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
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
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.