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Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

The Absurd Idea of an Alliance with Vietnam (II)

Vietnam is not an obvious or desirable ally.

Michael Totten expands on the absurd idea of forming an alliance with Vietnam. He concludes:

Our relations with China are likely to be difficult and challenging for decades, but it’s long past time to snap up an alliance with Vietnam. It’s ours for the taking, just sitting there and waiting for us to just say yes.

I don’t doubt that Vietnam would be eager to gain a U.S. security guarantee against China, but there is no reason why the U.S. should want to “snap up” such an alliance. There are never really “natural” allies anywhere in the world, but Vietnam is certainly not an obvious or desirable one. The U.S. has a number of security commitments in East and Southeast Asia already, and these already threaten to drag the U.S. into territorial disputes in which Americans have nothing at stake. An alliance with Vietnam would add another set of disputes with China to that list, and it would add yet another commitment that the U.S. is expected to honor, but it would offer the U.S. very little in return.

It isn’t at all surprising that Vietnam wants “to be under an American security umbrella,” but there is no compelling reason for the U.S. to extend that umbrella over Vietnam. In order to be worth the risk, an ally has to be able to enhance U.S. security rather than becoming a new burden and a liability, and Vietnam doesn’t do this. On the contrary, an alliance with Hanoi would increase tensions with China for the sake of partnering with a communist dictatorship. If our interest is in keeping the peace, the U.S. would be wise not to tie itself to yet another regional ally that has competing territorial claims with China. At worst, an alliance would put the U.S. in the ridiculous position of possibly having to fight to support Vietnamese claims, and the existence of the alliance could encourage Vietnam to become more combative in its dealings with China. At best, it would link the U.S. to yet another abusive authoritarian government and confirm Beijing’s suspicions that the U.S. seeks to encircle and contain China.

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