The Southeast Asia Treaty Organization(SEATO) was an international organization intended for collective defense inSoutheast Asia. This organization was created by the Southeast Asia CollectiveDefense Treaty, also known as Manila Pact, signed in September 1954 in Manila,Philippines, as part of the American Truman Doctrine for creatinganti-communist and collective defenses treaties. The organization was formed on19 February 1955 at a meeting for treaty partners in Bangkok, Thailand. Themembers included eight nations which were Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan,Philippines, Thailand, France, United Kingdom, and United States.
Despite beingcalled the “Southeast Asian Treaty Organization”, there were only two SoutheastAsian countries that became members. SEATO’s initial purpose was predominantly toblock further communist gains in Southeast Asia. The agreements and treatieswere intended to contain communist countries (like China, in SEATO’s case). The formation of SEATO was also a response to the demand of SoutheastAsian area to be protected against communist expansionism, especially since itspreads through military aggression in Korea and Indochina, as well asthrough subversion supported by organized armed forces in the Philippines and Malaysia. Another function of SEATO wasalso to fund cultural and educational programs, that still in fact leave long-standingresults in Southeast Asia. SEATO was intended to be a Southeast Asian versionof the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, more commonly known as NATO, wherethe military forces of each member nation would be coordinated to act as collective defense of the members’nations. Organizationally, the organization was headed by the Secretary General,whose office was made in a meeting in Canberra at 1957. The Philippines entered due to closeties with the United States and in part of the growing concern over risingcommunist insurgency threatening its government.
Thailand, also then joined due tosimilar circumstances, and threat of Chinese communist subversion forming inthe country itself. Indonesia and Burma, on another stand, both preferred tomaintain neutrality instead of taking part in the organization. Malaya,including Singapore, deemed it politically difficult to provide a formal supportto the organization.
However so, the two countries did in turn faceddevelopments due to ties with Great Britain. Lastly, as for Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, the three countries wereprevented from joining any international military alliance due to the GenevaAgreements of 1954 that were signed after the fall of French Indochina. Thesecountries, although denied participation, did fall under the area protected bySEATO and given “observers” status. All in all, themembership reflected a mid-1950s combination of anti-communist Western nationsand similar nations in Southeast Asia. The creation of SEATO was another example of thetensions which existed between the United States and the Soviet Union in theperiod of cold war. Not only did the member countries lost interest in the organization,but its involvement in the Vietnam War heightened tensions between Russia and theUS.
SEATO did not have a way to authorize military action if need be, and istherefore different to organizations like NATO, for instance. SEATO’s charterdidn’t have anything that allowed its member nations to establish or create amilitary force. There was also no intelligence-gathering system organizedwithin the organization. The inabilities upon having such significant resourcesonly added to the organization’s prospect to fail. For many obvious reasons, SEATO’smembers began leaving in the 1970s. By the time the Vietnam War ended in 1975,the organization no longer had a reason to proceed with its operations.
Come 30thJune, 1977, SEATO no longer existed as an organization. However so, it’s important to acknowledgethe organization’s achievements as well. Aside from trying to stop communistgains, SEATO’s members also worked on improving mutual social and economicissues. Those activities were overseen by SEATO’s committee of information,education, culture, and labor activities, which proved to be some of theorganization’s most recognizable success. Events that were to be taken toaccount were the creation of SEATO Graduate School of Engineering, now theAsian Institute of Technology in Thailand to train engineers, and SEATO’s sponsorshipfor technical programs for supervisors and workmen.
Even more, SEATO had alsoprovided funding for research in the fields of agriculture and medicine. In 1959,the organization built the Cholera Research Laboratory in Bangkok, then buildinga second laboratory in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The Dhaka laboratory soon became thelargest cholera research factory, and later renamed as the InternationalCentre for Diarrheal Disease Research. All things considered,SEATO had obviously intended to fulfill an important purpose in Southeast Asia,yet it still came as no surprise that it didn’t continue to thrive.
Aside fromthe fact that the countries in Southeast Asia have not been fully invested inthe organization itself, there wasn’t any effective influences or power to beused to do what was needed to be done. Most of its members were instead focusedon other organizations like NATO, or hadn’t been bothered to fully focus in it.Hence the famous “zoo of toothless tigers” criticism. However so, it was stillreputable that such an organization was created for a very important purpose,no matter its non-fulfillment.