Fraternal Support: The East German ‘Stasi’ and the DRV during the Vietnam War

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Title: Martin Grossheim, “Fraternal Support: The East German ‘Stasi’ and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam during the Vietnam War”, Cold War International History Project Working Paper #71, September 2014.

Introduction: 

In the post-war world, new linkages were established between the so-called “Second World” and the “Global South.” This working paper explores the role which the German Democratic Republic (GDR), or East Germany, played as a second-tier member of the socialist camp in the evolution of state socialism and state modernization in Vietnam. The paper analyzes the links that were forged between the secret service of a minor player in Cold War, the GDR, and the newly constituted intelligence service in the post-colonial Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV). On a more general level, the paper highlights the role of the periphery and demonstrates the importance of middle- and small-powers in the history of the Cold War.

Relatedly, this paper makes a contribution to the history of intelligence. In 1984, the British historian Christopher Andrew complained that intelligence was a missing dimension in historiography.2 Since then “intelligence studies” have blossomed and “offered new and exciting insights into war, societies, ideologies, institutions, and even cultures and mindsets.”3 Most of these studies, however, have tended to focus on the Western world and the post-colonial nation-states in Africa and Asia have usually been left out.4 Yet intelligence services and institutions were just as important to political and social developments within the Global South as they were in the West. In the first study of the role of intelligence in Vietnam during the anti-French resistance war, Christopher Goscha demonstrated how “Vietnamese security and intelligence services were heavily involved in building, protecting, and expanding the Vietnamese state, armed forces, and communist power.”5 My aim in this paper is to build upon Goscha’s pioneering research by focusing on the role of the North Vietnamese security apparatus after 1953 and its relationship with the East German Ministry of State Security. Though the startingpoint for the formation of the Vietnamese security apparatus was before 1953 and it was modeled after French (Sûreté), British (MI6), Japanese, and Chinese examples, this paper focuses only on the second phase, which began in 1953 with the establishment of a full-fledged ministry.

I make use of files of the former GDR Ministry of State Security, commonly known as
“Stasi,” official histories of the Vietnamese Ministry of Public Security (Bộ Công An), and newspaper articles written by retired cadres of the Vietnamese security apparatus. In the turbulent months after the fall of the wall in November 1989, most of the files of Department X of the GDR Ministry of State Security, which was in charge with international relations with other socialist countries, were destroyed, but fortunately many of the documents on the relationship between the East German and the Vietnamese security service “survived.” These files have not been used to date, despite that they not only provide information on a forgotten chapter of the history Cold War, the cooperation between the GDR Stasi and the Vietnamese Ministry of Public Security, but also offer insights into the inner workings of the Vietnamese security apparatus.6

Until recently, official Vietnamese-language histories of the Bộ Công An were classified
as “top secret” and “for internal use” only. Fortunately, this has changed, but of course the publications that have become available have to be used carefully as they present a heavily edited and rather teleological version of the history of the Vietnamese security services. However, they contain precious and very detailed information on the ideological foundations of the Vietnamese Ministry of Public Security and institutional changes after the 1950s. Paired together with articles written by retired Vietnamese security cadres who proudly retell their successes in the struggle against so-called internal and external enemies, these official publications allow us to put the information provided in the East German Stasi files in the broader context of the development of the Vietnamese security apparatus.

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