Country Listing

Vietnam Table of Contents




Vo Nguyen Giap with Viet Minh troops, 1946
Courtesy Indochina Archives


South Vietnamese soldier guarding viet Minh captive, First Indochina War
Courtesy New York Times, Paris Collection, National Archives

Figure 16. Rank Insignia of the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN), 1987


Vietnamese soldiers returning from duty on the Chinese border
Courtesy Bill Herod

Figure 17. Military Organization, 1987

Figure 18. Organization of the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN), 1987

Figure 19. Military Regions, 1986


Women militia members in Hanoi just after the Chinese invasion, 1979
CourtesyWomen militia members in Hanoi just after the Chinese invasion, 1979

PAVN is a singular military establishment. (The full name is occasionally translated Vietnam People's Army, or VPA). Its singularity of purpose as well as form is a function of its Vietnamese cultural heritage, a centuries-old martial spirit, a history of messianic military leadership possessing extraordinary insight, and four decades of combat experience.

In the 1980s, PAVN was characterized by a sense of newly acquired destiny, a feeling of international prowess, and the real limitations imposed by economic stagnation, diplomatic isolation, and uncertainty regarding its closest ally, the Soviet Union. It was in the middle of a debate over the proper use of force (whether it should be applied nakedly as in Cambodia or in the more traditional manner prescribed by "revolutionary force" doctrine) and was determined to modernize its organization, including reforming the officer corps and renewing the never-ending internal battle against inefficiency and corruption. Finally, PAVN was faced with the prospect of an inevitable generational change of military leadership. In 1987 PAVN numbered about 2.9 million personnel, including its Paramilitary Force, making it the third largest armed force in the world. Nevertheless, it was well integrated into Vietnamese society and enjoyed a good working relationship with both the government and the VCP. It was tightly controlled, chiefly by various mechanisms in the hands of the VCP apparatus within it.

At the same time, PAVN was limited by critical weaknesses: it was technologically underdeveloped because it lacked various kinds of modern equipment, weapons, and training; its officer and noncommissioned officer corps were overaged; and it was highly dependent on outside military sources because there were no indigenous arms factories of any importance in Vietnam.

The purpose to which PAVN has been dedicated over the years has varied greatly and has turned chiefly on the demands of the party. Its basic functions are similar to those of armed forces everywhere: to defend Vietnam's territorial integrity, to support its foreign policy and strategic goals where appropriate, contribute to the maintenance of its internal security, and to assist in its economic development. These aims are set forth in Section IV (Articles 50 through 52) of the 1980 Constitution.

In the first several years after the end of the Second Indochina War, PAVN's performance was tested twice--in Cambodia and along Vietnam's northern border with China. Its ability to maintain internal security has been tested continuously, although to a lesser degree.

Data as of December 1987