Brown University News Bureau

The Brown University News Bureau

1996-1997 index

Revised June 10, 1997
Contact: Mark Nickel

Robert McNamara, Nguyen Co Thach

Former U.S., Vietnamese leaders to reexamine war, chances for peace

Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and former Vietnamese Foreign Minister Nguyen Co Thach will lead high-level 13-member delegations to a four-day conference on missed opportunities for peace during the Vietnam War. The conference, June 20-23 in Hanoi, is sponsored by the Watson Institute at Brown University and hosted by the Institute of International Relations. (See also 96-136a, a news advisory.

Editors: Conference dates have been changed since this release was first distributed.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara and former Vietnamese Foreign Minister Nguyen Co Thach will lead delegations of leaders and scholars at a four-day conference in Hanoi, June 20-23, 1997. Their goal: to learn whether either side missed significant opportunities to prevent the Vietnam war or bring it to an earlier conclusion.

The conference, to be held at the Hotel Metropole in Hanoi, is co-sponsored by The Thomas J. Watson Jr. Institute for International Studies at Brown University and the Institute of International Relations of Vietnam.

"More than three million Vietnamese were killed in the war, and the United States lost 58,000. I believe each nation could have achieved its geopolitical objectives without that terrible loss of life," McNamara has said about his involvement in the project. "There were, I believe, missed opportunities during the years 1961 to 1968 for either avoiding the war before it started or for terminating it before it had run its course. What were those opportunities and why were they not recognized at the time?"

Editors: Working sessions will not be open to the press. However, participants from each side will provide a daily briefing at 4 p.m., immediately following each day's last session. At 3 p.m. Monday afternoon, June 23, 1997, both delegations will meet with the press to summarize their discussions and offer comments on missed opportunities for peace. For additional information, contact the Brown University News Bureau.

About the Conference

The Missed Opportunities conference reflects the "critical oral history" approach used by the project's organizers at the Watson Institute. While the conference focuses on face-to-face exchanges between high-level leaders on both sides who participated in the historical events, the critical oral history approach adds two important elements to ensure that all exchanges conform to the historical record. First, each delegation will include respected scholars who have mastered the historical record and understand the significance of the discussions. Second, scholars and participants from both sides have had access to thousands of pages of new and existing documentary evidence, including recently declassified material, that bears directly on the substance of discussions.

The Conference Agenda

Friday 20 June 1997
The first three sessions will review the mindsets of each side early in the conflict, including the Cold War "domino theory" that was a significant U.S. concern.

Saturday 21 June 1997

Sessions two and three will deal with principal events in the war as seen from both sides.

Sunday 22 June 1997

Session five discusses major efforts between 1965 and 1968 to achieve a negotiated settlement. Many of these initiatives involved third-party intermediaries, including some foreign governments friendly to one side or the other, and also some non-governmental organizations. Why, in the midst of an increasingly destructive war, did these efforts to end the war, or at least to move to formal negotiations, all fail?

Monday 23 June 1997

Session six will be devoted to lessons of the war.

Participants in the Hanoi conference have two principal objectives: to determine whether there were missed opportunities between 1961 and 1968 to avoid or terminate a Vietnam-U.S. war; and if there were, to state why the opportunities were missed and what lessons they believe can be drawn from that experience which can be applied to the prevention of such deadly conflicts in the future.

U.S. Participants

Former senior officials and decision-makers from the U.S. side include:

Those former officials will be supported by a group of scholars who have mastered the documents and history of the Vietnam conflict:

In addition, two scholars of the Cold War will serve the U.S. team as a "substantive staff" to help ensure that the testimony of former officials and the analyses of scholars is consistent with the known chronology of events and with the documentary record:

Vietnamese Participants

Former leaders and decision-makers from the Vietnamese side include:

Scholars for the Vietnamese side will include:

Several persons who played important roles during the war cannot, for various reasons, participate in the regular conference sessions. Four, in particular, are of special interest to the U.S. side. Conference organizers are attempting to arrange special interviews with them for the U.S. team:

Press coverage

The following events will be open to all news media at the conference:

Admission to conference sessions will be limited to participants and a small number of observers. Working sessions of the conference will not be open to the press or the public.

Additional interview time may be available. Interpreters will be available, although most members of the Vietnamese delegation speak fluent English. Contact the Brown News Bureau for more information about the conference agenda, participants and sponsorship or to arrange interviews.

Until June 15During the conference
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Co-hosts for the conference, Missed Opportunities?: Former U.S. and Vietnamese Leaders and Scholars Reexamine the Vietnam War, 1961-1968, are The Institute of International Relations of the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and The Thomas J. Watson Jr. Institute for International Studies at Brown University.

Financial support has been provided by: