The US death toll in the Vietnam War, over 58,200 soldiers, inspired the policy that set out the end of US intervention in Vietnam. Its replacement was to be a poorly trained South Vietnamese Army. Nixon argued that this was his fight for American peace, but did his plan succeed? 

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The US death toll in the Vietnam War, over 58,200 soldiers, inspired the policy that set out the end of US intervention in Vietnam. Its replacement was to be a poorly trained South Vietnamese Army. Nixon argued that this was his fight for American peace, but did his plan succeed?

Vietnamisation 1969

Vietnamisation was the US policy put in place during the Vietnam War under the command of President Nixon. The policy, in short, detailed the withdrawal of the US intervention in Vietnam, redacting their troops and transferring the responsibility of the war effort to the government and troops of South Vietnam. In a larger context, Vietnamisation is something largely caused by the Cold War and the American fear of Soviet Domination, impacting their choices to be involved in the Vietnam War.


12 March 1947Start of the Cold War.
1954The French lost to the Vietnamese in the Battle of Dien Bien Phu.
1 November 1955Start of the Vietnam War.
1963President John F Kennedy sent 16,000 military advisers to help the South Vietnamese army, overthrowing Diem's government and eradicating any strong capitalistic government in control of the South.
2 August 1964North Vietnamese boats attacked a US Navy destroyer called the 'USS Maddox' which was patrolling the Gulf of Tonkin.
1968By this year, over half a million American troops had been sent over to Vietnam and the war was totalling a cost of 77 billion dollars per year.
3 November 1969The Policy of Vietnamisation was announced.
Mid-1969Leading with the ground force withdrawals, Marine redeployments started in the middle of 1969.
End of 1969The 3rd Marine division had departed from Vietnam.
Spring 1972US Forces attack Laos, proving the failure of the policy of Vietnamisation.
30 April 1975End of the Vietnam War.
26 December 1991End of the Cold War.

The Cold War

The United States and the Soviet Union engaged in a 45-year geopolitical war since 1947: the Cold War. 1991 marked the official end of the Cold War when the Soviet Union was forced to collapse and dissolve itself.

Vietnamisation, wich set in motion the withdrawal of the US on Vietnam, permitted the North Vietnamese to push their way through South Vietnam until they reached Saigon.

A Cold War

A state of conflict between nations that don't directly involve the use of military actions. Instead, it is focused primarily on economic and political actions including propaganda, acts of espionage and proxy wars.

Proxy War

A war instigated by a major power which does not itself become involved.

Vietnamisation Propaganda poster StudySmarterFig. 1 Propaganda posters for demoralizing and encouraging the defection of Viet Cong

The Vietnam War

The conflict in Vietnam was primarily caused by the independence movement against French colonial rule. Before WWII, Vietnam was formerly known as a colony of the French, and the Japanese took control of the area during WWII.

Then, Communist Ho Chi Minh made his appearance and fight for the freedom of the country of Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh reached out to the United States for help to return Vietnam to an independent nation. In fear of the spread of communism, the US refused to help Ho Chi Minh as they did not want a communist leader in Vietnam.

Ho Chi Minh began to have success in his fight for an independent Vietnam during the Battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954, a battle that's main intentions were to rid Vietnam of the French military, claim back their land and rid it of French colonial rule. Ho Chi Minh's victory in this important battle sparked concern in the US government, pushing them to intervene in Vietnam's War, they began sending aid to the French in Vietnam and provided help to ensure that Ngo Dinh Diem would be elected in the South.

Ngo Dinh Diem fell from grace and was executed in November 1963 - Not a good sign for the US hopes of preventing the spread of communism during this time!

US Intervention

US intervention in Vietnam was a result of the Domino Theory, popularised through Eisenhower's speeches, in a reference to the strategic importance of South Vietnam to the United States in its drive to contain Communism in the region.

  • Eastern Europe witnessed a similar 'domino effect' in 1945 and China, in charge of North Vietnam, had become communist in 1949. The US felt it was necessary to step in and prevent this from happening again before it was too late. By sending money, supplies, and military personnel to the South Vietnamese government, the US became involved in the Vietnam War.

Eisenhower's speech

Made on 4 August 1953 before a conference in Seattle, Eisenhower explained the notion that if Indochina was to undergo a communist takeover, then other Asian nations would be forced to follow suit.

Now let us assume that we lose Indochina, If Indochina goes, several things happen right away."1

- President Dwight Eisenhower

Policy of Vietnamisation

Vietnamisation's primary aim was to make the ARVN self-sufficient so that it could defend South Vietnam itself, without the aid of the US military, allowing President Nixon to withdraw all his troops from Vietnam.


The Army of the Republic of Vietnam was built from the ground forces of the South Vietnamese military. Founded on 30 December 1955. It is said to have suffered 1,394,000 casualties during the Vietnam War.

The policy initiated the US-led training provided to the Vietnamese troops and the shipping of equipment needed to supply them. Other factors of the ARVN's structure included...

  • Village locals were recruited as civilian militia, and left in charge of securing the rural areas of Vietnam.
  • The AVRN's goal was directed toward seeking out the Vietcong.
  • Later in 1965, the AVRN was replaced by US troops to seek out the Vietcong instead.
  • The AVRN increased from 393,000 to 532,000 in just three years, 1968-1971.
  • The AVRN began to be self-sufficient, and the first notable withdrawal of US troops due to this was on 7 July 1969.
  • By 1970, four billion dollars worth of military equipment were supplied to the AVRN.
  • Specialised training in military strategy and warfare was given to all AVRN officers.

Vietnamisation Navy instructor and Vietnam Navy student StudySmarterFig. 2 U.S Navy instructor watching a Republic of Vietnam Navy student assembling an M-16 rifle.

Nixon Vietnamisation

The policy of Vietnamisation was the idea and implementation of Richard M. Nixon during his time as President of the United States. Nixon enlisted the Joint Chiefs of staff to prepare a six-step withdrawal plan in hopes to decrease the number of US troops in Vietnam by 25,000. Nixon's plan started with Vietnamisation, was followed by strategic isolation of the battlefield and ended with the application of US air power which generated efficient air support for ARVN troops, against North Vietnam during the Linebacker air campaigns.

His idea for the Policy of Vietnamisation came from several different contexts:

  1. Nixon believed that there was no route to a victory in Vietnam and knew that with the United States' best interests at heart, he had to find a way to end the war.
  2. Nixon recognised the fact that he could not enlist the use of nuclear weapons to end the war, Vietnamisation was his other option.
  3. His belief that the South Vietnamese should be able to defend their nation and people meant that taking responsibility for their government is something he thought the South Vietnamese should do.
  4. As an anti-communist, Nixon did not want to see the success of communism, therefore had a cause to prevent South Vietnam from falling to it.
  5. Nixon had the backing of the people with his idea of Vietnamisation, a poll in 1969 showed that 56% of Americans that took part felt that the extent of US intervention in Vietnam was wrong. This meant he had very little opposition to his plan.

Vietnamisation President Nixon StudySmarterFig. 3 President Richard M. Nixon

Now, many believe that President Johnson's decision to send American combat forces to South Vietnam was wrong. And many others - I among them - have been strongly critical of the way the war has been conducted."2

- President Nixon

Vietnamisation Failure

From a distance, the Vietnamisation failure can be primarily chalked up to the fact that during Nixon's plan to withdraw his US troops from Vietnam, he also extended the war in Vietnam into Cambodia and Laos. At the beginning of the gradual withdrawal of US troops, it seems that this plan was working, South Vietnamese troops were being trained by the US military and began being self-sufficient. But this expansion of the war meant that Nixon needed to enlist more US troops, he publicly recognised this by announcing that he needed 100,000 troops for the war effort in April 1970, causing widespread public meetings and protests across the US.

Although Vietnamisation made South Vietnam a member of the most militarized countries in Asia, recruiting half of the population, it was deemed a historic failure because it pulled US troops more deeply into the war.

Vietnamisation Failure under the microscope!

If we look deeper into why and how the policy of Vietnamisation failed, we learn that there were other factors at play including corruption, poor harvest, a weak economy and an unpopular government.

Corruption was rife in South Vietnam, officers were often noted accepting bribes and allowing crime to expand. These corrupted officers and their lack of enforcement meant that theft was common throughout South Vietnam, the stealing of military supplies was at large and the US military felt the black lash of this, costing the US army millions of dollars in equipment. Troops were inadequately supplied due to this problem of theft, making winning the war without US troops much harder.

A poor harvest seen in South Vietnam in 1972, meant that with no support being provided to the people, the Vietnamese were in turmoil with their living and eating conditions. Other struggles throughout South Vietnam came from the lack of US funding to support the Vietnamisation plan as the funding was restricted by US congress, limiting the choices that the military had for their troops.

Economically, South Vietnam was notably weak. The United States had been providing support and help to South Vietnam since the 1950s, gradually making it dependent on this aid–the US government were withdrawing their intervention, meaning that they were also withdrawing funding.

The ARVN military had its issues that led to the failure of Vietnamisation, ARVN soldiers were not trained to a high standard, and their rushed training and English-written weaponry instructions meant that they were set up to fail. This and their lack of morale stemming from the poor leadership of the Vietnamese military leaders who couldn't gain or hold the respect of their troops meant that they had very little chance against the Vietcong in combat.

Overall, the unhappy population and corruption throughout the nation meant that the South Vietnam government were disliked by their people.

Vietnamisation Trained drill instructor and Vietnamese recruits StudySmarterFig. 4 Trained drill instructor with new Vietnamese recruits.

Vietnamisation - Key takeaways

  • Vietnamisation was Nixon's US policy that meant that US troops would be gradually withdrawn from Vietnam, its plan included the US's efforts to train and build the ARVN's troops to be self-sufficient.
  • Vietnamisation failed primarily due to the expanding war and Nixon's need for more US troops, but other elements such as an unpopular government, corruption, theft and economic weakness also played a part.
  • The US fear of spreading communism and a lack of peace in America were the main causes of the creation of Vietnamisation.
  • Nixon had many reasons to attempt Vietnamisation. His support from his people, his anti-communist views and his need to end the war provided ample reasons for this new policy.
  • The Battle of Dien Bien Phu and the recent success of communism in the 1950s was the catalyst that pushed for US intervention in the Vietnam War.


  1. Dwight D. Eisenhower(1954), Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States pp 381–390.
  2. Karlyn Kohrs, 2014. Nixon's 1969 Speech on Vietnamization.

Frequently Asked Questions about Vietnamisation

Vietnamisation failed because it limited the increase of troops and materials for the ARVN's side to counter the build-up of troops and materials on the NVA's side. The US withdrawals left ARVN at a disadvantage.

The US policy of withdrawing its troops and transferring the responsibility of the war effort to the government of South Vietnam and their troops.

Vietnamisation was a policy of the Richard Nixon administration to end U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War through a program to enlarge, equip, and train South Vietnamese forces assigning to them to combat roles, at the same time reducing the number of U.S.  troops.

Vietnamisation failed for a number of reasons:

  1. Poor Harvest in 1972 in South Vietnam.
  2. The decline of South Vietnam's economy.
  3. South Vietnam's government lacked popularity.
  4. Insufficient US funding.
  5. Corruption in the nation and the military.

A gradual withdrawal of American troops and replacement of them with South Vietnamese forces. This was popular with the American protesters of the war. A US policy to end American involvement in Vietnam by developing the South Vietnamese army.

Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

T/FVietnamisation meant that more US troops were being sent to Vietnam.

Which of the following is not a reason for Nixon's creation of the policy of Vietnamisation?


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