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Viet Nam’s “Three-Nos” National Security Decision

Updated May 14, 2022
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Viet Nam’s “Three-Nos” National Security Decision essay

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Rising tensions over freedom regarding navigation in the South China Sea have pressured other states, more specifically ones within Southeast Asia, to choose sides. In the last few years Viet Nam has acted as the role of a balancer, playing both sides by working directly with Beijing to prevent Chinese domination of the South China Sea and actively pushing back by bolstering defense ties to major powers. The release of Viet Nam’s latest 2019 Defense White Paper, more specifically the policy regarding the “Three-Nos”, will face challenges if the country wishes to maintain peace while staying true to its defense position in the Asia-Pacific region. The first issues is the danger of Vietnam’s economy lagging behind while coping with the impact of economic recession and the global financial crisis. Second is the influence of democratic freedom, religious freedom, and human rights have been used to undermine the national solidarity. Third is the dispute and jurisdiction over the territories in the Ease Sea compromise activities and the maritime economic development of Viet Nam. This essay will examine how Vietnamese nationalism and its regime type influence the actions made upon the rationale of this national security decision.

As outlined in the defense paper, drastic changes such as China’s rise in power, the nuclear arms race, cyber threats, international integration, and interdependence among countries will likely pose as difficulties in the Asia-Pacific region. Prior to the 2019 release, the first appearance of the “Three-Nos” policy appeared in Viet Nam’s 1998 Defense White Paper. In its earliest stages, including the newest version, stressed the importance of protecting national independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity, safeguarding the socialist regime, political stability, and social order. Viet Nam’s current position over the South China Sea territory dispute poses a challenge as the “three-nos” states: no joining any military alliances, no aligning with a particular state over another, and no foreign bases on its soil to threaten the sovereignty of others. The policy itself is ideologically neutral and omnidirectional; nonetheless, it is important to note that the territorial and maritime disputes with China in the South China Sea poses as a threat to Viet Nam’s sovereignty and territorial integrity – two values highly prioritized in both the Vietnamese nationalism beliefs and regime legitimacy.

Viet Nam’s national security is often described with the concept of “Fatherland protection” (bao ve To quoc). The foundation and development of the Vietnamese nations is embedded into its history as a nation achieving military victories and fighting against foreign invaders for national defense and independence. The Political Report of the 8th VCP Congress in 1996 explained this concept as comprised of safeguarding the country’s independence, security, sovereignty, and territorial integrity, the Party, and the socialist regime. By creating the political circumstances, the belief among the citizens that their way of life, their resources, and their territory are endangered by enemies. Under the guise as “Fatherland protection”, Viet Nam actively projects itself as a responsible member of the international community by cooperating with other nations without impeding on their own territorial integrity. The system itself seeks to promote power of the whole people to build the national defense forces through raising the people’s awareness and responsibility to undertake the national defense mission.

The self-image of nationalism depends on the beliefs of the nationalist movement. These beliefs often share a common image of the Vietnamese mutual history, more specifically speaking, their pre- and post-colonial history. Holding anniversary days of national or local heroes in village temples and in communal houses, for example, is preserving the memorabilia of early struggle. These meeting days (ngay hoi) help maintain group attachments. Customs and traditional Vietnamese myths play a role in the Vietnamese social psychology as it tightly links the consciousness of family and consciousness of a nation. National heroes are reminders drawn from history and tradition and the network of human loyalties are then emphasized visions of a national destiny that is geographically precise and pre-ordained.

Regime and state security are interwoven with societal, economic, human, and even cultural security. In a speech given to members of the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) Central Committee in March 2014, VCP General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong summarized the central political goals of the national leadership as “resolutely safeguarding national independence, national sovereignty, and territorial integrity, protecting the Party and the regime, and maintaining a peaceful and stable environment for national development.” The emphasis on preservation of the Fatherland is key to national security decisions as Viet Nam builds its national defense power on the basis of the overall strength of the whole nation. Uniting the people through shared sentiments of its homeland. Serving the Fatherland cements the civil-military bonds, which reflects the faithfulness, people, socialist regime, national pride and absolute belief in the leadership of the VCP and the unified management of the State of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam.

The regime type of Vietnam is defined by a single-party socialist republic, where the General Secretary of the VCP is both the Party leader and holds the highest position in the one-party system. There is a President, who is the head of state, and the government is the main executive state power of Vietnam and is responsible for the implementation of political social, national defense and security activities of the state. Decisions on important national security matters often reflect the consensus among the top leaders, especially the General Secretary, the Prime Minister, the VCP Standing Secretary, and other key members of the Politburo, including the State President and the National Assembly Chair. At a lower level, national security policy is shaped primarily by the special views of the line agency with purview covering the issue at hand. The General Secretary of the Politburo (PB) sets the ideological tone for the Party and is considered the key of foreign policy decision-making. The Council on National Defense and Security (CNDS) is considered as the highest national security policy-making party within the government, yet despite this level of hierarchy, its membership is dominated by the PB.

Traditionally, the Communist Party relied its single-targeted leadership during the struggle for independence and Viet Nam’s victories over the French, Americans, and the Chinese legitimized the reign of monopoly on power. Unlike democratic regimes, communist and socialist regimes derive their legitimacy from sources such as Marxist ideology, socialist goals, official nationalism and socio-economic performance. In the political report of the CPV Central Committee to the Party’s mid-term congress in January 1994 the threat of Viet Nam lagging behind other countries economically was identified. The VCP considers economic development important to national security and also regime legitimacy. Underdevelopment of the economy could lead to political instability and undermine the Party’s rule. This prompted the action for Viet Nam’s economic reform programme, doi moi, in which Viet Nam’s foreign policy process became decentralized. Under this change, within the the past 40 years, Viet Nam attained its socio-economic goals and is in continuation of becoming a middle-income country with macroeconomic stability and a socialist-oriented market economic institution.

The most authoritative definitions of Vietnam’s national security can be found in the political platforms of the VCP, the political reports of the VCP national congresses, and the VCP Central Committee’s and Politburo’s resolutions on national security strategy. Regarding the core objectives of national security, both the 1991 and the 2011 VCP Platforms emphasize, and crushing all plots and actions of forces hostile to the VCP’s cause. Talks of changing and cultivating new leaders in the VCP at the 10th Vietnamese Communist Congress in 2015 were acknowledged; however, no real changes would be made political system or the nature of the Party and the government. Ultimately, this meant the major actor in the political system was and is still the VCP. The perception of the actor includes not just the Vietnamese people within the country but also includes those living overseas. Without transparency, critical views could cause criticism of the regime’s performances and may harm the Party’s efforts to build national unity in Viet Nam and its people.

The disputes in the South China Sea become more noticeable and threats to territorial integrity is recognized by citizens in the northern and southern borders of Viet Nam. Maintaining regime stability and legitimacy depends, at least to a larger extent, upon the regime’s performance, specifically in terms of coping with the perceived threats. The Party must manage the disputes while maintaining the regime legitimacy without provoking hostile feelings towards the other countries partied to the disputes.

The context of Viet Nam’s 2019 National Defense Strategy reiterates its interests to regional and global peace, security, and stability. Within the document highlights the first not, “no joining any military alliances.” Belonging to an alliance would require adherence to that union’s principles under the leadership of one country, even when those countries are not entirely compatible among one another. By joining an alliance, Viet Nam would essentially lose its independence and autonomy to decide things on their own; thereby, going against the principles of maintaining its national sovereignty and protecting the Party and the regime. Additionally, relying upon other alliances for military equipment and financial aid will weaken the socio-economic and cultural development needed to maintain the socialistic regime’s legitimacy.

Based on claims from China, which is a major land power in the region, the entire South China Sea belongs in its territory based on the third century Han Dynasty’s conquest. This acknowledgement did not reach the ears of the leaders in Hanoi as they continued reaffirming sovereignty over the South China Sea. Since then, Beijing has military materiel on the Woody Island of the Paracel and commissioned more than 60 naval ships in 2014-2015. In response to China, Viet Nam needed to deploy the “three nos” strategy to create a static posture on the matter while proactively supporting to the efforts of the international community for peace. The security issues are more non-traditional and thereby must be dealt with by improving the quality of

Depending on the circumstances and specific conditions, Viet Nam will consider developing necessary, appropriate defense and military relations with other countries on the basis of respecting each other’s independence, sovereignty, territorial unity and integrity as well as fundamental principles of international law, and common interests of the region and international community. Cooperation with countries in the region in the world broadens and improves the quality of cooperation, bilaterally and multilaterally effectively to non-traditional security challenges, and overcoming the aftermath of wars. While cooperation is limited, there is an implication that a comprehensive strategic partnership is possible, which is important seeing as Viet Nam will hold the rotating ASEAN chair in 2020 and thus hold the ASEAN multilateral naval exercise and host the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM) and the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting-Plus(ADMM-Plus). This will serve as the two important cooperation mechanisms as ASEAN plays an essential role in maintaining peace and overflight in the East Sea. For the year 20-21, Vietnam also holds a new nonpermanent seat on the United Nations Security Council and participates in UN Peacekeeping missions. Partnerships and holding a nonpermanent seat are just small steps to how Viet Nam will engage a range of major powers to improve its economic development and security, which aligns with its nationalistic ideals and regime defense goals.

The second not, that is “no aligning with one country against another,” considers the greater powers fighting for rivalry and influence intensification, traditionally and non-traditionally alike. Initiatives such as the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy”, “Belt and Road Initiative”, and “Act East Policy” are a few project developments that will likely cause territorial sovereignty to become more complex, threatening regional stability, and triggering a regional arms race. These actions threaten the socialist regime in Viet Nam and will destroy the political foundation and drive a wedge between the people and the VCP. Similar to the first not, only those respectful of the independence and sovereignty as well as fundamental principles of international, considerations for partnership will be made for those sharing mutual benefits and common interests of the socialist regime. All those who are deliberate or inhibit Viet Nam’s goals will be considered as objects of struggle.

The third not, “no foreign bases on its soil to threaten the sovereignty of others,” similar to the first two policies, opposes the establishment of military bases by foreign powers within its sovereign territory. With its long history of war and invasion, the occupation of a foreign power has implications of possibly introducing projects of influences or undermining the current stance on the regime in the chosen area. The Vietnamese people defeated the French Government and claimed victor of Dien Bien Phu and thus liberating the North of Viet Nam. This revolution creates the story a small military in a colonial country rose to their feet and defeated a professional colonialist military, symbolizing a new era in which the Vietnamese people will not allow another foreign military power to occupy within its territory.

Enacting the “three-nos” sets Viet Nam in position where its desire for peace symbolizes its willingness and responsibility as the role of a balancer, playing both sides by working directly with Beijing to prevent Chinese domination of the South China Sea and actively pushing back by bolstering defense ties to major powers. Viet Nam recognizes China as a threat to its sovereignty; nevertheless, implementing another course of action without policy may be perceived as aggression. In conclusion, the “three-nos” policy functions to engage the greater powers and moderate their actions to manageable proportions. The other aim of this national security decision is to signal neutrality toward power politics and protect itself from choosing sides. This leaves Viet Nam to focus on diversifying economic and political relations in coherence to its nationalistic and socialistic values.

Viet Nam’s “Three-Nos” National Security Decision essay

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Viet Nam’s “Three-Nos” National Security Decision. (2022, May 14). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/viet-nams-three-nos-national-security-decision/

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