October 17, 2007

HARRISONBURG— In a special “Rapid Reaction” feature for National Interest online, the web edition of the foreign policy journal The National Interest, Dr. J. Peter Pham, Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University, greets the historic election of Vietnam by the United Nations General Assembly to a seat on the Security Council as an opportunity for the United States to engage the country at a new level.

Recalling an essay earlier this year in which he argued that, given Vietnam’s unique geopolitical position as well as its leaders’ willingness 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,” American policymakers had “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” where China’s rise has given no little anxiety to many, Dr. Pham notes:

U.S.-Vietnamese relations since the 1995 establishment of diplomatic ties can be divided into two rough periods. In the first years after normalization, U.S. policy toward the former adversary was largely focused on dealing with the legacy of the Vietnam War, including accounting for American servicemen missing in action, reuniting refugee families and initiating confidence-building measures like humanitarian programs and development assistance. As the relationship strengthened and trade expanded, the focus of policy shifted to the economic sector, with a bilateral trade agreement signed in 2001 and Congress approving permanent normal trade relations at the end of last year, just in time for Vietnam’s January 11, 2007, accession to the World Trade Organization.

The essay goes on to observe that “ Vietnam’s election to the Security Council gives policymakers an occasion to open a new chapter in America’s relations with the Southeast Asian country, one which gives the strategic dimension its due,” concluding “the Security Council is now yet another venue where the United States can and ought to engage Vietnam. Building a strategic partnership is in the long-term political, economic and security interests of both nations.”

The full text of Dr. Pham’s essay, “A New Era in U.S.-Vietnam Relations,” can be accessed by clicking here.