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(Supra-?) Nationalism

Was the United Nations intervention in Cambodia, a) the greatest act of supra-national

altruism so far in history? b) a situation in which the best interests of only the

Cambodian people were promoted? c) the training ground for an emerging world government?

d) a very expensive context in which narrow national interests were pursued? e) an

opportunity for the international community to expiate its guilt over its silence

about Khmer Rouge atrocities?

Future historians may decide that c) is the right answer; b) and e) are probably

partially true. But, a controversy now breaking into the press indicates that d)

is not a bad answer. The focus of the controversy is the French decision to sign

a technical military treaty with the Provisional National Government of Cambodia.

Some high UNTAC officials have argued that the Provisional National government is

not in the legal position to sign any treaty whatsoever with a sovereign power. The

Paris Peace Accords - which members of UNTAC will (by rote) tell us is still the

legal framework for relationships with Cambodia today - stipulate that the SNC is

the embodiment of Cambodian sovereignty during the period of the mandate.

But if one accepts the argument that the SNC has been side-lined by events, that

it has been made irrelevant by concrete circumstances unforeseen by the Paris Peace

Accords, there is still the Westminister Argument.

For governments in the Westminister tradition, a caretaker government-which might

emerge after the loss of a vote of confidence -cannot encumber the legitimate national

government that will follow it. Some high level UNTAC sources argue from this point

of view that "no policy initiatives can be taken by the current Cambodian government

which will encumber the next government."

Other members of the United Nations have questioned the motivation of a move like

this. But the treaty that was signed between the French and the Cambodians seems

innocuous enough. It is a technical treaty, not a defense one. As a high level French

source put it, "We don't want to be involved in the operational support of Cambodia

in case of attack."

The treaty does not obligate the French to come to the aid of Cambodia, nor are they

by this treaty allowed to station permanent forces in Cambodia. The treaty initially

envisages a French survey, headed perhaps by a French General, and a small group

of French military experts.

It will probably arrive in late August. A two week investigation will be conducted

and focus on issues like organization, training, and logistics. In this first step

of the treaty, problems will be identified. Then, solutions will be decided in cooperation

with the Cambodians.

As one French source put it, there are many problems in Cambodia, probably more than

one country can fix. "The French welcome others who want to help Cambodia."

If this treaty is so innocuous, why is there any controversy at all? Arguments are

being made that by this treaty, the doctrine, organization and perhaps, equipment

of Cambodia will be French rather than, for example, Afghanistan - are they here?

Though a French officer said: "We have no interest in widening the French presence

in Cambodia. This is a technical treaty," he added, "it is a response to

Cambodian requests to help them shape their army."

It is quite common in controversies like this that the language turns ugly. It has

in this one. "Neo-colonialism," "Imperial ambitions" But these

are easy to refute.

Colonialism was a historical phenomenon which had concrete manifestations impossible

to realize in a world like today's. But if a nation is today able to influence the

"shape" of another countries army, what does that get them? With a 1000

riel, a cup of coffee? The right to exclude others? Problems not worth taking on?

An exclusive market for a nation's defense industries? It is not clear at this point.

What is clear is that it does not get the sort of hegemony that the French had after

1863 in Cambodia.

As odd as it may now sound, and with the fragmentary evidence now available, it does

appears that the roots of this controversy are about exactly this: a competition

to decide the "shape and flavor" of the Cambodian military.

There is one story left to tell.

Another un-named source claimed that the reason the French signed this questionable

treaty was because they had been excluded from deliberations within the United Nations

Mixed Military Working Group, who recently assumed the job of over-seeing the amalgamation

of the factional armies into a Cambodian National Army.

It is un-controversial that a decision was made that the membership of the working

group should include only "Asian" nations, of which Australia was one,

and of which France was not. Excluded from influencing (helping) in making decisions

in Cambodia's (France's) interest, the French found another way. Or so the story


So we may have a story of French and Australian intrigue, of nationalist competition

within the context of an international mission to create the conditions for peace

for Cambodia. It is just not clear who the winners are and who the losers are, and

whose interests were served. Cambodia has profited by the amalgamation of its forces

fathered and fostered by the Mixed Military Working Group. Cambodia did not sign

the technical assistance treaty at gun point. It is also clear the UNTAC is almost

"out of here" and Cambodia is militarily fragile enough to need all the

help it can get. But we might be worried with some cause if foreign combat forces

remained behind or were re-deployed after UNTAC's departure.

Gen. Sanderson was recently asked (by me) for his opinion on this situation. Of course

he declined to say anything directly. His answer: "That is a very interesting

question. It is a question about the fundamental nature of the United Nations. And

its a problem that the United Nations will have to come to terms with if it is going

to be taken seriously as a supra-national authority."



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