India and Vietnam: Defense and Strategic Cooperation (Part 1)


India and Vietnam: Defense and Strategic Cooperation (Part 1)

Though India has various social, economic and strategic relations with most of the Southeast Asian nations, Vietnam remain among the most important Southeast Asian nation for India’s security interests. With the fast changing strategic scenario in the neighbourhood and the rising challenges that is faced by Vietnam, India can play a larger role in strengthening the regional strategic theater by coming closer to Vietnam in the strategic and defense sectors.

India and Vietnam: Defense and Strategic Cooperation

Dr. Dhrubajyoti Bhattacharjee*

In a world that is facing new challenges in the guise of actions adapted by state actors assisted by non-state actors, relations between nations are being forged to balance and counterweigh such expansions and threats. As Waltz has noted that these balances are formed in between some or all states, consciously aiming to establish and maintain balance, to deter some powerful states’ aim for regional or universal domination.[1] It has been also argued that the risk of major wars increases when there are power shifts between major contenders in the system.[2] When a shift in power positions occurs between a rising challenger and a dominant status quo power, is thus a period of competition for leadership and may be critical for systemic stability, and the role of regional alliances become crucial for the maintenance of stability.

India and the nations in Southeast Asia, has deep links that dates back to history. The countries of South-East Asia were rich in minerals and spices. So this region was also called Suvarna Bhumi (the land of God). The cultural and economic relations that has grown through history, dates back to the ages of the Champa and later with the Mauryan and Gupta civilizations, which has built a deep-seated strategic relation between India and the nations in South East Asia. With changing national and regional dynamics, moulded in their colonial histories, nations have drifted apart, but the historical ties, keep them connected. The links embedded in Buddhism, language, social structure, as well as mindset has made re-building linkages much easier than others. Though it might seem that nations are coming closer to each other as to necessitate strategic balancing in the region, but it is not a major fulcrum on which relations are growing.

Though India has various social, economic and strategic relations with most of the Southeast Asian nations, Vietnam remain among the most important Southeast Asian nation for India’s security interests.  Tagore poetically stated about the closeness that people of India and Vietnam had a link that was embedded in history.[3]  People of Vietnam followed and resolutely supported the freedom struggle in India, where Mahatma Gandhi and other freedom fighters were held in high esteem.[4] Nehru considered Ho Chi Minh as “a great revolutionary and an almost legendary hero”.[5] Even while facing international reprimand, India stood close to its belief to support Vietnam in its testing times during the 60s and 70s, which was well appreciated by Vietnam.[6]

India and Vietnam, strategically had remained closer to the Soviet Union, than the US or China due to ideological differences, their individual strategic relations with either US or China, their relations with neighbours and Cold War politics that brought them closer. The relations though had ancient historical linkages, the present Indo-Vietnam relations were first forged between first Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and President Ho Chi Minh making state visits to each other’s country during the 50s. Indian Prime Minister Nehru was the first head of government to visit Hanoi, barely a week after the Viet Minh took over from the French in 1954. India supported the Hanoi government during the Vietnam War, souring relations with the United States. Both countries fought border wars with China: India in 1962 (when Vietnam sided with its then-patron in Beijing) and Vietnam in 1979 (when India, deciding not to hold a grudge, sided with Vietnam). Throughout the Cold War period, both India and Vietnam maintained close ties with the Soviet Union—and their shared reliance on Warsaw Pact military hardware remains a powerful bond two decades after the dissolution of the USSR.[7] In the various joint communiqués that has evolved between Indian and Vietnamese leadership, strengthening of peace and stability of the region has been stressed upon. Then External Affairs Minister and later PM Narasimha Rao stated clearly that India and Vietnam has to pave an avenue for a lasting peace without abandoning principles. On the same lines, PM Rajiv Gandhi pointed out that progress brought new challenges. Both the nations should have the flexibility of mind and spirit which enabled the nations to recognise new challenges and work up befitting responses.[8] Rajiv Gandhi stated “Vietnam is a true and sincere friend of India with whom we enjoy ... many shared geopolitical perceptions. We have established a strong political understanding that will strengthen and safeguard the forces of peace and stability in Asia”.[9]

From the time India adapted a policy of developing relations with its eastern neighbours in earnest, the nations that already had close strategic links with India were Singapore and Vietnam. Strategically, the relationship in between India and Vietnam started getting a formal shape after India joined the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in 1996. Within that time frame, India established a MoU on defence cooperation with Malaysia, which established a Malaysia-India Defence Cooperation Meeting (MIDCOM) at the senior officer level. MIDCOM meetings started between India and Malayisa from 1993.[10] Politically, Vietnam was a viable option for Indian decision makers as the other neighbours Myanmar was under a strong military junta, while Cambodia and Laos had strict communist regimes. India had close economic and strategic links with Singapore, while Thailand’s closer ties with China, has instigated India to build a closer link with the nation. Vietnam, after DoiMoi in 1986, had reformed its economic policies in a manner, which smoothened the way for international economic and strategic collaborations. (Part 2)

 Research Fellow, Indian Council of World Affairs, New Delhi

[1] Kenneth Waltz (1979), Theory of International Politics, McGraw-Hill, p. 119

[2] AFK Organski, World Politics, Knopf, 1958

[3] Nguyen Dang Thuc, “Tagore in Vietnam”, in Rabindranath Tagore: A Centenary Volume 1861 – 1961, Quoted in Birendra Prasad, Indian Nationalism and Asia 1940-1947, Delhi 1979, p. 90

[4] Vo Von Sung, “ Common Bonds of Friendship and Cooperation”, in TN Kaul (ed), India and Indochina: Perspectives of Cooperation, New Delhi, 1987, p. 14

[5] Ton That Thien, India and Southeast Asia: 1947-1960, Geneva, 1960, p. 112

[6] Dr. C. Ravindranatha Reddy, India and Vietnam: Era of Friendship and Cooperation 1947-1991, New Delhi, Emerald Publishers, Chennai, 2009, p. 71

[7] Jonah Blank, Jennifer D. P. Moroney, Angel Rabasa, Bonny Lin, “Look East, Cross Black Waters: India’s Interest in Southeast Asia”, RAND Corporation, 2015, p. 92

[8] India Vietnam Joint Statement during the visit of Prime Minister Pham Van Dong to April 1980 (Vietnam (Hanoi), Vol. XXI, No.2, 1980, p. 19); Establishment of India-Vietnam Joint Commission in December 1982 during the visit of Vietnamese Foreign Minister in India (BBC, SWB, FE/7213/A311-2,20 December 1982); Speech of the Prime Minister, Shri Rajiv Gandhi, at the banquet held in honour of His Excellency Nguyen Van Linh, General Secretary of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, New Delhi, 25 January, 1989 (Directorate of Advertising and  Visual Publicity, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Govermnent of India, March 1989)

[9] Government of India, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Rajiv Gandhi Statements on Foreign Policy, April-June 1988, (New Delhi, 1988), p.9

[10]Pankaj Jha, “India’s Defence Diplomacy in Southeast Asia”, Strategic Analysis, Vol 5. No 1. January 2011, p. 53,

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