Vietnam-US Defence Cooperation In Review

Vietnam and the US's cooperation in national defence and security has developed more intensively and extensively over the past time.
August 04, 2020 | 13:40
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Aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt visits central Da Nang city last March. Photo: Thanh nien (Young People)

Starting with activities in the search for remains of US soldiers missing in action in Vietnam, cooperation in national defence and security between the two countries has developed more intensively and extensively over the past time.

Both Vietnamese and US authorities shared the view on the “unimaginable achievements”, considering the hostile relationship between the two nations during the wartime.

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Credit: US-Vietnam Flags via

July marked the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the bilateral diplomatic ties with an array of activities. It is clear that mutual trust has been increased to a level much higher than it was before and right after the normalisation of the relations in 1995.

President Barack Obama’s decision to lift arms embargo on Vietnam in 2016 was a turning point in the bilateral defence and security ties. The event officially removed the final policy barrier to cooperation between the two countries, opening up multiple collaboration options for both sides.

More specific, intensive, extensive cooperation

Since 2016, both Vietnam and the US have made efforts to resume their common interests in order to elevate their defence and security ties.

In a report released on July 27, the US Department of State reviewed a range of specific cooperation events between the two countries, including the first visit to Vietnam by a US aircraft carrier in 2018, and the second two years later; Vietnam’s engagement in the US’s Global Peace Operations Initiative; and the Vietnamese navy’s first-ever participation in the 2018 Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) Exercise. RIMPAC is the world’s largest international maritime exercise, biennially hosted by the US and its allies and partners in and around the Hawaiian Islands and Southern California.

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Aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson visits Da Nang in 2018. Photo: VNA

According to the department, from 2015 to 2019, it authorized permanent export of USD 52.86 million in defense articles to Vietnam via Direct Commercial Sales (DCS). The top three DCS categories were: fire control, laser, imaging, and guidance equipment; military electronics; and gas turbine engines and associated equipment. The Department has over USD 130 million in active Foreign Military Sales (FMS) with Vietnam.

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More than 50 ships and submarines representing from 26 nations take place in RIMPAC 2018. Photo courtesy of US Navy

From fiscal year 2016 – 2019, Vietnam received more than USD 150 million in State Department-funded security assistance under the Foreign Military Financing (FMF) programme.

The US Department of Defense also provided Vietnam with approximately USD 10 million in additional assistance from fiscal year 2016 – 2020 through the Indo-Pacific Maritime Security Initiative, a Title 10 authority that supports maritime domain awareness capacity in the Indo-Pacific.

Notably, the US has agreed to train a number of Vietnamese military pilots, which has been seen as a new marker in the bilateral defence and security ties.

Cooperation prospects

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US President Donald Trump meets Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc on February 27, 2019 in Hanoi. Photo: VnExpress

Many observers shared the view that the Vietnam-US defence and security cooperation has developed strongly over the past 25 years, especially the last decade, partially attributable to factors relating to China.

They further explained that security interests of both Vietnam and the US in the South China Sea (Bien Dong Sea) and Indo-Pacific have been directly affected by Beijing’s aggressive actions, in disregard of international law.

Experts suggested Vietnam and the US push ahead with trust building and the elimination of disagreements, while bringing together their common values.

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U.S. soldiers perform a ceremony to repatriate a set of an American soldier remains home in Hanoi on July 16, 2020. Photo courtesy of Vietnam's Ministry of Defense.

If the bilateral ties develop too fast, Vietnam would fall into the “trap” of competition with powers, making it hard for strategic balance, they said. Meanwhile, Vietnam would miss some cooperation opportunities and fail to improve its capacity if the pace is too weak.

Policy makers in the two countries, especially those from the Vietnamese side, should promote the pragmatism of cooperation through more suitable security initiatives, they said.

They proposed more regular exchange of visits between armies, expanded weapon purchase, and the building of a multilateral maritime security network, concentrating on civil maritime law enforcement forces.

Efforts must be made by both sides, the experts stressed./.

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Both sides pledged to continue pushing forward the bilateral national defense cooperation program.

Rosy Huong
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