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Wed. February 08, 2023
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Around the World, Across the Political Spectrum

America’s Deadly Legacy in Vietnam


America’s nearly two decade war in Vietnam ended forty seven years ago. In the years since then more than 40,000 Vietnamese civilians have been killed and in excess of 60,000 people have been separately maimed by unexploded ordinance (UXO) leftover from the conflict. It is estimated that as many as three million pieces or 800,000 tons of unexploded ordinance remain in Vietnam's soil. These munitions are estimated to be contaiminating eighteen percent of the nation’s land. In the province of Quang Tri, located north of Hue, and formerly home to the Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone, that number rises to eighty percent.

Understandably, development has been slow in the most compromised lands. Farmers are hesitant to work lands that may contain dangerous ordinance. The United States has provided more than 166 million dollars to assist in the removal of the UXO and has pledged to continue funding efforts. Even with this level of funding progress has been slow. America must dramatically increase funding for the removal of UXO. The Congressional Research Service admits that most of the ordinance remaining in Vietnam is a result of American actions. In recent years, bills have been introduced in both the Senate and the House to increase funding in the Southeast Asia region, these bipartisan bills have stalled out though.

It is clear that America recognizes that it has a responsibility to assist the Vietnamese government with its ongoing efforts. However, the 18.8 million dollars allocated to Vietnam in 2021 is not enough. With that allocation, the Vietnam National Mine Action Center (VNMAC) and its partner agencies were able to deem approximately 9,300 acres or 3,763 hectares of land safe and return it to local communities. 2019 Congressional Research Service estimates put the remaining affected land between 6.1 and 6.6 million hectares. At the rate of 2021, and using the low estimate from 2019, it would take over 1600 years to completely remove the ordinance. While removal of all UXO is unlikely, at a certain point there are diminishing returns, clearly the pace is moving incredibly slowly.

America holds a moral obligation to expedite the removal of its munitions. In 2014 the United States committed to stop its use of landmines everywhere but the Korean Penninsula. Though the nation abandoned its commitment in 2020, its new landmine strategy utilizes non-persistent or self deactivating landmines, unlike those scattered throughout Vietnam. The Department of Defense’s new policy makes clear that the older conventional landmines are no longer acceptable to use, as such the nation must do everything it can to eliminate their deadly potential. America cannot claim to be a world leader on human rights while its munitions continue to kill and maim civilians decades after war has ended.

Though America does hold a moral responsibility to minimize the future harms of its past actions, there is also an economic benefit to funding UXO removal. Annually, the United States imports over 80 billion dollars in Vietnamese products including 3.4 billion in agriculture products. After the human toll, the largest effect of the UXO is its contamination of farming lands. As the VNMAC and its partners clear land, organizations such as Roots of Peace move in to help train small farmers on how to grow high value crops and export them. The U.S. State Department's Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement is the largest funder for Root’s of Peace’s efforts in Vietnam. It is economically beneficial for the United States to assist Vietnam in opening more of its land for development.

War is a horrible aspect of human existence. America’s war in Vietnam was one its longest and the United States has a responsibility to remediate the worst effect of its time in Vietnam. Tens of thousands of civilians have been maimed or killed and while in recent years the number has decreased, people are still hurt every year. Removal of UXO holds benefits for America on the international stage and economically. The United States must increase its funding of efforts to remove unexploded ordinance in Vietnam.

Logan Wolff is a rising senior at The George Washington University pursuing a degree in Political Science with an interest in International Affairs.

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