Ties that bind: Why U.S. lifting arms ban on Vietnam could be good for Russia

By Sputnik   May 30, 2016 | 07:56 pm PT
The U.S. has lifted its decades-long arms embargo on Vietnam, prompting some to say that Hanoi will gradually turn from a big buyer of Russian weapons into one of the leading importers of US-made military hardware, but experts doubt this will happen. In fact, Moscow could even benefit from Washington's decision.

Vietnam is the world's eight largest weapons importer; its defense budget ($4.4 billion in 2015) and military spending are increasing, according to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

"Thanks to its growing military budget and its strained relations with China, Vietnam has become a major Russian weapons buyer" in recent years, Richard Weitz wrote for the National Interest. In addition, Hanoi "has arguably been Russia's closest strategic partner in Southeast Asia," he added.

This trend, many agree, will likely remain intact.

"Russia has always been willing to get them whatever they required," Collin Koh of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore told Bloomberg. "Vietnam is not going to want to jeopardize that relationship."

Andrey Frolov, editor-in-chief of the Export Vooruzheny magazine, suggested that Obama's decision was more of a formality that will not really change anything. "I think that it has more to do with a legal basis that would make arms sales possible. I don't think that Vietnam will rush to buy US weapons tomorrow," he told the Vzglyad business newspaper.

Defense analyst Konstantin Sivkov offered a more detailed explanation. The expert pointed out that those countries who import weapons tend to either rely on a single supplier or buy from an array of partners. The latter need a more complex, costly and advanced system aimed at managing the armed forces.

For instance, if Vietnam decided to switch to U.S. planes, it would have to invest in additional training, equipment, funds, etc. "Vietnam is not a wealthy nation" that will hardly afford buying weapons in different countries, Sivkov noted. "They will likely maintain a more uniform and comprehendible procurement strategy."

The most likely scenario will see Hanoi buying several pieces of American equipment "to familiarize itself" with U.S.-made weapons and military hardware, but bulk deliveries, according to the analyst is out of the question.

It follows then that Russian arms suppliers have nothing to worry about. In fact, they could even turn the situation to their own advantage.

"We could benefit from [Obama's decision to lift the embargo]," Sivkov noted. "Perhaps, we could learn some of the features of US-made weapons this way… That is if our policy is reasonable."

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