Does the national interest of the USA conflict with regional peace initiatives
By Henry Bucher, Associate Professor Emeritus of Humanities, Austin College
Jun 27, 2017
Print this page
Email this article

Reputable sources for international news report that the newly elected President Moon Jae-in of South Korea ran on a platform that included seeking peace with North Korea. This appears to be a non-starter within the new government of the USA. Our policy in the region has always been complex, but looking at some past examples of regional peace initiatives may help us in understanding the present.

Some reports in the 1960s regarding the replacing of “our man” in South Vietnam, Diem Ngo Dinh, claim that he sent out feelers for peace with North Vietnam, which collided with the USA’s demanding a victory. The peace negotiations in Paris over Vietnam in the mid-1960s suggested that peace in the region was a possibility, but President Nixon asked South Vietnam to stall with the hope that he could win the 1968 elections and bring peace closer to the USA’s terms. Simultaneously, he promised the US electorate that he had a “secret plan” for peace in Vietnam.

A lesser known conflict was in Angola between the oldest Angolan independence movement (MPLA)1 and Portugal, which held on to its African colonies into the 1970s. The USA sided with Portugal—our NATO ally and host of our base in the Portuguese Azores. With no US “boots on the ground,” we assisted apartheid South Africa’s invasion of Angola with two newly-formed African movements funded by the West: the FNLA and UNITA.2  When our ally, UNITA, sent out feelers to the MPLA for a negotiated solution, the USA was embarrassed. In his book: In Search of Enemies: A CIA Story, John Stockwell, a Texan who had served with the CIA in Vietnam and then became chief of the CIA’s Angolan Task Force, explains how the US pushed for victory over regional peace. As in Vietnam, there was neither victory, nor an immediate regional peace.

Many of the USA’s friends and competitors in the Global South believe that the USA supports  democracy around the world unless it conflicts with the USA’s “national interest:” We champion democratic elections if “our side” wins. Many more examples in Asia, Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East could be added to the above.

A traditional African proverb notes: “When two elephants fight, it is the grass that is destroyed!” The “elephants” and the “grass” may change over time, but the essential truth of the proverb remains unchanged. Then we might also ask, is not peace in all regions around the globe ultimately in our national interest?

1.      Acronym for Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola, in Portuguese, MPLA.

National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA) and National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA).