Nearly fifty 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 as an increasingly important U.S. partner. The U.S. Institute of Peace engages in research and dialogue examining the extraordinary arc of U.S.-Vietnam relations, including efforts to come to terms with our difficult history. In August 2021, USIP launched the Vietnam War Legacies and Reconciliation Initiative to support public education, government-to-government and people-to-people dialogue among Vietnamese and Americans.
Vietnam’s leaders have engaged with the presidents of the United States and China over the past few months. While some might see this effort as a “balancing act” in response to U.S.-China competition, it is, in fact, an indication of a long-standing but still highly relevant Vietnamese foreign policy tradition: the diversification of international relations.
The comprehensive strategic partnership announced during President Biden’s trip to Vietnam marks 50 years of progress between the two countries and an “upgrade of the U.S.-Vietnam relationship to the highest level,” says USIP’s Andrew Wells-Dang, while adding a caveat that “it doesn’t mean Vietnam is becoming a U.S. ally.”
Between 1961 and 1971, US forces sprayed an estimated 12 million gallons of Agent Orange in Vietnam. The effects remain one of the most contentious legacies of the Vietnam War. This report focuses on the hardships faced by Vietnamese people living with Agent Orange–related health problems and disabilities and suggests ways the US and Vietnamese governments can better address the legacy of Agent Orange to provide support to individuals and families, and to strengthen bilateral relations.
Great power rivalry between the United States and China is frequently described in bilateral terms, with regions of the world — including Southeast Asia — merely serving as arenas of competition. But this framing ignores the agency of third countries in managing the risks and opportunities presented by this competition. To explore these countries’ agency and the corresponding policy options, this USIP essays series includes contributions from 10 Southeast Asia-based experts. Each essay provides one country’s perspective on how the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) perceive and respond to strategic competition between the United States and China.
In today’s era of strategic competition between the United States and China, crises are more likely than ever in the Indo-Pacific region. Effective mechanisms are therefore needed to prevent such crises from escalating into armed conflict. To this end, USIP is examining crisis communication mechanisms and negotiations between China and its regional neighbors to identify common issues and themes across countries to provide lessons that can be learned and shared.
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.