Silent partners: Australia and the United States in Vietnam, 1954-1968

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




William Stinchcombe


foreign policy, alliances

Subject Categories

History | International Relations


Understanding the relationship between the United States and its allies reveals much about how American viewed itself and the world. The post Second World War relationship between Australia and the United States is no exception. The United States valued Australia for its geographical proximity to Southeast Asia. Australian foreign policy in the 1950s and 1960s demanded an alliance with a strong Western power. In the Post World period, the United States was in a position to fulfill this aspect of Australian foreign policy. How the United States worked with Australia in Southeast Asia and, at times, forced its hand in conducting foreign policy provides valuable understanding of American action in the region.

In Vietnam, the methodical way in which the United States dealt with Australia provides another unique prospective to understand the policy which led to extensive American and Australian involvement. There is a sense that the United States did no understand nor appreciate the role Australia wished to play in Southeast Asia. American political and military leaders shared a narrow view of the region and acted accordingly. Australian leaders, in turn, sought to balance a conflicting foreign policy which sought a leading role in Asia while relying on the traditional Western alliance. From the period of 'United Action' in 1954 through the final escalation of troops in 1968, American treatment of Third Country allies helps to unravel American goals and strategy in the region. The war became a symbol of American determination and a test of allied resolve.

This study takes issue with earlier suggestions that Australia's Vietnam War was "a small insurance policy" to the future; that is, Australia became involved in the conflict to ensure American support in other vital areas of its foreign policy. This argument fails to fully appreciate Australian foreign policy in the whole nor does it adequately examine the American objectives in the region--ones which were discussed with Australian representatives before the crisis in Vietnam emerged.


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