Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Vietnam-U.S. Military Relations

Background Briefing:
Vietnam-U.S. Military Relations
Carlyle A. Thayer
July 25, 2017
Can you provide an assessment of the chances of a U.S.-Vietnam military
relationship? The standard view appears to ve that the chances are nil due to close
economic relations with China and old military ties with Russia.
ANSWER: Vietnam’s national defense policy of three no’s coupled with deep
suspicion of the United States on the part of both retired and active duty senior
military officers mitigates against any marked stepped up in defense relations.
In September 2011 Vietnam and the United States agreed to a Memorandum of
Understanding that set out five priority areas for cooperation: maritime security,
search and rescue, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, exchanges between
defense universities and research institutes, and UN peacekeeping operations.
U.S. officials at the coalface note a willingness on Vietnam’s part to expand the scope
of naval engagement and other activities but these do not go beyond the MoU
negotiated in 2011. For example, Vietnam turned down an invitation by the then
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter for Vietnamese military officers to fly on and
observe P-8 Poseidon maritime patrols over the South China Sea.
This year Vietnam has taken delivery of six new small metal Shark patrol boats and a
decommissioned U.S. Coast Guard cutter and has indicated it might purchase
There is nothing in the Joint Statement issued by President Donald Trump and Prime
Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc that would commit the U.S. to assisting Hanoi in its
current dealings with Chinese threats to take action if Vietnam continues oil
exploration in the South China Sea.
It has been recently confirmed that Vietnam will purchase 64 T-90S/SK battlefield
tanks from Russia and that Russia is offering Vietnam the S-400 air defense system
and the MiG-35 to replace Vietnam’s retired fleet of MiG 21s. If Vietnam opts for the
MiG 35s this will end all hope of Vietnam following Indonesia in purchasing the
F16A/B Falcons from the United States.
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Suggested citation: Carlyle A. Thayer, “Vietnam-U.S. Military Relations,” Thayer
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