US - Vietnam Relations 1975-2006: A Theoretical Approach

Nguyen, Viet, Foreign Affairs - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Womack, Brantly, Politics, University of Virginia
Schwartz, Herman, Politics, University of Virginia
Legro, Jeffrey, Politics, University of Virginia
Brown, Brad, McIntire School of Commerce
Sutter, Robert, Department of Political Science, George Washington University

This dissertation seeks to explore the rationale behind the three-decade long and bumpy process of normalization of US-Vietnam relations since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975 until the two countries reached full normalcy in 2006. The dissertation goes beyond conventional theories of international relations to explore the role of ideas (i.e. national beliefs about effective means for achieving interests, and the war mentality that vividly exists in both countries) and asymmetry of power in shaping the pace and scope of the normalization process. Through the employment of congruence and process tracing methods, the dissertation finds that the interaction of different ideas in the context of disparity of capabilities between the two countries, given the special history of the relationship, generated unique outcomes that cannot be reduced to strategic circumstances: the extreme sluggishness and politics of inattention on the US side, and the over-skepticism and frustration on the Vietnamese side throughout the process, all contributed to the prolonged and rough path to normalization. Such findings are confirmed by empirical evidence obtained in different periods of the normalization process. The dissertation concludes with an overall evaluation of competing theories in explaining the normalization process, followed by some implications and recommendations for future US-Vietnam relations.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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