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 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

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

Voices: Searching for the Missing from the Vietnam War

Voices: Searching for the Missing from the Vietnam War

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

By: Andrew Wells-Dang, Ph.D.

Nearly 50 years after the end of the Vietnam War, families from all sides of the conflict are still searching for remains of loved ones through both official and personal channels. In 2021-22, as part of the Vietnam War Legacies and Reconciliation Initiative, USIP interviewed American and Vietnamese families who have recently received or identified wartime remains.

Type: Blog

Reconciliation

U.S.-Vietnam Partnership Goes Beyond Strategic Competition with China

U.S.-Vietnam Partnership Goes Beyond Strategic Competition with China

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

By: Nguyễn Khắc Giang

When the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was founded in 1967, one of its initial goals was to contain the threat of communism during the Vietnam War. It is a remarkable turn of history that 55 years later, Vietnamese Prime Minister Phạm Minh Chính is coming this year to Washington for the ASEAN leaders summit with President Biden. Vietnam’s accession to ASEAN in 1995 ⁠— the same year when Hanoi and Washington normalized relations ⁠— was the first big step of Hanoi’s “multi-directional” foreign policy. As the Biden administration identifies Vietnam as one of the key countries in its Indo-Pacific Strategy, it needs to recognize Hanoi’s preference for multilateralism in its engagement policy.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Global Policy

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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.

Global PolicyReconciliation

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