John C. Brown examines the difficulties facing the Kingdom in securing the
military aid it is seeking.
Astrange thing has happened on the way to a
more secure and prosperous Cambodia.
The criteria for extending economic
aid to Cambodia and the criteria by which military assistance is being offered
have converged for foreign governments.
The major question in both cases
is: "How can the best return on money provided be achieved?"
the fact that this has happened will help to explain the difficulties Cambodia
is facing in getting the military aid the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF)
believes it needs.
But understanding the fact may point to a solution to
the conundrum that has been created: while donor nations are hesitating over the
provision of military aid to Cambodia, Cambodia's insecurity is
Life used to be less difficult if you were a small nation
with security problems. During the cold war the problem of providing aid
efficiently was apparently subordinated to the dictates of the US-Soviet
Then, the technical details of how military aid money was
spent, or whose pockets it ended up in, turned out to be less important than the
over-all political task of "halting Soviet expansionism" - the corruption that
accompanied the extension of US military aid to both South Vietnam and
Cambodia's Lon Nol regime springs to mind. Perhaps because the provision of aid
had symbolic dimensions, programmatic aspects could be subordinated.
may have appeared at times that 'allies' were being bought by military and
economic aid, and the acceptable side cost was lining the pockets of rulers and
If that was once true, it is no longer.
competition is now a much less important defining feature of the international
system. Military assistance now most likely to be extended is that which is
sensible in light of the question: "What kinds of military aid can be best put
to use by the recipient?" This fact has important consequences for the
achievement of security in Cambodia.
A favorite phrase of those who talk
about economic aid is "absorption capacity." Economic and reconstruction aid is
offered in quantities consistent with the target nation's ability to put it to
good use. Aid is offered at a pace that does not overwhelm the organizational
and human capacities of the nation to which it is targeted.
aid, economic aid most likely to be extended is that which is sensible in light
of the question: "What kinds of economic aid can be best put to use?"
absence of compelling strategic motivations for the extension of military and
economic aid means that nations prosperous enough to give it, are less likely to
be profligate, and more likely to demand accountability for the uses to which
the money is put.
In addition, because many of the nations offering aid
are democracies, the criteria of "good return on investment" itself will have to
be publicly articulated and defended back home. That places constraints on what
can be done in Cambodia.
Military aid, when it is offered and
appropriately used, will buy security for the Cambodians. But because Cambodia's
security problem is largely an internal one, it is difficult to find
international donors willing to make a big commitment.
In the cold war
days, even the provision of badly managed and implemented or largely inefficient
aid could enhance the security of a country. The act of provision carried at
least symbolic weight with a potential external enemy, a weight that would give
pause to an attacker, or even deter the attacker because behind that first
commitment lay the promise of deeper involvement.
In Cambodia's current
case, badly or corruptly managed aid could reduce Cambodia's security rather
than increase it. Aid extended carte blanche to a military ill-prepared to use
it in the nation's interest could de-stabilize rather than stabilize
More troubling, in Cambodia's current situation, the first
small offerings of military aid that have been received are not necessarily
promises of more aid down the road, but should be seen as trial investments that
leave donor countries the latitude to get out if things turn sour.
the absence of over-riding strategic considerations, nations giving military aid
to Cambodia will return again and again to the question: "Has there been good
return on money invested?" before deepening or lengthening
But Cambodia and the countries likely to extend military aid
to the Kingdom both face a common conundrum: how to create conditions conducive
to the extension of military aid in Cambodia and how to help Cambodia maintain
internal security until those conditions have been met.
under-estimates the difficulty of creating a professional military force in
Cambodia, but there is a great deal of good will among foreign embassies for the
But among those nations most likely to help Cambodia there is a
great deal of hesitation over whether and how to make a significant start. While
this decision is being pondered, measures taken by foreign countries that might
increase internal security in Cambodia are on hold.
As one diplomatic
observer put it: "You are damned if you do [provide military aid] and damned if
The difficulties with the sort of piece-meal,
nibbling-at-the-edges kind of military assistance that the Royal Government has
so far received are probably obvious, and they also point to a solution to
The best piecemeal investment is one whose value is
not overcome by shifts in overall organizational strategy. If one knew in
advance the overall kind of military force required, cooperation and organizing
bilateral military assistance would be much simpler.
What might serve
Cambodia's interests best, one observer has suggested, is an overall
organization plan the military donor community finds acceptable, and which
reflects a strong commitment by the Royal Government to reformation,
professionalism, and subordination to civilian control.
The list of
problems in the RCAF is long and well known: corruption and incompetence; lack
of discipline, professionalism, and training; a top-heavy rank structure;
bloated (or paper) personnel rolls; lack of equipment and spare parts, and
inadequate logistics and operational capacity.
But the deepest lack so
far is of a conception of what kind of military Cambodia needs - and it ain't
the one that it now has. Since whatever military Cambodia gets will be paid for
out of the pockets of donor countries, it is unlikely that the Cambodians will
be able to decide unilaterally, at least not entirely, what it will look
The Royal government certainly cannot as they did recently simply
send out a wish list of military equipment they would like to foreign embassies
and think their nation's security problems will be solved.
of both Cambodia and its RCAF are best served if an overall organization plan is
agreed upon. Once this happens it will become easier for donor nations to make
commitments, and it will be more likely that such commitments will achieve the
aim that everyone agrees on - enhancing Cambodia's security.
observer has noted, such a plan will allow priorities to be established. It will
allow nations to divide support tasks, and make concrete and sensible - in light
of the intended organizational entity - the tasks that individual nations might
take on. It will also help avoid problems of overlap.
A tour of many of
the embassies in Phnom Penh has indicated a large reservoir of good will for
Cambodia but a great deal of hesitation about if and where to spend significant
cash on military aid.
This is good news for the Cambodian government and
the Cambodian people, but it does place the ball squarely back into the Royal
government's court. The likelihood of military aid being given will be increased
to the degree that there is consensus about the overall end to which it will be
Like nations providing economic aid, countries capable of offering
military aid to Cambodia are interested in some assurances the aid offered will
not be wasted, make the situation worse, or produce a situation where more will
A plan for Cambodia's military of tomorrow is the best next