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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Cambodia might be a tough sell on capitol hill

Cambodia might be a tough sell on capitol hill

The "I told you so!" chorus has not yet

been sounded in Washington. Skeptics of American financial support for peacekeeping

in Cambodia predicted early in 1992 that the Khmer Rouge would not abide by the plan

for free and fair elections in Cambodia.

Funding from Congress was hard won then: now that the pessimists have proved prescient,

it would seem that further contributions would be unlikely. But uncertainty prevails

on Capitol Hill. A new administration and new Congress will take a fresh look at

prospects for peace in Cambodia, any changes to the cost or duration of the peacekeeping

mission, and any continued movement by UNTAC to accommodate the intransigent Khmer

Rouge at the expense of the other factions and the peacekeeping mission itself.

While concern in Washington about the Khmer Rouge has been widespread, the U.S. Congress

recognized the October 1991 Paris peace accord as being the best hope for peace and

reconstruction in war-torn Cambodia. The plans for the U.N. Transitional Authority

in Cambodia (UNTAC) were viewed as ambitious, but it had broad scope and international

support.

The respect engendered by UNTAC head Yasushi Akashi, and the successful visit to

Capitol Hill of Supreme National Council member Hun Sen, were important in selling

the program. The goals UNTAC proposed were generally acceptable, but the inclusion

of the Khmer Rouge in the peace process did not sit well with some members.

The apprehension in Congress was that a non-cooperative Khmer Rouge would frustrate

a good plan, good intentions, and determined peacekeepers. The result could be continued

civil war and U.S. funds wasted on a doomed effort.

Despite concerns about the high cost of peacekeeping around the world and pressing

budget considerations, Congress followed the Bush administration's lead and earlier

in the year appropriated $107 million to be drawn from State Department operating

funds to be used for worldwide peacekeeping operations.

A further $917 million was later appropriated for peacekeeping and payment of arrears

for fiscal years 1992 and 1993. Further appropriations are likely, if Washington

intends to meet its 30.4 per cent share of the bill for U.N. peacekeeping costs,

which are bound to increase.

The United States paid its $60 million share of the $200 million start-up costs for

UNTAC. Further spending was targeted for Cambodia in the form of humanitarian assistance

and Pentagon support for peacekeeping operations. Still, as the fiscal year ended,

the United States owed $47 million toward UNTAC and was still in arrears of over

$295 million to the U.N.'s regular budget.

As the new U.N. budget is released and additional contributions are sought from Washington,

a change in the mood of the U.S. electorate raises concerns about the level of commitment

to such foreign operations. The attention in the United States is on the economy

at home and the new administration will concentrate its attention on domestic legislation.

A seemingly endless commitment to Cambodia may seem anathema to legislators.

With about 125 new members of Congress, supporters of U.N. peacekeeping operations

will have to make their arguments anew. U.N. difficulties in Bosnia, and Somalia

may raise questions about the effectiveness of such operations.

Congressman Stephen Solarz (D-NY) will be leaving the House of Representatives after

an unsuccessful primary bid. As Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee's

Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Solarz was a leading voice for U.S.

support of the Paris peace accord. It will be up to his fellow members, such as Representatives

Lee Hamilton (D-IN) and Howard Berman (D-CA) to carry on his crusade in the House.

There is bipartisan abhorrence of the Khmer Rouge. Earlier in the year, U.S. legislators

introduced a bill to establish an Office of Cambodian Genocide Investigation, to

support efforts to bring to justice Khmer Rouge leaders who committed crimes against

humanity, and to amend U.S. immigration laws to exclude Khmer Rouge leaders from

entering the U.S.

The determination of UNTAC to continue the movement toward elections in May of 1993,

with or without Khmer Rouge participation, may provide some encouragement to Congress.

There is no doubt that this body would rather see the U.N.-and not the Khmer Rouge-determining

the future of the elections.

The debate over foreign aid has been contentious; the fact that the appropriation

of funds for U.N. peacekeeping comes out of the State Department coffer should make

it less of a political problem for legislators.

The drawdown of U.S. forces and cuts in the defense budget make the argument for

the use of international peacekeeping forces and coalitions a reasonable one and

has been successful thus far. As long as some progress in peacekeeping can be seen,

the expenses will be easier to justify.

There are other factors, however, that may make support for UNTAC untenable.

If UNTAC continues to accommodate an intransigent Khmer Rouge at the expense of the

other factions, there could be concern in Congress that the U.N. is being manipulated.

If civil war breaks out, further expenditures on Cambodia may be voted down. And

if UNTAC's mission changes or its timetable stretches out, Congress may not want

to spend additional funds on what may appear a losing effort.

In sum, continued U.S. financial support for UNTAC is as tenuous as UNTAC's progress

itself.

Washington's funding for UNTAC is separate from the issue of normalization of relations

between the United States and Vietnam. Normalization is no longer linked to Hanoi's

support for Cambodian peacekeeping, as Washington considers Vietnam to be cooperative

in that area. The remaining obstacle to normalization is resolution of POW-MIA cases.

As a key source of funds for the U.N.'s peacekeeping operation in Cambodia, the United

States will be closely watched by many countries to see if it honors its financial

obligations to the U.N.

But nowhere will it be watched more closely than in Phnom Penh, where the decisions

of the new administration and new Congress will have a profound effect on the future

of all Cambodians.

- Keith W. Eirinberg is a Fellow in Asian Studies at the Center for Strategic

and International Studies in Washington, D.C.

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