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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)


Vietnam Special Weapons

In congressional testimony in 1988, the Director of Naval Intelligence indicated that Vietnam was in the process of developing, or already had, chemical weapons. Newspaper reports suggest that Vietnam may have obtained chemical weapons from the former Soviet Union. Vietnam is also reported to have captured large stocks of U.S. riot control agents during and at the end of the Vietnam War. No public references have been made to an indigenous production capacity.

By 2009 Viet Nam had acceded to and fulfilled its obligations under the following international disarmament agreements:

  • The 1925 Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or Other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare (The 1925 Geneva Protocol - Viet Nam acceded to the Protocol in December 1980);
  • The 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, NPT (Viet Nam acceded to the Treaty in June 1982);
  • The 1972 Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction, BWC (Viet Nam acceded to the Convention in June 1980).
  • The 1980 Convention on Prohibition or Restriction on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May Be Deemed to Be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects, CCW (Viet Nam signed the Convention in 1980, now considering its ratification ).
  • The 1993 Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction, CWC (Viet Nam acceded to the Convention in August 1998)
  • The 1995 South East Asia Nuclear Weapon Free Zone Treaty, SEANWFZ (Viet Nam joined the Treaty in November 1996)
  • The 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, CTBT (Viet Nam signed the Treaty in September 1996 and ratified it in February 2006)
  • The IAEA Safeguard Agreement (Viet Nam signed it September 1989)
  • The IAEA Additional Protocol to the Safeguard Agreement, AP (Viet Nam signed AP in August 2007)
  • Viet Nam is a full Member of the Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva, Switzerland.

The Director-General of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Ambassador Rogelio Pfirter, paid an official visit to The Socialist Republic of Viet Nam on 26 and 27 September 2006 and met the Deputy Prime Minister, who also serves as the Foreign Minister of Viet Nam, H.E Mr. Pham Gia Khiem. In their meeting, Deputy Prime Minister Khiem renewed Viet Nam's continued support for the Organization in its mission to achieve the complete global elimination of chemical weapons. He reiterated his Government's staunch commitment to the Chemical Weapons Convention, a non-discriminatory multilateral disarmament and non-proliferation treaty that contributes to international peace and security.

Director-General Pfirter briefed Deputy Prime Minister Khiem on the status of the implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and the efforts undertaken by the OPCW in fulfilling its mandate to implement the global ban on chemical weapons, by eliminating all stockpiles and preventing the proliferation and re-emergence of chemical weapons all over the world. He additionally stressed the significance of universal adherence to the Convention and of full implementation of all its provisions by Member States, to ensure its ultimate success. Director-General Pfirter commended Viet Nam for its exemplary implementation of the Convention and its close cooperation with the OPCW. Deputy Prime Minister Khiem and Director-General Pfirter also exchanged views on the challenges ahead that were being addressed by the OPCW, such as the verified destruction of the global chemical weapons stockpile and the potential threat posed by chemical weapons proliferation.

During his official visit, Director-General Pfirter also met H.E. Hoang Trung Hai, Minister of Industry, H.E. Mr. Nguyen Huy Hieu, the Vice Minister of Defense and H.E. Mr. Huu Hao Do, the Vice Minister of the Ministry of Industry, who is also the Chairman of the CWC National Authority. Ambassador Pfirter complimented the Vietnamese authorities for the progress achieved in the CWC's national implementation in Viet Nam, in particular since this legislation provides the essential legal and administrative basis, enabling States Parties to deter or pursue any breach of the CWC, including the terrorist acquisition or use of chemical weapons.

Agent Orange

Agent Orange was used by the United States during the Vietnam War (1959-1975) as a defoliant. US forces routinely sprayed the defoliant to clear areas of jungle where they believed "Communist forces" were hiding, and to destroy their crops. During Operation Ranch Hand, which lasted from 1962 to the early days of 1971, some 19 million gallons of herbicide was sprayed on Vietnamese and Laotian lands to remove the forest cover that shielded the Viet Cong and to destroy crops. Various formulations were used; most were mixtures of the phenoxy herbicides 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T. The different formulations were named according to the color-coded drums they were shipped in; the most widely used--and perhaps the best remembered--was Agent Orange, composed of equal parts 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T. Today, the term "Agent Orange" is used as a catchall phrase to describe all of these compounds.

These herbicides were contaminated with minute amounts of 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD, also known as dioxin), a by-product of the manufacturing process for 2,4,5-T. TCDD has a half-life of 8.7 years in humans. It is a persistent organic pollutant; after 25 years since the end of the Vietnam War, a quarter of the TCDD released through herbicide spraying is still in the Vietnamese environment. TCDD has been found to be biologically active at minuscule concentrations. The EPA regulated TCDD in drinking water at a concentration of 13 parts per quintillion.

TCDD has been shown to suppress the immune system in animals, and has caused cleft palate and ureter defects in mice. Rats exposed to TCDD have shown hormonal imbalances, which may affect the development and function of the endocrine system. TCDD is also believed to cause cancers such as Hodgkin disease and soft-tissue sarcoma, liver damage, reproductive problems such as spina bifida and miscarriage, neurotoxicity, and skin effects such as chloracne, which causes severe acne-like lesions. In January 2001, the National Toxicology Program published an addendum to the Report on Carcinogens, Ninth Edition, listing TCDD as a known human carcinogen.

People who have certain medical conditions are eligible to receive a disability stipend from the Government of Vietnam Agent Orange Central Payments Program of up to 300,000 Vietnamese Dong (or $17) per month. As of 2009 there were over 200,000 victims of Agent Orange receiving amonthly allowance from this program with the budget of about $50 million per year. The annual cost of providing a $17 per month stipend to all of Vietnam's estimated 2.1-4.8 million victim of Agent Orange would be $360 million to $820 million.

Although 180 million USD has been paid out to American veterans who fought in Viet Nam, there has never been any compensation paid to the Vietnamese. Scientists have stated that the defoliant can cause cancer, diabetes, birth defects and other problems. Vietnamese citizens who have suffered a lifetime of health problems after being exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War are suing the American chemical companies that provided the US Defence Department with the toxic defoliant. In the lawsuit filed in March 2005, it was alleged that up to four million Vietnamese suffered persistent respiratory and reproductive problems as a result of being contaminated by AO. They are seeking compensation from 37 companies, such as Dow Chemical and Monsanto.

U.S relations have witnessed dramatically development since the mid-1990s following political normalization. A series of bilateral summits have helped drive theimprovement of ties, including President George W. Bush's visit to Hanoi in November 2006 and President Nguyen Minh Triet's visit to Washington in June 2007. The US-VietNam Dialogue Group on Agent Orange/Dioxin was set up in 2007 in the framework of track two (non-govemmental) dialog. The Dialogue Group seeks to draw attention to the range of human andenvironment needs related to Agent Orange/Dioxin in Viet Nam and to identify practical andeffective fields in which donors can help to address those needs.

The International People's Tribunal of Conscience in Paris made its final judgment on 18 May 2009, concluding that the use of dioxin by the US military in Vietnam from 1961 and 1971 was a war crime against humanity. The tribunal asked the US Government, and the chemical companies who manufactured and supplied AO, to fully compensate the AO victims and their families. The tribunal also demanded they restore the environment to what it was before the war and eradicate any dioxin from Vietnam and its waters, especially hot spots around former US military bases.

With the support of funds approved by Congress in FY 2007 and FY 2009, the US is moving ahead with collaborative efforts to help Vietnam address environmental contamination and related health concerns. The $3 million included in the FY2007 supplemental appropriations bill for "environmental remediation and health activities" at "hot spots" in Vietnam is central to US efforts to address environmental and health concerns. An additional $3 million in FY2009 funding is available for Agent Orange/dioxin activities in Vietnam.




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