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ThePoliticalRoleoftheVietnamPeoplesArmy: CorporateInterestsandMilitaryProfessionalism

CarlyleA.Thayer

PapertoPanelon UnderstandingVietnamesePolitics: NewApproachesandIssuesfromtheField AssociationofAsianStudiesAnnualConference SheratonCentreTorontoHotel,Toronto,Canada March1518,2012


ThePoliticalRoleoftheVietnamPeoplesArmy: CorporateInterestsandMilitaryProfessionalism
CarlyleA.Thayer Abstract The role of the military in a Leninist political system represents a distinct subset of civil militaryrelations.Themilitaryisrequiredtoplayadomesticpoliticalroleinsupportofthe onepartyregimeinadditiontoitsroleasdefenderofthestatefromexternalattack.This paper presents a case study of the political role of the Vietnam Peoples Army (VPA) in contemporaryVietnam. Vietnamslongyearsofrevolutionandwarhaveresultedinthemilitarysengagementwith society in a number of statebuilding activities such as economicdefence zones, national defence industry, commercial enterprise, and socialization of the general public through universalconscriptionandcompulsorydefenceeducationforstudents. Since1991theVPAhascomeunderpressuretoreformandthendivestitselfofcommercial enterprisesnotdirectlyrelatedtonationalsecurity.Themilitaryspoliticalinfluenceatthe nationallevelhasdecreasedinlinewithanoticeabletrendinmilitaryprofessionalismand institutionalautonomy. ThesedevelopmentsdonotmeanthattheVietnamesemilitarywillwithdrawentirelytothe barracks.AsaresultofhistoricallegaciestheVietnamPeoplesArmywillcontinuetoplaya major role in society through national conscription; the maintenance of large reserves, militia and selfdefence forces; defence education, and socioeconomic development in economicdefence zones. The newly emergingthreat to sovereignty in VietnamsEast Sea willintensifythetrendtowardsmilitaryprofessionalismandinstitutionalautonomy. INTRODUCTION WiththecollapseofsocialisminEasternEuropein1989,andthedisintegrationoftheSoviet Union in 1991, arguably there are only five socialist states remaining: China, Cuba, Laos, North Korea, and Vietnam. The Vietnam Peoples Army (VPA) and it role in Vietnamese society has always been subject to the special dynamics inherent in the relationship between communist parties and their armed forces. On the one hand, the Vietnam CommunistParty(VCP)exercisesstrictpoliticalcontroloverthemilitary,asitdoesoverall otheragenciesofthestate.Militaryofficersarepartof,butalsosubordinateto,theofficial partyhierarchythatdominatesthevariouslevelsofstateandsociety.Ontheotherhand, the communist state grants the armed forces a privileged place in society: historically the VPA has been viewed as the indispensable tool of the workerpeasant class to fight

imperialistenemiesbothwithinandoutsidethestate.Consequently,thearmedforcesare integratedpermanentlyintotheinfrastructureofthestate,andtheirpoliticalinfluencehas beenrelativelystableovertime.Nevertheless,fluctuationsinthepoliticalinfluenceofthe VPA have occurred, and they have often been indicators not only for change within the armedforces,alsoforshiftsinVietnamesepoliticsasawhole. Oneofthese fluctuationswasvisibleinthe1990s. ForVietnam, the decadeofthe 1990swasframedbytwocrises:thecollapseofthesocialistsysteminEasternEuropeand theSovietUnionandtheAsianFinancialCrisisof199798.Bothoftheseeventsexacerbated cleavagesamongtheVietnameseleadership,whichwasdividedaboutthescopeandpace ofeconomicreformsandthedegreetowhichVietnamshouldpursueintegrationwiththe globalmarket.Fearfulthatthecollapseofthesocialistsystemcouldmakeitvulnerableto externalsecuritythreats,andconcernedthatitwouldnotbeabletostemthechallengeof major economic reform without the help of the military, the Vietnam Communist Party decided to increase the role of the armed forces in political affairs. As a result, the VPA became a major participant in Vietnams third wave of statebuilding (Vasavakul 1997b). Subsequently, retired senior military officers were selected state president and party secretarygeneral,andmilitaryrepresentationontheVCPsCentralCommitteeincreasedat boththeseventh(1991)andeighth(1996)nationalpartycongresses. Thisperiodofmilitaryascendancywasshortlived.In2001,theninthpartycongress declined to reappoint the incumbent secretary general (a retired military officer) to a full fiveyear term and elected a civilian instead. Military representation on the Politburo was reducedbyhalf,leavingitwithonlyoneVPAmember.ItappearedthatafterVietnamhad overcomethedualthreatofthebreakdownofthecommunistblocandtheAsianfinancial crisis,theVCPwasconfidentenoughofitspositiontoreturnthestrengthofthemilitaryin thepartyskeybodiestoprecrisislevels.Amajorstudyofthisperiodconcludedthatthese developmentsrepresentednotonlyaprocessofdefiningpowersharingbutalsocontinued partycontrolofthearmy(Vasavakul2001:338).Vasavakul(2001:255356)alsomadetwo predictions regarding the future role of the military in Vietnam. First, the VPA would continuetoberunbypoliticalgeneralswhowerenotlikelytobecomespokespersonsfor professional officers even though the military was given increased autonomy over professionalmatters.Second,theVPAwouldcontinuetoplayanimportantroleinshaping the new political, economic, and social order because the military had become both red and entrepreneur, i.e they had linked their communist identity with both national economicdevelopmentingeneralandmilitaryownedbusinessesinparticular. Thispaperreviewsthemilitarysroleinpoliticsfrom2001,Vasavakulsaccountwas published, to the present. The paper argues that while the militarys role has undergone somesignificantadjustments,itsoverallinfluenceonpoliticsandsocietyhasremainedata steady state. Three factors explain this stasis. First, there is consensus among the party leadershipthatthemilitaryshouldcontinuetoplayaroleinstatebuildingthroughnational conscriptionandwhatisbroadlytermedsocialistconstruction.Second,theleadershipof VCPcontinuestoacceptMarxistLeninistideologicalstricturesthatlegitimisesthepolitical

roleof themilitaryinVietnamsonepartystate.Third, economicdevelopmentandglobal integration have replaced the more traditional security concerns of the 1990s as the key drivers of Vietnamese politics. Despite the general level of stability in militaryparty relations at society level, Vietnams membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO) and integration into the global economy has generated external pressures on the VPA to relinquish ownership of its commercial enterprises. This is a potentially significant developmentthatwilllikelyresultingreaterpoliticalautonomyfortheVPAinnationallevel politicsasitgivesprioritytomilitaryprofessionalism. This paper also highlights other crucial changes in militaryparty relations as economicdevelopment and nationalsecurity concernshavebecomeintertwined.This has become particularly apparent as Vietnams plans to develop its maritime territory in the SouthChinaSeahavebeenchallengedbyChina(Thayer2008b:3741).Thishasgenerated pressuresontheVPAtomoderniseitsforces,raiseitsprofessionalstandards,andstepup internationaldefencecooperationwithregionalstatesinordertobetterdefendVietnams nationalsovereignty.Inthefuture,theVPAislikelytobelessredandentrepreneur,thatis lessideologicallyandcommerciallyorientated,andmorekhakiandprofessionalasmilitary expertise and corporate interests dominate. The following discussion reviews these developments in three parts. Part one presents an historical overview of the military involvementinpoliticsfrom1946to2001.Parttwoanalysesthecontemporaryroleofthe militaryinpolitics,nationaldefence,securityaffairs,theeconomy,andsocietyfrom2001to the present. Subsequently, part three discusses the factors that account for altered influence of the military in national politics and its persistence at societal level. The conclusionprovidesasummaryofcontemporarycivilmilitaryrelationsinVietnamandthe factorsthathaveshapedthem. THEMILITARYSINVOLVEMENTINPOLITICS,19462001 TheVietnamPeoplesArmywasfoundedin1946.Initially,itcomprisedaplatoonofthirty four members led by Vo Nguyen Giap, a political general, communist revolutionary and a seniormemberoftheIndochineseCommunistParty.Since1946,theVPAhasbeenengaged inarmedconflictforatotalofthirtysixyears,includingthewarsagainsttheFrench(1946 54),theUnitedStates(195975)andtheKhmerRougeinCambodia(197789).Duringand aftertheKoreanWarintheearly1950s,ChinaassistedtheVPAtotransformitselffroman antiFrench guerrilla force into a conventional army. Subsequently, the VPA continued its transformationintoamodernregularforceduringtheVietnamWar,thistimewithSoviet assistance. By 1987, the VPA had 1.26 million troops and was the worlds fifth largest standingarmy. Despite the VPAs transformation into a formidable military force, it has always remainedunderfirmpartycontrol(Thayer1985:245248).Thepartyexercisescontrolover theVPAthroughthemechanismofdualroleelites.Inotherwords,seniorpartymembers simultaneouslyoccupythehighestranksinthemilitary.Fromitsveryorigins,theVPAwas

commanded by socalled political generals, i.e. communist revolutionaries who had no prior military experience (Turley 1977). At the same time, party control was reinforced through a parallel structure of political commissars and political officers within the VPA itself,1directedbyapartymilitarycommitteecomposedofmembersofthePolitburoand CentralCommittee.Since1985,partycontroloverthearmedforceshasbeenexercisedby theCentralMilitaryPartyCommittee(DangUyQuanSuTruongUong). With the establishment of a communist oneparty state, first known as the DemocraticRepublicofVietnam(DRV,195475)andsubsequentlytheSocialistRepublicof Vietnam (SRV, 1976present), the VPA has been assigned multiple roles, not the least of which is responsibility for defence of the homeland. The VPA has also been assigned political,internalsecurity,andeconomicproductionroles(Thayer1985:250254andThayer 2001).Intheviewofpartyleaders,themilitarycannotplayapoliticallyneutralrolebecause itmustcarryoutitshistoricmandateasaninstrumentofmaintainingthesupremacyofthe workerpeasant alliance against its class enemies. However, the multiple roles of the militaryinVietnamesesocietymaybeaccountedfornotonlybyMarxistLeninistideology but also by its guerrilla heritage and protracted periods of armed conflict and external threatstonationalsecurity. Table1:MilitaryRepresentationonVCPExecutive Year/Position Year(Congress) 1986(6th) 1991(7th) 1996(8th) 2001(9th) 2006(10th) 2011(11th) Average Politburo* Military Percent Representation 2of13 15.4 2of13 15.4 2of19 10.5 1of15 6.7 1of14 7.1 1of14 7.1 _ 10.4 CentralCommittee* Military Percent Representation 9of124 7.3 13of146 8.9 17of170 10.0 14of150 9.3 17of160 10.6 19of175 10.9 _ 9.25

*fullmembers Source: The authors personal FileMaker Pro 9 database on all members of the VCP Central Committee,1951present.Alternatemembersarenotincluded.

In other words, the VPA has been continually engaged in statebuilding, economic production and internal security. In order to fulfil these roles, the VPA has always been accordedblocrepresentationonthepartysCentralCommittee(seeTable1).Between1960 and 1982, for example, military representation on the Central Committee averaged 14.6 percent of full members. With the adoption of economic reforms (doi moi) in 1986, however,militaryrepresentationdeclinedtosevenpercentoffullmembers.Similarly,the

PartycontrolistheresponsibilibyoftheGeneralPoliticalDepartment.Politicalcommissarsandofficersare trainedinaseparatePoliticalAcademy(QuanDoiNhanDan,18February2011.
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VPAs representation on the Politburo has fallen from an average of 20.7 percent in the 1970sandearly1980stoonlyonemember(or7.1percent)in2011.Since2001,thissingle memberhasbeentheVPAsmostseniorgeneralwhosimultaneouslyholdsthepositionof MinisterofNationalDefence. In addition to its representation on the partys Central Committee and Politburo, uniformed military officers stand for election to and serve as deputies in the National Assembly and on its various committees. The Minister of National Defence is ex officio a member of Cabinet and the National Defence and Security Council. The VPA also plays a political role through the socialisation of conscripts into the values of Vietnams socialist regime.Inotherwords,theVPAactsasoneofthemaintransmissionbeltsforrecruitment into the party. Finally, the VPA also played an important role historically in socialist construction through involvement in building infrastructure, economic production and naturaldisasterrelief. WhileVPAengagementinthecommunistregimehasbeenaconstantinVietnamese politics since the 1940s, its intensity has seen significant fluctuations. For instance, the collapseofsocialisminEasternEuropeinthelate1980ssetthestageforaperiodofmilitary ascendancyinthe1990s.Vietnamesepartyconservativesandmilitaryleadersarguedthat VietnamwasthreatenedbyaWesternplotofpeacefulevolution.In1992,intheshadow ofthecollapseoftheSovietUnion,Vietnampromulgatedanewstateconstitution.Forthe firsttime,thearmedforceswerechargedwithdefenceofthesocialistregimeinaddition todefenceofthefatherland.GeneralLeDucAnh,theformerMinisterofNationalDefence andseniormemberofthePolitburo,wasselectedpresidentandexofficiocommanderin chiefofthearmedforces.2 In1996,attheeighthnationalpartycongress,militaryrepresentationontheCentral Committee temporarily rose to ten per cent, the highest figure since the fourth national party congress in 1976. The following year, Vietnam was struck by three typhoons: the AsianFinancialCrisis,amajornaturaldisastercausedbyarealtyphoonandmassivepeasant protestsinThaiBinhprovince.ItwasinthiscontextthatinDecember1997,Lt.GeneralLe KhaPhieu(retired),formerheadofthearmysGeneralPoliticalDepartment(GPD),replaced Do Muoi as VCP secretarygeneral. This marked the first occasion that a retired career militaryofficerwasappointedpartyleader.Significantly,thisleadershipchangetookplace ataplenarysessionoftheCentralCommitteeandnotatanationalpartycongress. Butbytheearly2000s,Vietnamhadlargelyrecoveredfromthemultiplecrisesofthe late 1990s. Vietnams economy grew at an unprecedented rate averaging 7.63 percent between2000and2007.Further,Vietnamsteppedupthepaceofeconomicintegrationby signing a major bilateral trade agreement with the United States that came into effect in

ThePresidenthasresponsibilityforseniorpromotions.Forexample,followingtheeleventhpartycongress, PresidentNguyenMinhTrietappointedLt.GeneralNgoXuanLichdirectoroftheGeneralPoliticalDepartment replacingGeneralLeVanDung(VietNamNetBridge,2March2011).Subsequently,inDecember2011, VietnamscurrentPresident,TruongTanSang,promotedninegeneralstoseniorrankincludingeighttothe rankofSeniorLt.General(VietNamNews,7December2011).


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late 2001. As a result, economic development and global integration replaced traditional security concerns as the key drivers of domestic politics. These developments coincided with growing disenchantment within the VCP over the lacklustre leadership of Secretary General Phieu and the increasing role of the military in domestic politics. Phieus position wasseverelyunderminedwhenCentralCommitteememberslearnedthathehaddirected the military intelligence service to conduct wire taps on Politburo colleagues (Thayer 2003a).ThusinApril2001,theCentralCommitteeissuedanunprecedentedrebuketothe MinisterofNationalDefence,GeneralPhamVanTra,andtheChiefoftheGeneralStaff,Le VanDung.SecretaryGeneralPhieufellvictimtothisbacklash.Althoughhewasendorsedby thePolitburoforanothertermaspartyleader,thisrecommendationwasoverturnedbythe Central Committee. Phieu was replaced as VCP secretarygeneral at the ninth congress in 2001. As Vietnam weathered the aftershocks of the collapse of socialism and the Asian Financial Crisis, the militarys political role has gradually receded. It was now the partys managerial elite that took centre stage to manage Vietnams integration with the global economy. MILITARY ENGAGEMENT IN POLITICS, SECURITY AFFAIRS, THE ECONOMY AND SOCIETY: 20012010 While Phieus replacement, Nong Duc Manh, signalled a lessening of military influence at the highest echelons of the party, the continuing interference of General Department II (military intelligence) in party affairs provided evidence of the VPAs autonomy within Vietnams political system. This was also highlighted by the fact that the military as an institution suffered only a minor blowback from Phieus misuse of the VPAs intelligence service. For example, VPA representation on the Central Committee was reduced only marginallyattheninthnationalpartycongressin2001fromtheprevioustenpercentto9.3 percent. Similarly, General Pham Van Tra emerged relatively unscathed. While he was dropped two places in the protocol rankings, he retained his portfolio as Minister of NationalDefenceandseatonthePolitburo.Iftherewasamainvictiminthemilitary,itwas GeneralPhamThanhNgan,headoftheGeneralPoliticalDepartment.Hewasdroppedfrom the Politburo. General Le Van Dung, Chief of the General Staff (CGS), retained his seat on the Central Committee and was elected to the partys Secretariat. Five months after the tenthcongress,DungreplacedThanhasheadoftheGPD. DespitePhieusfall,complaintsaboutthemilitarysinterferenceinpoliticscontinued after2001.In2004,twoofVietnamsmostrespectedretiredmilitarygeneralswroteprivate letters to the partys senior leadership charging that the military intelligence service was abusingitspowerbyinterferingininternalpartyaffairs(Thayer2008a).Nolessafigurethan General Vo Nguyen Giap demanded an investigation into the extralegal activities of General Department II because of the failure of the VCPs key bodies to take appropriate action. General Giap specifically charged that General Directorate II had attempted to manipulatefactionalisminthepartybysmearingthepoliticalreputationsofleadingfigures

including himself (Thayer 2008). General Giap was supported in his accusations by retired Major General Nguyen Nam Khanh. Khanh, a pillar of the establishment, was the former head of the Central Committees Propaganda and Training Department, former Political Officer for Military Region 5, and former deputy head of the VPAs General Political Department. He accused General Department II of slandering, intimidation, torture, political assassination as well as manipulation of internal party factionalism for its own partisan purposes. Khanh documented his allegations by quoting from the classified News BulletinproducedbyGeneralDirectorateII(Thayer2008a). IfthereisanysubstancetotheallegationsraisedbygeneralsGiapandKhanh,they demonstrate that key military leaders were actively involved in internal factional politics withintheVCPitself.Significantly,itwasonlyinthelate1990sthatthefirstattemptswere undertakentobringnationalsecurityandintelligenceagenciesunderlegislativecontrol.For example, the first Ordinance on Intelligence was issued by the chairman of the National Assembly Standing Committee in December 1996. In September the following year, the Prime Minister issued Decree 96/CP on defence intelligence. These documents placed controloverthemilitaryintelligenceserviceinthehandsofthestatepresidentandunified directionofthegovernment.However,bothdocumentsweredraftedbytheVPAandleftit with such extensive powers that it was still able to operate outside of effective party and government control. Even the Law on National Security, passed in November 2004 in an efforttorestorepartyandstateoversightofthemilitary,didnotseverelyerodetheVPAs powerofpoliticalintervention.OneindicationthatGeneralDirectorateIIhadcomethrough thisreviewprocessunscathedandwasviewedasavaluablecontributortonationalsecurity came in March 2008 when the VCP secretarygeneral, Nong Duc Manh, awarded it the designationthePeoplesArmedForcesHeroforitsremarkablecontributionsoverthepast decades(QuanDoiNhanDan,25March,2008). The militarys ability to maintain its political influence was also reflected in its representationontheVCPsmainbodiesafterthetenthcongressin2006.Forinstance,VPA representation on the Central Committee rose slightly from fourteen members or 9.3 percent (ninth congress) to seventeen members or 10.6 percent. Moreover, the composition of the VPA bloc on the Central Committee highlighted the importance that boththepartyandthemilitaryassignedtotheVCPVPArelationship.TheVPAsseventeen membersincluded:chiefofthegeneralstaff,headanddeputyheadoftheGeneralPolitical Department, head of the Technical General Department, three deputy ministers, the commander of the navy, the political commissar of the AirDefence Air Force political commissarsforMilitaryRegions1,3,4,7and9,thecommanderofMilitaryRegion5,the deputy commander/chief of staff for Military Region 2, and the head of the National Defence Academy. This pattern of VPA representation on the partys Central Committee continuedaftertheeleventhnationalpartycongressin2011. Inthesamevein,theVPAhasretaineditssingleseatonthePolitburo,withDefence Minister General Pham Van Tra replaced at the tenth congress by General Phung Quang Thanh,ChiefoftheGeneralStaff.Shortlyafterwards,GeneralThanhalsobecameDefence

Minister. Both Generals Tra and Thanh are career regular army officers and represent a break from the political generals who were traditionally appointed in the past. General ThanhwasreappointedtothePolitburoatthe2011eleventhpartycongress. The analysis of the VPAs involvement in political institutions has pointed to fluctuating, but overall significant levels of military participation in Vietnamese elite politics.3However,assessingmilitaryinvolvementinthepoliticalapparatusisonlyoneway of measuring the quality of civilmilitary relations. Comparative analysts have broadened their perspective on civilmilitary interactions by discussing the involvement of the armed forces in other main areas of state affairs: national defence,security affairs, theeconomy andsociety.Accordingly,thefollowingsubsectionsreviewtheVPAsengagementinthese keyarenasofsociopoliticalandsecurityrelationships. VPAsRoleinNationalDefence Intermsofitsnationaldefencerole,theVPAunderwentamassivestrategicreadjustment throughoutthe1990s.In1987,theVPAsmainforcestoodatamassive1.26milliontroops. WithinayearofitswithdrawalfromCambodiain1989,600,000soldiersweredischarged. Bytheendofthe1990s,furthermanpowerreductionslefttheVPAwith484,000mainforce troops (Thayer 1995 and Thayer 2000a). First and foremost, this drastic drop in troop numbers reflected Vietnams changed strategic priorities after the end of the Cold War. Revisingitspriorfocusonpossibleaggressionbyimperialism,Vietnambegantotakenoteof other, more regional threats. In 1998, Vietnams first Defence White Paper identified hot spotsintheSouthChinaSeaasthemainexternalthreattoVietnam(SocialistRepublicof Vietnam 1998: 18). However, two major strategic missions assigned to the VPA national defence and economic production remained thesame.Vietnam's second Defence White Paperissuedin2004declared,forexample,thatthemaintasksofthearmedforceswere to maintain combat readiness for safeguarding the socialist homeland and making a contributiontothecauseofnationalconstruction(SocialistRepublicofVietnam2004:37). By 2004, the altered strategic environment had dramatically changed Vietnams placeintheworld.Vietnamhadnotonlynormalizeddiplomaticrelationswithallitsformer enemies,buthadavidlysoughtregionalandglobalintegrationthroughmembershipinthe Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the ASEAN Regional Forum, Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum and membership in the WTO. Consequently, the Vietnam Peoples Army was charged with responsibility not only for traditional security threatssuchasterritorialconflictintheSouthChinaSeaandpeacefulevolutionbutnon traditional threats as well. In this regard, the 2004 White Paper mentioned illegal drug traffickingandtransportationofweapons,piracy,transnationalorganizedcrimes,terrorism, illegal immigration and migration, and degeneration of ecological environment (Socialist RepublicofVietnam2004:12).

ForananalysisoftheroleofseniormilitaryofficersininternalpartypoliticsseeVuving2011.

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Table2VietnamsDefenceBudgetaspercentofGDP,199909
(inbillionUSdollars)

Year

VPASize*

Defence Budget GDP** (DB)** 2.1 2.6 3.1 2.6 2.6 3.0 3.2 3.2 3.7 2.1 2.1 34.5 36.8 39.4 42.2 45.3 48.8 52.9 57.3 62.1 66.0 69.0

DB as % of GDP** 6.0 7.2 7.9 6.2 5.8 6.1 6.0 5.6 5.2 3.2 3.0

1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
Sources:

484,000 484,000 484,000 484,000 484,000 484,000 455,000 455,000 455,000 455.000 455,000

*InternationalInstituteofStrategicStudies,TheMilitaryBalance(19992000to2010) **DefenceIntelligenceOrganisation,DefenceEconomicTrendsintheAsiaPacific(2009:27).

Nevertheless, Vietnamese leaders remained concerned with external ideological enemies. These fears were directed mainly at the network of anticommunist overseas Vietnamese living in America, France, Australia and other Western countries. The 2004 Defence White Paper stated that Vietnam is facing the threat of schemes and ploys by external hostile elements in collusion with internal reactionaries to interfere in Vietnams internalaffairsandtocausesociopoliticalunstability[sic]inVietnam(SocialistRepublicof Vietnam 2004: 1112). While Vietnam regularly expressed concerns about these Diaspora groups,by2009Vietnamsdomesticsecuritysituationhadbecomestabilizedeventhough hostileforces[continued]toinciteviolenceandseparatismissomeareasofthecountry (Socialist Republic of Vietnam 2009: 16 and 18). The improved internal security situation enabled further troop reductions throughout the 2000s. Between 2001 and 2005, for example,29,000soldiersweredischarged,bringingmanpowerstrengthdownto455,000a force level that has been maintained up to the present. According to official Vietnamese

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figures,thedefencebudgetasaproportionofGDPfluctuatedbetween1.8and2.5percent ofGDPbetween2004and2008(SocialistRepublicofVietnam2004:35and2009:38),but thesefigureshavebeendiscountedastoolowbyoutsideanalysts(seeTable2). Despite the downsizing of the military and the decline in the overall proportion of the defence budget, expenditure on the armed forces nevertheless increased in absolute terms between 2002 and 2007. This was due to the VPAs efforts to meet its defence responsibilities by embarking on a selective program of upgrading existing stocks of serviceableweapons,forcemodernization,increasingmilitaryprofessionalism,andstepping up international defence cooperation. As a result, Vietnams spending on defence rose in absolute terms from US$ 2.6 billion in 2001 to 3.3 billion in 2007, with significant funds allocatedtotheVPAsmodernizationprogram.Defencespendingfellprecipitouslyin2008 and2009whentheglobalfinancialcrisisimpactedonVietnam(seeChart1). Chart1VietnamsDefenceBudget,19992009
(inbillionUSdollars)

Source:DefenceIntelligenceOrganisation,DefenceEconomicTrendsintheAsiaPacific,(2009:27).

The onset of Vietnams current force modernization program can be traced to the mid1990s(Thayer1997).Sincethattime,Vietnamhasbeenseekingtodevelopadeterrent capability in the South China Sea through the acquisition of modern Svetlyakclass fast attackcraftandGephardclassfrigatesarmedwithsurfacetosurfacemissiles,sixKiloclass conventional submarines, Bastion landbased antiship cruise missiles, Extended Range Artillery Munitions and possibly the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile. Vietnam has also

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modestly modernized its air force through upgrade programs for its MiG21s and Su22s, andtheacquisitionofahandfulofSu27andtwentySu30jetfightersarmedwithadvanced airtoairandairtosurfacemissiles.Theairdefenceforcehasacquiredanewgenerationof surfacetoairmissilessuchastheS300PMU.Vietnamsforcemodernizationprogramhas also stressed the development of selfreliant capabilities in its national defence industry throughcoproduction(eg.theDutchmanufacturedSIGMAclasscorvette)andtechnology transfers at the lower end of the technology scale (Thayer 2009b). In 2011, Vietnam producedandlauncheditsfirstPatrolBoat(modelledontheSvetlyakoffshorepatrolvessel) and a tripledeck troop ship (TuoiTre, 3 October 2011 and Fragrant Harbour [Hong Kong] No.263,NovemberDecember2011,38). TheVPAsmodernizationprogram,coupledwithregionalintegrationwithVietnams Southeast Asian neighbours, have produced pressures to step up the pace of military professionalismtoensure thattheofficercorpsiscapableofabsorbing newtechnologies, meetingthewiderangeofresponsibilitiesithasbeenassigned,andengagingwithASEAN partners.InordertoensurethatVPAofficerskeepabreastofandassimilatetointernational standards of military professionalism Vietnam has begun introducing wideranging educational reforms since the late 1990s. Similarly, Vietnams program of professional militaryeducation(PME)andtraininghasbeenenhancedinordertoimprovetheskillsand qualifications of the officer corps. In addition, VPA officers are being sent abroad in increasing numbers to attend professional development courses in countries such as Australia, India, Malaysia and the United States. In 2008, Vietnam hosted its first PME course for foreign military officers. Finally, Vietnam has markedly intensified international defencecooperationthroughtheexchangeofhighleveldelegations,negotiationofdefence cooperation and arms and technology procurement agreements, sending observers to foreignmilitaryexercises,and,mostrecently,jointpatrolsandjointexerciseswithregional navies(Thayer2008b). TheMilitaryandDomesticSecurity As noted above, the 2004 Defence White Paper assigned the VPA a role role in domestic securityaffairs,primarilythroughcounteringthethreatofpeacefulevolution.TheVPAhas been very circumspect, however, about involving itself in direct confrontation with the public,preferringtoseetheMinistryofPublicSecuritysarmedpolicetaketheleadrolein dealing with public protests, riots and violent demonstrations. Nevertheless, in February andMarch2001theVPAwasdeployedtotheCentralHighlandstodealwithanoutbreakof unrest by several thousand members of mostly Christian ethnic minorities (known as the DegarpeoplesortheMontagnards)inthreeprovinces.Thesedisturbancesreceivedmuch attentionbecausetheytookplaceontheeveoftheninthnationalpartycongress.National securityauthoritieswerequicktoblameoutsidehostileforces.Inparticular,theypointed toFULRO(FrontUnifieLiberationDesRacesOpprimes,UnitedFrontfortheLiberationofthe Oppressed Races). The FULRO was an ethnonationalist separatist movement of highland

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ethnicminoritiesthatdatedtothe1960sbuthadpersistedinitsstruggleafterunification wellintothe1990s. Whenunrestbrokeoutin2001,atleastthirteenVPAregimentswerepostedtothe CentralHighlandstoprovidesecuritybymanningcheckpointsandsecuringtheborderwith Cambodia(AgenceFrancePresse,27April2001).Soldierswerebilletedwithlocalfamilies, while political cadres directed a campaign of political education designed to calm the situationandpreventillegaldeparturestoCambodia.Butrenewedunresteruptedin2004, which Vietnamese security authorities blamed on alleged instigation by the Montagnard FoundationintheUnitedStates.TheMontagnardFoundationisanorganizationcomprised ofhighlandethnicminoritieswhoworkedwithU.S.SpecialForcesduringtheVietnamWar. Evidently,thislinkagebetweendomesticethnicminoritiesandtheMontagnardFoundation isanexampleofwhattheVietnamesegovernmentconsiderstobethethreatofpeaceful evolution. Although the security situation has been brought largely under control, ethnic minorityunrestcontinuestoconcerncentralauthorities.InFebruary2007,forexample,the National Defence and Security Council discussed plans to boost national defence and security in strategic areas including the Central Highlands, border regions and the Northwest(VietnamNewsService,27February2007).Inthiscontext,theVPABorderGuard has been given responsibility for combating illegal drug trafficking and transportation of weapons,illegalimmigrationandmigrationaswellasothertransnationalcriminalactivities, whichareparticularlyprevalentintheborderareasinhabitedbyethnicminorities. Accordingtothe2010FreedomHousereportonVietnam(Gainsborough2010:10), the situation in the Central Highlands has remained volatile, and unrest has recently increased over land disputes resulting from confiscations to develop large stateowned coffeeplantations.TheCentralHighlands,itappears,willcontinuetofigureprominentlyon theVPAsdomesticsecurityagendafortheforeseeablefuture.VPAforceswerereportedly involved in security operations in May 2011 when unrest broke out among the Hmong ethnicminorityinDienBienprovincealongtheborderwithLaos(AgenceFrancePresse,16 April2011). ButsecurityoperationsarenottheonlyVPAinstrumenttoaddresstheunrestinthe Central Highlands. The armed forces have also long been involved in developing infrastructureandprovidingsocialwelfareservicesinremoteborderregions.Accordingto VietnamsmostrecentDefenceWhitePapertheVPAcurrentlyrunstwentytwoeconomic defence zones (khu kinh tequan su) from the Central Highlands to the China border (SocialistRepublicofVietnam2009:118).Anestimated20,000householdsbelongingtothe familiesofsoldiersandmilitiahavebeensettledinDakLakandBinhPhuocprovincesalone (ThayerandHervouet2004:373374andThayerforthcoming:466467).ArmyCorporation 15, the 15th Army Corps and the Dak To Army Corps have been involved in land reclamation,infrastructureandhousingconstruction,irrigationandwatersupply,forestry, education and public health. According to Freedom House, however, such programs are often implemented within governmentcontrolled parameters and perceived by minority

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populations as aimed at weakening their unique cultural and linguistic identity. (Gainsborough2010:10). Moreover, the VPA has assisted lowland Vietnamese resettle in the Central Highlandswhereclearedlandhasbeenturnedoverforthecultivationofcashcropssuchas coffee,rubber,cashewnuts,cotton,pepper,maizeandgreenbeans.Notsurprisingly,these resettlement programs have been controversial in some areas because of their impact on residentethnicminoritycommunities.WhenethnictensionserupttheVPAifoftenaskedto assistotherelementsofthePeoplesArmedForcesinmaintaininglawandorder. TheVPAsEconomicActivities Inadditiontoitsnationaldefenceandinternalsecurityroles,theVPAisalsochargedwith makingacontributiontothecauseofnationalconstruction.Therearemanyaspectstothis role, including assisting with socioeconomic development, poverty reduction, and natural disasterresponseandmitigation.However,themostprominentroleoftheVPAinnational construction takes the form of direct ownership of national defence industries and commercialenterprises. TheVPAsinvolvementincommercialactivitiesbeganinthe1980swiththeadoption of doi moi (Thayer 2003a). In March 1989, nine major army economic construction units were converted into legalentities (corporations or general corporations) under Decree 46 issuedbythe Councilof Ministers.Thesenewcorporationswere permittedtooperateon thesamelegalbasisasstateownedenterprises,includingobtainingcreditfromstatebanks and forming joint ventures with foreign partners. In a short period of time, there was a marked rise in the number of militaryowned corporations and a rapid expansion of their economic and commercial activities. These corporations became important generators of revenue, and by the early 1990s, they had massively broadened their production of consumergoods(VietnamNewsAgency,21February1993).In1993,thearmysetupitsfirst joint stock commercial bank. In the following year, there were over 330 armyrun commercialbusinesses,includingsixtymilitaryownedenterprisesoperatedbyregularunits. Thenumberofjointventureswithforeignpartnersjumpedfromfortyninein1995tosixty seven in 2003. The scope of the armys commercial activities embraced consumer goods, garmentsandtextiles,automobilemanufacturing,constructionwork,shipandplanerepair, hotels and real estate, mechanical engineering, as well as telephone, fax and internet services.4 In line with national policy to reform the stateowned enterprise sector, however, militaryownedenterpriseswerealsorequiredtorestructurefromthemid1990sonwards. Thereweretwomajorwavesofenterprisereforms(Thayerforthcoming:463468).Thefirst lasted from 1995 to 1997 and resulted in the reduction of the number of militaryrun

MilitaryrunenterprisesreportedlyhavebeenimplicatedinsmugglingtimberfromLaos(VoiceofAmerica News,29July2011).
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corporations from 335 to 193, mainly through mergers. Nonetheless, a number of these mergerstookplaceonlyonpaperandthereformsofthefirstwavedidlittletogeneratethe capitalnecessarytoupdateoldequipmentandoutmodedtechnology. Table3ListofMajorDefenceDepartmentGeneralCorporations MilitaryTelecommunicationsGeneralCorporation(Viettel) TruongSonConstructionGeneralCorporation NortheastGeneralCorporation FlightServicesGeneralCorporation GeneralCorporationNo.15 MilitaryPetrolGeneralCorporation GeneralCorporationNo.28 ThanhAnGeneralCorporation TanCangGeneralCorporation MilitaryBank Source:SocialistRepublicofVietnam2009:119. A second wave of reforms was initiated in May 1998 in a directive issued by the Central Military Party Committee. The main aim of these reforms was to improve the efficiencyofmilitarycorporationsandincreasetheircapacitytoundertakemajorprojects. At that time, the number of military enterprises was reduced to 164, following the CMPC directivethatcalledforunprofitablefirmtobedissolved.Thedirectivefurtherdecreedthat army divisions, provincial units and specialized departments within the defence ministry werebarredfromoperatingcommercialenterprises.Inlate1999,PrimeMinisterPhanVan Khai directed that military corporations rationalize their commercial activities (Thayer forthcoming:465).Inordertooverseethisprocess,theEconomicsDivisionoftheGeneral DepartmentofNationalDefenceIndustryandEconomicswasupgradedtothestatusofan independentEconomicsDepartmentwithinthedefenceministry. Itwouldappearthatthesecondwaveofreformofarmyenterprisesdidnothavea major impact. The VPA defended its corporate interests and business continued more or

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lessasusual.Infact,itwasestimatedin2001thatthenumberofcompaniesoperatedby theVPAhadrisenagaintotwohundred,atleastfortyofwhichwerejointventures,withan annual turnover estimated at US $320 million (Janes World Armies electronic edition, accessed 10 October 2001). In 2001, the Military Telecommunication General Corporation or Viettel, entered the lucrative internet5 and mobile phone markets to directly compete withstateenterprises.By2003,therevenuesgeneratedbymilitaryownedenterpriseshad shotuptoU.S.$653.6million(QuanDoiNhanDan,7January2003).Moreover,theMilitary Commercial Joint Stock Bank raised its chartered capital in 2003 to enable it to provide credittolargeprojects. Butthemilitarysgrowingeconomicandcommercialinterestsdirectlyclashedwith the imperatives of global economic integration when Vietnam became a member of the WTO. In 2007, it was estimated that the army still owned about 140 companies and held sharesinmorethantwentyadditionalfirmsinalmosteverysectoroftheeconomy.These enterprisesreportedlygeneratedUS$2billioninrevenuein2006(ThanhNien,31January 2007). Trying to address both the internal and international pressures in this field, the Central Committee passed a resolution in January 2007 requiring that all business enterprisesoperatedbythearmy,publicsecurity,partyandmassorganizationsbeplaced under state management. The decision specified, however, that the VPA would retain ownership and control over companies that were directly related to national defence and security. While the process of handing over ownership of all other companies was due to beginbeforetheendof2007,itsoonbecameevidentthatthisdeadlinewasunrealistic.In December 2007, Defence Minister General Phung Quang Thanh stated that his ministry would hand over around 140 militaryowned commercialenterprises to the state by 2012 and focus on training and building up a regular modern army (Quan Doi Nhan Dan, 19 December2007). In 2008, the National Assembly adopted the Ordinance on Defence Industry that providedthelegalbasisforthetransferofmilitaryrunbusinessesandsetouttheprinciples and legal framework for national defence industries to be retained by the Ministry of NationalDefence.PlanstodivesttheDefenceMinistryofitsbusinessenterprisesappeared togathersteaminApril2008whenthePrimeMinisterissuedinstructionsforthedivestiture of one hundred and thirteen militaryowned enterprises (Viet Nam News, 4 April 2008). While the initiative led to the divestment, restructuring or disbandment of small military businesses,itallowedtheVPAandtheDefenceMinistrytoholdontotheirmostprecious asset,Viettel,andnineothermajorgeneralcorporations(seeTable3). InJanuary2010,ViettelwasofficiallyacknowledgedasoneofVietnamseightlargest economic groups, and the first to be run by the Defence Ministry. In addition to its core telecommunication business, Viettel was allowed to branch out into the field of military information technology meeting the criteria set out in the 2007 decree that made it

ViettelbecamethefirstnetworkoperatorinVietnamtoofferitscustomers4G(fourthgeneration) broadbandtechnology(VietnamNewsAgency,12May2011).
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possiblefortheVPAtomaintaincontroloverenterprisesdirectlyrelatedtonationalsecurity interests. Accordingly, Viettel remains an important source of income for the military, despite the governments overall strategy to reduce VPA involvement in commercial activities. Viettel has increased its revenues 1,500 times within 10 years, from US$2.1 million in 1999 to $3.2 billion in 2009 (Viet Nam News, 13 January 2010). Viettel has emergedasoneofSoutheastAsiasmostprofitablemilitarybusinesseswithinvestmentsin Cambodia,LaosandHaiti. TheArmedForcesandSociety The fourth area of military politics relates to the way the VPA engages with society, both directlyandindirectly.TheVPAsdirectinfluenceonsocietyisexercisednotonlythroughits 455,000soldiersandtheirfamilies,butalsothroughnearlyfivemillionreserves,militiaand otherparamilitaryforces.Inaddition,thereareoveroneandahalfmillionmembersofthe Vietnam Veterans Association,notincludingtheirdependenthouseholds.Inaddition,the VPA interacts with society through two major mechanisms: national conscription and compulsorydefenceeducation. Vietnam has maintained a system of national conscription since the late 1950s. Currently,allmalesagedbetween17and45andwomenagedbetween18and40whohold professionalskillsarerequiredtoregisterwiththeofficesofthemilitary command atthe commune, ward or district where they reside. New recruits are given six months basic training and then assigned to units that engage in road building, planting trees or other infrastructure projects. At present, nearly one million men reach military age each year. Legally all medically qualified males are eligible for service, but there is a long list of exemptions,includingdefermentsforstudents.Militaryserviceisgenerallysoughtafterby youthsfromruralareas,whilethereisapalpableaversiontomilitaryservicebytheirurban counterparts, especially those from welloff families who either pay bribes or enrol their sons in parttime classes and university preparatory courses to avoid the draft. Nevertheless,asaresultofthemassivereductioninthesizeoftheregulararmy,Vietnam haslittledifficultyinmeetingitsmanpowerrequirements.1Duetothecompetingdemands of the countrys market economy, however, the VPA has found it difficult to attract educationallyqualifiedindividuals. The VPA has also long provided vocational training for soldiers slated for demobilization.Priortotheadoptionofdoimoi,demobilizedsoldierswerereturnedtotheir former employers who were required to provide them with a job. During the difficult transition from a centrally planned to a market economy, however, the VPA became involvedinvocationaltraininginordertoreducetheburdenonbusinesses.Duringthefive year period from 1996 to 2001, the Ministry of National Defence set up three technical collegesandeighteenjobpromotioncentrescapableofhandling35,000traineesayearfor both long and shortterm courses. In the fiveyear period ending in 2001, 80,000 demobilized soldiers were given vocational training and 45,000 demobilized soldiers were

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assisted by job promotion centres in finding employment (Vietnam News Agency, 30 May 2001). In 2011 Vocational Training School 22 began a vocational course for 1,150 soldiers demobilised from military service. The course included training in pharmacy, information technology, electronics, automobile technology, and driving (Quan Doi Nhan Dan, 29 September2011). The second mechanism through which the VPA exercises influence in society is throughanextensiveprogramofdefenceeducationforhighschoolanduniversitystudents, government officials, community leaders and religious dignitaries. In May 2001, Prime MinisterPhanVanKhaisignedDirectiveNo.15/2001OnDefenceEducationinallcolleges, universities, and schools belonging to administrative agencies, political and social organizations. Both the Ministry of National Defence and the Ministry of Education and Trainingweregivenresponsibilityforcarryingoutthedirective. In August 2001, the Prime Minister established the Central Council for Military Education, which included many senior government officials. The Council oversaw, among other things, the redrafting of the curriculum for national defence education. Defence education and itscurriculum weremade compulsory for all students in senior high school and above. During the 2006 school year, for example, over three million students from 2,866schoolsanduniversitiesattendednationaldefenceeducationcourses.Textbooksand study documents were jointly prepared by the Ministry of National Defence, the VCP Organisation and Personnel Commission and the Ministry of Education and Training. In addition, the VPA General Political Department and the VCP Ideology and Culture Commission organized training courses on national defence for more than one hundred leaders,editorsandjournalistsfromcentralpressagencies. Defenceeducationcourseswerealsorunbymilitaryregionalcommands.InMarch 2007,forexample,MilitaryRegion5reportedthatithadconductedcoursesforoverhalfa million persons in the previous year. At the same time, Military Region 4 High Command conducted its twentyfirst course on defence education for directors and vice directors of colleges,universities,highschoolsandstateownedenterprises.MilitaryRegion3provided defenceeducationto8,700teachersfromschools,collegesanduniversitiesbetween2001 and2010(QuanDoiNhanDan,19February2011).Thefollowingmonth,theHighCommand of Military Region 9 concluded its twentythird defence education course for eightysix provincialofficialsfromtheMekongDelta. Vietnams defence education program is significant because it brings Vietnams educated youth and other members of society into contact with the armed forces and its officers.Mostimportantly,theyareintroducedtoifnotindoctrinatedwiththemilitarys conservative views on national security. Furthermore, the series of defence education courses provides important legitimation for the political role of the armed forces in Vietnamsonepartystateandforthemilitarysrolesindomesticaffairs. LikemanyothermilitariesinSoutheastAsia,theVPAalsotriestoinfluencesociety throughthemassmedia.Onewayofachievingthisaimisthoughthepublicationofitsmass daily,QuanDoiNhanDan(PeoplesArmyofVietnam),withaweekdaycirculationofseveral

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hundred thousand copies. The VPA also publishes the Army Literature and Arts Magazine (Van Nghe Quan Doi) a popular literature magazine. In addition, the military has its own publishinghouse,NhaXuatBanQuanDoiNhanDan(PeoplesArmyPublishingHouse)that producesbooksonmilitaryhistoryandbiographiesofmilitaryheroes.Althoughthemilitary doesnotownradioortelevisionstations,itdoesproduceavarietyofpopularprogramsfor thestaterunnetwork.Througheffortslikethese,whichcomplementitsdeepinvolvement indefenceeducation,theVPAremainsafixtureinthedailylivesofordinaryVietnamese. EXPLAININGTHELEVELOFMILITARYINVOLVEMENTINPOLITICS Samuel Huntington (1991) coined the term third wave to describe the global process of democratization that took place in the fifteenyear period following the military coup in Portugal in April 1974. Huntington estimated that during this period thirty countries underwentatransitionfromauthoritariantodemocraticrule.SinceHuntingtonsstudywas published, a further eight countries arguably made a similar transition in the AsiaPacific region. The list includes: Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand, Mongolia, Taiwan, South Korea, East Timor, and Pakistan. Several of these countries have suffered reversals, such as Pakistan and Thailand, but have since experienced fresh democratic transitions (however thesituationinThailandremainshighlyvolatile).Processesofdemocratictransitionshave almostinvariablyresultedinattemptsbypoliticalelitestoplacethemilitaryundercivilian control;butciviliancontrolhasnotnecessarilyendedthemilitarysengagementindomestic politics. In his study of civilmilitary relations in the AsiaPacific, Muthiah Alagappa (2001) noted that since the mid1980s there has been a clear trend in reduction in the political powerofmilitariesacrosstheregion.Inthesamevein,Vasavakul(2001:356)concludedher study of the military in Vietnam by arguing that the Vietnam Peoples Army in 2001 was likely [to continue] to play an important role in shaping the new political, economic, and social order in the future because the VPA had successfully altered its role from revolutionaryheroestoredentrepreneursandpoliticalgeneralswouldcontinuetodefend the armys commercial interests. In other words, Vietnam appeared unlikely to be influencedbyregionaltrendsidentifiedbyAlagappa. ThecasestudypresentedinthispapersuggeststhatVasavakulsassessmentsmade in2001havebeenovertakenbyevents.First,heruseofthetermpoliticalgenerals(taken fromTurley1977)nolongeraccuratelydescribestheindividualswhohavetakencommand of the VPA after 2001. General Phung Quang Thanh, for example, is a product of professionalmilitaryeducationinVietnamandtheSovietUnion.Second,Vasavakulsuseof thetermredissomewhatmisleadingbecauseitresonateswiththetermredandexpert used to describe tensions in Chinese civilmilitary relations in the 1960s. While Vietnam justifiespartydominanceoverthemilitaryonideologicalgrounds,ithasnevergonetosuch extremes as China during the Cultural Revolution. Third, Vietnams military entrepreneurs have lost influence within the VPAs institutional hierarchy, with much of the militarys

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economicpowernowalmostexclusivelyconcentratedinViettelacompanyrunnotonly by generals, but by professional managers as well and nine other general corporations controlledbyregionalmilitarycommands. Inotherwords,itappearsthatsince2001theVPAhasaspiredtoachievethelevels ofmilitaryprofessionalismandforcemodernisationnecessaryforitsmissionofdefending VietnamsterritorialsovereigntyparticularlyintheSouthChinaSea.Inthiscontext,theVPA has relinquished some of its influence over the party, state and the economy, while it increaseditsauthorityoveritsinternalmilitaryaffairs.Nevertheless,theVPAhasremained politically influential after 2001, confirming Vasavakuls overall prediction of stable civil military relations in Vietnam. To begin with, the interests of Vietnams military establishment continue to be represented by its members on the VCP Central Committee andbytheVPAsmostseniorgeneralonthePolitburo.Similarly,theVPAcontinuetoplay aninfluentialroleinsocietythroughoversightofmilitia,selfdefenceandreserveforces,a largeveteransnetwork,conscription,anddefenceeducationcourses.Hence,thenotionof decliningmilitaryinfluencethatAlagappapostulatedforotherSoutheastAsianstatesdoes notaccuratelycapturethedynamicsunderwayinVietnam.The followingsectionanalyses thereasonsforthisphenomenon. VPAInvolvementinPolitics:KeyFactors Inthescholarlyliteratureoncivilmilitaryrelations,manyauthorshavepointedtofourmain variablesthatcanexplainthetrajectoryofmilitaryengagementinthepoliticsofparticular nationstates:historicallegacies,qualityofciviliangovernance,internationalinfluenceand internal military culture. This section discusses the relevance of these four factors for the caseofVietnam,beginningwithhistoricallegacies.TodaysVPAstillcarriesmanyfeatures that date back to its foundation amidst Vietnams struggle against French colonial rule. Significantly,thepoliticalroleoftheVPAwasdeterminedattheoutsetbyMarxistLeninist ideology,accordingtowhichtheVPAwasaninstrumentoftheworkerpeasantallianceto seize power from the capitalist class. The subsequent prolonged wars against the French and the United States seemed to confirm this MarxistLeninist premise of historical determinism,providingthefoundationfortheVPAsnationaldefence,internalsecurityand politicalroles. The independence struggle and the war against the United States also account for theVPAswiderangingengagementwithsociety.TheVPAswarethos,enshrinedincurrent doctrine of allpeoples national defence, stresses the importance of maintaining large reserve, militia and selfdefence forces, and calls for the active involvement of the main forcesineconomicproduction,socialistconstructionandotherstatebuildingactivities.But while the wars had a formative and lasting influence on the VPA and Vietnamese society, the grounds for the militarys institutional involvement in politics were laid in periods of relativepeace.Mostimportantly,theVPAscurrentroleasoneofthemaincomponentsof thecommunistsystemhasitsrootsinVietnamsperiodsofpoliticalconsolidation,suchas

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theestablishmentoftheDRVin1954andtheSRVin1976.Consequently,theVPAbecame oneofthefourmainpillarsoftheregime,alongsidetheparty,thestateandtheVietnam FatherlandFront(anumbrellagroupformassorganizations).TheVPAsblocrepresentation on the partys Central Committee and in the National Assembly is a product of these periods.Asaresult,politicalandmilitaryrolesbecamefused,andtheyremainsotoday. Another factor in explaining the levels of military participation in politics is the qualityofciviliangovernance.Militariesfinditdifficulttointerfereinorassumedominance over political affairs if civilian groups run effective and stable governments. This link between the effectiveness of civilian governance and military participation in politics has alsobeenobviousinVietnam.Militaryengagementinpoliticsincreasedinthelate1990s, when the Asian Financial Crisis threatened Vietnams economic growth, but it decreased soon after the economic problems had been resolved. Since 2006, civilian Prime Minister NguyenTanDungandhiscabinethavetakentheleadinmanagingtheeconomy,delivering highlevelsofeconomicgrowth,improvedpublicservicesandpoliticalstability.Whilethere havebeensomedivisionsintherulingelite,particularlyinresponsetotheglobalfinancial crisisof2008,thesedidnotunderminetheeffectivenessofthegovernmentasawhole.In 2006, for example, Vietnam witnessed the emergence of a network of prodemocracy dissidentsknownasBloc8406(fromthedateoftheirfounding)andotherpoliticalactivists whochallengedonepartyrule.However,thisgrouphassofarnotposedaseriouschallenge to the legitimacy, power and durability of Vietnams oneparty regime (Thayer 2009a and 2010). Onvitalelementintheincreasingthestrengthofcivilianrulehasbeentheenhanced prominenceofthelegislatureandcabinetingovernance.Significantly,PrimeMinisterDung has used legislation and executive decisions to regulate and control military affairs. For example, Vietnams 2009 Defence White Paper noted that the National Assembly has passedanumberoflawsconcerningnationaldefence,suchastheLawonAmendmentsand Supplements to several articles of the Law on the VPA Officers, the Law on National Defence, the Law on Amendments and Supplements to several articles of the Law on MilitaryService,theLawonNationalSecurity,theLawonthePeoplesPublicSecurity,and theLawonNationalBorder.TheStandingCommitteeoftheNationalAssemblyhasissueda series of national defence decrees: Decree on Maritime Police, Decree on the Militia and SelfDefenceForce,DecreeonIntelligence,DecreeontheBorderGuard,DecreeonNational Defence Mobilization and the Decree on Defence Industry (Socialist Republic of Vietam 2009:5152). Vietnams legislative effort has updated and amended outmoded ordinances and filledinlegalgapstokeepupwithVietnamstransitiontoamarketeconomy.In2009,for example, the National Assembly passed the Law on Militia and SelfDefence Forces, inter alia,torequireprivatizedstateownedenterprisestoraiseandtrainselfdefenceforces.The importance of Vietnams growing package of defence legislation is that it provides a regulatoryframeworkforstatecontroloverthearmedforcesandalegalbasisforthemany domestic roles of the armed forces. But despite this increasing empowerment of civilian

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government,theexperienceofthelate1990shasalsoshownthatVCPleaderscontinueto rely on the VPA whenever they feel that domestic stability could be undermined by economiccrisisorexternalsecuritythreats. The third factor highlighted by scholars as paying a crucial role in determining the levelofmilitaryparticipationinpoliticsisrelatedtointernationalinfluences.Sincethemid 1980s,however,Vietnamsregimehaslargelyinsulateditselffromexternalinfluencesthat could undermine oneparty rule or alter existing civilmilitary relations. For instance, Vietnam successfully weathered the collapse of socialism in Eastern Europe and the disintegration of the Soviet Union by implementing economic reforms that made it independentfromMoscowsfinancialsupport(ThayerandHervouet2004:363366). Similarly,VietnamsmembershipinASEANandtheASEANRegionalForum(ARF)in the mid1990s, have not impacted significantly on the internal dynamics of Vietnams regime. Neither ASEAN nor the ARF require its members to meet certain benchmarks in terms of their democratic quality or civilmilitary relations. Nonetheless, Vietnams increasingintegrationintotheSoutheastAsianregionhasledVPAgeneralstointensifytheir defence cooperation activities with external states. This has taken the form of reciprocal highlevel visits, naval port calls, and defence education exchanges. The net result of this process has been to socialize Vietnams military leaders into new values and norms governing the domestic and external roles of the armed forces. These external influences have combined with domestic pressures (such as the divestiture of most militaryrun commercialenterprises)torefocusthemilitarysroleinnationalpoliticstothepromotionof greater military professionalism. However, none of this has reduced the militarys long standingroleinstatebuildingwithsocietyatlarge. Fourth and finally, scholars of civilmilitary relations tend to emphasize the importanceofinternalmilitaryfactors.Inrecentyears,themostimportantdevelopmentin this field has been the push for increased military professionalism in the VPA. Since the 1980s, there is some evidence that a debate has taken place within the VPA over the relativeinfluenceofpoliticalcommissarsonprofessionalmatters.Overtimeandaftersome experimentation,theroleofpoliticalofficershasbeensupplantedbytheonecommander system(FitzGerald1989).Today,thebalancehasshiftedinfavourofcareerprofessionals whomustpreparetheVPAformodernwars.Inthisregard,Vietnamhasdrawnlessonsfrom both Iraq wars as well as the modernization of Chinas Peoples Liberation Army. The increased stress on professionalism notwithstanding, the system of political commissars remainsinplace.6ThemilitaryscurrentblocrepresentationonthepartyCentralCommittee is likely to remain stable, reflecting the VPAs corporate interests. In the same vein, the planneddivestmentofthemajorityofmilitarybusinesseshassupportedthetrendtowards themilitarysprofessionalizationtosomeextent,buttheVPA continues to holdontoten majorgeneralcorporationsascashcowsandsourcesofemploymentformilitarypersonnel.

PolitburoResolutionNo.51NQ/TU,VetieptuchoanthiencochelanhdaoduaDang,thuchienchedomot nguoichihuyganvoithuchienchedochinhhuy,chinhtrivientrongQuandoinhandanVietNam,(QuanDoi NhanDan,14January2011).


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CONCLUSION Theroleofthemilitaryinacommunistpoliticalsystemrepresentsadistinctsubsetofcivil military relations. Classical civilmilitary relations theory argues that the military should eschewapoliticalroleinordertoenhanceitsprofessionalmilitarycompetenceinexternal defence. But in Leninist political systems the military almost invariably plays a domestic political role in order to ensure thesurvival of thesocialist regime. Vietnam, forexample, amended its state constitution after the collapse of the Soviet Union to explicitly identify defenceofthesocialistregimeasoneofthemilitaryscoremissions.Accordingly,theVPA continuestobeheavilyinvolvedinVietnamspoliticalinstitutions.Mostseniorofficersare members of the VCP, and the military selects its own delegates to attend national party congresses. The VPA is given bloc representation on the party Central Committee and representationinthePolitburo.Similarly,activedutymilitaryofficersstandforelectionto andserveasdeputiesintheNationalAssembly,andthemostseniormilitaryofficerserves asMinisterofNationalDefenceandhasaseatinCabinet. While the involvement of the VPA in politics and society has experienced fluctuationsovertime,theoveralltrendofcivilmilitaryrelationsinVietnamsincetheearly 2000s has been marked by stasis. Regional and global advances towards democratization and depoliticization of the military have not impacted on Vietnam in similar fashion as elsewhere in the AsiaPacific. Vietnam reduced the role of military officers in the upper echelons of the VCP to some extent (the post of VCP secretarygeneral was returned into civilian hands in 2001 after being held by a retired general for four years), but VPA representation in state and party bodies has remained relatively stable. In the same vein, the VCPs Central Committee has ordered the military (and other state bodies as well) to relinquish ownership of their commercial enterprises by 2012, but the VPAs continued controloverViettelandninemajorgeneralcorporationswillallowthemilitarytoretaina soundeconomicpowerbase.Inaddition,theVPAiscertaintocontinuetoplayamajorrole insocietyatlargethroughnationalconscription;themaintenanceoflargereserves,militia andselfdefenceforces;defenceeducation,andsocioeconomicdevelopmentineconomic defencezones. DespitetheVPAscontinuedentrenchmentinpolitical,socialandeconomicaffairs, however, there have been signs of increasing professionalism within the military as a defenceforce.Thishastakentheformofenhancedmilitaryeducationandtraining,bothat home and abroad, in order to better manage the process of force modernization now underway.Atthesametime,Vietnamiswideningitsmilitaryengagementwiththeregion and the world. The VPA has taken the first tentative steps towards creating a cadres of specialists that can be committed to peacekeeping operations under the United Nations. Thus, while Vietnams socialist regime and its armed forces have so far successfully withstood domestic and international pressures for democratization and less politicised civilmilitaryrelations,thegeneralsseemtohavedevelopedagreaterinterestintraditional areasofdefenceaffairs.

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In order to address potential oversupply of conscripts, in July 2005 Vietnam reduced the length of compulsoryservicefromtwoyearstoeighteenmonths,andloweredtheageofeligibilityformilitaryservice fromthe1827yearrangeto1825years.Individualsaged26and27wereshuntedintothereserves.Theterm of serviceforpersons holdingtechnical qualificationsor servingin the navy was reduced from three totwo years.Fortheannualrecruitmentdrivein2011see:QuanDoiNhanDan,19February2011.
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