Wars have occurred between different countries and alliances since Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Surely there must be something we can learn by comparing different conflicts?

Comparative politics is a field in political science characterized either by the use of the comparative method or other empirical methods to explore politics both within and between countries. Substantively, this can include questions relating to political institutions, political behavior, conflict, and the causes and consequences of economic development” (Comparative Politics:Wikipedia)

In comparative politics, how does the Russian invasion of Ukraine compare with the Vietnam War? What are the main similarities and differences between these two high profile wars?

It might be too early for a comprehensive comparison exercise of the two wars, since one of them has just started, while the other one went on for years. However motives, causes, and trigger points should stand out enough to be fairly compared and contrasted.

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    Why have you added a bounty to "draw more attention to" a question that's been downvoted to -8 and already has an accepted answer? What more do you want?
    – F1Krazy
    Commented Aug 9, 2022 at 13:50
  • @F1Krazy. I think that this is a question that deserves more than 3 answers. Commented Aug 9, 2022 at 13:58
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    I think the question is too general to have a specific answer. These are two military conflicts that happened in different eras, between different countries, pursuing very different goals, even different types of warfare. The question inevitably invites speculations and individual opinions about what is important in a military conflict.
    – Morisco
    Commented Aug 12, 2022 at 16:54
  • @RogerVadim: I'm not sure this Q is much worse than Why does the EU have a huge amount of sanctions on Russia but not on the USA? which is premised on comparing 2-3 wars, albeit not explicitly, so answers there are much more ranging in terms of focus. Commented Aug 18, 2022 at 15:31

4 Answers 4


Uh, next to zero?

  • Vietnam was a counterinsurgency war, guerrillas vs conventional army. Those wars tend to be lost by outsiders (Malaysia being one of the few counterexamples and it's not that comparable). They also take years to resolve and involve comparatively low daily casualties. Ukraine is a high intensity conventional war, with a clear frontline, with the only distinguishing feature being relatively low use of airpower. Along with a shifting balance between missiles/drones and weapons platforms (tanks, aircraft, choppers). Ukraine would be closer match to Korea.

  • Seen from the defending Ukraine/West PoV the resistance against Russia is from the locals. Unlike say Vietnam where the bulk of the fighting power was from the US.

  • Seen from the attacking Russian PoV, the war has not reached a Vietnam stage, where they dominate conventionally, but have to face guerrilla partisan forces. Asides from in conquered territories like Kherson where they are fighting partisans. When, and if, Russia has achieved battlefield dominance, then they may "progress" to the Afghanistan/Vietnam stage. Which isn't that great either long term.

  • The only real similarity is that outside powers are arming Ukraine. Which means that Russia suppressing indigenous Ukraine military production isn't a major route to victory.


This is kind-of open ended or opinionated question, especially in terms of what one might consider the important issues of comparison.

The main difference, IMHO: no superpower claimed parts of Vietnam for itself, except maybe China some islands, but we can largely ignore that as not a sizeable issue in driving the Vietnam conflict.

As for "main similarity', broadly speaking, as other answers have stated, it was a conflict between the Russia/USSR+China camp and very loosely speaking "the West", led by the US. But if you get down to details, many things differed. Vietnam bordered China and like with Korea at the start of the conflict it was divided in two countries of somewhat equal size, although the North was more populous. The (post-2014) division of Ukraine between LPR/DPR and the Kyiv-controlled area was much more lopsided in the opposite direction, and this holds even if you include Crimea which was directly claimed by Russia earlier on. North Vietnam ran a policy of ultimate reunification, which included claiming the whole of South Vietnam. LPR/DPR officially only claim some portion of Ukraine, although Russia has occupied more in the south (Kherson etc.) and keeps talking of changing geography, them being "one people" with Ukrainians etc. So another difference is that we don't quite know Russia's ultimate goals, while those of North Vietnam were fairly clearly stated... as were those of the US in Vietnam.

Speaking of the latter, the US never intended to achieve victory "in reverse" by conquering Hanoi, an event which would have likely triggered another Korea scenario with massive Chinese intervention. This is kinda similar to how Ukraine had to deal with LPR/DPR under the Minsk accords, i.e. they could not step up military efforts to take back those areas for fear of a massive Russian intervention, which ultimately happened nonetheless.

Going back to Vietnam, both "sides" in the Cold War sent troops in their proxy state, besides weapons. The role of US troops is well known, but China also sent anti-aircraft artillery divisions to North Vietnam, which engaged US aircraft bombing the North during the various US attempts at "limited war" in North Vietnam itself, like Operation Rolling Thunder. (If you want some similarity here, the Russian bombing in the western part of Ukraine bears some resemblance, if only because it wasn't so intense. On the other hand, there are no US or NATO anti-aircraft troop directly engaged in western Ukraine.) Actual figures of Chinese troop support for North Vietnam vary a fair bit. China itself seems to claim substantially more (around 150,000 AA troops, 170,000 engineers) than the US (CIA) estimated--around 16,000 AA troops and 34,000 engineers. This probably also has something to do with the USSR-China rivalry, each trying to surpass the other in helping North Vietnam for a while. (And that too has some echoes in how Western countries were openly pressured by Ukraine to send help, by inviting comparisons etc.) Ultimately, because US ground troops never advanced much in North Vietnam proper, the Korea scenario of China-US ground combat was avoided in Vietnam. But the US was cognizant of this theat. Whereas in Ukraine, nobody in the West told Russia even a vague allusion along the lines of "don't surround Kyiv or advance on Lviv or else we send in our troops."

Another significant (IMHO) difference is that Vietnam was part of larger area of open warfare in Indochina. The other two neighbors of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos saw open fighting between communist forces and their opponents. (If you want an amusing symbolic similarity, "campaign Z" was the name of a NV effort to defeat the the royal Laos government.) South Vietnam did have one somewhat more stable regional ally in Thailand (at least for a while), which sent troops (one division) and hosted US air bases, but Thailand had no immediate border with South Vietnam. This is quite in contrast with most of Ukraine neighbors being stable at least in the sense of not seeing open warfare (the closest would be the "frozen conflict" in Moldova/Transnistria) and a Ukraine having long borders with Poland and Romania (and shorter one with Slovakia), all countries willing to channel Western military aid (unlike Hungary) as well provide some themselves.

Also, the nature of the fighting in Vietnam was fairly mixed, depending on which area and period we're talking about. While some (see e.g. another answer here) emphasize just the insurgency aspect... that wasn't the only noteworthy part; conventional attacks were mixed with that, e.g. the 1972 Easter Offensive, "This conventional invasion (the largest invasion since 300,000 Chinese troops had crossed the Yalu River into North Korea during the Korean War) was a radical departure from previous North Vietnamese offensives." The army of South Vietnam suffered nearly 20,000-40,000 dead in that 6-month surge (depending on estimates), surely comparable to what we're seeing in Ukraine. Also, the extensive use of artillery in some areas by both sides, e.g. in a single morning the NVA/PAVN fired 8,300 shells in one attack. While one could say that untypical of how most fighting in Vietnam was over the years... one can also say that the Russian offensive of 2022 is untypical of how most of the fighting in the Donbas was since 2014... And if you want (yet another) analogy here, the 1972 PAVN attack on An Loc (intending driving straight to Saigon by a short route) has another similarity with the Russian drive on Kyiv: it came through the territory of Cambodia (the Russians used Belarus to attack Kyiv, although theirs was multi-pronged effort, with other columns coming straight from Russia.)

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    Other differences: US never denied the existence of a sovereign Vietnamese state and separate nation. Russia denies the legitimacy of Ukraine as a state and the Ukrainian nation as separate from the Russian nation. American war crimes were condemned by the American people and its media. Russian war crimes are glorified by the state, the media and the people on social media. The US never threatened the world with nuclear weapons, while Russian government and prominent media propagandists threaten the world with nukes. Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 11:43
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    More differences: the US did not deny that it is at war in Vietnam, while the Russians lie and call it “the special military operation”. The US government called North Vietnamese government for what it was: communist. The Russian government claims that the democratically elected Ukrainian government is a “fascist junta”. The US government did not suppress peaceful dissent, while the Russian government uses Stalin’s eta tactics to suppress dissent and any opposition to war. In fact, even the word “war” is illegal to mention. Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 11:57

It is, like stated in the question, a little bit difficult to compare the two wars at the moment since one of them has just started, while the other one went on for years. However, what already is evident is that:

The two main similarities are:

  • The two wars both originated from regional civil war conflicts.
  • Russia is in Ukraine right now, for the same reason that the United States was in Vietnam in the sixties: To aid an important friend in need. South Vietnam asked for U.S. assistance against an aggressive North Vietnam, as Russian speaking Eastern Ukraine (Donbass) asked for Russia's assistance against aggression from Ukrainian speaking Central and Western Ukraine. And:

The two main differences are:

  • Capitalist US were in Vietnam to prevent the supposed Domino Effect of Communism, in contrast to Capitalist Russia that has a goal which is to save Eastern Ukraine from Russophobic militants, which they also seem to think will ultimately save Russia itself.

  • The geographical situation is different. Russia invaded a neighbouring country, while the United States invaded a country halfway around the world.


The only similarity is that both conflicts can be seen as proxy wars between USA and Russia (USSR). In Vietnam USSR was supplying Vietnam with weapons and other military aid to fight USA, now USA is doing the same things in Ukraine to fight Russia.

Other then Ukraine which is direct neighbor of Russia, Vietnam is really far away from USA so Vietnam was never a threat to US own soil. Vietnam was never part of USA or even under direct US control similar to Philippines, Ukraine was part of Russia for a long time. So closer match would be Cuba. Also other then in Vietnam conflict in Ukraine is not about ideology capitalism vs communism.

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    "both conficts can be seen as proxy wars between USA and Russia" – There's not that much proxying going on on the Russian side, though. Commented Jul 30, 2022 at 11:03
  • @Jörg W Mittag I have explained what exactly is meaned.
    – convert
    Commented Jul 30, 2022 at 11:25
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    @JörgWMittag It's basically the other way around than the Vietnam war. Instead of the US invading an USSR proxy, Russia is invading an US proxy. Just that Ukraine is not just a proxy for the United States but also a proxy of the rest of NATO. And that's where even the most superficial similarities end. See the answer by Italian Philosopher for details.
    – Philipp
    Commented Jul 30, 2022 at 12:34

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