Jump to Content Jump to Main Navigation

Part 1 The Cold War Era (1945–89), 10 The Gulf of Tonkin Incident—1964

Douglas Guilfoyle

From: The Use of Force in International Law: A Case-Based Approach

Edited By: Tom Ruys, Olivier Corten, Alexandra Hofer

From: Oxford Public International Law (http://opil.ouplaw.com). (c) Oxford University Press, 2023. All Rights Reserved.date: 27 May 2024

Necessity — Self-defence — Warfare, air — Warfare, sea

This chapter examines the United States’ air strikes against torpedo boat bases in the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in August 1964 in response to two claimed armed attacks against its naval units in the Gulf of Tonkin earlier that month. It considers the facts, historical context and operational environment. It examines the reactions at the time of the main actors, and their allies, in the Security Council. In assessing the incident’s legality it notes that several of the questions raised remain controversial today, including: (i) Can a state validly exercise self-defence based on a mistake of fact? (ii) Can self-defence encompass ‘preventative’ actions? (iii) Can an attack on a single vessel trigger a right of self-defence? (iv) Was the action proportionate and necessary? (v) How proximate in time must a (legal) defensive use of force be to the triggering armed attack in order to avoid being classed as a reprisal?

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.