As Cambodia moves forward with plans to demobilize large sections of the armed forces,
Dylan Hendrickson looks at some of the implications and hurdles.
CAMBODIA'S recent return to more stable government has opened a window of opportunity
for donors to come to terms with the vital role that security plays in the development
This is all the more important because Cambodia's political stability is not so much
built on a robust democratic framework that can accommodate debate and change as
it is on the monopoly of power held by one dominant group - the Cambodian People's
Underpinning CPP rule today is military power and influence. Military prominence
in Cambodia's public life is a key obstacle to efforts to promote political reforms,
to strengthen government capacity and to address the persisting rural security problem.
Security as a condition for development
Security in all forms - economic, personal and political - needs to be seen as an
essential precondition for sustainable development and poverty alleviation in Cambodia
today. Yet the country's bloated, unregulated and unprofessional security forces
often compound security problems rather than mitigating them. The security sector
also serves as a huge drain on scarce resources - close to 40% of national spending
- which has squeezed out expenditures in the key social development sectors that
are of most concern to international donors.
While security sector reform has a clear role to play in re-establishing security
in rural areas and bringing about a more optimal allocation of resources between
the security and non-security sectors, donors have tended to think of this activity
as somehow separate from more traditional development concerns.
Given the political sensitivity of security sector reforms, few development agencies
even have a mandate to work in this area.
Instead, security sector problems have until recently been seen as belonging to the
domain of military specialists, or have simply been left to Cambodians themselves
to resolve. This is changing, as evidenced by the May 26 conference on demobilisation
which was jointly convened by the World Bank and the Cambodian government in Phnom
The large donor turnout and the wide range of issues debated attested to growing
recognition among donors of the links between demobilisation and more traditional
development activities. While positive, the impression left by the conference was
nonetheless that Cambodia's demobilisation is largely being approached as a managerial
and administrative exercise.
One worrying indication of this is that a number of politically sensitive issues
regarding exactly who will be selected for demobilisation, how they will be chosen
and whether they will be disarmed before receiving benefits, were not addressed.
These issues were, in effect, deemed to be the "government's responsibility",
reflecting the difficulty that the World Bank faces in broaching politically sensitive
issues with the government.
This has resulted in a demobilisation process that is currently very much "top-down".
At the same time, this has worked against a wider consultation among the donors that
will ultimately be called upon to fund and support the demobilisation programme.
The danger is that more attention will be paid to the immediate task of reducing
the size of the army at the expense of efforts to link demobilisation effectively
with the longer-term challenge of restoring political stability in Cambodia.
There has been much concern among donors regarding the initial World Bank estimates
of what would be needed to fund the programme - some US$100 million in total, including
payments of $1,200 per demobilised soldier. Nonetheless, it is clear that money alone
will not be the defining factor in the success of the operation.
The financial issue has distracted attention from the greater challenge facing donors,
which is to think more strategically about how the long-term objectives of demobil-isation
can be achieved and how Cambodia's government can be more effectively supported as
it conducts this complex exercise.
There are three longer-term challenges associated with demobil-isation exercises,
each of which is closely linked to the more traditional development concerns of donors.
The first has to do with discharging soldiers and ensuring that they are effectively
reintegrated back into society.
The second is about redefining the role of the military in society alongside, although
constitutionally and functionally separate from, the forces responsible for civil
law and order.
The third concerns the question of how to channel the resources generated by a reduction
in the size of the security sector - the so-called "peace dividend" - into
more productive uses.
Laying the groundwork for successful reintegration
Reintegration is a long-term task that will necessarily merge with the socio-economic
recovery of Cambodia's rural areas. While this is still far off, there is much that
can be done in the short term to give soldiers the best chance possible of finding
This will not only stimulate the rural economy but, more importantly, will help to
address the rural security problem by enabling farmers to work and travel without
fear of intimidation or unofficial "taxes" being levied on their production.
The benefits of a successful reintegration will thus be greatly magnified across
rural Cambodia, as will the costs if reintegration fails.
The record in other countries shows that reintegration efforts have shown the greatest
promise where they have been community-based and benefited from sustained donor support.
In Cambodia's case, it is still unclear what the best balance will be between an
individual-based and a community-based approach.
The World Bank is currently deciding how to combine a financial pay-off for ex-combatants
with a wide range of other support services to ease their transition into peace-time
society. The challenge is to accurately assess what the exact needs of soldiers are
and how these can best be met in the context of existing government services or donor
There are three particular areas of concern. First, community-based approaches to
reintegration tend to require a much longer-term approach and more sustained cooperation
than donors are generally willing to commit themselves to. In the absence of effective
co-operation between donors there is a danger that reintegration programmes will
be implemented parallel to existing rural development programmes.
Second, it is still very unclear how the problem of land availability will be addressed.
The government has downplayed this problem in the face of widespread evidence that
land availability is limited and that land disputes are already very common in rural
areas today. Given the weaknesses of current legislation, many peasants do not enjoy
secure land tenure and are easily forced off the land. The danger is that there will
be inadequate land for those ex-combatants who choose to become farmers and that
the resettlement of ex-combatants will be carried out to the detriment of other groups
already settled on the land.
Third, disarmament has not been included in the overall project design. It should
be possible to require that every soldier being demobilised turn over at least one
serviceable weapon as a condition of receiving demobilisation benefits. This was
written into the demobilisation plan in Sierra Leone which was prepared with the
technical assistance of the World Bank. There is currently no guarantee that Cambodia's
soldiers will be disarmed before being demobilised or that weapon stockpiles will
be appropriately dealt with. The danger is that ex-combatants will return to rural
areas still armed or that military officials will be tempted to re-export weapons
or place them on local markets as has happened in the past.
At a more general level, these concerns highlight the need for donors to re-think
their approaches to rural development. The security issue is one that few peasants
can address themselves today except by arming themselves. The strengthening of land
tenure regimes might have a greater positive impact in the long-run on rural livelihoods
than, say, interventions which seek to introduce new farming techniques or inputs.
Greater access to land and more secure tenure would also serve as a pull factor,
encouraging ex-combatants to "self-demobilise" and live off the land rather
than their weapons.
Linking demobilisation to security sector reform
An opportunity is currently being missed to use the demobilisation process to encourage
the government to redefine the future role of the security forces in Cambodia and
to restructure the military. Within the international community there has been a
tendency to see Cambodia's security forces as the problem and to couch solutions
in terms of simple measures that would result in a reduction of their numbers and
military expenditure. Yet current realities suggest that the re-establishment of
security is one of the greatest challenges Cambodia faces and this will require more
effective security forces, not simply less soldiers or less security spending.
There are good reasons why a defense review should precede and inform the demobilisation
process. In the absence of a clear idea regarding the composition of a future Cambodian
army, it is hard to decide how many soldiers and officers to discharge. More importantly,
a key objective of the demobilisation should be to get Cambodia's military out of
the civil law and order role that it currently plays. What will remain once several
tens of thousands of soldiers have been discharged in the countryside, many of whom
may still be armed? Thought needs to be given to how the current police forces can
be bolstered and to how the military can be more effectively regulated if it continues
to play an internal policing role.
The Ministry of Defence is currently undertaking a defence review that will answer
some of these questions. While it is currently receiving some international advice
on this issue, this is a complex and long-term process given the difficulty of translating
new formal policies into effective reforms. The first challenge is to draft appropriate
legislation regarding the role of the armed forces and have this passed by Parliament.
Currently the Constitution is very vague on this and there does not exist a Defense
Much more difficult will actually be getting the military to abide by the new constraints
placed on its power. Traditional military assistance and training programmes are
of limited value here unless they incorporate training that covers the role that
the military should play in a democratic society.
There is some indication that Cambodia's military command is coming to terms with
the fact that it will eventually need to take orders from the Ministry of Defence
which itself must be accountable to Parliament. This will itself entail that civilians
are empowered to play a more effective role in both monitoring and managing the security
Generating a concrete peace dividend
The prospect of a peace dividend explains why there is so much interest among donors
in Cambodia's demobilisation process. But the underlying economic logic is deceptively
simple. A peace dividend will not simply result from a cut in the number of military
personnel, or even from a reduction in military spending. The peace dividend should
be seen as the overall benefit that Cambodia will enjoy as the consequence of a successful
demobilisation and reintegration of ex-combatants. It is naive to think that more
resources will be released for spending in the social sectors unless some of the
fundamental impediments to effective financial management in Cambodia are addressed.
So far, hopes for a genuine peace dividend seem to be based on promises from Hun
Sen that the extra funds will go to the social sectors. Yet it is also clear that
top commanders within the military would like to keep this money so that they can
pay the remaining soldiers and officers higher salaries. This would certainly help
to professionalise the army, but this would go against the stated objectives of the
demobil-isation process. Even if political pressure can be brought on those in the
military to relinquish control over these resources, more fundamental institutional
problems need to be addressed by donors if the peace dividend is to materialise.
The first of these is the problem of unwarranted political interventions in the budgetary
process. The second is the problem of corruption. The third is the difficulty that
the finance administration faces in collecting tax revenue. Collectively these problems
are indicative of the profound institutional weaknesses in the Cambodian government
that will continue to squeeze out development expenditures.
The World Bank has itself noted in its most recent review of Cambodia's public expenditure
that these institutional weaknesses are significantly compounded by the tendency
of donors to by-pass the public administration and to adopt a piece-meal and uncoordinated
approach to institution-building. Few donors have confidence in the capacity of the
public administration or have been willing to make the long-term commitment necessary
to bring about viable improvements in the way it functions.
The need for more donor coherence
In the absence of a long-term approach, there is a danger that the essential demobilisation
problem will be framed narrowly by donors in ways that allow them to draw upon their
own areas of comparative advantage. The World Bank itself can draw on its extensive
experience of organising and executing demobilisations in Africa and can rely on
the tremendous clout it enjoys - along with its sister organisation, the IMF - when
it comes to encouraging hesitant governments to embark on the path of reform.
In line with the emphasis of the international financial institutions on promoting
macro-economic stability, pressure has been placed on the Cambodian government to
strengthen its "aggregate fiscal discipline" in other words, to bring government
spending in line with available revenue. One way to achieve this is to reduce the
size of Cambodia's bloated public sector - hence the interest in demobil-isation.
However, there is always the danger that the goals of economic stabilisation will
conflict with peace-related objectives. If demobilisation is to serve as a catalyst
for the broader challenge of restoring security and promoting development, it is
important to "buy in" both the Cambodian and international actors whose
support will be necessary to the exercise to succeed. The lack of representation
at the 26 May conference by key actors from the Ministry of Defence and the Parliamentary
Commission on Military Affairs - not to mention the regional military command that
will be most affected by this process
suggest that some of the key lessons of recent Cambodian history have been overlooked.
The failings of Cambodia's civil service reform programme are illustrative here.
The World Bank and the UNDP put downsizing at the center of the problems of administrative
capacity and devised an extremely complex package of reforms to implement this.
Not simply did the government lack the capacity to carry these out, but more importantly,
downsizing went against the one of the key factors that underpinned the stability
of the post-1993 CPP-FUNCINPEC-KPLNF coalition government. This was the agreement
that large numbers of functionaries from both FUNCINPEC and the KPLNF would be integrated
into the civil service.
A key milestone in the build-up of tensions that led to the final collapse of Cambodia's
post-1993 coalition government occurred in 1996 when Prince Ranariddh lashed out
at the CPP's monopoly of power at the FUNCINPEC Party Congress. This was only one
of a number of factors that led to the collapse of the coalition including the general
breakdown in communication between the two premiers. But there are certain parallels
between the pre-1997 period and the current one that should not be overlooked.
The ranks of the RCAF have been swelled in the past several years by defecting Khmer
Rouge soldiers and by the return of the forces loyal to Prince Ranariddh that had
broken away from the RCAF after July 1997. There is also indication that units affiliated
with all of the parties have been padded with "non-soldiers" - often, the
relations of unit commanders - in anticipation of the potentially huge pay-off that
will come with demobilisation. The process of selection can thus be expected to be
highly sensitive and to place some strain on political and military relations between
the various parties.
Because demobilisation is an inherently political process, it makes sense from the
very start to anticipate potential obstacles.
The idea is not simply to place pressure on the government to come clean on how it
is going to deal with the sensitive issues regarding selection, for clearly these
are complex issues that will require negotiation and compromise. But unless the government
demonstrates some commitment to addressing some of these more sensitive issues in
a transparent manner, there is a danger that the donor support crucial for the success
of the demobilisation will not be forthcoming.
At the same time, it is also important that the project design more effectively incorporate
the concerns of the donors who are being asked to support the process - including
NGOs, bilateral donors and the UN agencies. The international community has been
asked to contribute substantial sums of money into a trust fund. This has the advantage
of allowing the process to be centralised and implemented in a manner that is more
in harmony with the needs and goals of the government. Yet the danger is that some
donors may opt out of this approach due to concerns about the way the process is
Dylan Hendrickson worked as an aide to FUNCINPEC from 1991-93 and is currently
a research fellow at the Centre for Defence Studies, King's College, London.