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Gate to Ben Tre Re-education Camp
Courtesy Bill Herod

Internal security was never much of a problem in North Vietnam; it was probably somewhat more tenuous in unified Vietnam. Unification, understandably, introduced new internal threats, which the regime in the 1980s was able to keep in check. As perceived in Hanoi theoretical journals, the most significant internal threat was the danger of counterrevolution, a possibility that had both internal and external implications. Hanoi feared that a resistance effort in Vietnam would mount an effective guerrilla war aided by outsiders who sought either to roll back communism in Indochina or to effect change in Hanoi's leadership. These outsiders might include not only foreign governments but also emigre Vietnamese seeking to destroy the ruling system.

There was widespread latent opposition to the regime, particularly in the South. In general it was low-level, widely scattered, and poorly organized and led. Opposition activities ranged from graffiti and similar token gestures to fairly largesized guerrilla attacks in the Central Highlands. In the early 1980s, an active militant resistance force was estimated by observers abroad to number about 25,000 combatants. That figure tended to dwindle later in the decade. Given the extraordinary amount of social control in Vietnam, as in other Marxist-Leninist societies, it would be difficult for a resistance force to achieve sufficient size, strength, and cohesiveness to present a serious challenge to the existing system. The regime's strategy, therefore, was to keep the opposition off balance and prevent it from organizing.

Police, crime-detection, and law-enforcement activities tended to be treated collectively under the heading of "public security." These activities were conducted by overlapping, but tightly compartmentalized, institutions of control, separated by only hazy lines of jurisdiction. In particular, there was no sharp division between the internal security duties of PAVN forces and those of the civilian elements of the Ministry of Interior. This amorphous organization of law enforcement and internal security work can be traced to the VCP's early heritage and its experiences in the First Indochina War when functional distinctions within the party organization were less pronounced. Contributing to it is the clandestine character of such activity and the penchant for secrecy and covert action endemic in Vietnamese culture. Both party and state have paid enormous attention to the maintenance of public order. Perhaps it is for this reason that internal security has always been well managed and security threats have always been contained. The methods employed are sophisticated, often subtle, and there is less use of naked repression than many outsiders believe.

Four clusters of agencies were responsible for crime prevention and the maintenance of public order and internal security under the 1985 Criminal Code. The enforcement bodies were the People's Security Force (PSF) or People's Police, operating chiefly in urban areas; the People's Public Security Force (PPSF), called the People's Security Service or PSS at the village level; the plain-clothes or secret police; and the People's Armed Security Force (PASF), a quasi-military organ, including some PAVN personnel, operating chiefly in the villages and rural areas and concerned both with crime and antistate activities. These agencies of control had the broad responsibility of mobilizing the general population to support internal security programs, in addition to performing internal auditing, inspection, and general monitoring of both party and state activity. The judiciary promoted security and law enforcement. The courts, i.e., the investigative elements of the judicial system, were charged with uncovering evidence in addition to prosecuting the accused.

These institutions were charged under the Criminal Code with protecting the public from crime, broadly defined as "any act dangerous to society." Supporting them, although independent of them, was the party apparatus, which reached to the most remote hamlets of the country. In the mid-1980s, both urban and rural geographic areas were divided into wards, sub-wards, and blocks and were administered by security cadres, who were aided and supported by the mass organizations. Each of the basic units (generally the ward or block) had a security committee. In addition, in key or sensitive areas, there was a special party unit (called Red Flag Security) also organized at the ward or block level. The philosophy of this internal security system was that self-implemented, self-motivated, social discipline was required for true internal security and that this was both the duty and the right of the individual citizen. An important characteristic of the public security sector was that, although it extended equally across the civilian (the Ministry of Interior) and the military (PAVN, especially its paramilitary forces) sectors, the dominant influence was civilian and, ultimately, the party.

Data as of December 1987

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