THE ARMED FORCES
Vo Nguyen Giap with Viet Minh troops, 1946
Courtesy Indochina Archives
South Vietnamese soldier guarding viet Minh captive, First Indochina War
Courtesy New York Times, Paris Collection, National Archives
Figure 16. Rank Insignia of the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN), 1987
Vietnamese soldiers returning from duty on the Chinese border
Courtesy Bill Herod
Figure 17. Military Organization, 1987
Figure 18. Organization of the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN), 1987
Figure 19. Military Regions, 1986
Women militia members in Hanoi just after the Chinese invasion, 1979
CourtesyWomen militia members in Hanoi just after the Chinese invasion, 1979
PAVN is a singular military establishment. (The full name is
occasionally translated Vietnam People's Army, or VPA). Its
singularity of purpose as well as form is a function of its
Vietnamese cultural heritage, a centuries-old martial spirit, a
history of messianic military leadership possessing extraordinary
insight, and four decades of combat experience.
In the 1980s, PAVN was characterized by a sense of newly
acquired destiny, a feeling of international prowess, and the
real limitations imposed by economic stagnation, diplomatic
isolation, and uncertainty regarding its closest ally, the Soviet
Union. It was in the middle of a debate over the proper use of
force (whether it should be applied nakedly as in Cambodia or in
the more traditional manner prescribed by "revolutionary force"
doctrine) and was determined to modernize its organization,
including reforming the officer corps and renewing the
never-ending internal battle against inefficiency and corruption.
Finally, PAVN was faced with the prospect of an inevitable
generational change of military leadership. In 1987 PAVN numbered
about 2.9 million personnel, including its Paramilitary Force,
making it the third largest armed force in the world.
Nevertheless, it was well integrated into Vietnamese society and
enjoyed a good working relationship with both the government and
the VCP. It was tightly controlled, chiefly by various mechanisms
in the hands of the VCP apparatus within it.
At the same time, PAVN was limited by critical weaknesses: it
was technologically underdeveloped because it lacked various
kinds of modern equipment, weapons, and training; its officer and
noncommissioned officer corps were overaged; and it was highly
dependent on outside military sources because there were no
indigenous arms factories of any importance in Vietnam.
The purpose to which PAVN has been dedicated over the years
has varied greatly and has turned chiefly on the demands of the
party. Its basic functions are similar to those of armed forces
everywhere: to defend Vietnam's territorial integrity, to support
its foreign policy and strategic goals where appropriate,
contribute to the maintenance of its internal security, and to
assist in its economic development. These aims are set forth in
Section IV (Articles 50 through 52) of the 1980 Constitution.
In the first several years after the end of the Second
Indochina War, PAVN's performance was tested twice--in Cambodia
and along Vietnam's northern border with China. Its ability to
maintain internal security has been tested continuously, although
to a lesser degree.
Data as of December 1987