It's pertinent to note that several nations other than the U.S. participated in combat on the side of South Vietnam, with the largest contributions coming from South Korea, Thailand, and Australia. Many others gave civilian or military aid. South Korea deployed 50,000 soldiers over the course of the war, which is more than all the countries in the Korean War coalition (excepting the U.S. and Korea) combined. So while the particulars of international involvement were different, the reality on the ground was similar: majority of troops are from the country in question, most of the rest are from the U.S., and then a moderate percentage are from other nations.

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