VIETNAMIZATION, an American term first used in the spring of 1969 by Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird to describe the policy, strategy, and programs adopted by the administration of Richard M. Nixon for the Vietnam War. Vietnamization entailed the progressive withdrawal of U.S. forces from South Vietnam combined with efforts to enhance the training and modernization of all South Vietnamese military forces to enable the government of South Vietnam to assume greater responsibility for the conduct of the war. The policy also encompassed U.S. support for Saigon to more vigorously pursue rural pacification and development to win the loyalty of the peasants and to strengthen its political base through village and hamlet elections, social and economic reforms, and expanded social services.
Under General Creighton W. Abrams, who succeeded General William C. Westmoreland as the overall U.S. military commander in South Vietnam in June 1968, allied military strategy under Vietnamization emphasized operations to weaken the enemy's capabilities by attacking its logistical bases in South Vietnam and neighboring Cambodia and Laos. Operations such as the May 1970 American ground incursion into Cambodia and the January 1971 South Vietnamese incursion into Laos, Lam Son 719, were justified as means to gain additional time for Vietnamization to progress. These operations only temporarily disrupted the enemy's plans. The poor showing of Saigon's forces in Lam Son 719 cast doubt on the efficacy of Vietnamization, as did the heavy reliance of Saigon's forces on U.S. airpower to repulse North Vietnam's 1972 Easter offensive.
Vietnamization was a useful facade for the withdrawal of American forces from Vietnam between 1969 and 1973. However, despite the extensive equipment the departing U.S. forces turned over to Saigon's armed forces, the latter were ill prepared after 1973 to face North Vietnamese forces in the absence of sustained, direct American military support.
Clarke, Jeffrey J. Advice and Support: The Final Years, 1965–1973. Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, 1988.
Kimball, Jeffrey. Nixon's Vietnam War. Modern War Studies. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1998.
Nguyên, Duy Hinh. Vietnamization and the Cease-Fire. Washington, D.C.: Department of the Army, 1980.
See alsoVietnam War andvol. 9:Speech on Vietnamization and Silent Majority .