Country Listing

Vietnam Table of Contents



PAVN's systems for dealing with administrative, managerial, logistic, and manpower problems remained rudimentary in 1987. Vietnam's two major military operations, against Cambodia and China, caused serious administrative difficulties to surface. Many were traceable to the condition of the Vietnamese economy, which in the late 1970s and 1980s had declined in virtually every sector (see Economic Setting , ch. 3). As more than one observer noted, Vietnam stayed in the bicycle age while the rest of Asia moved into the computer age. PAVN's logistic requirements suffered accordingly.

Vietnam's military budget remained a closely guarded secret and was doubly difficult to estimate because it was largely covered by Soviet military assistance that reportedly did not need to be repaid. According to a generally accepted estimate, about 50 percent of the state budget was devoted to national defense. Soviet military assistance to Vietnam has varied greatly from year to year depending on PAVN's precise needs. In the mid-1980s, it was authoritatively estimated to be the equivalent of at least US$350 million per year.

Vietnam's manpower resources are relatively extensive. In 1987 its population was about 62 million, with approximately 6.5 million males of military-service age and 650,000 reaching draft age each year. Normally, 60 percent of those screened for military duty were found to be physically and mentally fit for full service. Other restrictions, such as those based on class, race, religion, and place of origin (i.e., the South), reduced the manpower pool somewhat. In 1986 PAVN was conscripting at the rate of about 300,000 annually.

To reassert discipline within PAVN ranks, a system of "military inspection and control" was instituted that served both judicial and police functions within PAVN. Under this system, the activities of officers and enlisted men were monitored to prevent wrongdoing (such as corruption) and to ensure continued discipline, obedience to orders, and adherence to PAVN regulations and state laws. This system was backed by a new code of military justice that regulated personal conduct. For enlisted personnel the code specified, in ascending order of severity, the following punishments for misconduct: censure, restriction to camp on days off (denial of shore-leave in the case of naval personnel), warning, disciplinary detention of from one to ten days (not applied to female military personnel), assignment to a lesser position, demotion, discharge, and dismissal from military service.

Officers were not subjected to disciplinary detention as noncommissioned officers and enlisted men were. The seven punishments for officers (in ascending order of severity) were censure, warning, assignment to a lesser position, dismissal from position, reduction in rank, deprivation of officers' insignia, and dismissal from military service.

The new regulations also established commendations and a series of incentive awards. Approximately 100,000 PAVN officers and enlisted men received medals and other commendations each year. PAVN pay has always been notoriously low. Although pay was increased in the 1978 overhaul of the armed forces, it remained below comparable income levels elsewhere in the society and was constantly undercut by high inflation. Pay was based on rank, length of service, size of family, and honors and awards received. Seniority pay (1 percent of base pay times years of service), family allowances, a 30-percent hardship-service bonus for those assigned to Cambodia, and a 10-percent cost-of-living bonus for those assigned to the South were added to base pay.

A veteran PAVN soldier who was discharged, retired, or demobilized became a "revolutionary retiree." In 1987 at least 50 percent and possibly 60 percent of all adult males in Vietnam had served in the armed forces.

The veteran in Vietnam has become a figure of increasing importance. Officially he has been viewed with a mixture of appreciation and obligation, but privately leaders have worried that the socioeconomic isolation of veterans could lead to the formation of a vested interest bloc. In general, veterans have been treated well by the society and have been provided with social welfare benefits. Vietnamese women were assigned a major place in the revolution by VCP cadres quite early. Several of the early PAVN military cadres were women, including the legendary Ha Thi Que, a military theorist who adapted Maoist guerrilla war strategy to Vietnam. The principle that women represent a potent source of support continued to be upheld in the 1980s. Military service for women was voluntary and was open to those over eighteen who were members of the VCP or party youth organizations. Estimates of the number of women in PAVN ranged from 5 to 15 percent of the 2.9-million-member force. Most held technical or administrative assignments, although, in earlier years, combat assignments in guerrilla units were common and command assignments were not unknown. For instance, the third-ranking general officer in the PLAF during the war in the South was a woman. There were no confirmed reports of women in PAVN engaged in combat duty in Cambodia, although it is possible that some were there; and there was no general conscription program for women, although they were encouraged to volunteer and the VCP asserted that it was their duty to do so.

Data as of December 1987

Country Listing

Vietnam Table of Contents