I strongly support the IMET program. Sitting on the Committee on Armed Services, I understand that it is a vital tool for furthering regional security cooperation and promoting United States interests overseas.
Vietnam held off on agreeing to participate in the IMET program for quite a while because they were concerned about scrutiny of their human rights record, and those concerns are well-founded. Vietnam is responsible for a broad range of human rights abuses, including the repression of ethnic minorities, detention and torture of political dissidents, and the repression of religious freedom.
The U.S. designated Vietnam as a "Country of Particular Concern" in 2004 because of its violations of religious freedoms. With this designation, Vietnam joins a club including Burma, China, Iran, and North Korea.
So, should the United States provide IMET for these countries? Why should Vietnam be any different?
The Vietnamese military has reportedly been involved in numerous cases of human rights violations, including violence and brutal suppression of the peaceful Montagnard people in demonstrations in April of 2004.
Providing humanitarian assistance to a country is one thing. Establishing trade relations is yet another. But military assistance such as IMET requires an even higher standard. Why would we want to establish military relations with a repressive regime, one in which our potential counterparts are directly involved in that repression? I think Vietnam should not be eligible for IMET assistance until it has demonstrated a willingness to treat all its citizens with the fundamental dignity and respect that they deserve.