Make friends, not enemies: Vietnam military strategy of non-alignment

By Hoang Thuy   December 16, 2019 | 04:39 pm PT
Make friends, not enemies: Vietnam military strategy of non-alignment
Vietnamese army forces parade during a ceremony to receive North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Hanoi, March 1, 2019. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy.
In an exclusive interview with VnExpress, Deputy Defense Minister Nguyen Chi Vinh explains why Vietnam will not join any military alliance.

He said being part of such an alliance would be inimical to Vietnam's consistent pursuit of the path of peace, justice and friendship.

In the White Paper on Vietnam National Defense released last month, the nation has reconfirmed its stance on staying out of all military alliances. The paper also emphasizes that Vietnam will not use force or threaten to use force in its international relations.

This policy goes in line with the basic international rule that Vietnam has always given prominence to when it comes to handling disputes and differences, Colonel General Vinh said.

The rule binds all U.N. members to "refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations."

"We do not join military alliances because Vietnam's consistent policy is to make more friends and less enemies.

"Being a part of such an alliance means you have to completely align with one side and possibly have to confront the other, which means more enemies. Vietnam does not stand by any side but peace, reason, justice, and international laws," Vinh said.

On asked if this was the right move for Vietnam in case the nation has to be at war, Vinh said this policy is for the age of peace. In case of war, suitable strategies will be devised to protect the nation, he said.

While Vietnam will not be part of any military alliance, it will enhance its defense cooperation with different countries, seek international support and prevent itself from being isolated, he added.

"Given the current international and regional situation, and the country's ability as well as methods to handle current defense challenges, I believe we are qualified to manage our security situation, not to generate impulses and prevent wars from happening."

Vietnamese Deputy Minister of National Defense Colonel General Nguyen Chi Vinh. Photo by VnExpress/Gia Chinh

Vietnam's Deputy Minister of National Defense Colonel General Nguyen Chi Vinh. Photo by VnExpress/Gia Chinh.

In drafting the White Paper, the focus was on two main principles – peace and self-defense.

The Central Military Commission (CMC), the highest party organ in Vietnam on military policy, and the Ministry of National Defense organized many conferences and collected almost 1,000 opinions, either directly or on paper. The defense ministry also sent representatives to former senior military leaders to seek their advice.

When some people expressed concerns over the decision of Vietnam not joining any military alliance, because "alliance" was not clearly identified, the White Paper draft team explained that it would imply that the country will be part of a military bloc with specific goals, use military measures to resolve conflicts against the bloc's opponents, Vinh said. 

Countries that are members of such an alliance will be placed under the leadership of one country, normally a large and powerful one, and will have to adhere to that union's principles, even when they are not entirely compatible with the country, Member nations of such a bloc will no longer be independent and have the autonomy to decide things on their own.

Victory comes with justice

Vinh stressed that throughout its history, Vietnam has never been militarily allied with any nations, and its history of wars has shown that victory only comes with justice and in order to have justice, Vietnam must ensure its independence and autonomy.

He noted that Vietnam received help from the Soviet Union and other socialist nations during the war against the U.S., but did not join the Warsaw Pact, a collective defense treaty signed by the Soviet Union and seven other Eastern Bloc socialist republics of Central and Eastern Europe in 1955.

Although Vietnam is not a part of any military alliance, it has befriended all nations and has repeatedly made efforts to participate in the world's common work, whether it is in sending officers to United Nations peacekeeping missions or in hosting the 2019 North Korea-U.S. Summit in Hanoi this February, Vinh said.

After providing due explanations and justifications, the CMC and the defense ministry reached agreement on the White Paper declaring Vietnam's stance of not being part of any military alliance.

Published in English and Vietnamese, the paper also announces changes in military structure and organization and future directions for the People's Army.

It is divided into three sections: Vietnam's strategic scenario and policies, Vietnam's military development and the history of the People's Army of Vietnam.

This is the fourth time the country has issued the National Defense White Paper after 1998, 2004 and 2009.

Vinh said that unlike several other nations who release the national defense paper every five or 10 years, Vietnam has yet to decide on a specific schedule.

When the strategic context of the world, the region, and the country undergo important changes, and the national defense guidelines and strategies have to be adjusted to suit the new situation, the nation will have a new version of the paper, he said.

In the past, the Communist Party and the State have issued a number of resolutions and strategies on military and national defense issues, and with the nation poised to enter a new period, 2020- 2030, it was a perfect time to issue the White Paper and make transparent the basic issues regarding national defense and military strategies, Vinh said.

Vietnam's defense objectives are in line with the basic rights of nations under the principles of the U.N. charter, demonstrating Vietnam's new position and high responsibility for global and regional peace and stability, which is also one of the purposes for publishing the paper, he added.

Defense forces in good shape

The Vietnamese and English versions of the 2019 White Paper on Vietnams National Defense. Photo by VnExpress/Gia Chinh

The Vietnamese and English versions of the 2019 White Paper on Vietnam's National Defense. Photo by VnExpress/Gia Chinh.

The paper declares the most advanced weapons that Vietnam now possesses and also says the country is already able to manufacture different types of military equipment and weapons.

Vinh said that in the modern world, no information is completely classified and furthermore, international laws that allow a nation to arm itself to guarantee its own peace and self-defense without threatening others also means that Vietnam can make its own weapons or acquire them from other nations.

The ability of Vietnamese soldiers to wield modern weapons is excellent, the deputy defense minister asserted.

"Vietnam's tank crew finished second at the International Army Games in August when competing with the new generation of Russian-built tanks. It is obvious that our soldiers have to be very skillful when using the tank to gain such an achievement."

Vietnam has also done a good job in preserving its existing military equipment and maintaining it in a state of readiness for immediate use if needed. Companies in the national defense industry, meanwhile, have been focusing on improving and producing their own infantry and artillery weapons as well as information equipment that can work best in Vietnamese conditions, Vinh said.

The country has already exported several military products like rifles, explosives and other defense supplies and materials. It has also been able to produce hi-tech weapons for  use when needed, he said.

But the deputy defense minister also emphasized that modernizing the military and buying weapons is an ongoing process that cannot stop. Vietnam has to buy weapons every year, because advanced versions are constantly coming out, he said.

According to guidelines set by the CMC and the defense ministry, Vietnam will focus on efficiency in its weapon purchases, improve the weapons it already has on hand and equip itself with technology to manufacture new weapons in case they are needed.

Vietnam will also focus on diversity of sources and not rely on any single source for its weapons and equipment. It will ensure that its purchases are of good quality and competitively priced.

The Vietnamese army is now quipped with six submarines, Su-30 MK2 strike fighters, anti-aircraft missile systems, surface-to-shore missiles, radar systems, technical reconnaissance, and armored tank units.

Unlike the 2009 publication, the latest White Paper does not announce the specific number of standing army, the reserve force or the defense budget.

Vinh explained that those figures usually change through the year and related agencies under the Vietnamese People's Army will be kept updated, and whenever international organizations or the media need to be informed, those agencies will oblige.

Regarding defense outlays, he said that unlike other countries which set aside a specific ratio of their national budgets for this purpose, Vietnam looks at actual demand and makes plans accordingly.

The 2019 White Paper says the current defense spending is commensurate with the country's economic development, increasing from 2.23 percent of GDP in 2010 to 2.36 percent in 2018 to approximately $5.8 billion.

While other countries use the White Paper to serve their foreign affairs departments, to tell the world what they have been doing for their national defense, in Vietnam, it is aimed at keeping its own people informed.

Vinh said the White Paper on national defense will be spread widely via the media and at schools to make sure people of all ages and from all walks of life are aware of the nation's defense strategy and prevent any misgivings about the nation's security.

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