Decolonization was an instrumental factor to major changes that took place in the place world politics, particularly the decolonization of Vietnam given the geostrategic position of the country in the Asian region1. Studies show that several changes took place after the process of decolonization, but some scholars are of a different view since they suggest that nothing was interrupted as far as the balance of power was concerned2.
On the other hand, some scholars support the view that decolonization resulted to minor, major, positive, and negative changes, especially when it comes to self-governance, change of societal principles, distinctiveness, thoughts, and wide-ranging normative changes. Some historians are unsupportive of the idea of decolonization noting that the attainment of independence and the subsequent introduction of the process in Vietnam had minimal effects on the world politics.
However, a number of historical analysts underscore the fact that Vietnam’s decolonization process introduced something new in the global system, as the idea of military intervention in order to save lives and the perceptible encroachment on state sovereignty were witnessed for the first time3. Decolonization in Vietnam proved that international organizations and various supranational institutions had great influence and they could not be neglected when making decisions with global impacts. In this paper, various views of history scholars will be analyzed in order to comprehend how decolonization changed global politics4. The views of these scholars as regards to the understanding of decolonization, international system, and sovereignty will be analyzed.
There is need to assess the changes and continuities on global politics, as well as the development of the global society before and after the process of decolonization in Vietnam in order to classify when, where, why, and how the process had an influence on them. Understanding some of the changes that took place in the postcolonial Vietnam is important since it would help in the assessment of changes in global politics. The composition of the international associations, primarily the United Nations and Non Aligned Movement (NAM), will be examined in an effort to give the details of changes in the global system5.
Understanding Decolonization in Vietnam
Duara is one of the scholars who tried to define decolonization by observing it entails a process where the powerful states from the North, including the former colonial powers, transferred institutional and legal power to other countries. Apart from transference of legal sovereignty, the western powers tried to impose ethical justice and social cohesion that fought imperialism. Following the growing sense of nationhood and nationalism in Vietnam and other countries in the continent, as well as Africa, the Charter of the United Nations was signed in 1945.
The agreement suggested that normative ideas and values had to be provided, including the respect of human rights where each person was to be allowed to coexist freely. Based on this, each state was to be given the powers to determine its destiny by electing its leaders peacefully without external disturbance. This idea bolstered the spirits of various nationalistic leaders in Vietnam, as well as other parts of the world, including those in Africa and the Asian continent. The creation of the United Nations and its subsequent empowerment gave momentum to normative framework change that insisted on the provision of human rights and self-governance, which made imperialism outmoded and sovereignty unavoidable in Vietnam. The need for self-governance based on egalitarianism and freedom ultimately deprived colonialism of its ethical claims and substituted it with different standards for rationalizing sovereign nationhood.
Some historians do not consider normative philosophy that other academicians present regarding global politics. While attempting to comprehend the results of decolonization of a range of states, such as Vietnam, such analysts insist on power and the state interest, which is primarily defense. For instance, they underscore the fact that decolonization in Vietnam occurred at a time when the international system was undergoing tremendous changes as the multi-polar system was paving way for bipolar system where the United States and the Soviet Union (USSR) would be the only centers of power, both politically and economically.
When either of the superpowers intervened in other countries, they never aimed at helping any other actor, but instead they did so to achieve their national interests. When the Soviet Union intervened to help Vietnam, it was never interested in uplifting the living standards of Vietnamese, but instead they wished to express their power. In this case, decolonization never played any role in giving weaker states that had just gained independence, such as Vietnam, sovereignty. Krasner is one of the historical scholars that seek to comprehend the relatable questions that both other analysts are yet to find the solutions. For instance, he asks what do the third world countries, such as Vietnam want6.
Additionally, he wonders what the North should do in an attempt to institute a lasting solution. For pessimistic historians, they believe that the solution lies with power, control, and politics whereby the south, including Vietnam, should be given adequate powers to empower their economies. Optimists are of a different view as they suggest that self-governance, normative change, financial empowerment, and strengthening of both national and international organizations would be sufficient answers to the problems. The pessimists observe that developing countries are motivated to pursue decolonization as this is considered the best way through which power could be maximized, which would consequently enhance the chances of the state in controlling global politics. In fact, the demands of G77 confirm this assertion7.
As independent states try to exercise their sovereignty, they end up violating human rights, as the techniques applied in accumulating power are unscrupulous and deceitful to an extent that developed countries are tempted to intervene where some utilize the military8.
This has happened several times in Vietnam where political leaders deny citizens their rights and take them through inhuman conditions, including torture and actions that amount to gross human rights violation. On the other hand, optimists of decolonization support institutions that enhance sovereignty while pessimists counter this view by claiming that it amounts to organized hypocrisy and the idea of sovereignty is extraneous with no power to back it up. Consequently, the new economic order as suggested by the developing countries under NIEO is deemed to fail9.
In order to understand changes in the global politics brought about by decolonization, a close analysis of the postcolonial relationships and foreign policy of Vietnam would be conducted. Moderates pay much attention on the postcolonial relationships, which implies that their studies are mostly based on decolonization. Just as optimists of decolonization process, the moderates base their investigations on the thoughts, standards, and distinctiveness of the post-imperial Vietnam since they are drivers for normative transformations. Allowing developing countries to develop their administrative units that would make them sovereignty is viewed as a social construct as it enables them to interact and share ideas with other actors in the international system.
Modern pessimists observe that states are the major actors in the international system, but this is shifting at a faster rate meaning that significant changes are taking place in the system as far as world politics is concerned. Again, changes regarding nationhood and independence are perceived as the most essential in the international politics. Based on this, Vietnam revolted against western powers in August 1945, which had started in 1925, but with little success making the state a socialist republic. In 1976, the country’s parliament understood the importance of alliance formation and unification by deciding to come together as a socialist republic10.
Based on this, Brown is of a different perspective as he notes that the word self-government mainly entails the claims of self-sufficiency of several political components, which is the major feature of the international political supposition. Self-rule and self-governance are the main drivers of decolonization and they symbolize the noteworthy preferred and achieved changes in the stats that gained their sovereignty recently, including Vietnam11.
The decolonization process played a major part in influencing Vietnam to revolt against its traditional developmental partners. The country realized that it had to be sovereign in order to influence any major global event. Moreover, the leadership of the country came to the realization that formal political independence was critical to its survival in the global arena and it moved a notch higher to formulate stronger economic and foreign policies that would give it a leverage in the region and in 1977, it joined the United Nations. In reaction to this, the western powers had to develop mechanisms that would help them counter the new behavior of the state. The leadership of Vietnam moved on to seek admittance to the Comecon12. The process of decolonization in various parts of the world, including Vietnam, forced the dominant race to incorporate the views of others races13. In 1979, Vietnam entered into war with the People’s Republic of China in an attempt to fight for regional supremacy14.
Since the west was likely to lose trade contact with Vietnam, it had no option, but to incorporate it and other states from African and the Asian region into the global financial system. Between 1982 and 1991, the country was mainly focused on strengthening its institutions, as several laws were passed to ratify the institutions. Before the process of decolonization, Vietnam was delinked from the major economic activities and it had been incorporated as an underdog where goods were produced in the country and exported to other western countries, especially France, for processing and the same products would be imported back to the country to be sold at exorbitant prices.
In 1995, it sought admittance to the ASEAN to ensure that its economic interests are well catered for. The revolt facilitated by the decolonization process where Vietnam and other developing countries demanded for representation in the major world institutions was the start of the seismic shift in the universal international society that was previously under the control of European powers in terms of financial, military, scholarly, educational authority and institutional legitimacy. Decolonization in Vietnam, as well as other parts of the world, particularly India, played a major role in the collapse of the previous western-dominated global order. Several factors entwined in the decolonization process and strongly linked to liberal view of normative change are attributable to the changes in the global system.
Between 1995 and 12006, the country continued with its initial program of strengthening local institutions where the eighth to tenth national party congress were held. With decolonization, the citizens of the developing countries came to the realization that the colonialists had taken over their chances and this led to the psychological and spiritual awakening, which further facilitated active participation in the global politics15.
Moreover, the west, especially the European countries, was unwilling to maintain the positions of influence in the global arena since they were facing serious economic challenges in their countries following the Second World War. With time, the Soviet Union rose to power and this shifted the power equilibrium completely. These realities paved way for the development of various intercontinental organizations and Vietnam, such as the Afro-Asian Movement, the G77, and the Non-Aligned Movement, which played critical roles in transforming the ethical environment of the global order. In 2007, Vietnam joined the World Trade Organization, which was a milestone towards realization of economic objectives16.
These organizations and regional bodies could not be neglected since they had tremendous impacts to the international system. For instance, the Non Aligned Movement never wanted to be associated with any superpower and it recruited so many members17. This would not be taken lightly since the two global powers wanted to incorporate as many members as possible in their camps. Decolonization motivated Vietnam and many more countries from Africa and Asia to reduce western dominance in the global arena. Moderates suggest that the developing countries wanted their ideas and values to be respected, even though they did not have alternative policies as far as development was concerned.
The pessimists offer a different explanation by observing that countries of the south, including Vietnam, were simply interested in power since they were aware of the vulnerabilities and the threats that the international system posed to them. Based on this, it is noted that optimists of decolonization thought Vietnam was concerned with development while pessimists of the process express a different view, claiming that the country wanted to acquire some power and authority needed in controlling and influencing global affairs. Just as many countries from the African continent, Vietnam wanted to be part of the countries controlling the global regimes, such as the United Nations since this would enable it secure national interests and other values18.
These optimists explain that after the decolonization process, Vietnam continued to depend on France and the United States, but it continued to advocate for self-rule, as the preference of the state was considered important, not the country’s potential. The country saw it wise to join the United Nations as it was considered an effective tool to pursue national interests19. Many states acknowledged the existence of others and it was believed that each sovereign state had an equal opportunity in the international system, something that changed the perspectives of developing countries, including Vietnam towards global politics. However, states in the current international system are obsessed with the idea of sovereign equality and this dominates the great-power idea. Pessimists do not appreciate the role of participation in world affairs and institutionalism, as they do not have any importance. Therefore, they move on to suggest that increased participation in regional and intercontinental institutions among poor countries simply realize the interests of the rich states20.
Even though slight changes exist, signifying a shift in balance of power, major actors in the international politics will always be powerful states from the north with positive sovereignty while poor states from the south, including Vietnam, are pushed to the periphery meaning that they have negative sovereignty. Since world politics means an interaction among sovereign states, the poor ones from the south cannot be genuine actors. However, the utter increase in ambassadorial activity within the United Nations illustrates an evolution of the international system, which challenges the views of pessimists who argue that the global system is a theater where major actors that mainly include powerful countries exercise power21.
Before the process of decolonization took off, the only actor in the international system was the state, something that pessimists hold to this date, but this has so far changed with the emergence of the United Nations and other world regimes, such as the World Trade Organization and the human rights watch. Currently, multinational organizations, global organizations, and other non-governmental organizations are major actors that cannot be neglected when making decisions at a global level. Upon decolonization, a state is made sovereign and it has the right to make domestic and foreign policies in order to enhance the lives of their people.
However, they have to interact with other actors and negotiate with the major players when formulating policies meaning that they lack the freedom to act unilaterally even though they are sovereign. Before decolonization, states had the capability of making decisions affecting their people without necessarily consulting other actors, but the decolonization process changed this, forcing states to consult widely before making decisions. The optimists of the process insist on the interdependence among states, which means that no country can exist in isolation. Before the decolonization of Vietnam, many countries existed on their own and they never wanted to interfere with the affairs of others, with the US and Canada serving as perfect examples22.
Decolonization of Vietnam had tremendous effects on the issue of sovereignty, as pessimists believed that it was absolute. Since then, quite a few actors in the global system are anxious of people’s safety, growing levels of human interference, and the successive intensity of independence23. Through the process of decolonization, the world witnessed an increase in the countries that failed to manage their internal affairs leading to attempted coups. The western powers were willing to intervene, especially the French government, which wanted to invade Gabon, Central African Republic, Togo, and Vietnam. It was felt that, even though intervention was illegal, it was deemed necessary to save lives, and this was witnessed in Vietnam and other parts of the African continent. This new way of dealing with issues emerged after the process of decolonization since it had never been tried before.
After the Vietnamese case, the western powers have intervened in various countries, including Somalia, Kosovo, Iraq, and Darfur. Consequently, a new termed referred to as the Responsibility to Protect was coined in the international system to support military intervention in sovereign states. In fact, interventions in Vietnam and other countries led to the drafting of the international law, as well as various resolutions of the United Nations aimed at containing the behavior of belligerent and rogue states. Therefore, it is observed in this section that decolonization led to the development of the state sovereignty, which further led to coups and disorder due to insufficient policies to govern. Consequently, the increasing number of failed states forced the international community to act, which led to the formalization of military intervention.
A number of countries that were previously under the control of the foreign powers attained their independence in 1960s, but Vietnam was already an independent state, as it gained independence in 1945, which happened to be the time when the Second World War ended24. As soon as the country gained self-rule, it demanded for identity in the international arena since its economy was still under the control of the foreigners and citizens existed at the mercy of the foreign bourgeoisies. Those taking a middle stand underscore the fact that world politics is mainly determined by collective meanings, global standards, and thoughts25.
This aspect was clearly brought out in a symbolic and influential conference held in Bandung Indonesia between Asian states and their African counterparts to chat the way forward as regards to decolonization. Vietnam, together with other like-minded states, shared strong ideals of opposition to majestic dominance, racial inequity, and the rights to self-rule, which served as the prologue to what is popularly referred to as the flood whereby membership of the United Nations doubled ultimately giving the Afro-Asians a majority in the organization’s general assembly26. Accordingly, this had a consequence on the global politics given the fact that these counties had the preponderance in the congregation and they could effortlessly manipulate the program on a variety of themes, including human privileges, state sovereignty, and racial favoritism. The demands of these states were felt everywhere and several aspects related to politics, culture, and economics changed27.
Through the hard work of these countries, a new bill was passed in Canada that was related to migration (Canadian Immigration Bill of 1965), the legislative body of Britain approved the Race Relations Bill, and apartheid was done away with in South Africa later on after quite a few years. Equally, changes were introduced in the United Nations, with new divisions being formed, such as the UNESCO, which was approved in 1962 and this paved way for many people from the country to enroll in the best institutions of higher learning in the world. In 1965, a significant bill referred to as global gathering on the abolition against ethnic favoritism was approved28. In the successive year, another law termed as the global agreement on financial, communal, and educational privileges was approved, which was influential in presenting chances to the citizens of Vietnam and others from developing states29.
Continuity of Decolonization
As opponents of the process note sovereignty has never helped developing countries, such as Vietnam to attain freedom from the imperialists. In the new government that was formed in Vietnam, colonial legacy was noticeable, as it maintained the territories that were originally created by colonialists, promoted ethnic and class rivalries, perpetration of inhuman and unjust actions against the innocent minority communities, and uneven distribution of the country’s scarce resources. Since the country had been under the colonial rule for several years, it never had the proven administrative unit meaning that the institutions relied upon to administer justice were foreign.
Additionally, the country was given power, yet it did not have sufficient leaders with good governance skills and much-needed experience in administration, which plays a critical role in ruling the newly sovereign state. In fact, the transition from colonialism to the self-governing authority was a difficult journey and very aggressive. At independence, the only relationship that the country had was with the former colonial power and many countries suffered from this meaning that decolonization was a distressing experience30. Vietnam attained independence, but it could sustain its economic and politic activities to an extent that former colonial master was allowed to encroach back, which made the situation terrible31.
Even though the developing countries dominated the UN general assembly, the Security Council, which is an important organ of the UN that is charged with the responsibility of overseeing the global security, remained the same and no developing country has ever been recruited permanently. The council is simply represented by the five permanent members and others are incorporated as non-permanent associates whose memberships are rotational.
Based on this, the realists’ assertion that decolonization has not interrupted the global order is valid to some extent. However, definition of power in this view is limited since it only considers military and economic power and forgets other important aspects of power, such as technology. Several new independent powers are ordinary members of the United Nations, but they wield a lot of power and Vietnam and India are examples owing to the fact that they are strategically located in the Asian region. Since attaining independence in 1945, Vietnam is considered one of the rising powers in the Asian region, together with China and India, having undergone the process of decolonization successfully. The state is known for its strapping patriotism and constructivist tradition of exceptionality, which was evident in the course of decolonization and this has played a major role in defining the position of the state internationally32.
North East and South Asia are some of the regions in the continent that have attracted much attention from the global superpowers, including the United States, France, Britain, and Japan meaning that they are central to the world politics. The regions are known to have a stable population that is attractive to various companies and organizations as they guarantee stable markets and labor33.
The geopolitical position of Vietnam makes it one of the most significant states in the area since worldwide problems, such as atomic propagation, international financial predicament, environmental change, and fight against terror campaigns are known to happen there. The process of decolonization and subsequent assertion of sovereignty made Vietnam one of the proponents of Non-aligned movements, which was a famous organization in the global affairs during the Cold War. With the fall of the Soviet Union and the rise of the US as the only superpower in the unipolar system, the role of Vietnam in the access of the sub-Asian continent was critical34. It is believed that Vietnam will one day acquire the nuclear power, as the US considers it a future security partner in the region.
It can be concluded that decolonization played an important role in linking Vietnam to the rest of the world and the three major theories of international relations including realism, liberalism, and moderates acquiesce to this fact. If normative change is not realized, those opposed to the process of decolonization underscore the fact that there would be no need of seeking decolonization since its major role is to ensure that the state attains sovereignty, which is very important in participating in the world politics.
Moderates and optimists observe that participation in global affairs is not an easy task and the state has to seek membership in the global organizations, but first it has to attain sovereignty for it to be accepted. Sovereignty was the main goal of seeking decolonization in Vietnam, but it was later realized that its symbolic value was even important since it paved way for normative change. Again, scholars and statecrafts realized that a quasi state had no power in the international system and its sovereignty was always constricted. Nationalism and decolonization helped Vietnam to be a strategic player in global politics. Decolonization of Vietnam gave it special powers that enabled it to influence global politics to some extent.
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1 Lawrence Serewicz (America at the Brink of Empire: Rusk, Kissinger, and the Vietnam War, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2006), p. 41.
2 James Hubbard (The United States and the End of British Colonial Rule in Africa, 1941-1968, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2011), p. 18
3 Mark Bradley (Imagining Vietnam and America: The Making of Postcolonial Vietnam, 1919-1950. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011), p. 12.
4 Chris Brown (Sovereignty, Rights, and Justice: International Political Theory Today, Cambridge: Polity Press, 2006), p. 110.
5 Alison Brysk, Craig Parsons, and Wayne Sandholtz, After Empire: National Identity and Post-colonial Families of Nations (European Journal of International Relations, 8.2, 2002), p. 268.
6 Steve Smith, John Baylis and Peter Owens (Introduction: From International Politics to World Politics, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), p. 2.
7 Ashton Carter, America’s New Strategic Partner? (Foreign Affairs, 8.1, 2006), p. 25.
8 Alison Brysk, Craig Parsons, and Wayne Sandholtz, After Empire: National Identity and Post-colonial Families of Nations (European Journal of International Relations, 8.2, 2002), p. 279.
9 Steve Smith, John Baylis and Peter Owens (Introduction: From International Politics to World Politics, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), p. 4
10 Alison Brysk, Craig Parsons, and Wayne Sandholtz, After Empire: National Identity and Post-colonial Families of Nations (European Journal of International Relations, 8.2, 2002), p. 289.
11 Steve Smith, John Baylis and Peter Owens (Introduction: From International Politics to World Politics, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), p. 6.
12 Thomas Heller and Abraham Sofaer (Sovereignty: The Practitioners’ Perspective, New York: Columbia University Press, 2001), p. 26.
13 James Hubbard (The United States and the End of British Colonial Rule in Africa, 1941-1968, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2011), p. 23.
14 Andreas Daum, Gardner Lloyd and Wilfried Mausbach (America, the Vietnam War, and the World: Comparative and International Perspectives, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003), p. 90.
15 Andreas Daum, Gardner Lloyd and Wilfried Mausbach (America, the Vietnam War, and the World: Comparative and International Perspectives, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003), p. 12.
16 Steve Smith, John Baylis and Peter Owens (Introduction: From International Politics to World Politics, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), p. 9.
17 Andreas Daum, Gardner Lloyd and Wilfried Mausbach (America, the Vietnam War, and the World: Comparative and International Perspectives, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003), p. 17.
18 Prasenjit Duara (Introduction: The decolonization of Asia and Africa in the twentieth century, London: Routledge, 2004), p. 78.
19 Thomas Heller and Abraham Sofaer (Sovereignty: The Practitioners’ Perspective, New York: Columbia University Press, 2001), p. 43.
20 Andreas Daum, Gardner Lloyd and Wilfried Mausbach (America, the Vietnam War, and the World: Comparative and International Perspectives, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003), p. 41.
21 Lawrence Serewicz (America at the Brink of Empire: Rusk, Kissinger, and the Vietnam War, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2006), p. 65.
22 Chris Brown (Sovereignty, Rights, and Justice: International Political Theory Today, Cambridge: Polity Press, 2006), p. 112.
23 Steve Smith, John Baylis and Peter Owens (Introduction: From International Politics to World Politics, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), p. 17.
24 Andreas Daum, Gardner Lloyd and Wilfried Mausbach (America, the Vietnam War, and the World: Comparative and International Perspectives, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003), p. 52.
25 Steve Smith, John Baylis and Peter Owens (Introduction: From International Politics to World Politics, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), p. 21.
26 Thomas Heller and Abraham Sofaer (Sovereignty: The Practitioners’ Perspective, New York: Columbia University Press, 2001), p. 67.
27 Steve Smith, John Baylis and Peter Owens (Introduction: From International Politics to World Politics, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), p. 39.
28 Andreas Daum, Gardner Lloyd and Wilfried Mausbach (America, the Vietnam War, and the World: Comparative and International Perspectives, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003), p. 80.
29 Andreas Daum, Gardner Lloyd and Wilfried Mausbach (America, the Vietnam War, and the World: Comparative and International Perspectives, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003), p. 90.
30 Steve Smith, John Baylis and Peter Owens (Introduction: From International Politics to World Politics, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), p. 54.
31 Thomas Heller and Abraham Sofaer (Sovereignty: The Practitioners’ Perspective, New York: Columbia University Press, 2001), p. 86.
32 Thomas Heller and Abraham Sofaer (Sovereignty: The Practitioners’ Perspective, New York: Columbia University Press, 2001), p. 75.
34 Steve Smith, John Baylis and Peter Owens (Introduction: From International Politics to World Politics, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), p. 79.