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Background Briefing: Vietnam: Ending the U.S. Arms Embargo Carlyle A. Thayer August 8, 2013

[client name deleted] The U.S Ambassador to Vietnam, David Shear, held a press briefing on Wednesday (August 7). We request your assessment on the possibility that the U.S will soon lift its lethal weapons embargo against Vietnam. ANSWER: First, the U.S. Ambassador has not broken new ground. The U.S. has always set conditions on removing the International Trafficking in Arms Regulations [ITAR] restrictions. Second, the U.S. has already loosened restrictions on the sale of dual use technology under ITAR. This was not directed at Vietnam, but was part of a broader reconsideration of legal restrictions. This would mean that more equipment is potentially available to Vietnam to purchase than before. Third, prior to President Truong Tan Sang’s visit one report indicated State Department officials were considering a policy change. So this is a straw in the wind. Finally, what would be the purpose of removing the sale of lethal weapons? Some argue that Vietnam wants the restrictions removed because they are discriminatory. In other words, the purpose of ending the embargo on the sale of lethal weapons would be political. Does Vietnam really want to purchase U.S. lethal weapons? This is arguable given Russia’s role as the main arms supplier. U.S. weapons are more expensive. The U.S. could remove the restrictions, ending discrimination, and Vietnam could decide not to make a purchase of costly or “big ticket” items. Vietnam might purchase at the low end of the scale some specialized weapons. All this is predicated on Vietnam making demonstrable progress on human rights. So far there are only two straws in the wind: the postponement of Le Quoc Quan’s trial and the end of the hunger strike by Cao Huy Ha Vu after prison authorities agreed to investigate his complaints of abuse. Forward movement on human rights could occur when prisoners on amnestied on National Day (2nd September) and through pending amendments to the Constitution. If Vietnam moved forward on these two fronts, and signed the Convention Against Torture, the Obama Administration might argue that progress is being made.

2 Suggested citation: Carlyle A. Thayer, “Vietnam: Ending the U.S. Arms Embargo,” Thayer Consultancy Background Brief, August 8, 2013. All background briefs are posted on Scribd.com (search for Thayer). To remove yourself from the mailing list type UNSUBSCRIBE in the Subject heading and hit the Reply key. Thayer Consultancy provides political analysis of current regional security issues and other research support to selected clients. Thayer Consultancy was officially registered as a small business in Australia in 2002.

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