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Vol. 28, No. 8s, (2019), pp. 541-548

ISSN: 2005-4238 IJAST 541

Copyright ⓒ 2019 SERSC



Nguyen, Thai Hoang Hanh Department of International Relations

Ho Chi Minh City University of Foreign Languages and Information Technology (HUFLIT)

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam


In international relations, the world’s countries can gain the interdependence and the mutual benefits through cooperating with each other. It is believed that nations could win by cooperating together. In addition, the countries can have complex interdependence with three ideal characteristics, namely multiple channels, absence of hierarchy among issues and minor role of military force. There is a question about complex interdependence that whether there is a complex interdependence relationship between two different countries which have different economics condition, location and especially they were enemies in the history or not. In this paper, the concept of complex interdependence is used to study United States and Vietnam relations after their normalization in 1995.

Keywords: complex interdependence, United States, Vietnam, normalization

1. Introduction

Interdependence in world politics refers to situations characterized by mutual effects among countries or among actors in different countries. In interdependent relationship, state A and state B depend on each other equally. Neither state can credibly threaten to terminate their relation, because everyone knows that this would be equally costly to both states. In the book ―Power and Interdependence‖, Keohane and Nye mentions complex interdependence of two nations in terms of having multiple channels, absence of hierarchy among issues and minor role of military force. In addition, Keohane and Nye examine Canadian – American Relations in terms of complex interdependence. The United States and Canada have some similarity about economics condition and geographical location and so on to create same platform to have complex interdependence in their relations.

There is a question about complex interdependence that whether there is a complex interdependence relationship between two different countries which have different economics condition, location and especially they were enemies in the history or not. The history perceived the relations between the United States and Vietnam as enemy relation.

Vietnam and the United States have a complicated history with all the violence and war before 1975. 1975 witnessed the reunification of the North and the South of Vietnam.

Washington had extended embargo to all of Vietnam since that year. The United States embargoes Vietnam More than two decades, and nobody can have a positive view about their relations. However, their relations changed in 1995 when President Clinton announces ―normalization of relations‖ with Vietnam. Though these two countries had the escalation in their relations during the Vietnam War, they both gain the eventual peace and diplomatic relations after their normalization in 1995. After the normalization, the


Vol. 28, No. 8s, (2019), pp. 541-548

ISSN: 2005-4238 IJAST 542

Copyright ⓒ 2019 SERSC

United States and Vietnam have perceived many changes in their relations. This paper aims to apply three main characteristics of the concept ―complex interdependence‖ in order to examine United States and Vietnam Relations after their normalization in 1995.


Under complex interdependence, the goals of actors will be varied. Military security will be not the dominant goal. The actors will pursue their own goals by issue area.

Moreover, military force will be seen as ineffective instruments of policy. Since, manipulation of interdepence, international organizations, and transnational actors will be major tools. The power and security will not set an agenda in high politics and will not influence other agendas. Linkages by strong states will be more difficult to make because force will be inefficient. Linkages by weak states through international organizations will erode rather than reinforce hierarchy. The role of international organizations will increase.

Organizations will set agendas, and act as arenas for political action by weak states.[1]

Those mentioned are the political processes under conditions of complex interdependence. Following are three characteristics of complex interdependence:

A. Multiple channels

Multiple channels tiethe world, including informal ties between governmental leaders as well as official foreign office arrangements; informal ties among nongovernment elites (face-to-face and through telecommunications) and transnational organizations. This characteristic means that the statesno longer monopolize the contact between the two countries. [2]Bureaucrats from different countries can deal with the others at meetings, on the telephone as well as in writing. Moreover, in the industry 4.0 era, these contacts also can make via digital ones such as social media, governmental websites. Non- governmental elites frequently get together in one course, or one forum of business, or in one conference sponsored by private foundations rather than governmental support. In addition, multinational firms affect both domestic and interstate relations.

B. Absence of Hierarchy among Issues

The agenda of interstate relationships comprises multiple issues that are not arranged in a clear or consistent hierarchy. This absence of hierarchy among issues meansthat military security does not consistently dominate the agenda. In a traditional realist world, national security issues matter more than other issues. However, in an interdependent world, states do not clearly prioritize issues. A diverse group of issue-areas, ranging from security to trade, finance, and environment and so on may find their way onto the agenda, but states do not clearly prioritize among them.[2]Basically, foreign affairs agendas have become larger and more diverse.

C. Minor Role of Military Force

When complex interdependence prevails, military force is not used by governments toward other governments within the region, or on the issues. This means the force is no more considered an appropriate way of achieving other goals such as economic and ecological purpose. In addition, military force is also very costly and uncertain.[2]


Vietnam has been struggling with how to maintain a balance between two often contradictory goals — maintaining ideological purity and promoting economic


Vol. 28, No. 8s, (2019), pp. 541-548

ISSN: 2005-4238 IJAST 543

Copyright ⓒ 2019 SERSC

development. For the first decade after reunification, the emphasis was on the former. By the mid-1980s, disastrous economic conditions led the country to adopt a more pragmatic line, enshrined in the doi moi (renovation) economic reforms of 1986. Under doi moi, the government gave farmers greater control over what they produce, abandoned central state planning, cut subsidies to state enterprises, reformed the price system, and opened the country to foreign direct investment. At the beginning of the 1990s, needing to escape from its economic problems, it was clear that Vietnam could not rely only on its internal forces. The country, therefore needed to be accepted on the international scene in an era of increasingly complex relationships between countries, regions and continents.

Although Vietnam remains under Communist rule, its leadership has begun implementing aspects of a market economy to promote economic development. Vietnam’s new foreign policy line ―more friends, less enemies‖ was adopted at the Sixth Party Congress marked a turning point in Vietnam international relations. Normalization of relations with the United States was a critical element of Vietnam’s effort at reconstruction.[3]

It acknowledges that Vietnam has taken concrete steps to respond to the

―roadmap‖ for normalization outlined by President George Bush in 1991. These include helping, beginning in 1988, in resolving the fate of over thousands of Americans listed as missing in action during the war. Normalization with Vietnam at this time also sends an important message to China and North Korea: Relations with the U.S. can improve if a country stops threatening its neighborsand satisfies American concerns[4].Second, a formal relationship with Vietnam enable the United States to pursue its economic interests in expanding trade and investment opportunities for American business. Vietnam’s market of 70 million consumers remains highly underdeveloped, but economic reforms begun in 1989 are rapidly opening the Southeast Asian country to global commerce.

For those mentioned reasons and many more good reasons, on July 11, 1995:

President Bill Clinton declared the normalization of diplomatic relations with Vietnam.Then, Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet declared the establishment of diplomatic relations with the United States on July 12, 1995.[5]

After the normalization, the United States and Vietnam have witnessed many changes in their relations. The following part of this paper use three main characteristics of the concept ―complex interdependence‖ to examine United States and Vietnam Relations after normalization.

A. Multiple channels in the relations between the United States and Vietnam after their normalization

The two governments, as well as the societies, have multiple points of contacts.

Since the normalization in relations between two countries, there are many official visits between leaders of the United States and Vietnam. August 6, 1995 - Secretary of State Warren Christopher visited Hanoi and officially opened the U.S. Embassy. Clinton is the first serving U.S. president to visit Vietnam since the late Richard Nixon’s visit in 1969. November 16-19/2000: President Bill Clinton visited to Vietnam. He was accompanied by family and high-level delegation representatives of the Executive Office, Congress, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and U.S. business. [5]

The intensity of high level the U. S. -Vietnam diplomatic interaction peaked in 2010.

During that year, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton visited Vietnam in July and October, and then Secretary of Defense Robert Gates visited in October. The trips were partly due to Vietnam’s one-year stint as chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), during which time the country served as host for a number of multilateral gatherings. The Obama Administration also used them as occasions to signal its determination to increase its presence in Southeast Asia generally, and upgrade its strategic relationship with Vietnam in particular. Of particular note, during the July ASEAN Regional Forum meeting, Vietnamese and U.S. officials orchestrated a


Vol. 28, No. 8s, (2019), pp. 541-548

ISSN: 2005-4238 IJAST 544

Copyright ⓒ 2019 SERSC

multilateral diplomatic push-back against perceived Chinese assertiveness in the East Sea/South China Sea. In October, Vietnam then convened and secured U.S. attendance in the first ever ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting + 8, a triennial gathering of the ministers of defense from the 10 ASEAN countries accompanied by their counterparts from Australia, China, India, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, and Russia), in which U.S.

secretary of defense Robert Gates participated and reiterated U.S. concerns about China’s actions in the EastSea/ South China Sea. Later that same month, Secretary Clinton traveled back to Hanoi to join in the East Asia Summit, the first time the United States officially participated in the five-year old gathering. During one of her visits, Secretary Clinton summed up the new emphasis on Vietnam when she stated that ―the Obama Administration is prepared to take the U. S. -Vietnam relationship to the next level. We see this relationship not only as important on its own merits, but as part of a strategy aimed at enhancing American engagement in the Asia Pacific and in particular Southeast Asia.‖[6]

Recently, before his term in office expired, U.S. President Barack Obama’s visited Vietnam in 2016. Obama’s trip proved a milestone in a two-decade path toward reconciliation. SinceObama completely lifted the U.S. ban on the sale of lethal weapons.

As noted by President Tran Dai Quang at his joint press conference with President Obama on May 23, 2016, the complete lifting of the ban on lethal weapons ―is clear proof that both countries have completely normalized the relations.‖ [7]

In 2017, President Donald J. Trump’s state visit to Vietnam reaffirmed his commitment to strengthening the United States-Vietnam Comprehensive Partnership. President Donald J. Trump strengthened international resolve to address the security challenges faced by North Korea, promote a free and open Indo-Pacific area. Moreover, President Trump and Vietnamese leaders pledged to deepen and expand bilateral trade and investment relations - in line with the President’s commitment to pursuing fair and reciprocal trade with key trading partners. The United States and Vietnam welcomed the conclusion of $12 billion in commercial agreements. [8]The United States supported the successful conclusion of Vietnam’s 2017 chairmanship of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperationforum, the region’s premier forum for promoting free, fair, and reciprocal trade that promotes United States exports and creates jobs for Americans.

American – Vietnam relations are also notable for multiple channels of contact between the two countries. Each country is the other’s important trading partner. There are increases in the U.S. – Vietnam merchandise trade each year. According to U.S. trade statistics, total merchandise trade between the United States and Vietnam has grown from

$1.5 billion in 2001 to $52.2 billion in 2016, transforming Vietnam into the 12th largest source of U.S. imports and the 27th largest destination for U.S. export. The U.S. is Vietnam’s largest trading partner behind China. [9]In addition, the key assumption is that peace and cooperation among states can produce absolute gains for all. In this case study, the U.S. and Vietnam are able to gain the absolute gains through their comparative advantage. Normally, Vietnam exports to America their staples such as electrical machinery, knitted or crocheted clothing, footwear, non-knitted or non-crocheted clothing and furniture.U.S. exports to Vietnam the products with their staples such as electrical machinery, aluminum, aircraft, cotton and machinery. [10]

According to Open Doors 2017, the annual report on international academic mobility published by the Institute of International Education, the number of Vietnamese students enrolled in U.S. institutions are 20,438. While, the number of international students in the U.S.is 1,078,822. Vietnam ranks 6th among the leading countries. 68 percent were undergraduates, 15.6 percent were graduate level students, 9 percent enrolled in Optional Practical Training, and the remaining 7.4 percent werepursuing non-degree programs.

Though Vietnam is not the popular destination that U.S. student to study abroad, butthe number of U.S. students studying in Vietnam is on an upward trend with 118 and 1,012 in


Vol. 28, No. 8s, (2019), pp. 541-548

ISSN: 2005-4238 IJAST 545

Copyright ⓒ 2019 SERSC

2000/2001 and in 2015/2016 respectively. [11]Through education, the transition in their relations is not only in terms of officials or business men but also people. People contribute to their relations by enhancing academic, cultural and so on. People to people ties between these two countries are stronger than ever.

Thus, multiple channels in the complex interdependence between the U.S. and Vietnam since 1995 in general and in recently 10 years in particular do have the cooperation in different fields including official trips, business collaborations, education and so on.

B. Absence of hierarchy among issues

The agenda of interstate relationships consists of multiple issues that are not arranged in a clear or consistent hierarchy. This absence of hierarchy among issues means, among other things, that military security does not consistently dominate the agenda. On the agenda between U.S. and Vietnam, there are many fields that they concern. In this case, it is clear that they do not focus on national security firstly in their relations.

Moreover, both sides have tried to improve their relations through some programs to heal the wounds of war rather than send troops or use hard power to control their relations. In order to improve their relations, Vietnam cooperates with the United States on Prisoner of War or Missing in Action issues. By 1998, a substantial permanent U.S.

staff in Vietnam was deeply involved in frequent searches of aircraft crash sites and discussions with local Vietnamese witnesses throughout the country. The Vietnamese authorities also have allowed U.S. analysts access to numerous POW/MIA-related archives and records. The U.S. Defense Department has reciprocated by allowing Vietnamese officials access to U.S. records and maps to assist their search for Vietnamese MIAs. In November 2010, the U.S. Agency for International Development and Vietnam’s Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs agreed to a two-year program under which the United States spends $1 million to Vietnam to help locate and recover the remains of the hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese soldiers missing from the Vietnam War. [12]

U. S. -Vietnamese cooperation on nuclear energy and nonproliferation has grown in recent years. With the nuclear diplomacy, Vietnam plans to build 10 nuclear power plants between 2020 and 2030, with the construction on the first to begin in 2015. The U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission train Vietnamese officials on non-proliferation and nuclear safety best practices related to power plant operation. Vietnam has also supported U.S. nonproliferation initiatives. With the DoE assistance under the Global Threat Reduction Initiative, Vietnam has been converting its Soviet/Russian-supplied research reactor in Dalat from highly enriched uranium (HEU) to low enriched uranium fuel, and returning the HEU fuel to Russia.

Attending the April 2010 nuclear security summit in Washington, DC, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung pledged to continue to convert the Dalat research reactor, as well as to join the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism. In 2010, the two countriessigned a Memorandum of Understanding that Obama Administration officials said would be a―stepping stone‖ to a bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement, under which the United Statescould license the export of nuclear reactor and research information, material, and equipment toVietnam.[12]

In addition, although there are still current issues, they continue to strengthen their relationship. In 2018,the Department of State hosted the 22nd session of the U. S. - Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue. The U.S. always considered the Socialist Republic of Vietnam is an authoritarian state ruled by a single party.While human right is the most concerned issues of U.S., according to Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2017 of the United States Department of State, the most significant human rights issues which are considered by U.S.include limits on freedom of speech, assembly, association,


Vol. 28, No. 8s, (2019), pp. 541-548

ISSN: 2005-4238 IJAST 546

Copyright ⓒ 2019 SERSC

movement and religion, including censorship of the press, and restrictions on internet freedom; corruption; domestic violence; child abuse; and limits on workers’ rights to form and join independent unions and so on. In 2014, some human rights advocates have claimed that the U.S. should use Vietnam’sparticipation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks as force to pressure Hanoi to improve the country’s human rightssituation.[14]

However, it seems that Vietnam does notactuallyneed to progress human right immediately which is one of the most considerations of U.S. before they cooperate.

There is one issue which is seen as a ―legacy issue‖ of the Vietnam War, namely, providing for the environmental remediation and the provision of health care services to areas contaminated by Agent Orange/ dioxin used by the U.S. military during the Vietnam War. According to various estimates, the U.S. military sprayed approximately 11-12 million gallons of Agent Orange over nearly 10% of theSouth Vietnam between 1961 and 1971. One scientific study estimated that between 2.1 million and 4.8 million Vietnamese were directly exposed to Agent Orange. Vietnamese advocacy groups claim that there are over three million Vietnamese suffering from serious health problems caused by exposure to the dioxin in Agent Orange. The Vietnamese government and people would like to see the United States do more to remove dioxin from their country and provide help for victims of Agent Orange.[14]

C. Minor Role of Military Force:

Military force is not used by governments toward other governments within the region, or on the issues, when complex interdependence prevails. The agenda of U.S – Vietnam relations show a broad range of issues and military force plays only a minor role in the relationship since 1975.

Additionally, as mentioned above, Obama fully lifted the U.S. ban on the sale of lethal weapons to Vietnam, the U.S. and Vietnam also enhance the security and defense cooperation. After more than 40 years after the reunification of Vietnam, the lifting of lethal weapons to Vietnam illustrates the warming bilateral ties between the former enemy nations – the U.S and Vietnam. With the lifting of the ban, Vietnam can ensure its defense capacity and Vietnam has access to the equipment it needs to defense for itself.

The new procedure would also allow the United States to sell military weapons to Vietnam on a case-by-case basis.

Vietnam welcomed U.S. maritime security assistance – including through the Maritime Security Initiative, the Cooperative Threat Reduction program, and Foreign Military Financing – and looked forward to working with the United States to enhance Vietnam’s maritime capabilities. The United States and Vietnam signed a letter of intent to establish a working group for the Cooperative Humanitarian and Medical Storage Initiative, which will advance cooperation on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. The United States reaffirmed its support for Vietnam’s peacekeeping efforts with an aim of assisting Vietnam’s first deployment of UN peacekeeping forces by 2017. [14]Instead of having hostile actions, there have been some events to prove that the relations between Vietnam and U.S have reached a new height in terms of cooperation.The two nations concluded a new Three Year Plan of Action for Defense Cooperation, which will increase bilateral naval activities.[8]For the first time since the end of the Vietnam War more than four decades ago, the USS Carl Vinson arrived in Danang, which was a key battleground during the war that ended in 1975, in March 2018. Both Vietnam and the U.S. reaffirmed the importance of freedom of navigation, overflight, and unfettered commerce in the East Sea/ South China Sea and their commitment to a rules-based approach to resolving maritime disputes. Though, maritime disputes in East Sea/ South China Sea do not involve the U.S. directly but the present of the U.S. in this area is seen as the strategy of the U.S. in Asia – Pacific.


Vol. 28, No. 8s, (2019), pp. 541-548

ISSN: 2005-4238 IJAST 547

Copyright ⓒ 2019 SERSC

It seems that the U.S. and Vietnam not only minimize the military force, but also the U.S assists Vietnam to maximize its own capacity. The U.S funding for Vietnam in international military education and training program increased from 50,000 USD in 2005 to 610,000 USD in 2012. The U.S helps to boost English communication skill among Vietnam military as well as to train Vietnam’s Coast Guard. [14] Maritime security collaboartion is a good example of the confidence buidling between the U.S. and Vietnam.From 2002, the U.S. and Vietnam have signed many agreements and the document, such as a bilateral search and rescue agreement, an agreement to boost Vietnamese port’s ability to detect radioactive materials and so on. In the U.S. those agreements not only build trust with the Vietnamese government, but also remains the security partner of choice for non – treaty ally country in the Asia Pacific.


According to Washington’s ―Road Map‖ to Normalization with Vietnam, there are four stages in this ―Road Map‖: stage 1: End the ban on U.S. citizens travelling to Vietnam;

stage 2: Permit U.S. businesses to set up offices and sign contracts in Vietnam; stage 3:

Lift the embargo on trade and investment; and stage 4: Consider Vietnam for ―Most Favored Nation‖

status. Now, Vietnam and theU.S. are at the stage four of this ―Road map‖. It cannot be denied that the United Statesdo not just want to remain the relation with Vietnam for short term period. Vietnam also has their position in American Foreign Policy. However, because of the position of Vietnam on the world map in the comparison with the U.S., United States can have more powerful in this relation than Vietnam. However, according to the evidences and data above, the relations between United States and Vietnam fit to three characteristics of the concept ―complex interdependence‖.Nonetheless, it seems that this relation is not a strong tie in this complex interdependence. For example, it should be noted that the economic interdependence that Vietnam enjoys with its major economic partner is asymmetric due to the modest size of the Vietnamese economy.Moreover, because of their different institutions, there are some issues among their relations in terms of ideology and policy. In conclusion, the relations between U.S. and Vietnam after their normalization have some remarkable points in their contemporary history. Even though, this is not a perfect or typical case for complex interdependence concept, but this relation can meet the three characteristics of this concept and these countries can gain their own interests in this relation. With some recent actions, it would have the improvements or even reach the title namely ―strategic partners‖ in the near future.


[1] Robert O. Keohane, Joseph S. Nye, Power and Interdependence, Longman, 2001, p.


[2] Robert O. Keohane, Joseph S. Nye, Power and Interdependence, Longman, 2001, pp.


[3] "Documents of the Sixth National Congress of the CPV," Hanoi, 1986.

[4] R. D. Fisher, "Beyond Normalization: A Winning Strategy for U.S. Relations with Vietnam," The Heritage Foundation, 1995 .

[5] "Chronology of U.S. – Vietnam Relations," [Online]. Available:

https://vn.usembassy.gov/our-relationship/policy-history/chronology-of-us-vietnam- relations/. [Accessed 25 August 2018].

[6] Remarks With Vietnam Deputy Prime Minister And Foreign Minister Pham Gia Khiem - Hillary Rodham Clinton - Secretary of State, 2010.

[7] C. Thayer, "Obama’s Visit to Vietnam: A Turning Point?," 2016.


Vol. 28, No. 8s, (2019), pp. 541-548

ISSN: 2005-4238 IJAST 548

Copyright ⓒ 2019 SERSC

[8] 12 November 2017. [Online]. Available: https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings- statements/president-donald-j-trumps-trip-vietnam/.

[9] "Office of the United States Trade Representative," [Online]. Available:

https://ustr.gov/countries-regions/southeast-asia-pacific/vietnam. [Accessed 25 August 2018].

[10] M. F. Martin, "U.S.-Vietnam Economic and Trade Relations: Issues for the 114th Congress," May 20, 2016.

[11] Opendoors, "2017 ―Fast Facts‖ - International Students in the US," 2017 .

[12] M. E. Manyin, "U.S.-Vietnam Relations in 2011: Current Issues and Implications for U.S. Policy.," 2011.

[13] "Vietnam 2017 Human Rights Report," 2017.

[14] Murray Hiebert, Phuong Nguyen, Gregory B. Poling, "A New Era in U.S. - Vietnam Relations: Deepening Ties Two Decades after Normalization," A Report of the CSIS Sumitro Chair for Southeast Asia Studies, 2014.

[15] M. F. Martin, "U.S.-Vietnam Economic and Trade Relations: Issues in 2018," 2017 .

[16] M. E. Manyin, "U.S.-Vietnam Relations in 2014: Current Issues and Implications for U.S. Policy," June 24, 2014.

[17] M. E. Manyin, "The Vietnam-U.S. Normalization Process - CRS Issue Brief for Congress," 2005 .

[18] "Joint Statement: Between the United States of America and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam," May 23, 2016.


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