June 11, 2007

HARRISONBURG—Dr. J. Peter Pham, Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University, launched today a new column, “Conservative Columnist,” which will be a regular feature for National Interest online, the web edition of the foreign policy journal The National Interest. Unlike his weekly “Strategic Interests” column distributed by World Defense Review, which will still come out on Thursdays and continue to focus on security issues in Africa, Dr. Pham’s new biweekly column will explore a wider range of foreign policy concerns from the perspective of conservative political realism.

In his inaugural “Conservative Columnist” column, Dr. Pham uses the visit by Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet to the White House next week as the occasion to discuss the strategic calculus of relations between the United States and Vietnam. According to Dr. Pham, “Ever since the normalization of U.S.-Vietnamese relations during the Clinton Administration, officials on both sides have prudently gone to great lengths to show that the ties are not meant to threaten Chinese interests. However all the diplomatic niceties in the world cannot obscure the fact that Vietnam brings to the relationship a set of unmatched geopolitical endowments which are of interest to any state seeking a ‘hedge’ in its relations with the current rulers of the Middle Kingdom.” Likewise, he argues, while Sino-Vietnamese relations have improved in recent years, “from Hanoi’s perspective, cultivating closer ties to Washington not only facilitates access to American capital and technology for Vietnam’s economy—one of the world’s fasting-growing—and American markets for the goods it produces, but also acts as an external counterbalance to Beijing.”

The article goes on to note that the millennial uneasy relationship with China “has led Vietnam inexorably to seek out regional and global counterweights with which to balance against its looming neighbor” and its leaders to believe that “their national interests can be better secured through an at least tacit strategic partnership with the offshore United States than in succumbing to the aspiring onshore hegemon next door.” Hence Dr. Pham concludes:

If Vietnamese leaders in recent years have been disposed to put aside their revolutionary ideological baggage in order to pursue more concrete strategic objectives like economic and social development and political and military stability, it should be hoped that U.S. statesmen will have a similar clarity of vision and the creative flexibility. For America, it is a unique opportunity to not only to promote our ideals about free peoples and markets in a society that is opening up, but also to advance our national interests in a geostrategically pivotal region.

The text of Dr. Pham’s essay, “Moving Beyond Rapprochement: The Strategic Calculus of U.S.-Vietnam Relations,” can be accessed by clicking here.