William Shawcross' latest book draws criticism from former Austrailian Ambassador
to Cambodia Tony Kevin, who calls it "intemperate and disproportionate"
I looked forward to William Shawcross' new book "Deliver Us From Evil: Warlords
and Peacekeepers in a World of Endless Conflict," (Bloomsbury, London, 2000,
404pp.) His earlier "Sideshow" and "The Quality of Mercy", were
fine books that sensitised world opinion to Cambodia's plight during the Cold War.
Shawcross's new book addresses UN efforts to protect individual rights in an anarchic
post-Cold War world. His central thesis: the relatively limited proxy wars fought
in developing countries during the Cold War have been replaced since 1990 by a chaotic
world of warlord leaders, spreading civil wars, and gross human rights abuses within
states. What are the UN's responsibilities to resist such evils? Does UN humanitarian
intervention within sovereign states (with or without their consent) help victims,
or make things worse? Are we right to intervene?
Shawcross tells the dramatic stories of the major humanitarian and security crises
of the past decade: Cambodia, Somalia, Iraq, Bosnia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Kosovo,
East Timor etc. He also explains the philosophy of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan,
whom Shawcross admires. The book is a great read, and also a serious contribution
to the literature of international peacekeeping. It will hopefully increase support
in the US for the UN's role.
Shawcross claims that despite setbacks, the UN system is building workable procedures
for humanitarian intervention in sovereign states that go off the rails. However,
the record of the past 10 years does not inspire optimism. When UN peacemakers intervene
in sovereign states, outcomes are unpredictable. Irresolute or mismanaged UN efforts
often leave the victims of internal conflicts worse off. Bosnia (Srebrenica), Somalia
and Rwanda are notorious failures, but even claimed successes like Kosovo and East
Timor have generated large human misery and dislocation on the way to eventual claimed
success. Does the end justify the means?
UN peacemaking failures are often exacerbated by Chinese, Russian, sometimes also
French, suspicions that Western humanitarianism conceals American hegemonic interests.
Such conflicting mindsets weaken the capacity of the Security Council to manage peacemaking
Such problems are inherent in the global system of state sovereignty which underpins
the UN. But Shawcross is right to open up the debate. Where he goes badly wrong is
on Cambodia - the UN's first major post-Cold War peacemaking project. Sadly, his
extended account of Cambodia 1990-2000 (over 40 pages in all) is intemperate, disproportionate,
and obscures key facts.
Shawcross firmly categorises the present prime minister of Cambodia among "the
warlords who have dominated this decade". Hun Sen's name is listed alongside
Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein, Slobodan Milosevic, and Foday Sankoh of Sierra Leone; such
warlords, who have held "autocratic and destructive if not criminal sway over
the peoples they control" are "easy to identify" (p. 14).
Let's test this rather large claim, referencing Shawcross' episodic treatment of
Cambodia (p.33-43, 53-64, 74-77, 84-89, 95-98, 182-188, and other shorter references).
On the 1979-91 civil war era, he claims that Hanoi's motives for its 1979 invasion
"were strategic rather than humanitarian"; that "Vietnam's client
regime" (SOC) led by Hun Sen, "the former Khmer Rouge soldier whom Vietnam
had installed as prime minister in Phnom Penh", while "not nearly as brutal
as the Khmer Rouge, was nonetheless a hard-line one-party state which tolerated no
dissent, frequently imprisoning and torturing its political opponents"; that
this government was "dogmatic, corrupt, (and) cruel to its enemies" (pp.
35-36), and "used to ruling through brute force" (p.63).
This description gives no credit to Vietnam's role, or to the bravery of the SOC
in struggling to feed and protect its people, while ostracised by the UN and fighting
off attack from a Khmer Rouge -spearheaded resistance army. Shawcross gave a fairer
account of these years in "The Quality of Mercy".
Now on the UNTAC period: Shawcross defends the UN for wanting the Khmer Rouge to
join the negotiations: "To include the Khmer Rouge, rather than attempt to try
them for crimes against humanity, was a distasteful solution", but "the
alternative was a continuation of the war and no chance of peace" (p.36). Elsewhere
in the book (e.g. pp 22, 185, 363), Shawcross criticises Hun Sen's similarly motivated
strategies of amnesty for Khmer Rouge members which helped eliminate it by 1999 -
years earlier than expected. Shawcross gives no credit to Hun Sen's secret negotiations
in 1996 with Ieng Sary, which took the Pailin-Malai faction - over half the Khmer
Rouge power base - out of the war:
"A leader of what had long been acknowledged as one of the most odious regimes
of modern times had been pardoned for reasons of local expedience." (p.185).
Shawcross defends UNTAC's failure to hold the Khmer Rouge to its Paris commitments.
He describes (pp.39-43, 53-64) the Khmer Rouge's contemptuous defiance of UNTAC,
but then claims (p.63) that "General Sanderson's policy of containing the Khmer
Rouge and allowing them to wither in isolation seemed the only sensible course",
and that "in Cambodia there was a huge UN peacekeeping force to keep at bay
the Khmer Rouge and others (sic) bent on destroying the democratic process"
(p.355). He suggests on page 187 that by 1996, "the real threat to Cambodia
now did not come from the disintegrating Khmer Rouge, which was crippled by the Paris
agreement and the UN mission", but from the Cambodian government's "culture
These claims lack foundation. Shawcross's own account shows that UNTAC could not
restrain Khmer Rouge forces. In fact, under UNTAC the Khmer Rouge-controlled zone
expanded greatly, giving them capacity to launch raids across more than half the
country. Meanwhile, SOC's opposing forces were substantially disarmed and put into
cantonment, under UNTAC requirements which the CPP mostly honoured. In early 1996,
before Hun Sen's separate peace with Pailin, the Khmer Rouge were still extremely
Hun Sen was justifiably bitter at the large military gains handed to the Khmer Rouge
during the UNTAC administration. One cannot understand the breakdown in 1995-97 of
the first coalition government without knowing this strategic context.
Shawcross' account of the 1993 election campaign is disproportionately focussed on
CPP wrongdoings. He correctly acknowledges (p. 58) that "the idea that a small
group of foreign civil servants could take over and supplant a well-entrenched communist
(sic) regime was absurd."
Certainly UN-CPP relations deteriorated under UNTAC. But CPP was the government in
place, and especially in the provinces the habitual leadership habits of a one-party
state were hard to shake off. Rather than laying all blame on CPP, Shawcross might
have also acknowledged that some UNTAC personnel were handicapped in their dealings
with CPP by Cold War-influenced attitudes and aspirations. Voter intimidation by
CPP reaction forces and A-groups (pp. 75, 88) certainly happened, but Khmer Rouge
intimidation and killings were far worse. But because CPP listened to UNTAC complaints,
unlike the Khmer Rouge, some UNTAC officials came to see CPP as the main culprit.
The election outcome - a narrow 58 - 51 seat win by Funcinpec over CPP, based on
a national vote of 45% Funcinpec, 38% CPP - Shawcross describes as a "stunning,
peaceful defeat" for CPP (p. 86). It can equally be argued that this result
demonstrated substantial support in the electorate for each major party - as again
Shawcross's account of government formation in 1993 omits key facts. He is wrong
(p.87) in saying that "The Paris peace agreements did not have much to say about
the period of transition after the election". Actually, the Annexes (foreseeing
a possible close election outcome) had in hope of stable government mandated a 2/3
parliamentary majority to approve a post-election constitution and new government.
These Paris provisions made a Funcinpec-CPP coalition government inevitable, given
the election result.
Instead, Shawcross finds conspiracy, claiming (p.88) that Prince Chakrapong's still
unexplained revolt in the Eastern provinces was a "frightening piece of theatre"
launched by the CPP to intimidate Funcinpec into taking CPP into government with
them. There are simpler and more credible explanations: e.g. that Chakrapong and
his associates wanted to reject the UNTAC election verdict and instead impose a national
solution, by coup.
Such a coup would have restarted the war between CPP and resistance forces. To their
credit, both Hun Sen and Ranariddh fought off such pressures and went into coalition
voluntarily. But according to Shawcross, Hun Sen stole power from the rightful winner
Finally, let's examine Shawcross' account of the breakdown of the first coalition
from 1993-97. He summarises (p.98): "The coalition which (CPP's) brutality had
imposed was unstable and undemocratic, and after a few years it collapsed".
His larger conclusion (p. 363), apparently written in late 1999, is worth quoting
"In Cambodia, whose tribulations first got me interested in international intervention,
Hun Sen had consolidated his power by force and guile. Now sole prime minister, over
the last three years he had imprisoned, exiled or cowed the opposition in the royalist
Funcinpec party, the winner of the 1993 UN election. In 1997 he had finally destroyed
the coalition with Funcinpec that he had barely endured since 1993 and taken full
control in a coup d'etat. He consolidated his power in 1998 by winning elections
which were by no means as free and fair as those organised by UNTAC."
A detailed and authoritatively referenced history of the 1993-98 period in Cambodia
has yet to be written. But it's far more complicated than Shawcross' simplistic picture.
Until the July 1997 fighting, both sides may be accused of provocative and destabilising
actions. After the fighting, Hun Sen worked hard for reconciliation - with Funcinpec,
with former Khmer Rouge enemies, and with a critical and suspicious global community
and UN. He succeeded.
Shawcross' perfunctory account of 1993-97 (p.182-188, 309, and 363) tells little
about how and why tensions increased between CPP and Funcinpec, starting in late
1994 with Rainsy's sacking and Sirivudh's resignation in sympathy. Funcinpec was
increasingly unhappy at CPP's failure to share more power and offices with them.
An assertive anti-CPP view became ascendant in Funcinpec. After a public breakdown
of government solidarity in March 1996, both parties embarked on opposed strategies,
including independent secret negotiations with the Khmer Rouge. It is known that
Funcinpec leaders sometime in 1996 launched a three-prong strategy to challenge CPP:
to seek to discredit Hun Sen internationally, to import arms secretly, and to seek
a military alliance with militant Khmer Rouge forces led by Ta Mok. Hun Sen in response
clamped down hard on Funcinpec, which he saw as working against state unity. Tension
mounted inexorably until fighting broke out on 5-6 July 1997. This was not a CPP
coup but a military trial of strength both sides had long expected.
After CPP's victory, a new international peacemaking effort produced an amnesty for
Ranariddh, who returned to lead Funcinpec in Cambodia. An internationally monitored
election in July 1998 (whose results were judged by most international observers
to be accurate) led finally in November 1998 to a new reconciliation with the formation
of a second CPP-Funcinpec coalition government. The Rainsy Party become Cambodia's
first post-UNTAC parliamentary opposition, a role in which it has grown in stature.
Hun Sen can reasonably be credited for his role in this peacefully achieved settlement,
but Shawcross gives him none.
This second coalition government is bringing Cambodia stability, sustained international
donor support, and renewed economic growth. Cambodia is a respected new member of
ASEAN, has normalised its relations with all its regional neighbours, has assured
its internal security, and is making progress in a number of difficult areas of governance
in need of reform. Certainly there are still disturbing instances of impunity under
a weak judicial system, but Cambodia is far from alone in the region in this. Overall
I am optimistic.
But the International Crisis Group - a prestigious international peacemaking consultancy
in Brussels whose work Shawcross commends - recently condemned Cambodia as "a
strongman's state, replete with lawlessness, human rights abuses, grinding poverty,
bloated security forces and an economy thriving on prostitution, drug trafficking,
land-grabbing, and illegal logging".
Why, I wonder, do Shawcross and his friends in ICG and elsewhere even now, two years
after the 1998 settlement, write so harshly about Cambodia, in sharp contrast to
more temperate judgements by the World Bank, ADB, IMF and international donor governments?
Given Shawcross' international reputation as an expert foreign correspondent, his
seriously biassed description of recent events in Cambodia will not help the government
in its efforts to attract job-creating foreign investment. While Hun Sen might not
easily win a Nobel Peace Prize, he is no warlord either. Shawcross has done the country
he professes to love a large disservice.
Tony Kevin, a visiting fellow at Australian National University, Canberra, was Australia's
Ambassador in Cambodia from 1994 to 1997.