In May 1954 communist Viet Minh forces won a decisive victory over the French colonial army in the Battle of Điện Biên Phủ. The war ended shortly afterward with signing of the 1954 Geneva Accords in which France agreed to withdraw its forces from all of its colonies in French Indochina.

The accord temporarily divided Vietnam at the 17th parallel, with control of the north given to the Viet Minh as the Democratic Republic of Vietnam under Ho Chi Minh. The south became the State of Vietnam, nominally under Emperor Bảo Đại, thereby preventing the communists from gaining control of the entire country. Separate ceasefire accords were made with Cambodia and Laos at the conference.

Although a general election was to be held by July 1956 to create a unified Vietnamese state, the subsequent refusal of the State of Vietnam to allow the elections ultimately led to the Vietnam War.