Week of January 28
On January 27, 1973, in Paris, France, representatives of four groups officially signed an “Agreement on Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam,” otherwise known as the Paris Peace Accords. Those signing included the United States, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam), the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam), and the Provisional Revolutionary Government, representing various dissident and insurgent forces in South Vietnam. The accords established a ceasefire, a 60-day period for final withdrawal of all U.S. and other foreign troops, and made provisions for the return of American civilian and military personnel held as prisoners of war by Communist forces.
In 1969 and 1970, President Richard M. Nixon had begun gradually withdrawing U.S. forces from Vietnam, part of his administration’s “Vietnamization” policy of handing conduct of the war over to the South Vietnamese. By the end of 1972, just over 23,000 U.S. troops remained in Vietnam (after a high of over 540,000 four years before). Peace negotiations continued in Paris, and on October 26, 1972, National Security Advisor and U.S. negotiator Henry Kissinger announced that he believed “peace [was] at hand.” When talks broke down again in December, however, Nixon responded by ordering massive bombing strikes against North Vietnam known as Operation LINEBACKER II. The airstrikes helped compel Hanoi to return to the negotiating table, and delegates signed the peace accords on January 27, 1973.
Among other provisions, the final agreement called for a ceasefire for all belligerents; the withdrawal of all remaining American and other foreign troops within two months (Vietnamese forces were allowed to remain where they were, but could not be reinforced); and cooperation between Hà Nội and Sài Gòn that would allow for the Vietnamese people to freely vote on their future government. Additionally, all parties were to repatriate prisoners of war.
The Paris Peace Accords ended direct U.S. military involvement in Vietnam nearly eight years after it officially began and almost two decades after the United States first began sending military advisers and equipment to South Vietnam. Aside from U.S. withdrawal, however, almost none of the other provisions of the agreement were followed. The ceasefire was short-lived. North Vietnam took advantage of the brief lull to seize numerous South Vietnamese towns and to block highways, and Sài Gòn responded by ordering its forces to continue fighting. Both North and South governments asserted that they were simply responding to the other side’s violations of the ceasefire, and by the time the last U.S. troops departed the peace agreements were nearly a distant memory. The war continued for another two years, and North Vietnamese forces finally toppled the Sài Gòn regime April 30, 1975.1
1Spencer C. Tucker, ed., The Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War: A Political, Social, and Military History (2nd edition; Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2011), 660–62, 877–88, 1034. Graham A. Cosmas, United States Army in Vietnam: MACV: The Joint Command in the Years of Withdrawal, 1968–1973 (Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, 2006), 384, 393–94. The New York Times, October 27, 1972, p.1; Wayne Thompson, To Hanoi and Back: The United States Air Force and North Vietnam, 1966–1973 (Washington, D.C.: Air Force History and Museums Program, 2000), 255–56; John Schlight, A War Too Long: The USAF in Southeast Asia, 1961–1975 (Washington, D.C.: Air Force History and Museums Program, 1996), 98–102.