Current Developments

Security Commentaries #012

 

In Vietnam, the New "Four Pillars" and the Desire for National Prosperity

This time, the party leadership team will propel Vietnam towards a more prominent role and position within the regional geopolitical fabric.

Thuong Nguyen, Taiwan Center for Security Studies

From left to right: National Assembly Chairman Vuong Dinh Hue, State President Nguyen Xuan Phuc, General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh. Source: Vietnam News Agency.

 

Vietnam's political system has recently undergone a major reshuffle across the board, including the party apparatus, the National Assembly, and the government. The Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) elected a new 200-member Central Committee, which then appointed an 18-member Politburo, and a five-member Secretariat. After the 11th Session of the National Assembly ended on April 8, a new Vietnamese leadership team was strengthened to complete the leadership transition process and shape Vietnam's political and economic development policies and direction during the new term.

As predicted, General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, who is well known both at home and abroad for his anti-corruption campaign dubbed Dot Lo and Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc was re-elected. Accordingly, General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong will continue an unprecedented third term. He will continue to oversee the push for party-building, reorganization, and the fight against corruption which has to-date enjoyed considerable success.

The new Chairman of the National Assembly of Vietnam, Vuong Dinh Hue, has been recognized for his extensive knowledge on economic synthesis and analysis, resulting in his contribution to maintaining macroeconomic stability, continuing economic growth, controlling inflation, and keeping public debt payment at a reasonably safe level. With the abilities and boldness of a politician who has had extensive experience in party politics, Vuong Dinh Hue is expected to make strategic changes in the National Assembly's activities.

Meanwhile, the Vietnamese government in the past term, under the leadership of Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, concretized the policies of the Communist Party of Vietnam, having made achievements in economic, political, and foreign affairs. Especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, helping Vietnam successfully implement the dual goal of controlling the epidemic and maintaining economic development that integrates the country into the global economy. Therefore, with the new position as State President, Mr. Nguyen Xuan Phuc will take advantage of his preexisting experience to expand and strengthen Vietnam's relations with other countries.

Previously, as the Secretary of the Quang Ninh Provincial Party Committee, Mr. Pham Minh Chinh implemented initiatives promoting local economic development, attracting foreign investment, and contributed to making Quang Ninh increasingly developed and today one of the most attractive localities in Vietnam. Due to his innovative and sometimes drastic actions, as Prime Minister, Pham Minh Chinh is expected to lead the Vietnamese government to overcome existing difficulties and challenges to fulfil the strategic objectives over the next five years successfully. The dual goal moving forward: To repel and prevent pandemics while maintaining and promoting economic growth.

The four pillars have a crucial role in national security decisions, with the General Secretary and State President responsible for diplomacy and defence affairs. The Chairman of the National Assembly has legislative power while the PM will care about social-economic development.With the new leadership team, Vietnam's domestic and foreign policy will not have much change. Accordingly, Vietnam continues to implement an independent, autonomous, diversified, and multilateral foreign policy in foreign relations; to proactively and actively integrate into the world. Moreover, Hanoi seeks to be seen as a trusted partner and a responsible member of the international community. Vietnam will increasingly attach importance to adapting to new economic trends due to the economic integration with the region and the world. However, the task of protecting sovereignty, territorial integrity, legitimate interests, and citizenship will continue to be a high priority in foreign affairs in the coming years.

As US-China strategic competition will continue to disturb the Indo-Pacific's geostrategic environment and regional economy in the next five years, it is a significant challenge to Vietnam. However, the Vietnamese government attaches special importance to economic and trade relations with the United States and strictly adheres to high-level commitments, trade agreements of the two countries towards a harmonious, sustainable, and beneficial trade balance.

 

Concerning foreign relations between Vietnam and China, the comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership between the two Communist Parties, the two countries, and the people will be constantly strengthened, meeting the aspirations and interests of the two countries as well as their people. Having awareness of China's importance to Vietnam's economic security and stability, Vietnam's manufacturing industry still needs a lot of raw materials, fuel, and equipment from China despite the sovereignty disputes between the two countries in the South China Sea. A more determined and active foreign policy, particularly in strengthening national defenses and coping with Mekong management-related issues, is also a different front with China. One thing is for sure that trying to maintain a balance between the two superpowers will still occupy a prominent position in Hanoi's activity schedule for the next five years.

 

The recent election marks a combination of experience and freshness factors. This formula has the potential to lead Vietnam to become a developing country with modern industrialization, surpassing low middle-income in 2021-2025, then conducting a vision to 2030 to strive to be a developing country with modern industries, high middle income. At this rate, by 2045, Vietnam will strive to become a developed, high-income country with a GDP of $2,500 billion and a per capita income of $18,000.

Back in Vienna: The Iran Deal and Is It Salvageable?

Iran and the P5+1 countries meet in Vienna to restore the 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal. The initial sessions of the talks were promising for both sides at the table. However, on April 11, Iran accused Israel of launching a cyberattack on Natanz underground enrichment facility, and this event has ignited concerns over the future of Vienna talks.

Harun Talha Ayanoglu and Richard Chen, Taiwan Center for Security Studies

The JCPOA

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was not a final deal that solved all nuclear debate between Iran and P5+1. Instead, this agreement aimed to lengthen Iran’s breakout capacity. In 2015, Iran allegedly was ready to acquire nuclear weapons within two or three months, the P5+1 countries caught Iran at the threshold in signing the JCPOA. The Iran Nuclear Deal brought commitments to both sides; Iran committed to reduce the number and amount of nuclear material, including enrichment capacity and centrifuges. P5+1 committed that sanctions on Iran will be eased as long as Iran fulfills its commitments. American Republicans and Israel were the most dissatisfied fronts of this deal. Thus, unsurprisingly Trump unilaterally withdrew from the agreement in 2018.

The Talks

It took the Biden administration more than three months to make headway in restarting negotiations. While at this point, Tehran and Washington have neither been conducting direct talks, the shuttle diplomacy that is being conducted through seems up to now, still panning out. Sources coming out of the Joint Commission meeting reflected a “constructive atmosphere” and the path to maintain “positive momentum”. 

The main concern however, is the gap of understanding between the degree to which sanctions towards Iran will be lifted. As the US has in the years of Donald J. Trump enmeshed a web of sanctions that were both part of the original nuclear deal as well as those that were justified by the US pulling out. In return, Iran has stated that only once “all sanctions” imposed during the past US administration were removed, would they revert to the initial agreement. Iran has publicly advertised since the Trump administration pulled out, that its uranium stockpile has exceeded thee 300kg limit, and that it has breached the uranium purity threshold of 3.67%—as of today at 20% and announced their intentions towards reaching 60% since the attack on Iran’s Natanz facility on April 11.

It would be far-fetched that an all-out repeal of past sanctions before concrete changes have been made on the ground in Iran, will be accepted. However, a step-by-step process with clear stages of returning to the deal may be a solution for this roadblock. It is also unclear how the Iranian elections in June will affect these negotiations.

Regional and Global Implications

Securing the Iran nuclear deal matters because of two key reasons. Regionally, keeping Iran in a non-proliferation regime is one of the most crucial hurdles preventing other regional countries from going nuclear. Iran constantly highlights the need for a nuclear arsenal to defend itself from Israeli nuclear weapons. Iran often quotes Israel’s preventive airstrike in Iraq’s nuclear reactor in 1981; and the Syrian industrial facility, which was allegedly a secret nuclear facility in 2007. Hence, Iran recognized the fact that acquiring nuclear weapons ensures Iran’s security fundamentally. However, Iran’s nuclear acquisition would dramatically shift the balance of power amongst Iran and its three most powerful neighbors, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Egypt, which could spark a regional nuclear arms race. The US Committee on Foreign Relations Report in 2008 discussed possible chain reactions. The report concluded that if Iran obtains a nuclear weapon, it will place tremendous pressure on its neighbors, and Saudi Arabia and Turkey will be the frontrunners in nuclear weapon programs due to their regional leadership aspirations and historical animosities. However, if these countries go nuclear, the insecurity will spread like wildfire across the neighboring countries such as Israel and Greece.

With regards to China, Iranian statesmen have been seeking strategic partnership since the 1990s. From 2008 onwards both sides developed a partnership based on a model “Iranian oil for Chinese products”. The Chinese FM Wang Yi’s recent official visit to Iran recently profoundly impacts these relations moving forward. On March 27, Iranian and Chinese counterparts signed a 25-year cooperation agreement. Although the details about the agreement are still vague, according to a previously obtained draft by the New York Times, relevant parties dealt on 400 billion USD worth investment in Iran in exchange for discounted Iranian oil. It was stated that Beijing will try to safeguard the Iran Nuclear Deal and defend the legitimate interests of Sino-Iranian relations. Wang also stated that the American unilateral sanctions must be eased, and also Iran should proceed fulfilling its commitment.

Thus, as the talks come to a close, it would be imprudent to expect anything short of a hardline position or response from the Iranians. The US, as much as it seeks to rejoin the JCPOA under this administration, will find this a pill much harder to swallow than a mere presidential campaign agenda.

 

Russia – Ukraine Border Tensions – Towards New War?

Over the past two weeks relations between Russia and Ukraine have severely deteriorated. Moscow accused Kiev of shelling civilians in Donbass and killing a 5 years old child. At the same time Ukraine accused Russia of redeploying tank divisions and soldier troops to the border with Russia and preparing for a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Evgenii Iastrubinskii, Taiwan Center for Security Studies

This whole situation is exacerbated by three additional factors related to NATO. First, as we already know, the US and their NATO allies are planning to conduct military exercises near the borders of Russia. Secondly, according to information from the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, partly the games will be held on the territory of Ukraine, under the name Cossack Mace 2021.  Ukraine is not an alliance member of NATO, and therefore NATO’s presence on the territory of Ukraine is considered by the Kremlin as a “red line” crossing which could result in a conflict. Thirdly, recently in negotiations with the head of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy urged NATO to hasten membership of Ukraine into the organization, under the pretext that this is the only way to end the war in Donbass once and for all and return Crimea to Ukraine. All of the above events are forcing Russia to take countermeasures.

However, at present there is no clear evidence that Russia is going to war. If Russia was going to attack, then most likely it would have done it completely unexpectedly, like in 2014. This military buildup could be part of a military exercise scheduled between Russia and Belarus for this fall. After all, the Russian government can move its troops wherever and whenever it wants within Russia’s borders.

What is all the fuss about?

If neither invasion nor full-scale war with Ukraine is being prepared, then the question is – what’s all the fuss about? For Ukraine, the Ukrainian Crisis is gradually being overshadowed by other priorities on the agenda of American diplomacy and from the headlines of Western media. For a very long time after taking office, President Biden put off calling President Zekenskiy of Ukraine. According to some sources, this made Zelenskiy extremely uneasy. As soon as the news of the Russian aggression spread around the world, Biden immediately called Zelenskiy and affirmed the US’s unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s ongoing aggression in the Donbas and Crimea. In addition to Biden, the head of the U.S. Department of Defense Lloyd Austin, the head of the U.S. Department of State Anthony Blinken, and the National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan called their Ukrainian colleagues. Aside from the Americans, Zelenskiy is clearly trying to draw the attention of the Europeans to Ukraine. In particular, Germany, which is less and less interested in the conflict with Russia and sanctions against it. The latest comment made by the Ukrainian Ambassador to Germany, Andriy Melnyk, claimed that “if Ukraine will not become a part of the alliance, then Ukraine will arm itself and build nuclear weapons for protection. Thus, the President of Ukraine is trying his best to remind western colleagues about the situation in and around Ukraine, and is also trying by any means to make Ukraine a part of the NATO military alliance.

However, having received tacit support from the transatlantic alliance, there is speculation that Ukraine could unleash a war in Donbass and attack Crimea. As soon as Kiev starts to believe it can act with impunity, it may act recklessly, as happened with Georgia in August 2008. Russia, in turn, will defend the annexed peninsula, as well as stand up for the people of Donbass. Russian authorities have already stated that Ukraine could be completely destroyed if a conflict flares up in Donbass. If Ukraine becomes a NATO member and attacks Donbass or Crimea, this will lead to the situation when Western countries have to fulfill their obligations to protect Ukraine from complete Russian occupation based on Article 5. However, this raises the question: Are Western countries ready to interfere in the sphere of interests of the Russian Federation to that extent? On the other hand, if Europeans and Americans do not intervene in the conflict, it will be quite humiliating for those who argue that Ukraine is an important partner of the West. Subsequently, giving US-allies doubt in their mind if such commitments hold any weight. If the Biden administration decides that it must honor the tacit commitments given to ensure the security of Ukraine and gives a military response to the outbreak of hostilities between Russian and Ukrainian forces, the consequences may drag the world into a war that no one wants.