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THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL

|

JUNE 2016

35

Stephen Randolph is the State Department historian. A 1974 gradu-

ate of the United States Air Force Academy, he served for 27 years

on active duty in the Air Force, retiring as a colonel in 2001. He flew

F-4s and F-15s, with a tour in Operation Desert Storm; held senior

staff positions on the Joint Staff and the Air Staff; and then joined the

faculty at the National Defense University, serving for 15 years before

moving to the State Department in 2011. He is the author of

Power-

ful and Brutal Weapons: Nixon, Kissinger and the Easter Offensive

(Harvard University Press, 2007).

A

s illustrated in other articles in this

issue of

The Foreign Service Journal

,

the U.S. government recognizes cor-

ruption as a major issue, prevalent

around the world, with a range of

damaging forms and effects. While

details vary locally and over time,

the dynamics of corruption, the

problems that follow in its wake, and

the difficulties in addressing it have broad continuity over time,

The State Department historian looks back at the relationship

between the United States and South Vietnam during the Vietnam

War years, assessing the impact that tolerance of corruption in

diplomatic partners can have on outcomes.

BY STEPHEN RANDOLPH

and so a historical case study can offer perspectives that remain

useful today.

In the aftermath of the fall of Saigon in April 1975, thousands of

South Vietnamese fled to the United States, including many senior

civilian andmilitary leaders. Seeking to capture their stories and

analyses “before memories faded and before mythology replaced

history,” the RAND Corporation, which had been deeply involved

in the war since its inception, assembled a small team to interview these senior leaders as quickly as possible on their arrival in the

United States, focusing on the causes of South Vietnam’s sudden

and catastrophic collapse.

Respondents included 23 military leaders and four from the

government. These leaders attributed the fall of South Vietnam

to a series of linked causes, the most fundamental of which was,

in their view, “pervasive corruption, which led to the rise of

incompetent leaders, destroyed army morale, and created a vast

gulf of social injustice and popular antipathy.” They considered

corruption the “fundamental ill” within South Vietnam’s body

politic, manifesting itself in four ways: racketeering; bribery;

buying and selling important positions and appointments; and

FOCUS

ON CORRUPTION AND FOREIGN POLICY

Foreign Policy and the

Complexities of Corruption:

THE CASE OF

SOUTH VIETNAM