In recent months, a popular sentiment within some circles in Washington has been the possibility of a strategic relationship between the United States and Vietnam. In a recent paper , Dr. Patrick Cronin, Senior Director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), advocated a number of steps that could be undertaken jointly by Washington and Hanoi in order to curb what many perceive to be “aggressive behavior” by China in the Asia-Pacific region. Among the measures Cronin suggests include the development of cost-imposition strategies to deter Chinese attempts of altering the current status-quo in the region; larger and more frequent bilateral exercises; and the lifting of the U.S. ban of lethal arms sales to Vietnam.
Perhaps most notable among the measures offered by Cronin is the proposed lifting of lethal arms sales, which in recent months has gained support from a number of influential political and military leaders, including Senator John McCain and Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey, whose recent trip to Vietnam made him the highest ranking military official to visit the country since 1971. For two countries that only reestablished official diplomatic ties less than twenty years ago, the relationship appears to be moving a rapid pace. Perhaps a bit too rapidly.
It is not difficult to find reasons why there are advocates in both countries who are in favor of such a relationship. For the United States, its overt core interests in the Asia-Pacific region are stability and the continuation of the current order it helped establish following the conclusion of the Second World War. Tacitly, it has a vested interest in maintaining its position as the dominant regional power – which in turn means that it must compete with a rising China, which seeks to wear the crown west of the Hawaiian islands.