Between Washington and Hanoi the issue of lingering impacts of dioxin contained in the Agent Orange has been a thorn in otherwise friendly ties in recent years.
In 1994 USA lifts its embargo on Vietnam; in 1995 the two countries normalize political relations; in 2001 they sign a Bilateral Trade Agreement (BTA); in January 11th, 2007, Vietnam formally become the 150th member of the World Trade Organization (WTO); in June 2007 another USA-Vietnam bilateral Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) is signed as an initial step toward developing a full-scale bilateral free trade agreement; also in 2007 president Triết and President Bush meet and agree that they would try to work together on environmental remediation; the same year the American congress vote a budget line to help Vietnam on this issue; in December 30th, 2010, at Da Nang Airport site, the governments of Vietnam and the United States sign a memorandum of intent (MOI) paving the way for cleanup of dioxin at Danang Airport.
So the two countries have been able to move closer to each other and improve their relations leading at the end of the day Vietnam and USA to tighten their partnership in part because Vietnam did not ask at the time and to date for any direct financial compensation for the Orange Agent issue nor intended any lawsuit in national or international court. As a result the economical improvements consisted in “US investments in the country and lowering of the average tariff on U.S. imports from Vietnam from an average of 40 percent to 4 percent, essentially opening the vast U.S. market to Vietnamese exporters literally overnight”. Consequently “the United States has become Vietnam’s largest market for exports and one of Vietnam’s largest suppliers of investment, while Vietnam has become one of the fastest-growing markets for U.S. exports” end of quotation. Beside, and on another level, Hanoi and Washington have also cooperated in fighting HIV/AIDS and avian flu. And finally as argue the US ambassador Michael Michalak: “The United States and Vietnam have achieved a level of cooperation that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago” and he notes that the dioxin cleanup in Danang is “an excellent example of our ability to work together constructively to resolve war legacy issues and to build a partnership that continues to grow stronger.” The US Ambassador says also in December 2010 that “the U.S. Government since 2007 has provided $23.3 million for environmental, health, and disabilities activities in Danang in addition to other programs throughout Vietnam and in 2010 has appropriated $16.9 million to commence a $34 million project to remove dioxin from the soil in Danang” (end of quotation).
But as an impartial observer I can say that, in fact, in one hand, to date the US government has always denied his direct legal responsibility for the birth defects of three generations of Vietnamese and in an other hand, indeed, notwithstanding the moral responsibility of the USA, Vietnamese government has never to date sought a compensation or a reimbursement by the USA of its allowance to its citizens suffering from Agent Orange consequences. In fact it has been a pragmatic politic between the two nations of non direct individual compensation of Agent Orange pollution pledged on bilateral trade agreements and assistance in environmental remediation.
But the reality is that this is the third Vietnamese generation that has been victim of the defoliant’s dioxin, the agent being held for responsible for the country high level of genetic defects.
Laura Kyle, an Alljazeera presenter had interviewed in 2009 various personalities on the topic (video of the 2009 interviews are here enclosed). I try to resume these interviews below.
Nguyen Trong Nhan from the Vietnam Association for victims of Agent Orange claims for reparation. A Japanese study showed that Vietnam’s areas spread with the chemical defoliant undergo three fold more mental disabilities prevalence than those where no spraying took place. US government pledged only 6 Million Dollars so far (in 2009) for the victims of Agent Orange which seems like a drop in the sea with regard to the needs attached to three generations of disabled. The United State department’s money along with the New York-based Ford Foundation philanthropy aids helped to purify the polluted soils in Da Nang which was the former location of the big US military base where the Agent Orange was stored by the Americans and whose airport was the busiest airport in the world during the Vietnam War (reaching an average of 2,595 air traffic operations daily). But nothing was done to address the issue of the Vietnamese government’s spending to give monthly compensation allowances to the disabled, for a lack of scientific proof of causality between the polluted soil and the diseases striking the population. USA recognize the lethal potential of dioxin pollution (and so agree to clean it up) but do not recognize the direct and exclusive causality link with the deaths or the disabled (and so denies to their family the legitimacy to a lawsuit)! Charles Bailey from the Ford Foundation says that these six million dollars are only a start and will be followed by more money. But Thao Griffiths of the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation feels that it is a small amount of money compared to what is needed to be done in Vietnam for people affected by Agent Orange. Twenty eight hot spots have been identified as highly contaminated. USA left them behind and now should be in the moral obligation to clean up with regard of the presumed responsibility in Vietnamese children brain deficiency. Every year the government of Vietnam spends 115 million dollars in monthly allowances to the victims as disabled citizens which is a lot of money for a developing country. Researches on the link between Agent Orange and children disabilities still observed nowadays in Vietnam have been implemented by Canadians, Germans, Vietnamese, and American scientists. They resulted in widely published articles. Michael Michalak, US ambassador to Vietnam in 2009 explains how the 6 Million Dollars from US government were spent after President Triết and President Bush met and agreed that they would try to work together on some environmental remediation in 2007. The government of America as accepted to remove and clean up the remains of Agent Orange in ancient USA bases areas notably in Da Nangh but still wait further scientific demonstration of the causality link between Agent Orange and health effect like heart disease or severe deformities because to date there are only presumption according to the ambassador. Beside he said he is working very well with the government of Vietnam for addressing the environmental remediation issue.
But finally my conclusion will be to note the absence of amenity between the two ex belligerent countries which calmly are searching a way to solve the humanitarian problem in a sound dialogue trying to move closer to each other with a scientific basement and leaving any ideological consideration apart (an attitude sufficiently rare in other ex belligerent countries to be noted). And indeed we must recognise that it is not a problem of the past but a problem of today and tomorrow as Dioxin is not degradable and its impact, at the opposite of war memory, is not influenced by the passage of time.
Aljazzira: Agent Orange still haunts Vietnam
Vietnam US embassy
Assessment of the Five-Year Impact of the U.S.-Vietnam Bilateral Trade Agreement on Vietnam’s Trade, Investment, and Economic Structure
Agent Orange cleanup to start at former US base in Vietnam
- Monsanto settles ‘Agent Orange’ case with US victims (guardian.co.uk)
- Monsanto close to ‘Agent Orange’ settlement with US victims (guardian.co.uk)
- VVA to VA: Make Agent Orange Aircraft Crews Eligible for Care and Disability Compensation (prnewswire.com)