In this lesson, we will explore the postwar relations between the United States and Vietnam following the Vietnam War, and how the relationship has been repaired in a relatively short time.
Everyone gets in fights. Likely you fought with your siblings or your cousins when you were younger, and perhaps you still do. Afterwards though, you figured out a way to make up and got on with it. The same thing is needed for countries that have gone to war with one another. However, the particulars of war, such as the lives lost, the assets destroyed, and the territory gained or lost, make this a far more difficult prospect. But it still has to be done, even after the most acrimonious of conflicts, such as the Vietnam War.
In this lesson, we will explore the postwar relations between the United States and Vietnam, from the end of the war up to the present day.
Immediately after the end of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War in 1973, relations with the North Vietnamese government were understandably non-existent. The United States was further angered when North Vietnam launched a full-scale invasion of South Vietnam after the U.S. ended its involvement in the conflict. In 1975, days before the fall of the South Vietnam capital, Saigon, the United States closed its Vietnamese embassy, with no foreseeable plans to reestablish diplomatic relations with the country. In fact, the United States government had never recognized the North Vietnamese government as legitimate.
For nearly two decades afterward, the United States refused to conduct any trade with the communist nation. This imposed trade embargo hurt the Vietnamese economy, especially its food supply. The Vietnamese government refused to be intimidated, and instead of submitting to international demands, it implemented communist-style food quotas and land redistribution schemes to attempt to rectify their problems domestically.
Vietnam's 1978 invasion of its neighbor, Cambodia, further damaged U.S.-Vietnam relations. The invasion and subsequent decade-long occupation of the country by Vietnamese forces was seen by the international community as unlawful. The U.S. government stated that relations with Vietnam could not begin until Vietnam withdrew from Cambodia and cooperated in U.S. efforts to account for and return to American shores all missing or dead U.S. servicemen and women.
Though the Vietnamese government refused to meet these demands, internal politics in the 1980s paved the way for future cooperation between the two countries. In the mid-1980s, the Vietnamese government relaxed its restrictions on capitalist enterprise, and began to allow small businesses to operate, generally reconfiguring the Vietnamese economy to be more market-oriented. In addition, Vietnam relented to international pressure and withdrew its forces from Cambodia in 1989.
This marked the beginning of Vietnam's reengagement with the United States and the world. In the 1990s it joined various global and regional organizations, such as Association of Southeast Asian Nations. In 1994, the United States lifted its trade embargo on Vietnam, and in 1995 it formally normalized relations with the country, reopening its Vietnamese embassy.
The 21st century has seen the United States and Vietnam grow closer together economically, as the United States looks to counterbalance the growing economic might of China by fostering economic ties with other countries in the region. Today the United States and Vietnam are partners in various economic and peaceful endeavors, including the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, and agreements to counter the international drug trade.
In 2013, President Barack Obama and his Vietnamese counterpart started the U.S.-Vietnam Comprehensive Partnership, a broad-based initiative aimed at greater cooperation between the two governments on a wide range of issues. Among these are the joint American-Vietnamese efforts to document and return the remains of U.S. servicemen and women who died in Vietnam during the war.
Perhaps most surprisingly, only forty years after the two countries fought, the United States eased restrictions on the sale of naval weaponry to Vietnam in 2014. Though as of 2015 the full ramifications of these developments are not known, they were likely done to strengthen ties with Vietnam, in the interest of countering growing Chinese military influence in the region.
U.S.-Vietnamese relations after the Vietnam War show just how quickly things can change in the world of global politics. Because of a variety of factors, including Vietnam's communist government, its occupation of Cambodia, and its refusal to cooperate in returning the bodies of American servicemen and women, the United States and Vietnam had little to no relationship well into the 1990s. But Vietnam's easing of its communist policies and withdrawal from Cambodia paved the way for the normalization of U.S.-Vietnam relations in 1995. Since then, relations have warmed to the point that the United States and Vietnamese government have signed various bilateral agreements on a range of issues in the 2010s, as the United States looks for regional Asian allies to counter the growing economic and military might of China.