The Southeast Asian decisions of the Kennedy administration



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This thesis seeks to distinguish the differences between the policy variables which were factors in determining two important Southeast Asian decisions of the Kennedy administration: the 1961 decision to neutralize Laos and the 1963 decisions to continue supporting Diem and increase the American involvement. The study also proposes to explain how the policy decisions were made within the Kennedy administration and to test some of the general assumptions posed by Richard C. Snyder with regard to general foreign policy decision-making. The decisions are developed through two case studies. Each case begins with an examination of the historical background which is followed by a systematic discussion of three sets of policy variables: the organizational variables, the internal variables, and the external variables. In the Laos case the study reveals that the Kennedy administration faced three alternatives with regard to the Laotian situation in 1961: to withdraw completely, to intervene with a full-scale military force, or to seek a renewed neutrality. The decision which was reached was not only to continue the basic commitment to neutrality but to change the approach by which that commitment was to be met. The Vietnam case shows that despite the Kennedy desire to make changes in the American commitment to President Diem following the South Vietnamese regime's repression of that nation's Buddhist population in the summer of 1963 that he was unable to do. The decision which was made was to continue American support of Diem while putting pressure on him for political reform and to actually increase the American military commitment. The study concludes that the decisions were different due to important differences in several of the policy variables. The most important difference seemed to have been the previous commitments and the policy decisions which had been made prior to the Kennedy administration. These earlier actions seemed to have limited the options which the policy-makers perceived as available to them and preventing the decision-makers from considering many other alternatives.



Southeast Asia, Kennedy administration