Vietnam’s secretive military opens up

Straits Times HANOI – IN A landmark change, Vietnam’s secretive Defence Ministry is opening up and inviting foreigners to come and study the country’s military operations and strategy.

Senior military officers from around the world have been urged to go to Hanoi to be tutored by their Vietnamese counterparts at the prestigious National Defence Academy.

With 455,000 men under arms, Vietnam has the largest standing army in South-east Asia.

It is battle-tested and in the past half-century has fought and prevailed against the military might of Japan, France, the United States and China.

However, military experts concede that their knowledge of Vietnam’s vaunted fighting machine remains patchy due to the obsessive secrecy imposed by the Defence Ministry’s top brass.

So, the proposed change to open up is both surprising and portentous. It has pleased other countries in the region and the West, especially the US, which has long encouraged Vietnam to take this kind of action.

And it indicates that the normally conservative and insular Vietnamese military is embracing the government’s credo of seeking to integrate more with the global community.

Said Professor Carlyle Thayer, a Vietnam expert at the Australian Defence Force Academy: ‘It shows that Vietnam is embarked on opening up its military to the outside world and assuming more proactive roles.

‘The initiative is unprecedented and highly significant because it signals not only a more outward-looking military, but a more confident one.’

At a top-level briefing last month, defence attaches were told that the decision to open up is linked to Vietnam’s accession to the World Trade Organisation and its coming membership of the United Nations Security Council. Vietnam will take up a two-year seat as a non-permanent member of the council on Jan 1.

Lieutenant-General Pham Xuan Hung, the national defence academy’s commandant, said: ‘Vietnam now attaches special importance to enhancing international cooperation, exchange visits and mutual understanding in the military field.’

Said Mr Marvin Ott, professor of national security policy at the National Defence University in Washington: ‘Vietnam’s strategically savvy Defence Ministry is now adopting a security strategy to maximise linkages with other nations, particularly those with capable militaries in Asia.’

Several countries, including some from Asean, have already confirmed they will attend the course.

Vietnam’s new military initiative will likely be replicated by more outreach moves, including offers to take part in UN peacekeeping operations and greater involvement in the multinational Proliferation Security Initiative designed to thwart the maritime transportation of terrorist devices.

mitton@sph.com.sg

92-day course

FOREIGN military officers will be invited to Hanoi for a 92-day course at the defence academy, which trains Vietnam’s high-ranking commanders and strategists, starting on March 4.

It will include three weeks of tutoring in key military topics such as Vietnam’s national defence policy, its security and anti-terrorism strategy, and the protection of territorial sovereignty, including ‘practical experiences in solving situations at sea’.

There will also be lectures on Vietnam’s past military triumphs, including the liberation struggle against France and the reunification campaign against US-led forces during the Vietnam War.

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