Sunday, June 28, 2015

Why Military Advising Was So Successful in Vietnam…

Of course how did Vietnam turn out in the long run in its relationship with China?  The PLA got their butts kicked by them in 1979 and now there is friction over the South China Sea with Vietnam siding with other regional powers and asking the US for support.  The Chinese advisory operations did not result in an alliance that was closer than lips and teeth the way their intervention on behalf of the north Koreans did (though they are probably regretting that relationship now!)

But these three factors for Chinese success (or effectiveness) outlined here are are important considerations and should factor into both decision making and planning.  There are a number of very important lessons to which we should pay attention though those with professional advisory experience will tell you they are common sense. E.g.:

In contrast, the US advisors shared no historical background with their South Vietnamese counterparts, and there was a complete lack of cultural understanding between the two. American advisors were confident in their experience from World War II and the Korean War, and any reluctance by their Vietnamese counterparts to do exactly as the Americans would do was often perceived as laziness or incompetence[II]. The foundational relationship for a successful military assistance partnership was simply not strong as it was for the Chinese and the Vietnamese Communists.

The highlighted excerpt above is an illustration of our lack of cultural understanding and the one track path we follow, e.g., fight the American way or you cannot fight.
To be clear, China’s assistance was critical. As Seals[VIII] points out, China provided professional advice, weapons, logistics, and a strategic deterrence against a US invasion of the North Vietnam. But the fighting was always left to the PAVN and thus China never took the feeling of ownership of away from the Vietnamese.
This is why I advocate that while we need expertise in counterinsurgency we should not be conducting COIN ourselves but instead  conducting foreign internal defense to help a friend, partner or ally in their internal defense and development programs so that they can defend themselves from lawlessness, subversion, insurgency, and terrorism.  If we are doing it for them then we know how that turns out.

Could we substitute Iraq and Afghanistan below?

This is in stark contrast to the ARVN forces who, as US support decreased later in the war, complained that their way of fighting had become dependent on massive amounts of supply and ammunition and significant air support[VI]. They had become accustomed to fighting a materiel and ordnance heavy fight like their US advisors, which was not at all suited to the nature of counterinsurgency warfare fought among the civilian population. Nor were such methods of fighting suited to the ARVN forces capacity to sustain it.

But we should also realize that no two situations are the same and that there are no exact models that are transferable in every way but there are many lessons that do carry over.

Conclusion:

The Chinese may have simply been lucky to support a motivated and culturally compatible Vietnamese military. Given less favorable circumstances the task would no doubt have been exponentially more difficult.  Could Mao’s PLA have advised the Vietnamese, if necessary, in a strategy other than People’s War? Could it have successfully advised a military with which it shared no culture or history if the situation required it? Could Chinese encouragement have provided the necessary enthusiasm for the cause if the Vietnamese Communists were reluctant? One can only speculate. More importantly, can the US advise any of its allies in anything other than its own methods and doctrine if the situation requires something different? Can it tailor advising and assistance to a military that culturally is a poor fit for US institutions? Can the US encourage host nation ownership? Judging from the current efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the answer unfortunately seems to be no.

And a friend responded to my comments on this article on my national security list serve to remind me of this pithy quote that also illustrates one of our American strategic weaknesses:
  • “The very massiveness of our intervention actually reduced our leverage. So long as we were willing to use U.S. resources and manpower as a substitute for Vietnamese, their incentive for doing more was compromised.” – Komer, Bureaucracy At War.

Why Military Advising Was So Successful in Vietnam…

by Peter Murphy

Journal Article | June 28, 2015 - 3:58pm
Why Military Advising Was So Successful in Vietnam…for the Chinese: And What the US Can Learn From It
Peter Murphy
In post-World War II Vietnam, the fact that the Vietnamese Communists consistently demonstrated more motivation to fight and maintained greater popular support than their adversaries leads many to conclude that the communist victory was inevitable and no military action would change what was ultimately a political situation favorable to the communists. It is true that the Vietnamese Communists did enjoy these advantages over the French and later the South Vietnamese government and its poorly motivated military forces. But military action was necessary for the Vietnamese Communists to force out the French and later to force out the South Vietnamese government. No popular uprising was sufficient to create the unified Vietnamese state under communist control without the military victory.
The Vietnamese Communist government and People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) received some material assistance from the Soviet Union, but were primarily advised and assisted by People’s Republic of China (PRC) throughout most of the Indochina Wars. Those Vietnamese troops decisively defeated the French, survived a war of attrition against the US, and completely overran the South Vietnamese forces that had received decades of French and US assistance. It seems the Chinese must have done something right in their military assistance effort.  There are undoubtedly many contributing factors that led to the success of the Chinese assistance effort in Vietnam.  The three most significant of those factors will be examined to see how they facilitated such a success, and why it seems the US continues to have difficulty finding similar success.
The Historical Relationship Between Advisors and the Advised
The first key factor contributing to China’s successful assistance to the Vietnamese Communists was the dynamic of the relationship between the two countries. The Vietnamese Communists and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) shared a common brotherhood from their leaders’ mutual involvement in the communist movements of the early twentieth century. Additionally, both countries had recently emerged from struggles against the Japanese and had both been the victims of western imperialism. But perhaps even more important, the two countries shared a much longer historical relationship. The Chinese empires had always exerted a significant cultural and philosophical influence on Vietnam, a country on the periphery of the old Chinese tributary system. But Vietnam also had its own unique heritage and with it a history of resisting Chinese interference in Vietnamese affairs[I].
This created a situation where some cultural similarities mixed with the shared communist ideology and resistance to colonialism would facilitate a mutual understanding and a good working relationship.  Yet this was balanced by a history of Vietnamese independence and mistrust toward their larger neighbor. This second element of the relationship is important because though Vietnam and China quickly established an effective cooperative relationship, this sense of Vietnamese independence helped Vietnamese Communist leadership resist attempts by the Chinese to play too active a decision making role in what was after all a Vietnamese struggle.
In contrast, the US advisors shared no historical background with their South Vietnamese counterparts, and there was a complete lack of cultural understanding between the two. American advisors were confident in their experience from World War II and the Korean War, and any reluctance by their Vietnamese counterparts to do exactly as the Americans would do was often perceived as laziness or incompetence[II]. The foundational relationship for a successful military assistance partnership was simply not strong as it was for the Chinese and the Vietnamese Communists.
The Assistance and Mentorship Was Appropriate
(Continued at the link below)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Countering 'little green men': Pentagon special ops studies Russia ‘gray zone’ conflict

Good to see that Congress remains concerned with unconventional warfare.  I asked this question two years ago:   Congress Has Embraced Unco...