Nearly 50 years since the end of the Vietnam War, and more than a quarter century since the normalization of U.S.-Vietnam relations, Vietnam is emerging as a rising power at the heart of the Indo-Pacific region and an increasingly important U.S. partner. Once one of the world’s poorest and most isolated countries, Vietnam is now a middle-income country with a dynamic, young population and a promising future.

Since joining ASEAN in 1997, Vietnam has played a significant role in regional diplomacy and development. Vietnam’s foreign policy aims to act as a “friend and reliable partner of all countries in the international community.” Vietnam has established strategic partnerships with Japan, China, India, Russia and other countries. The United States and Vietnam agreed on a “comprehensive partnership” in 2013 that is strategic in all but name, including cooperation on economic, security, educational, cultural and war legacy issues. Vietnam’s policy of multiple partnerships has remained intact despite maritime security challenges in the East (South China) Sea and disputes over management of the Mekong River.

Politically, Vietnam is a one-party state ruled by the Communist Party. The People’s Army of Vietnam has significant influence in the political system. Freedom of expression, opinion and speech are guaranteed in the constitution but not properly implemented in practice. Vietnam’s vibrant civil society and social media face increasing restrictions affecting both informal actors (such as bloggers) and legally registered nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Human rights remain a contentious issue in the U.S.-Vietnam relationship; however, both President Obama and President Trump assured Vietnamese leaders in the past that the United States respects Vietnam’s differing political system.

The Vietnamese government won international recognition for its strict handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in its early stages. Although subsequent waves have been harder to control, Vietnam’s economy has continued to grow at the highest rate in Southeast Asia. Future challenges for the country include how to continue economic liberalization and societal opening while maintaining stability and a relatively low level of inequality.

USIP’s War Legacies and Reconciliation Initiative

The U.S. Institute of Peace engages in research and dialogue examining the extraordinary arc of U.S.-Vietnam relations. In August 2021, USIP launched a multiyear project to foster public education as well as government-to-government and people-to-people dialogue among Vietnamese and Americans. Addressing war legacies, including Agent Orange, unexploded bombs (UXO) and recovery of wartime remains, is an essential component of the wider work of building a strong bilateral partnership.

USIP’s initiative stems from Congress’s landmark authorization in 2021 for the U.S. government to assist Vietnam in identifying its war dead, following decades of Vietnamese cooperation to help the United States conduct the fullest possible accounting of U.S. personnel. USIP’s project aims to further advance reconciliation, to sustain U.S. support for addressing war legacies and to highlight lessons from the U.S.-Vietnam experience that could apply elsewhere in the world.

Events and Public Education

USIP convenes virtual and in-person seminars featuring prominent speakers from the U.S. and Vietnam. Our experts also join events with partners around the United States to increase public awareness of the journey towards reconciliation and the ongoing importance of addressing war legacies.

Facilitating Dialogue

USIP convenes governmental and nongovernmental leaders in Track 1.5 and Track 2 dialogues on war legacies and the U.S.-Vietnam partnership. Dialogues focus on specific issues or topics, such as Agent Orange remediation or veterans’ exchange. Additional dialogues are planned for students and young professionals from both countries, including Americans of Vietnamese descent.

Media and Publications

USIP supports video, social media, blogs and reports on topics related to war legacies and bilateral cooperation, enabling Americans and Vietnamese to speak in their own voices about their experiences of reconciliation. Publications advance USIP’s values of ending conflicts and rethinking U.S. engagement in Asia.

Lloyd Austin and Vietnamese Defense Minister Phan Van Giang
Lloyd Austin and Vietnamese Defense Minister Phan Van Giang

On December 2, 2021, USIP hosted a public online event on “Learning from U.S.-Vietnam Cooperation on Wartime Remains Recovery: How Vietnamese and Americans are Working Together to Account for Missing Personnel from the Vietnam War.” The event featured governmental and non-government speakers from both countries, including Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency Director Kelly McKeague and Vietnamese Deputy Ambassador Hoang Thanh Nga.

Related Publications

Thời gian không còn nhiều cho nỗ lực tìm kiếm hài cốt sau chiến tranh

Thời gian không còn nhiều cho nỗ lực tìm kiếm hài cốt sau chiến tranh

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

By: TS. Vũ Hà Phương;  Andrew Wells-Dang, Ph.D.;  Chương trình Việt Nam;  Viện Hòa bình Hoa Kỳ

Trong khi Chiến tranh Việt Nam đã lùi xa gần 50 năm (1975-2025), các gia đình Việt vẫn tiếp tục khắc khoải tìm kiếm hài cốt thân nhân nằm xuống trong cuộc chiến. Nỗ lực tìm kiếm này không chỉ giúp khép lại quá khứ, mà còn đóng vai trò quan trọng trong thúc đẩy tiến trình hòa giải, khắc phục hậu quả chiến tranh, và đưa câu chuyện quan hệ Hoa Kỳ-Việt Nam trở thành một điển hình về tính thực tiễn và khả năng xây dựng hòa bình thời hậu chiến. Tuy nhiên, năm tháng đi qua và tạo thêm nhiều thách thức, việc tìm kiếm hài cốt ngày càng trở nên khó khăn.

Type: Blog

Reconciliation

Time is Running Out to Account for Vietnamese War Dead

Time is Running Out to Account for Vietnamese War Dead

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

By: Phuong Vu, Ph.D.;  Andrew Wells-Dang, Ph.D.

As the 50th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War approaches in 2025, Vietnamese families continue to search for the fallen. Finding these war remains not only helps provide closure, but is critical to furthering postwar reconciliation, addressing the war’s legacies and advancing the story of U.S.-Vietnam relations as an example of the practicality and possibility of peace after war.

Type: Blog

Reconciliation

The Latest @ USIP: War Legacies and Peace in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia

The Latest @ USIP: War Legacies and Peace in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

By: Ambassador Ted Osius;  Ton Nu Thi Ninh

The process of postwar reconciliation between the United States, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia is one of the most remarkable stories of the 21st century. The legacies of U.S. military involvement in Southeast Asia, once a major obstacle to normal relations, have gradually become the basis for a closer partnership. USIP recently brought together diplomats, advocates and authors to draw lessons from U.S. engagement in Southeast Asia and explore how Vietnamese, Laotians and Cambodians are healing from wartime suffering and building a future based on trust and shared interests.

Type: Blog

Reconciliation

Clearing a Path for Peace in Vietnam

Clearing a Path for Peace in Vietnam

Thursday, June 16, 2022

By: Andrew Wells-Dang, Ph.D.

Once a symbol of Vietnam’s north-south division and the site of one of the 20th century’s bloodiest battles, Quang Tri province has quietly become an example of successful postwar reconstruction. Through a concerted effort led by provincial authorities, Quang Tri has reduced unexploded ordnance (UXO) casualties from thousands after the end of the Second Indochina War in 1975, and around 100 per year in the early 2000s, to nearly zero today.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Reconciliation

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Related Projects

Vietnam War Legacies and Reconciliation Initiative

Vietnam War Legacies and Reconciliation Initiative

In 2021, the U.S. Institute of Peace launched a multiyear project to foster greater dialogue both in and between the United States and Vietnam on war legacy issues and reconciliation. This project stems from the U.S. Congress’s landmark 2021 authorization for the U.S. government to assist Vietnam in identifying its missing personnel, following decades of Vietnamese cooperation to help the United States conduct the fullest possible accounting of U.S. personnel. This project will support this bilateral initiative while also engaging in the work that remains to addresss legacies of war — including the continuing impacts of Agent Orange and unexploded ordnance — and to deepen reconciliation.

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