Country Listing

Vietnam Table of Contents


Foreign Military Relations

In the 1950s and 1960s, the primary influence on PAVN was Chinese (see Foreign Relations , ch. 4). Early military thinking, organization, and strategy drew heavily on the Chinese, and particularly the Maoist, example, although Hanoi later officially denied Chinese influence and military assistance.

PAVN's dependence on the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s for weaponry, military hardware, and technical training assured the Soviets an influential role, if not always a dominant one, in the Vietnamese military's activity and development. At the end of the Second Indochina War, the Soviet Union was supplying about 75 percent of North Vietnam's military hardware (China about 15 percent and Eastern Europe about 10 percent). Without Soviet assistance, Vietnam would have been unable to defend itself against China in 1979. By the 1980s, the estimate was that the Soviets provided 97 percent of such equipment and that the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), Poland, and Czechoslovakia together supplied the remaining 3 percent (see table 9, Appendix A). Military aid to PAVN in 1987 was almost exclusively Soviet in origin. In the mid-1980s, the Soviets contributed some 15,000 military advisers and military aid estimated to range from US$1.3 to US$1.7 billion annually.

The Soviet Union's relations with PAVN allowed Moscow to establish a military presence on the Indochina Peninsula. Access to the naval and air facilities at Cam Ranh Bay and Da Nang provided transit facilities for the Soviet Pacific Fleet and boosted Soviet intelligence-collecting efforts. The effect was to augment Moscow's military strength and facilitate global deployment of its forces.

The value of the relationship for Vietnam was logistic, not geopolitical. Hanoi had no arms factories, although it could make explosives and small armaments such as bullets, shells, and hand grenades. Sophisticated weaponry and equipment, mandatory for modern war, however, had to be imported.

The kind of Soviet military aid provided in the postwar years varied. In the first year or so, the Soviet Union routinely resupplied and replaced PAVN military inventories. After PAVN invaded Cambodia, the Soviets provided counterinsurgency aid, such as helicopters, and after the Chinese invaded Vietnam, Moscow gave Hanoi military hardware for conventional limited warfare. An analysis of the weapons supplied reveals that the Soviets were interested not only in enhancing Vietnam's defensive capability against China but also in developing a joint SovietVietnamese offensive capability. Soviet generals, determined to pass on to the Vietnamese some of the burden of containing China, assigned PAVN specific strategic missions and provided the military hardware required to perform them. In late 1987, PAVN had no significant military relations with any nation except the Soviet Union.

Data as of December 1987