Establishing a New U.S.-Vietnam Security Relationship: Cultivating a “Middle Power” as a Strategic Partner

By Aaron Turner

Abstract: Relations between the United States and Vietnam have transformed from a state of bitter adversaries to a comprehensive partnership. However, current U.S. foreign policy fails to recognize the limits to its security relationship with Vietnam: Vietnam’s defense policy leaders are overwhelmingly reluctant to engage with the U.S. in a fashion that challenges China. Vietnam’s recent foreign policy reorientation seeks to befriend and balance both superpowers, thereby creating a ceiling for security cooperation with each. The question must be answered: How can the U.S. reorient its military-to-military policy towards Vietnam to maximize the security relationship and cultivate a new strategic partner? This is best achieved through a multilateral and institutional approach that indirectly cultivates Vietnam through heavy channeling towards ASEAN participation. U.S. policy must seek to 1) bypass constraints imposed by Sino-Vietnamese relations, 2) reorient military-to-military efforts, 3) increase focus on Vietnam’s domestic development, and 4) continue to build upon economic underpinnings.

About the Author: Aaron Turner is from Louisville, K.Y. and is a Major in the U.S. Army working toward his Masters of International Policy and Practice at The George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs. Currently serving as a Foreign Area Officer in Manila, Philippines, his studies focus on U.S. foreign policy opportunities in the region. Aaron has an A.A. from the Defense Foreign Language Institute in Monterey, C.A. and a B.A. from Transylvania University in Lexington, K.Y.

Sunset on Ha Long Bay, Vietnam by Renate Flynn is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0. Image cropped.

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