The International Control Commission (ICC) was an international force established in 1954. It oversaw the implementation of the Geneva Accords that ended the First Indochina War with the Partition of Vietnam. It reported on the progress of the ceasefires and any violations. The force had troops and officers from Canada, Poland, and India (later replaced with Iran), respectively representing the non-communist, communist, and non-aligned blocs.
The International Control Commission was created to apply the Geneva Accords, a treaty signed as part of the removal of Vietnam from the French Empire. However, while both were created in the same treaty, the International Control Commission is distinct from the Joint Commission. It was the duty of the Joint Commission to actually oversee the ceasefire in the region and to ensure the peace.ss well as to act as the adjudicator in all issues relating to the peace. It was the duty of the International Control Commission to oversee the region and to ensure that the terms of the treaty are followed. Specifically, the treaty discussed four primary duties of the International Control Commission:
“(a) Control the movement of the armed forces of the two parties, effected within the framework of the regroupment plan.
(b) Supervise the demarcation lines between the re-grouping areas, and also the demilitarized zones.
(c) Control the operations of releasing prisoners of war and civilian internees.
(d) Supervise at ports and airfields as well as along all frontiers of Viet-Nam the execution of the provisions of the agreement on the cessation of hostilities, regulating the introduction into the country of armed forces, military personnel and of all kinds of arms, munitions and war material.”
The treaty makes it quite clear that in fact the International Control Commission was the inferior Commission, and was given little actual power to affect politics in the region. Instead, it was simply given power to conduct studies and write reports on what was happening on the ground in Vietnam and return the information to the Joint Council which would make policy decisions. The Joint Council could request the opinion of the International Control Commission, but was free to not consider it. However, the lack of governing power was not well known by the public, and the International Control Commission would fall under attack for its perceived lack of leadership in the region when in reality, it was unable to serve the role people expected.
The first action of the International Control Commission, as stipulated by the treaty was to separate the state of Vietnam into two separate zones, one controlled by the People's Army of Vietnam in the North and the other controlled by the French Union in the South. The regions would go on to be colloquially known as North and South Vietnam. As part of the treaty, the division was given 300 days in which to occur and was overseen by the International Control Commission.
The first and likely most important duty of the International Control Commission was the relocation itself. Many people wanted to move, and the manpower and resources that it took was tremendous. In all, 897,149 people were moved from one half of Vietnam to the other, 892,876 from north to south, and 4,269 from south to north. The movement was largely successful, despite feelings on both sides. The largest complaint from the North was that the South was distributing untrue and derogatory propaganda in an attempt to get people to emigrate and in the South that the North was blocking immigration. In total, the deadline was actually extended a full month to allow additional people to travel, despite British, Canadian, and commission pressure to extend it further. While the process is not well remembered and had its share of issues, there is little doubt it was a success.
In addition to the sheer logistical problems of moving the numbers of people, the commission had to worry about the treatment of citizens who would not or could not move. Officially, there was a requirement by the Geneva Agreement that all citizens would be granted “democratic liberties” While there was no official definition as to the meaning of this phrase, it is likely that it refers to Lockean ideals. In this case, however, it more specifically refers to the right to live without fear of government reprisals. However, there were two radically different groups that had been at war for years. That the governments of the regions would be able to guarantee this freedom was unlikely, to say the least. To answer this problem, the International Control Commission created the Freedoms Committee to answer the concerns of anyone who submitted a claim that their democratic liberties had been violated. In total, the committee heard 17,397 cases under the rules over the course of the 300 days of the relocation. While the International Control Commission may have settled the cases, the governments of the respective sides did little to enforce them and most cases were not helped by the International Control Commission. The rest were settled reasonably fairly, and the International Control Commission is well regarded for its work during this period. It may not have been able to help with every case, but it managed to help a lot of people.
According to the original accords, the separation of the regions was to be the end of the International Control Commission. However, members of the commission looked at the country and decided that it was in the best interest of all involved for it to continue. Tensions between the North and the South were running high, and while neither group were very big fans of the International Control Commission, both preferred talking to it than to their counterparts. The Joint Commission disbanded, leaving the International Control Commission in a position where it was unsure of its own powers. The main reason to remain in Vietnam was to ensure that the tenuous peace held. While the Commission was there, there was still the hope of its final job being carried out: holding an election. The election to unify Vietnam was to be held two years after the separation attempt to reach a longer peace and to prevent a permanent split between the two sides. However, there was little hope in anyone's mind that the elections would actually happen after the two years of increased tension between the two Vietnams and the international community as a whole. By the time that the election was set to take place, even the International Control Commission was unexcited by the premise. As such, when the proposed date for the elections, July 21, 1956, occurred, there was no surprise when they in fact did not happen.
However, the International Control Commission was able to keep held the two sides in check for years in a genius peace that otherwise would have likely descended into conflict almost immediately.
Despite still existing, the Commission quickly found itself with few friends and fewer powers. It was unable to control much of anything or act as anything beyond a minor speed bump for either side. The states that sat on the Commission were secondary powers, at best, never large enough to have a major impact on world affairs during the Cold War, in comparison to the two super powers. In addition, they were sitting on a fault line between the two major powers that had been fighting not ten years earlier. What had begun as a ceasefire quickly became a battlefield as tensions continued to flair. After the first two years, when the active partitioning ended and the two Vietnamese governments became more and more comfortable in their ability to rule, they also became closer and closer to their respective patrons, the North to the Soviet Union and the South to the United States. That relationship to the larger powers allowed the developing states to take bigger risks and care less and less about the condemnation of the International Control Commission. In addition, when the global superpowers looked to act through the states, the International Control Commission could not respond either, as the international community needed to defer to the superpowers, giving the International Control Commission few ways to influence anything. Without any actual power or backing of the global super powers, there was little for the International Control Commission to do to enforce their views except complain to what was quickly becoming an empty room. The Commission was expected to police two states and ensure a full peace between the global superpowers, a daunting task for the entire world during the period, let alone a commission. As such, the power of the International Control Commission drained away during this period until it was little more than a figurehead, able to state its opinions but little more in the region.
That was seen most pointedly in arms traffic, which was strictly limited under the terms of the Geneva Agreements. However, after the successful separation and the growth of superpower influence, trafficking became a much more important factor. The means of and the response to the issue is seen in this quote from John Holms:
"...in the North the International Control Commission was unable to observe violations of the arms control stipulation but never able to maintain adequate inspection to be assured that no violations were taking place. In the South the struggle was with the indifference and reluctance of the authorities and the persistent effort of the Americans to press the terms of the Agreement farther than they could properly be stretched. The violations in the South were, needless to say, observable, and the attitude of the Americans was negative but decent. The Commission was in a position to prove Southern but not Northern violations. The Southerners and Americans inevitably complained and increasingly insisted that the known if not proved disregard of the arms control provisions by the Communists not only justified by made essential their doing likewise."
That difficulty further reduced the impact of the International Control Commission, preventing it from performing its duties, and putting into question its existence. That it could not reach the North was a problem since it was it sworn duty to maintain “democratic liberties” and put a stop to any kind of growing threats to violence. The inability to patrol regularly allowed the North to build whatever it wanted, as there was no threat of the international community stopping it because the ICC has no actual way of enforcing order.
The lack of respect from the North led to it losing the ability to police the South, which is the great tragedy of the region. With the North so far away and difficult to control, any attempt to do its job in the South was met with cries of a double standard. While that was technically true, it showed the inherent issues with the International Control Commission. It was a regulatory board with no ability to regulate the one thing it was supposed to. As such, it drifted further and further into ridicule in the eyes of the world.
Another major and far more tangible difficulty that the International Control Commission ran into was a severe lack of funds. The Commission was funded by the various states that composed it, but it was an extremely low priority during the Cold War. As such, donations would frequently be late or simply never arrive. There was an rise in operating expenses as the Joint Commission disbanded and the International Control Commission was forced to take on greater responsibility and the financial straits. That led to further inability to operate and reduced its power in the region.
A third major difficulty the International Control Commission experienced during was a lack of manpower and transportation. For the International Control Commission to function properly as a check on the two Vietnams, it would have to travel throughout the region with impunity to look for signs of growing tension or violations of “democratic liberties” but would have to be able to catch the states unaware. If it was unable to do so, it would be trivial for one of the sides to hide any evidence of misconduct from the International Control Commission. However, money issues made the International Control Commission unable to maintain a fleet of cars to allow it to travel on its own, and the growing distrust between the two states made it more and more dangerous to travel. As such, the only safe way to travel was in government convoys. While that was safer and cheaper for the International Control Commission, it lost that crucial element of surprise. That further reduced its impact in the region and made it even more ephemeral.
By far the biggest blow to the International Control Commission is the growing military presence of the United States during the 1960s that would ultimately escalate into the Vietnam War. The troops and military supplies brought in were in clear defiance of the Geneva Agreements, but the lack of power invested in the International Control Commission meant that it was completely unable to prevent even that. It could do no more than write a sternly worded report on February 13, 1965. It stated that the US had violated the Geneva Agreements and that there were growing conflicts between the two sides.
However, there was no response from the international community and so the power and reputation of the International Control Commission fell further. Despite its growing irrelevance, the International Control Commission attempted to hang on as a moderating voice in the conflict. It made several attempts to bring the two sides closer together and to start a dialogue but its efforts came to naught. That lack of effect was to be endemic of the International Control Commission during the conflict, as it was unable to negotiate a peace as the tensions grew into full-blown war and its role became more and more vestigial in the face of regional politics.
Professor Mieczyslaw Maneli, Head of the Polish delegation to the ICC, defected to the United States in the 1960s.
The International Control Commission did not outlive the Vietnam War. Their fall came from an unlikely source, with India, one of the key member states of the International Control Commission normalizing relations with North but not South Vietnam. That insulted that the South Vietnamese forced the Indians and, by extension, all of the International Control Commission out of the country. While the Commission tried to function from Hanoi, it became much harder to regulate South Vietnam. That, coupled with the general pointlessness of the institution in the modern world, meant that in March 1973, the International Control Commission formally shut down and was replaced by the International Commission of Control and Supervision (ICCS).
[5. Mieczyslaw Maneli - War of the Vanquished (Harper & Row, New York, 1971]