Southeast Asia Treaty Organization

Last updated

Southeast Asia Treaty Organization
Flag of SEATO.svg
SEATO's flag
Map of SEATO member countries - en.svg
Map of SEATO members, shown in blue.
Formation8 September 1954
Dissolved30 June 1977
Type Intergovernmental military alliance
Headquarters Bangkok, Thailand
Region served
Southeast Asia

States protected by SEATO

The Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) was an international organization for collective defense in Southeast Asia created by the Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty, or Manila Pact, signed in September 1954.


Primarily created to block further communist gains in Southeast Asia, SEATO is generally considered a failure because internal conflict and dispute hindered general use of the SEATO military; however, SEATO-funded cultural and educational programs left longstanding effects in Southeast Asia. SEATO was dissolved on 30 June 1977 after many members lost interest and withdrew.

Origins and structure

The leaders of some of the SEATO nations in front of the Congress Building in Manila, hosted by Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos on 24 October 1966 CongressBuilding SEATO.jpg
The leaders of some of the SEATO nations in front of the Congress Building in Manila, hosted by Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos on 24 October 1966

The Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty, or Manila Pact, was signed on 8 September 1954 in Manila, [1] as part of the American Truman Doctrine of creating anti-communist bilateral and collective defense treaties. [2] These treaties and agreements were intended to create alliances that would contain communist powers (Communist China, in SEATO's case). [3] This policy was considered to have been largely developed by American diplomat and Soviet expert George F. Kennan. President Dwight D. Eisenhower's Secretary of State John Foster Dulles (1953–1959) is considered to be the primary force behind the creation of SEATO, which expanded the concept of anti-communist collective defense to Southeast Asia. [1] Then-Vice President Richard Nixon advocated an Asian equivalent of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) upon returning from his Asia trip of late 1953, [4] and NATO was the model for the new organization, with the military forces of each member intended to be coordinated to provide for the collective defense of the member states. [5]

The organization, headquartered in Bangkok, was created in 1955 at the first meeting of the Council of Ministers set up by the treaty, contrary to Dulles's preference to call the organization "ManPac".[ citation needed ] Organizationally, SEATO was headed by the Secretary General, whose office was created in 1957 at a meeting in Canberra, [6] [7] with a council of representatives from member nations and an international staff. Also present were committees for economics, security, and information. [7] SEATO's first Secretary General was Pote Sarasin, a Thai diplomat and politician who had served as Thailand's ambassador to the U.S. between 1952 and 1957, [8] [9] and as Prime Minister of Thailand from September 1957 to 1 January 1958. [10]

Unlike the NATO alliance, SEATO had no joint commands with standing forces. [11] In addition, SEATO's response protocol in the event of communism presenting a "common danger" to the member nations was vague and ineffective, though membership in the SEATO alliance did provide a rationale for a large-scale U.S. military intervention in the region during the Vietnam War (1955–1975). [12]


1966 SEATO conference in Manila SEATO Conference in Manila.gif
1966 SEATO conference in Manila

Despite its name, SEATO mostly included countries located outside of the region but with an interest either in the region or the organization itself. They were Australia (which administered Papua New Guinea), France (which had recently relinquished French Indochina), New Zealand, Pakistan (including East Pakistan, now Bangladesh), the Philippines, Thailand, the United Kingdom (which administered Hong Kong, North Borneo and Sarawak) and the United States. [11]

The Philippines and Thailand were the only Southeast Asian countries that actually participated in the organization. They shared close ties with the United States, particularly the Philippines, and they faced incipient communist insurgencies against their own governments. [13] Thailand became a member upon the discovery of the newly founded "Thai Autonomous Region" (the Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture) in Yunnan (in South West China) – apparently feeling threatened by potential Chinese communist subversion on its land. [14] Other regional countries like Burma and Indonesia were far more mindful of domestic internal stability rather than any communist threat, [13] and thus rejected joining it. [15] Malaya (including Singapore) also chose not to participate formally, though it was kept updated with key developments due to its close relationship with the United Kingdom. [13]

The states newly formed from French Indochina (North Vietnam, South Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos) were prevented from taking part in any international military alliance as a result of the Geneva Agreements signed 20 July of the same year concluding the end of the First Indochina War. [16] However, with the lingering threat coming from communist North Vietnam and the possibility of the domino theory with Indochina turning into a communist frontier, SEATO got these countries under its protection – an act that would be considered to be one of the main justifications for the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. [17] Cambodia, however rejected the protection in 1956. [18]

The majority of SEATO members were not located in Southeast Asia. To Australia and New Zealand, SEATO was seen as a more satisfying organization than ANZUS – a collective defense organization with the U.S. [19] The United Kingdom and France joined partly due to having long maintained colonies in the region, and partly due to concerns over developments in Indochina. Last but not least, the U.S. upon perceiving Southeast Asia to be a pivotal frontier for Cold War geopolitics saw the establishment of SEATO as essential to its Cold War containment policy. [13]

All in all, the membership reflected a mid-1950s combination of anti-communist Western nations and such nations in Southeast Asia. The United Kingdom, France and the United States, the latter of which joined after the U.S. Senate ratified the treaty by an 82–1 vote, [20] represented the strongest Western powers. [21] Canada also considered joining, but decided against it in order to concentrate on its NATO responsibilities. [17]


    Average of contributions to civil and military budgets between 1958 and 1973: [22]


    Secretaries-General of SEATO:

    Pote Sarasin Flag of Thailand (TIS 982 draft standard).svg Thailand 5 September 195722 September 1957
    William Worth (acting)Flag of Australia (converted).svg  Australia 22 September 195710 January 1958
    Pote SarasinFlag of Thailand (TIS 982 draft standard).svg Thailand 10 January 195813 December 1963
    William Worth (acting)Flag of Australia (converted).svg  Australia 13 December 196319 February 1964
    Konthi Suphamongkhon  [ de ]Flag of Thailand (TIS 982 draft standard).svg Thailand 19 February 19641 July 1965
    Jesus M. Vargas Flag of the Philippines (navy blue).svg  Philippines 1 July 19655 September 1972
    Sunthorn Hongladarom  [ th; de ]Flag of Thailand (TIS 982 draft standard).svg Thailand 5 September 197230 June 1977

    Military aspects

    Australian No. 79 Squadron Sabres at Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base in Thailand, deployed as part of Australia's commitment to SEATO Sabre Mk32s RAAF in Thailand early 1960s.jpg
    Australian No. 79 Squadron Sabres at Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base in Thailand, deployed as part of Australia's commitment to SEATO

    After its creation, SEATO quickly became insignificant militarily, as most of its member nations contributed very little to the alliance. [17] While SEATO military forces held joint military training, they were never employed because of internal disagreements. SEATO was unable to intervene in conflicts in Laos because France and the United Kingdom rejected use of military action. [18] As a result, the U.S. provided unilateral support for Laos after 1962. [18] Though sought by the U.S., involvement of SEATO in the Vietnam War was denied because of lack of British and French cooperation. [20] [18]

    Both the United States and Australia cited the alliance as justification for involvement in Vietnam. [17] U.S. membership in SEATO provided the United States with a rationale for a large-scale U.S. military intervention in Southeast Asia. [12] Other countries, such as the UK and key nations in Asia, accepted the rationale. [12] In 1962, as part of its commitment to SEATO, the Royal Australian Air Force deployed CAC Sabres of its No. 79 Squadron to Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand. The Sabres began to play a role in the Vietnam War in 1965, when their air defence responsibilities expanded to include protection of USAF aircraft using Ubon as a base for strikes against North Vietnam. [23] [24]

    Cultural effects

    A 1960 U.S. Postage Stamp for SEATO Seatostamp.jpg
    A 1960 U.S. Postage Stamp for SEATO

    In addition to joint military training, SEATO member states worked on improving mutual social and economic issues. [25] Such activities were overseen by SEATO's Committee of Information, Culture, Education, and Labor Activities, and proved to be some of SEATO's greatest successes. [25] In 1959, SEATO's first Secretary General, Pote Sarasin, created the SEATO Graduate School of Engineering (currently the Asian Institute of Technology) in Thailand to train engineers. [8] SEATO also sponsored the creation of the Teacher Development Center in Bangkok, as well as the Thai Military Technical Training School, which offered technical programs for supervisors and workmen. [26] SEATO's Skilled Labor Project (SLP) created artisan training facilities, especially in Thailand, where ninety-one training workshops were established. [26]

    SEATO also provided research funding and grants in agriculture and medical fields. [27] In 1959, SEATO set up the Cholera Research Laboratory in Bangkok, later establishing a second Cholera Research Laboratory in Dhaka, Bangladesh. [27] The Dhaka laboratory soon became the world's leading cholera research facility and was later renamed the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh. [28] SEATO was also interested in literature, and a SEATO Literature Award was created and given to writers from member states. [29]

    Criticism and dissolution

    Though Secretary of State Dulles considered SEATO an essential element in U.S. foreign policy in Asia, historians have considered the Manila Pact a failure, and the pact is rarely mentioned in history books. [1] In The Geneva Conference of 1954 on Indochina, Sir James Cable, a diplomat and naval strategist, [30] described SEATO as "a fig leaf for the nakedness of American policy", citing the Manila Pact as a "zoo of paper tigers". [1]

    Consequently, questions of dissolving the organization arose. Pakistan withdrew in 1972, after East Pakistan seceded and became Bangladesh on 16 December 1971. [7] France withdrew financial support in 1975, [11] and the SEATO council agreed to the phasing out of the organization. [31] After a final exercise on 20 February 1976, the organization was formally dissolved on 30 June 1977. [11] [32]

    See also


    1. 1 2 3 4 Franklin 2006 , p. 1
    2. Jillson 2009 , p. 439
    3. Ooi 2004 , pp. 338–339
    4. Nixon Alone, by Ralph de Toledano, pp. 173–74
    5. Boyer et al. 2007 , p. 836
    6. Franklin 2006 , p. 184
    7. 1 2 3 Page 2003 , p. 548
    8. 1 2 Franklin 2006 , p. 186
    9. Weiner 2008 , p. 351
    10. "History of Thai Prime Ministers". Royal Thai Government. Archived from the original on 26 April 2011. Retrieved 22 April 2011.
    11. 1 2 3 4 Encyclopædia Britannica (India) 2000 , p. 60
    12. 1 2 3 Maga 2010
    13. 1 2 3 4 "Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO), 1954". Office of the Historian. U.S. Department of State. Archived from the original on 7 October 2012. Retrieved 3 October 2012.
    14. US PSB, 1953 United States Psychological Studies Board (US PSB). (1953). US Psychological Strategy Based on Thailand, 14 September. Declassified Documents Reference System, 1994, 000556–000557, WH 120.
    15. Nehru Has Alternative To SEATO. (5 August 1954). The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW: 1842–1954), p. 1. Retrieved 3 October 2012.
    16. "Milestones: 1953–1960 – Office of the Historian". Retrieved 14 March 2019.
    17. 1 2 3 4 Blaxland 2006 , p. 138
    18. 1 2 3 4 Grenville 2001 , p. 366
    19. W. Brands, Jr., Henry (May 1987). "From ANZUS to SEATO: United States Strategic Policy towards Australia and New Zealand, 1952–1954". The International History Review. No. 2. 9: 250–270. doi:10.1080/07075332.1987.9640442.
    20. 1 2 Hearden 1990 , p. 46
    21. Tarling 1992 , p. 604
    22. Pierre Journoud, De Gaulle et le Vietnam: 1945–1969, Éditions Tallandier, Paris, 2011, 542 p. ISBN   978-2847345698
    23. Stephens 1995 , p. 36
    24. Independent Review Panel (9 July 2004). Report to the Minister Assisting the Minister for Defence (PDF). Retrieved 1 May 2011.
    25. 1 2 Franklin 2006 , p. 183
    26. 1 2 Franklin 2006 , p. 188
    27. 1 2 Franklin 2006 , p. 189
    28. Franklin 2006 , pp. 189–190
    29. Boonkhachorn, Trislipa. "Literary Trends and Literary Promotions in Thailand" . Retrieved 24 April 2011.
    30. "Sir James Cable". Telegraph Media Group. 13 October 2001. Retrieved 29 March 2011.
    31. "Thai given mandate to dissolve SEATO". The Montreal Gazette. 25 September 1975. Retrieved 8 July 2012.
    32. "Thailand" (PDF). Army Logistics University. United States Army. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2 May 2014. Retrieved 6 July 2012. Despite the dissolution of the SEATO in 1977, the Manila Pact remains in force and, together with the Thanat-Rusk communiqué of 1962, constitutes the basis of U.S. security commitments to Thailand.

    Related Research Articles

    Foreign relations of Laos

    The foreign relations of Laos, internationally designated by its official name as the Lao People's Democratic Republic, after the takeover by the Pathet Lao in December 1975, were characterized by a hostile posture toward the West, with the government of the Lao People's Democratic Republic aligning itself with the Soviet bloc, maintaining close ties with the Soviet Union and depending heavily on the Soviets for most of its foreign assistance. Laos also maintained a "special relationship" with Vietnam and formalized a 1977 treaty of friendship and cooperation that created tensions with China.

    Vietnam War 1955–1975 conflict in Vietnam

    The Vietnam War, also known as the Second Indochina War, and in Vietnam as the Resistance War Against America or simply the American War, was a conflict in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from 1 November 1955 to the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975. It was the second of the Indochina Wars and was officially fought between North Vietnam and South Vietnam. North Vietnam was supported by the Soviet Union, China, and other communist allies; South Vietnam was supported by the United States, South Korea, the Philippines, Australia, Thailand and other anti-communist allies. The war, considered a Cold War-era proxy war by some, lasted 19 years, with direct U.S. involvement ending in 1973, and included the Laotian Civil War and the Cambodian Civil War, which ended with all three countries becoming communist in 1975.

    World War II 1939–1945 global war between the Axis and the Allies

    World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from more than 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 70 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. Tens of millions of people died during the conflict due to genocides, premeditated death from starvation, massacres, and disease. Aircraft played a major role in the conflict which included the use of terror bombing, strategic bombing and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.

    Warsaw Pact International military alliance of Communist states

    The Warsaw Treaty Organization (WTO), officially the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance, commonly known as the Warsaw Pact, was a collective defense treaty signed in Warsaw, Poland between the Soviet Union and seven other Eastern Bloc socialist republics of Central and Eastern Europe in May 1955, during the Cold War. The Warsaw Pact was the military complement to the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (CoMEcon), the regional economic organization for the socialist states of Central and Eastern Europe. The Warsaw Pact was created in reaction to the integration of West Germany into NATO in 1955 per the London and Paris Conferences of 1954, but it is also considered to have been motivated by Soviet desires to maintain control over military forces in Central and Eastern Europe.

    French Indochina Federal state in Southeast Asia

    French Indochina, officially known as the Indochinese Union from 1887 and the Indochinese Federation after 1947, was a grouping of French colonial territories in Southeast Asia until its demise in 1954. It consisted of three Vietnamese regions of Tonkin (north), Annam (centre), and Cochinchina (south), Cambodia, Laos and the Chinese territory of Guangzhouwan. The capital was Saigon, with the exception of a brief time in Hanoi (Tonkin) from 1902 to 1945.

    Lê Duẩn former General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam

    Lê Duẩn was a Vietnamese communist politician. He rose in the party hierarchy in the late 1950s and became General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Vietnam (VCP) at the 3rd National Congress in 1960. He continued Hồ Chí Minh's policy of ruling through collective leadership. From the mid-1960s until his own death in 1986, he was the top decision-maker in Vietnam.

    The military history of the Philippines is characterized by wars between Philippine kingdoms and its neighbors in the precolonial era and then a period of struggle against colonial powers such as Spain and the United States, occupation by the Empire of Japan during World War II and participation in Asian conflicts post-World War II such as the Korean War and the Vietnam War. The Philippines has also battled a communist insurgency and a secessionist movement by Muslims in the southern portion of the country.

    Vietnam Country in Southeast Asia

    Vietnam, officially the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, is the easternmost country on the Southeast Asian Indochinese Peninsula. With an estimated 95.5 million inhabitants as of 2018, it is the 16th most populous country in the world. Vietnam shares its land borders with China to the north, and Laos and Cambodia to the west. It shares its maritime borders with Thailand through the Gulf of Thailand, and the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia through the South China Sea. Its capital city is Hanoi, while its most populous city and commercial hub is Ho Chi Minh City, also known by its former name of Saigon.

    Laotian Civil War 1959–1975 civil war in Laos

    The Laotian Civil War (1959–1975) was a civil war in Laos fought between the Communist Pathet Lao and the Royal Lao Government from 23 May 1959 to 2 December 1975. It is associated with the Cambodian Civil War and the Vietnam War, with both sides receiving heavy external support in a proxy war between the global Cold War superpowers. It is called the Secret War among the CIA Special Activities Division and Hmong veterans of the conflict.

    First Indochina War 1946-1954 war between French Union and Hồ Chí Minhs forces

    The First Indochina War began in French Indochina on December 19, 1946, and lasted until July 20, 1954. Fighting between French forces and their Việt Minh opponents in the south dated from September 1945. The conflict pitted a range of forces, including the French Union's French Far East Expeditionary Corps, led by France and supported by Bảo Đại's Vietnamese National Army against the Việt Minh, led by Hồ Chí Minh and the People's Army of Vietnam led by Võ Nguyên Giáp. Most of the fighting took place in Tonkin in northern Vietnam, although the conflict engulfed the entire country and also extended into the neighboring French Indochina protectorates of Laos and Cambodia.

    Cold War 1947–1991 period of geopolitical tension between the Eastern and Western Bloc

    The Cold War was a period of geopolitical tension between the Soviet Union and the United States and their respective allies, the Eastern Bloc and the Western Bloc, after World War II. The period is generally considered to span the 1947 Truman Doctrine to the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union. The term "cold" is used because there was no large-scale fighting directly between the two superpowers, but they each supported major regional conflicts known as proxy wars. The conflict was based around the ideological and geopolitical struggle for global influence by the two powers, following their temporary alliance and victory against Nazi Germany in 1945. The doctrine of mutually assured destruction (MAD) discouraged a pre-emptive attack by either side. Aside from the nuclear arsenal development and conventional military deployment, the struggle for dominance was expressed via indirect means such as psychological warfare, propaganda campaigns, espionage, far-reaching embargoes, rivalry at sports events and technological competitions such as the Space Race.

    Communist Party of Vietnam Political party in Vietnam

    The Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) is the founding and ruling communist party of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Although it nominally exists alongside the Vietnamese Fatherland Front, it maintains a unitary government and has centralised control over the state, military and media. The supremacy of the Communist Party is guaranteed by Article 4 of the national constitution. The CPV was founded in 1930 by Hồ Chí Minh; since 1954, it has been the only legal party in the country alongside the former South Vietnam when it took over in 1976 at the end of the Vietnam War. It also controls the military, the People's Army of Vietnam.

    Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG) is a designation for United States military advisors sent to other countries to assist in the training of conventional armed forces and facilitate military aid. Although numerous MAAGs operated around the world throughout the 1940s–1970s, the most famous MAAGs were those active in Southeast Asia before and during the Vietnam War. Typically, the personnel of MAAGs were considered to be technical staff attached to, and enjoying the privileges of, the US diplomatic mission in a country. Although the term is not as widespread as it once was, the functions performed by MAAGs continue to be performed by successor organizations attached to embassies, often called United States Military Groups. The term MAAG may still occasionally be used for such organizations helping promote military partnerships with several Latin American countries such as Peru and the Dominican Republic as well as in African countries such as Liberia.

    August Revolution National revolution by Viet Minh(1941-51).

    The August Revolution, also known as the August General Uprising, was a revolution launched by Ho Chi Minh's Việt Minh against French and the Japanese Empire colonial rule in Vietnam, on August 14, 1945.

    Military history of Thailand

    The military history of Thailand encompasses a thousand years of armed struggle, from wars of independence from the powerful Khmer Empire, through to struggles with her regional rivals of Burma and Vietnam and periods of tense standoff and conflict with the colonial empires of Britain and France. Thailand's military history, dominated by her centrality in the south-eastern Asian region, the significance of her far flung and often hostile terrain, and the changing nature of military technology, has had a decisive impact on the evolution of both Thailand and her neighbours as modern nation states. In the post-war era, Thailand's military relationship with the United States has seen her play an important role in both the Cold War and the recent War on Terror, whilst her military's involvement in domestic politics has brought frequent international attention.

    United States Air Force in Thailand

    The United States Air Force (USAF) deployed combat aircraft to Thailand from 1961 to 1975 during the Vietnam War. Today, US military units train with other Asian militaries in Thailand. Royal Thai Air Force Bases are an important element in the Pentagon's "forward positioning" strategy.

    A defense pact is a type of treaty or military alliance in which the signatories promise to support each other militarily and to defend each other. In general, the signatories point out the threats in the treaty and concretely prepare to respond to it together.

    1955 in the Vietnam War

    In 1955, the Prime Minister of South Vietnam Ngô Đình Diệm faced a severe challenge to his rule over South Vietnam from the Bình Xuyên criminal gang and the Cao Đài and Hòa Hảo religious sects. In the Battle of Saigon in April, Diệm's army eliminated the Bình Xuyên as a rival and soon also reduced the power of the sects. The United States, which had been wavering in its support of Diệm before the battle, strongly supported him afterwards. Diệm declined to enter into talks with North Vietnam concerning an election in 1956 to unify the country. Diệm called a national election in October and easily defeated Head of State Bảo Đại, thus becoming President of South Vietnam.

    French Indochina in World War II events in French Indochina during World War II

    In the northern-hemisphere summer of 1940 Germany rapidly defeated the French Third Republic, and colonial administration of French Indochina passed to the French State. In September 1940 Japanese troops first entered parts of Indochina; and in July 1941 Japan extended its control over the whole of French Indochina. The United States, concerned by Japanese expansion, started putting embargoes on exports of steel and oil to Japan from July 1940. The desire to escape these embargoes and to become self-sufficient in resources ultimately contributed to Japan's decision to attack on December 7, 1941 the British Empire and simultaneously the USA and at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii). This led to the USA declaring war against Japan on December 8, 1941. The US then joined the British Empire, already at war with Germany since 1939, and its existing allies in the fight against the Axis powers.

    There are allegations that the United States (U.S.) directly armed the Khmer Rouge during the Cambodian–Vietnamese War in order to weaken the influence of Vietnam and the Soviet Union in Southeast Asia. It is not disputed that the United States encouraged the government of China to provide military training and support for the Khmer Rouge and that the United States voted for the Khmer Rouge to remain the official representative of the country in the United Nations even after 1979, when the Khmer Rouge was mostly deposed by Vietnam and ruled just a small part of the country.


    Further reading