FEATURED BLOG: Vietnam - Weighing the Options: Hanoi's "QDR"
Vietnam - Weighing the Options: Hanoi's "QDR"
By Lewis Stern, PhD Visiting Fellow Center for Strategic Research
Senior Vietnamese defense officials have evinced a continuing interest in the U.S. Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR). They have worked hard and read voraciously in order to understand this complex, multi-agency process. In private conversations and formal bilateral meetings in the last two or so years, senior Vietnamese military officials have attempted to grasp this regular review that coincides with presidential terms, imagining at first that it accounted for policy visions with a ten year life span. They have come to equate the QDR with their own national policy review generated in the context of the national congress of the Vietnamese Communist Party (VNCP). Vietnam’s defense strategy coincides with a five year socio-economic strategy, and is separate and distinct from the periodic defense white paper that talks about defense policies and capabilities.
In fact, the Vietnamese strategic blueprint to which senior SRV defense officials refer in attempts to draw a connection between the U.S. defense review and their own process derives from the length party political report system that begins over one year in advance of the national VNCP congress. It is a highly politicized process that involves every level of the VNCP from the district up through provincial, ministerial and national level party committees in the process of generating an agenda of broad national priorities, and inventorying a wide range of social, economic, policy and defense problem sets. It is a system that, once it reaches the national level, generates as a report card on the successes of the party-driven system that provides guidance to governing administrative levels throughout the country, and articulates the party’s vision for the country across all these issue areas. It is part of the process that generates a new slate of party leaders at all local levels as well as electing Central Committee and Politburo members. This preparation for the 11th National Congress, scheduled to convene in early 2011, is underway.
Vietnam’s national priorities are defined by the VNCP. The convening of the VNCP National Congress every four years represents the conclusion of a lengthy process of drafting, debating, refining and articulating socio-economic, developmental, foreign policy and defense and security goals and priorities, and plans, that involve every level of the VNCP from the grassroots to the provincial and ministerial-level party committees. The document that emerges from this long process of progressively higher level party debates and discussions, and re-drafting, of the Political Report and the parallel socio-economic plans, represents the basis for National Assembly thinking about legislative plans and budgetary priorities.
The process by which the Political Report to the VNCP National Congress is formulated has generally been assumed to be one involving bargaining, compromise and extensive redrafting to accommodate different regional interests or ideological positions. The package of reforms endorsed by General Secretary Do Muoi during 1991 to 1996 committed the party to a more transparent system that transacted at least some of its business in public, permitted and in some limited ways encouraged open debate, and widened participation in some parts of the party process for non-party experts, overseas Vietnamese, and economic interests. Those changes yielded a process that was more argumentative, required cajoling as well as bargaining by the party center, and resulted in increasing willingness by some local party organizations to state their narrow interests and issue positions in independent terms.
Generally, grassroots level congresses – which convene as early as a year prior to the national meeting -- and district, precinct and provincial congresses – which convene from 4 to 6 months before the congress – focus on the process by which the local levels contribute ideas to the draft documents that are ultimately set before the national congress. Subordinate party levels prepare reports for presentation to the precinct congress. Precinct level party committees organize subcommittees that prepare agendas and select delegates for the precinct congresses. In this context, district level committees are responsible for reviewing local production levels, assessing the implementation of Central Committee resolutions, devising local goals and creating the committees that will draw up local political reports and review draft documents.
The party center intervened in the mid-1990s to sharpen the process by which suggestions regarding draft documents were communicated from the lower levels organizations to the next echelon in the process. Instructions were issued on allotting time for the review of draft documents, the quality of contributed ideas, and the integration of recommendations made by party chapters into grassroots level political reports.
Within 6 to 8 months of the national meeting, national level party organizations introduce the version of the Political Report that will be subjected to provincial and central bloc-level discussions. By that point, the Political Report, the socioeconomic plan, and revised party statutes are generally ready for close reading by these high level party organizations.
What emerges from this process is a political report and a socio-economic plan that speak to the issues of rules governing market mechanisms, private capitalism, foreign economic activities, the trajectory of national level investment in industrialization and modernization, the appropriate relationship between economic and political reform, the role of the state in economic management, “open door” foreign policy priorities, and efforts to enhance education, social policies, infrastructure, and sustain structural and leadership reforms in the party.
An essentially similar process occurs within the military where basic level meetings of military party committees review local military issues, security policy matters, national defense concerns, training problems, resource and readiness issues, the renovation of party organizations within the military, threat perception and basic defense missions. These meetings are acknowledged in the party-controlled press, but the proceedings are not detailed. Military Party Committee documents are closely protected.
On the basis of a scant few opportunities to review such documents, it appears that provincial party committees commence preparations for holding party congresses 10 or so months in advance of the national meeting. Provincial military party committees set up subcommittees responsible for personnel and agenda issues that will be aired at the provincial military party committee meeting. General Department-level military party committee organizations appear to conduct their congresses 9 or so months before the national meeting. The General Political Department takes the responsibility for convening conferences aimed at providing guidance to the military regions, corps, political commands, military institutes and Defense Ministry researchers, and for summarizing defense achievements over the term of the sitting Congress.
The General Political Department also assumes responsibility for convening key cadre conferences to study directives issued by the Secretariat and the Military Committee on the election of committee members, the organization of local military party congresses, and the evaluation of local reports. The General Rear Department plays a role in educating card carrying military party cadre on the Politburo’s resolution, focusing on party organization, membership policy and leadership practices.
Approximately 5 to 6 months before the national congress, regimental level commands begin reporting the results of meetings reviewing draft party documents. Typical regimental committee sessions would focus on the national economic situation, raise issues regarding national unity, speak to problems involving allegations of corruption. Regimental level committee organizations would also fix their attention on worldwide challenges, “peaceful transformation,” and the stability of Vietnam.
Service party committee meetings are convened 4-5 months in advance of the national party congress, and tend to dwell more closely on conventional military issues such as readiness, requirements generated by the situation in the South China Sea, training needs. Provincial level military party committee meetings focused on the local military unit involvement in socioeconomic development, the standards for generating high quality party members in military units, developing local commands and building effective provincial forces.
The All Army Party Organization Congress takes place in the context of the provincial and ministerial – level conferences, and defines the integrated defense strategy, the relationship between nation building responsibilities and security missions, the reorganization and strengthening of the military’s party apparatus, issues and adjustments in the party committee system within the military, and military education, for example. National level debates focused on the role of military councils versus military party committees, the party’s responsibility in creating regional defense forces in geographic zones, cultural and political levels of military cadre, and the military’s role in internal security policies, border and coastal defense strategies.
At the end of the thick network of local, district, provincial, ministerial and parallel military committee meetings, progressively higher levels focus on defining the debate in exacting terms and representing the key issues in the final pre-Congress effort to fashion a Political Report for the National Congress, a consensus document that captures the key issues, and represents policy priorities and solutions that will nudge things forward.
This may be the one system that makes the QDR drill look elegant in comparison.
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