International Commission for Supervision and Control - Vietnam (ICSC - Vietnam)

International Operation Name:  International Commission for Supervision and Control – Vietnam

International Operation Dates:  1954/08/11 – 1973/01/29

Mandating Organization: Agreement on the Cessation of Hostilities in Vietnam

Region Name:  Asia

Location:  Vietnam

Canadian Operation Name: International Commission for Supervision and Control - Vietnam (ICSC - Vietnam)

Canadian Operation Dates: 1954/08/10 – 1973/01/29

Mission Mandate:

To implement the terms of the Geneva Agreement

Mission Notes:

In Vietnam, the role of the ICSC was to monitor the exchange and withdrawal of military forces, equipment, or supplies, and supervise the transfer of power from the French to the respective governments north and south of the 17th parallel, the artificial and temporary boundary imposed by the Geneva Agreements. They were also to ensure that no new military equipment entered Vietnam, except to replace equipment that was destroyed or otherwise eliminated. This was supposed to maintain military forces at the 1954 level. New military facilities could also not be built. Violations were to be reported to the ICSC who would send teams to investigate.

To enforce these regulations, the ICSC had representatives in Hanoi and Saigon. The ICSC-Vietnam headquarters were initially in Hanoi, moving to Saigon in April 1958. Until that time, the headquarters would visit with the South Vietnamese authorities several times a year, each visit being of six-week duration.

Seven teams were in the north and seven in the south, each team having two members from each of the three ICSC supporting nations. The teams were situated at points of entry for air, rail and sea and had prescribed areas of supervision outside of which they could not venture. “Mobile teams” were also allowed, composed of three persons, who were to have freedom of movement across border zones and the demilitarized zone. Their role was to patrol gaps between the fixed team areas and to control points of entry that became active after the Geneva Agreement. The number of mobile teams was never set by the Agreement and the mobile teams were never allowed to function as intended.

Within the first year, the ICSC had successfully overseen the transfer of power to the North and South regimes, and the withdrawal of French forces from Vietnam. The task of overseeing the return of displaced persons and refugees was to remain a problem through the ICSC’s service, while the issue of keeping out military equipment and personnel was a complete failure.

More problematic still was the question of holding free and fair elections for all of Vietnam by 1956. Western nations, including Canada, recognized that the Communists would most likely win the election and thereby unite Vietnam under a leftist regime in Hanoi. Given the anti-communist rhetoric of the era, the West could not be seen to allow the imposition of such a regime on the South. The elections were therefore postponed by the Government of South Vietnam, with the tacit approval of the West. With no election looming, the North set about infiltrating communist agents to generate support for the North and to foment revolution from within South Vietnam. Recourse to violence was therefore only a matter of time.

With the onset of open warfare in Vietnam in 1965, the ICSC lost all effectiveness. The North Vietnamese indicated in March 1965 that the ICSC was no longer welcome in Hanoi, forcing it to move and also resulting in the departure of the seven fixed teams in that country. The rationale was that the North Vietnamese could not protect the ICSC from American attacks.

Further exacerbating the ineffectiveness of the ICSC was the fact that ICSC teams never found anything in their inspections. This was carefully orchestrated by both North and South Vietnam. The fixed teams also made a mockery of impartiality. They required unanimity before carrying out any activity, a unanimity that was rarely available immediately. Only after a potentially embarrassing incident was over would a team be allowed to inspect a ship or a site.

The failure of the ICSC stemmed largely from the terms of the Geneva Accords. While all parties agreed to an early French departure and the creation of separate regimes in the North and South – aspects that were swiftly and successfully implemented – the ICSC had no real power to supervise or control situations where there was no agreement. Accordingly, both the North and the South Vietnamese governments conspired to import weapons through the simple expedient of denying the ICSC access to ports and airfields when illicit cargo arrived. Furthermore, none of the ICSC member-states approached their tasks in an absolutely neutral and objective manner.

Canadian participation in ICSC-Vietnam was mostly from the army, providing inspectors, clerks, communications, medical and security personnel. They manned the fixed and mobile teams throughout the two countries. The RCAF also had three officers and the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) three officers present in Vietnam throughout the service of the ICSC, to provide technical advice and to carry out inspections of facilities and patrols.

The RCAF officers were mainly involved in inspecting airfields to ensure that they had no military usage or capability. They could also be called upon to inspect aircraft that were unloading cargo, although normally the efforts of North and South Vietnam hindered this activity.

Both parties also provided boats to the RCN officers in order to patrol the coastline. They rarely saw anything that resembled arms smuggling or shipments, as these activities were conducted away from the inspection teams’ presence. The RCN officers were also supposed to be able to inspect merchant vessels; however, this activity was again hindered by both sides.

At its peak in July 1955, the Canadian Forces had 53 officers and 29 non-commissioned members in Vietnam. This decreased slightly to 41 and 27 by the end of 1959. In addition, the Department of External Affairs had about 16 personnel in Vietnam at this time. The military numbers slowly reduced during the 1960s so that by the start of 1970 there were around 20 personnel.

Two military members and one member from External Affairs were killed while serving with the ICSC. Sgt J.S. Byrne and Cpl V.J. Perkin were killed in an aircraft accident over North Vietnam on 18 October 1965, while enroute to Hanoi from Vientiane. Their bodies were never recovered.

With the withdrawal of the United States from Vietnam, the United States asked Canada in January 1973 to participate in the International Commission for Control and Supervision (ICCS). Canada agreed, on the condition that Canada could withdraw if the ICCS proved to be non-effective. The creation of the ICCS on 29 January 1973 effectively ended the ICSC. The last Canadian members of the ICSC withdrew in July 1973.



Maj. Richard Davis and Maj. Bill Eastwood watch POW's being returned to South Vietnam at an exchange site at Loc Ninh.

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