Vietnam National Security

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Armed Forces Overview: Since Vietnam fought against the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia in 1978–89, it has demobilized about 500,000 troops and cut military spending. Still, Vietnam has one of the region’s largest and most powerful militaries. Furthermore, the People’s Army of Vietnam remains politically influential, and many senior officers have obtained leadership positions in the Central Committee and Politburo of the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP). The military’s prestige stems from its formidable track record against such major world military powers as France, the United States, and China and its deep roots in society.

Foreign Military Relations: Vietnam cooperates militarily with India and China. Vietnam advises India on how to combat guerrilla warfare. India helps maintain Vietnam’s MiG fighter planes and helps Vietnam manufacture small- and medium-sized weapons. In 2001 Vietnam bolstered its military cooperation with China. Russia has reduced its military presence in Vietnam since it abandoned control over the Camh Ranh Bay Naval Base in 2001 because it could not afford the expense.

External Threat: Despite having fought a border war with China in 1979, Vietnam does not face an identifiable military enemy. However, sovereignty over the Spratly and Paracel Islands in the South China Sea remains in dispute with China and several other nations. In addition, Cambodia and Laos have protested incursions by Vietnamese squatters.

Defense Budget: In 2003 Vietnam’s defense budget was estimated at US$2.3 billion.

Major Military Units: Vietnam’s active-duty military consists of a 412,000-member army, a 42,000-member navy, a 30,000-member air and air defense force, and a 40,000-member paramilitary border defense corps. The army, which is deployed in nine military regions (including Hanoi), consists of headquarters, 58 infantry divisions, 3 mechanized infantry divisions, 10 armored battalions, 15 independent infantry regiments, special forces and airborne brigades, 10 field artillery brigades, 8 engineering divisions, 10 to 15 economic construction divisions, and 20 independent engineering brigades. The navy, including naval infantry, is deployed in four naval regions. The People’s Air Force consists of three air divisions, each with three regiments.

Major Military Equipment: The army is equipped with 1,315 main battle tanks, 620 light tanks, 100 reconnaissance vehicles, 300 armored infantry fighting vehicles, 1,380 armored personnel carriers, 2,300 towed artillery, and more than 30 self-propelled artillery. The army also has an unspecified number of combined gun/mortars, assault guns, multiple rocket launchers, mortars, surface-to-surface missiles, antitank guided weapons, recoilless launchers, air defense guns, and surface-to-air missiles. The navy has 2 Yugo-class submarines, 6 frigates, 1 corvette, 12 missile craft, 10 torpedo craft, 19 inshore patrol combatants, 10 mine warfare ships, 6 amphibious ships, and at least 30 support craft. The People’s Air Force has 189 combat aircraft (53 Su–22, 12 Su–27, and 124 MiG–21) and 26 Mi–24 armed helicopters.

Military Service: Military service is compulsory, usually for two years. In late 2001, Vietnam reinstated the requirement that women register for military service. However, barring an emergency mobilization, they are unlikely to be called up. Mandatory military service for women had been abandoned in 1975 at the end of the nation’s civil war.

Paramilitary Forces: Vietnam has a 4-million to 5-million-member paramilitary reserve force, consisting of the People’s Self-Defense Force and the rural People’s Militia.

Police: The Ministry of Public Security controls the police, a national security investigative agency, and other units that maintain internal security.

Internal Threat: The government seeks to prevent the expression of views critical of the government and non-sanctioned religious worship. When some dissidents sought to evade official media controls by using the Internet to disseminate their views, the government responded by introducing Internet restrictions. Although dissident activity generates substantial press commentary, it does not pose a threat to the regime’s stability.

The Montagnard ethnic minority represents a special case. This group is seeking a return of its ancestral lands in the Central Highlands. The Montagnards, who traditionally have opposed the communist government, receive support from overseas Vietnamese, particularly the United States-based Montagnard Foundation. After a violent clash with demonstrators in April 2004, the government boosted its security presence in the region.

Terrorism: Following al Qaeda’s attack on the United States on September 11, 2001, Vietnam expressed sympathy for the victims and qualified support for the war on terrorism. Vietnam urged that any steps taken against terrorists be consistent with international cooperation within the bounds of the United Nations Charter, target the culprits, and avoid larger-scale warfare.

In April 2004, the State Bank of Vietnam (SBV) issued a draft decree to combat money laundering as a source of terrorist financing. This move followed pressure from the United States, which denied requests by the Vietcombank and the Vietnam Bank for Investment and Development to set up representative offices on the grounds that they could be used to finance international terrorism.

Human Rights: In its 2004 report on Human Rights Practices, the U.S. Department of State characterized Vietnam’s human rights record as “poor” and cited the continuation of “serious abuses.” According to the report, the government has imposed restrictions on freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and freedom of association. Citizens are denied the right to change their government. The government continues to hold political prisoners who have expressed views at odds with government policy. Prison conditions are generally “harsh, but not unduly so given the country's level of economic development,” according to the State Department assessment. Vietnam has no independent judiciary, and there is no right to a fair and speedy trial. Human rights organizations are not permitted to operate. Discrimination against women and ethnic minorities, child labor, and prostitution are serious problems. The government is attempting to address the child labor issue.

The government officially provides for freedom of religion and recognizes Buddhist, Roman Catholic, Protestant, Hoa Hao, Cao Dai, and Muslim denominations. However, non-sanctioned groups, including branches of even the recognized denominations, face harassment. Furthermore, the government insists on supervising the clergies of the sanctioned groups (by approving appointments, for example) in the interest of “national unity.”

In April 2004, 20,000 to 30,000 members of the Montagnard ethnic minority gathered to protest for the return of their ancestral lands in the Central Highlands and an end to religious repression. Human Rights Watch alleges that hundreds of demonstrators were wounded and at least 10 killed in a clash with Vietnamese officials and civilians. The Vietnamese government is concerned that the Montagnards are seeking an independent state.

Country Profile: Vietnam


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Library Of Congress December 2005
Name: Vietnam/Vietnam National Security

Country: Vietnam

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