“America’s Cold Wars in Southeast Asia”

Like much of the globe, Southeast Asia experienced two Cold Wars. The first, waged between 1949 and 1975, was driven by America’s need to contain the spread of communism from Indochina to the rest of Southeast Asia. This endeavour is typically regarded as a failure but the United States was able to form more durable alliances with other countries during the course of the Second Indochina war.

During Southeast Asia’s second Cold War from 1979 to 1989, the United States was better able to advance its objectives without the direct application of military force. It used China and Thailand to destabilize Vietnam while pursuing a Pacific rim strategy predicated on military bases in the Philippines and a close alliance with Indonesia to maintain its strategic interests the western Asia Pacific.

Thus, the United States was ultimately far more successful in pursuing its Cold War objectives in Southeast Asia than is generally thought.

Video Sections:

Why Cold Wars: 00:06
America’s Enduring Alliances: 02:15
America’s Second Cold War: 04:35
Why Should We Consider the Cold War in Southeast Asia Today? 09:27

Posted by Mesrob Vartavarian

Dr. Mesrob Vartavarian is a Visiting Fellow at Cornell University’s Southeast Asia Program. He studied history at UCLA (BA/MA) and Cambridge (PhD) and began his career as a scholar of early colonial South Asia but has since shifted his research focus to modern Southeast Asia with an emphasis on the Philippines. His interests include colonial state formation, plunder politics, borderland insurgencies by ethnic minorities, postcolonial praetorian regimes, and Cold War-era conflicts across insular and mainland states. His publications have appeared in Modern Asian Studies, the Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, South East Asia Research, Kyoto Review of Southeast Asia, and the IIAS Newsletter. Dr. Vartavarian is currently working on a monograph-length study of the Philippine military after Marcos.