S olving the problem of the Khmer Rouge is not the most pressing problem that the
new Cambodian government faces. It is, however, the most important.
and how the problem of the Khmer Rouge will be solved cannot be predicted. But
it is not too difficult to specify the boundaries within which a solution must
emerge, and within which current negotiations are necessarily
The political context in which these negotiations occur
includes the credibility of the threat of war, the possibility and advantages of
more stringent international isolation, the obstacles or benefits that the
foreign policies of other countries offer the parties to the negotiations, the
potential benefit of political co-optation and the impact of factionalization
within the government. Though one cannot say with any assurance how the Khmer
Rouge problem will be solved, one can specify fairly clearly the boundaries
within which a solution will emerge.
Looking at the problem in this way
indicates that the range of possible outcomes is quite narrow. The extent of the
vulnerability of the Khmer Rouge is fairly clear. But KR vulnerability does not
mean that a solution is just around the corner-whatever the solution is, it will
neither be quickly found nor implemented. For the current government, the
balance of political power is in its favor at present, but the outcome of
negotiations may depend decisively on how internal divisions between the two
major parties are resolved.
Why not just ignore the
It could be argued that with more pressing and immediate
problems-such as improving national infrastructure, fostering foreign
investment, and reducing insecurity-the Cambodian government can afford to
ignore the Khmer Rouge.
However, the DK cannot be ignored forever. No
government can tolerate an independent military force on its territory. The DK
army is a constant reminder of the Royal Kingdom's lack of sovereignty. There
can only be one Cambodian government. It must have unimpeded access to all of
its territories; it must be able to constrain their exploitation and the
revenues that they generate within a national law and plan of
While extension of sovereignty to all parts of Cambodia and
integration of all armed forces in Cambodia is the only rational goal for the
government, room for maneuver exits.
There is nothing in the current
situation that dictates that this goal has to be achieved this month or this
year. In fact the government has the latitude to pursue a longer term strategy.
Military realities indicate that the government has little choice but to be
Threat of War:
The new government cannot destroy the Khmer
Rouge-at least not in a single organized military campaign. Furthermore, the
government does not have the capacity to hold terrain wrested from Khmer Rouge
control. The areas taken in the August campaign in Kompong Thom have more
recently reverted to DK control. As diplomatic and military observers have put
it: "no one in Cambodia has the capacity to permanently alter the military
The DK are incapable of conquering the country. As the
government considers what offers to make or to reject, it need not take this
possibility into account.
However the two sides are not militarily
stalemated. Two military threats are relevant to the negotiations, one immediate
and one longer term. The DK have a proven capacity to wage low-level campaigns
of terror any time they choose. For example, they recently blew up ten bridges
in Kompong Thom. More of the same is the immediate threat. The Cambodian
government cannot completely ignore this threat because DK terror can hamper
government operations, and scare away international investors.
violence against the government and Cambodian people may back-fire. The
Cambodian people will not appreciate having a war waged on them in order to
threaten a government that they consider legitimate. Of course, if the current
government turns into a perceived oppressor, the DK may be seen as liberators,
causing political and then military power to shift in their
The longer term threat is one that the DK must take seriously.
The operations that the Cambodian Army has been conducting may not yet result in
the permanent retention of terrain, but they have weakened the DK by prompting
defections and causing casualties. With no evidence that the DK are winning or
drafting new adherents to their cause, both consequences are bad news for the
If the Khmer Rouge get into a war of attrition with the
Cambodian government, they will surely lose. But defections are the greater
immediate threat to the DK.
As more of its low level fighters are drawn
off, the Khmer Rouge will become more and more vulnerable to a military
offensive to finish them off.
In the interim, the DK are threatened by a
governmental limited aims strategy. Its initial objective would be simply to
maintain pressure on the Khmer Rouge and take opportunistic advantage of evident
weakness in order to slowly reduce the territory that the DK controls. But an
important constraint favors the DK. The Cambodian army may not have the
logistical capability to sustain such an effort. Seasonal withdrawals are not
consistent with the aim of keeping constant pressure on the Khmer Rouge. And it
seems unlikely that such a strategy can be pushed to completion in one dry
season. Thus the DK strategy can focus on surviving from one rainy season to the
If the Khmer Rouge are not now vulnerable to a military "knock-out"
blow, as defections take their toll, they will be militarily weakened.
Get the DK out of the Jungle
threat that the DK face is that the government will maintain military pressure,
and at the same time pursue strategies that aim to pull DK fighters and
low-level cadre out of the jungle.
The relevant constraint is the
government's ability to pull off such programs. If amnesties, for example, are
attempted, they must be smart and honest. They should be smart so that DK
fighters cannot just take advantage of the program and then return to the
Offers of amnesties must also be honest. Those who ask for
amnesty must be treated fairly. The government will have to make an honest
commitment to integrating the defectors into the Cambodian army or civilian
economy and society. These guys may need only the reasons that an amnesty
program would offer to leave the DK, but they will also need reasons to remain
Military successes against the DK and government moves that create
the impression of reductions in DK power may be not be enough in themselves to
However, as the DK weakens over-all, more and more
fighters may come out of the jungle on their own. A growing economy, peace and
the avoidance of direct confrontation by the government may well be the most
effective long term policy for drawing low level fighters from the
The success of such a long-term strategy depends on two things.
First, and most importantly the possibility of the isolation of the DK, and
second, the extent of current DK stock-piles of weapons and cash
Any policy that sincerely attempts to weaken the DK
in the long term will depend on isolating the DK. That in turn depends on
cutting off both domestic and international economic and military support. The
most important external backers of the DK are the Thai military. If isolation is
to work, the Thai government policy of no longer supporting the DK must operate
at all levels of Thai military and among Thai business. If as one analyst put
it, Thai support of the DK has shifted from "being a publicly denied but
official policy to simple black-market operations," that is to the good. But
indications are contradictory, as the recently exposed weapons storage site,
complete with Khmer guards, shows.
Second in importance is the
possibility of isolating the DK from supporters within Cambodia. Many military
observers during the UN mandate pointed out that the relationship among the
factions after the Paris Peace Agreements was more economic than ideological.
There were many confirmed reports of business deals that cut across factional
areas, involving the sale of timber, petrol, and cashews. The Khmer Rouge are
more likely to survive the easier it is for them to sustain themselves by
cutting deals with Cambodians willing to supply them. Here an operating
constraint is the money that the DK have accumulated in Thai banks. If the
Cambodian government could work with the Thai government to separate the DK from
their cash, isolation would produce quicker results.
Press and Public Opinion
Compared to most Western
governments, the Cambodian government has a great deal of latitude to deal with
the Khmer Rouge. For example, an American government would be under much greater
pressure from the press and public opinion under similar
However those in power in Cambodia are not completely
unconstrained by the attitudes of the Cambodian people. As one Minister put it
recently, the "Cambodian people do not want war."
That assertion is
ambiguous. Perhaps, the Cambodian people are sick and tired of war and want
peace-at any price. Many Cambodians see war against the DK as Khmer against
Khmer, and may prefer a political resolution to any war. But the fact that the
current offensive has not raised an outcry seems to indicate that the Cambodian
people do not want prolonged war, but they might be willing to stomach easily
imaginable shorter wars.
The war-weariness of the Cambodian people and the
operational and logistical weaknesses of the Cambodian Army are not the only
constraints against playing a military card. Any major military campaign will
produce waves of refugees; internal refugees will place pressure on the
Cambodian society and economy. Refugees that flow across the border will create
Constitution & Cabinet
An oft-repeated request of the DK leadership is for
a fraction of executive power; "15% of the Ministries" was a recent demand. One
might ask five questions: Will giving in to such a request create results that
are best for the people of Cambodia? Is giving in necessary in light of the fact
of the relative weakness of the Khmer Rouge and their specific vulnerabilities?
How strong are the constraints that are most often pointed to by opponents of
accepting high level Khmer Rouge cadre into the government: to wit, the stated
policy of the United States and the Cambodian constitution? Finally, will an
offer of Ministerial positions be enough to achieve the government's long-term
end? In other words will the DK be willing to turn over its territory and armies
to the Royal government in a simple quid pro quo? It is clearly impossible to
answer these questions with any certainty, but there is a prior, perhaps more
important question which we can answer with some confidence: Why should we
believe that the DK would ever give up their army or their territories in any
What would protect any of the DK, once they leave the jungle? With
no independent power base, they would be easy prey for those who plot their
elimination. The power of the CPP arises from its continued dominance of
Cambodian administrative structures. The power of FUNCINPEC comes from the
international recognition that they have gained for their plurality in the
Without a power base, and without international
recognition, how long will the DK last in Cambodian politics? If it is not
rational for the DK to give up their territories and army, no matter what the
government offers, it is unlikely that reconciliation which includes the offer
of ministries would result in real territorial and military amalgamation. Thus,
the government is left to contend with the DK as a long-term problem or, to
enter into a paper agreement that allows the DK to retain an independent power
base as insurance against a shift in political winds in Phnom Penh.
Govt Unity, KR Policy
If the government is unified
around a single policy, whatever it may be, that is advantageous. But if the
survival or hegemony of any party is perceived to be at stake, Cambodian policy
toward the DK might be constrained by power struggles inside the
If, for example, Prince Rana-riddh's recent question about
the constitutionality of the offer of Ministry positions to the DK was a move to
buttress the power of FUNC-INPEC in this government, that would only work if the
Khmer Rouge entered the government with a secure power base. The language of
national reconciliation would be a cover for continued Khmer Rouge control of
its own territories. Military amalgamation of their army might turn out to be
only a paper agreement.
On the other side, if the CPP were to see the
inclusion of DK in any capacity into the Cambodian political main-stream as a
threat, then they must be committed to their destruction. How internal
differences like this are resolved is probably the most important constraint of