“This book entitled ASEAN-U.S. Relations: What Are the Talking Points? is a result of a workshop organized by the ASEAN Studies Centre of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. The workshop was timely then, as the two sides, all of ASEAN, and the United States held their first-ever summit in Singapore in November 2009, heralding a new era of renewed engagement. The United States is very important for ASEAN, as a guarantor of regional stability and a vast market for ASEAN products. At the same time, ASEAN has gained more public attention from the United States, particularly since the advent of the Obama administration. This publication will serve as a reminder that ASEAN and the United States have shared many benefits as well as concerns for many years. Their continued engagement will undoubtedly ensure regional peace and order. I highly recommend this book to those who are interested in ASEANs external relations.”
—Professor Charnvit Kasetsiri
Former Rector of Thammasat University
and Visiting Professorial Fellow, ISEAS
During the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations, Laos was positioned to become a major front in the Cold War. Yet American policymakers ultimately chose to resist communism in neighboring South Vietnam instead. Two generations of historians have explained this decision by citing logistical considerations. Laos’s landlocked, mountainous terrain, they hold, made the kingdom an unpropitious place to fight, while South Vietnam—possessing a long coastline, navigable rivers, and all-weather roads—better accommodated America’s military forces. The Universe Unraveling is a provocative reinterpretation of U.S.-Laos relations in the years leading up to the Vietnam War. Seth Jacobs argues that Laos boasted several advantages over South Vietnam as a battlefield, notably its thousand-mile border with Thailand, whose leader was willing to allow Washington to use his nation as a base from which to attack the communist Pathet Lao.
More significant in determining U.S. policy in Southeast Asia than strategic appraisals of the Laotian landscape were cultural perceptions of the Lao people. Jacobs contends that U.S. policy toward Laos under Eisenhower and Kennedy cannot be understood apart from the traits Americans ascribed to their Lao allies. Drawing on diplomatic correspondence and the work of iconic figures like “celebrity saint” Tom Dooley, Jacobs finds that the characteristics American statesmen and the American media attributed to the Lao—laziness, immaturity, and cowardice—differed from the traits assigned the South Vietnamese, making Lao chances of withstanding communist aggression appear dubious. The Universe Unraveling combines diplomatic, cultural, and military history to provide a new perspective on how prejudice can shape policy decisions and even the course of history.
In the early 1960s, Britain and the United States were still trying to come to terms with the powerful forces of indigenous nationalism unleashed by the Second World War. The Indonesia-Malaysia confrontation – a crisis which was, as Macmillan remarked to Kennedy, ‘as dangerous a situation in Southeast Asia as we have seen since the war’ – was a complex test of Anglo-American relations. As American commitment to Vietnam accelerated under the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, Britain was involving herself in an ‘end-of-empire’ exercise in state-building which had important military and political implications for both nations. In this book Matthew Jones provides a detailed insight into the origins, outbreak and development of this important episode in international history; using a large range of previously unavailable archival sources, he illuminates the formation of the Malaysian federation, Indonesia’s violent opposition to the state and the Western Powers’ attempts to deal with the resulting conflict.