Monthly Archives: February 2009

Assessing the UN’s Role in Cambodia

From After the Killing Fields: Lessons from the Cambodian Genocide, by Craig Etcheson (Texas Tech U. Press, 2006), pp. 40-42 (footnote references omitted):

The Paris Peace Accords on Cambodia adopted in October 1991 committed the UN to what was at that point the largest, most expensive, and most interventionist peacekeeping operation in its history. Idealists argued that the goal of the accords was to bring peace to a land that had suffered two decades of war and genocide. Realists argue the primary purpose was to remove the “Cambodia Problem”—the long, stalemated, and increasingly pointless Cambodian war supported by most of the states of the region and powers of the world—from the international agenda. In either case, the Agreements on a Comprehensive Political Settlement of the Cambodian Conflict were being touted as a model for collective security in the post-Cold War world order. Consequently, it is essential that we have a clear understanding of exactly what these agreements did—and did not—accomplish.

The peace process did achieve numerous significant objectives. The Cambodian conflict was decoupled from superpower geopolitical conflict, and Chinese military aid to the Khmer Rouge was terminated. Cambodia’s two decades of international isolation ended. 362,000 refugees left the camps in Thailand and returned to Cambodia. The three-faction rebel coalition challenging the Cambodian government was reduced to a single recalcitrant faction—the Khmer Rouge. The fragile beginnings of political pluralism were put in place. A free press began flowering in Cambodia as never before. Indigenous human rights groups were founded and growing rapidly. Ninety percent of eligible Cambodians registered to vote, and 89 percent of those voted in 1993’s free and fair elections, despite Khmer Rouge threats to kill anyone who participated. A liberal constitutional monarchy was promulgated, and a coalition government began functioning, more or less. These were huge accomplishments, a tribute to the skill and dedication of the international civil servants who risked and in some cases sacrificed their lives in Cambodia. It was $3 billion well spent.

At the same time, one must be clear-headed in assessing the impact of the UN in Cambodia. The Comprehensive Settlement laid out numerous central objectives above and beyond the elections. First, a cease-fire was to be implemented and maintained among the combatants. Second, all outside assistance to the warring factions was to be terminated. Third, the several contending armies were to be returned to their barracks, disarmed, and demobilized. Fourth, the utterly destroyed Cambodian economy was to be rehabilitated. Fifth, the demobilized soldiers, internally displaced persons, and repatriated refugees were to be reintegrated into civil society. Sixth—and crucially—a “neutral political environment” was to be established; that is, state institutions were to be decoupled from the organs of the theretofore ruling party. Not a single one of these central objectives of the UN peace plan in Cambodia was achieved.

These requirements were defined in the Comprehensive Settlement as integral elements of the peace process and necessary precursors to the conduct of the elections. When they failed to materialize, the UN deftly redefined its mandate on the fly from peacekeeping—since there was precious little peace to keep—to election-holding. The elections were indeed held, and a new government was established, though that process turned out to be rather messy, with the defeated ruling party tenaciously maintaining its grip on power despite the verdict of the electorate. The UN then declared victory and somewhat precipitously withdrew, leaving the Cambodians to their own devices.

Thus, Secretary Christopher’s assertion that the elections were “the triumph of democracy” was hyperbolic, to say the least. One UN-administered election does not make a democracy, particularly when the results of the election are implemented in as desultory a fashion as happened in Cambodia. The transitions to stable, liberal democratic systems in Western Europe, in Latin America, and in the emerging democracies of East Asia all make clear that the development of democracy is a long process. It depends upon a variety of social and economic conditions, such as strong labor movements and a powerful middle class, capable of bargaining with the landed and capital-holding sectors of society. These conditions did not remotely exist in Cambodia, and thus one could confidently conclude that it was quite premature to predict the consolidation of democratic rule in Cambodia. To be completely fair, critics of the UN operation in Cambodia should not have ascribed such a goal to the operation. Partisans of the UN operation should have avoided claiming to have achieved that goal.

So, with what was at best a protodemocracy stumbling ahead, the war in Cambodia raged on. Cambodian battlefields saw their heaviest fighting since 1989, and the new Royal Army was not necessarily getting the best of the fighting. Poorly planned assaults and temporary seizures of the main Khmer Rouge bases at Anlong Veng in the north and Pailin in the west dissolved into disasters for the government, as the insurgents transformed the Royal Army’s pyrrhic victories into death traps. After these initial fiascoes at Anlong Veng and Pailin, one might have thought the government would have been chastened, but it was not. The Royal Government immediately began to plan the retaking of the Khmer Rouge stronghold at Pailin, this time without waiting for the dry season. Thus, the UN intervention in Cambodia had not terminated the war, despite what Secretary Tornsen termed the UN’s “stunning peacekeeping success.”

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Filed under Cambodia, China, NGOs, U.N., U.S., war

China’s Army of One-child Recruits

From A History of the Modern Chinese Army, by Xiaobing Li (U. Press of Kentucky, 2007), pp. 282-283 (footnote references omitted):

The symptoms of an “only-child” society had appeared by the 1990s and were affecting the PLA by the end of the decade. According to defense analyst Zhang Zhaozhong, the PLA has many soldiers who grew up without siblings. In the early 1990s, the only-child soldiers began to serve in the PLA. Their numbers have increased ever since. They made up 20.6 percent of the Chinese forces by 1996, 31.2 percent by 1997, and 42.5 percent by 1998. A frequently asked question is whether these soldiers’ combat training and fighting ability are in any way affected by their only-child status. A study done by the political department of a group army in Shenyang Military Region yielded mixed results. It found little significant difference between only-child soldiers and soldiers with siblings, especially those from rural areas, in their personality, training records, and service achievement. In technological training, only-child soldiers seemed to outperform soldiers with siblings in verbal tests, communication, and computer skills. The study attributes these findings to two factors. First, as only children became the norm in the late 1990s, social attitudes toward them may have changed, and so these young men may have been less spoiled than those who grew up in the 1980s, the beginning stage of the one-child policy. Second, in the “furnace of revolution” and in a “teamwork atmosphere,” the army may have reduced parental influences and any feelings of self-importance through political works and education provided by division, regiment, and battalion, and through group-oriented experiences in their company, platoon, and squad. The study did identify some problems in the “only-child army.” Some of the only-child soldiers were less cooperative with peers and more egocentric than soldiers with siblings. In some units, their performance in personal drills and detachment training was good, but their performance in tactics coordination training was poor. Some were reluctant to participate in high-risk training because they were afraid of injury.

The Hebei Military District survey provided a mixed report on only-child officers as well. In general, it found that the only-child officers were better educated, with at least a high school diploma, and had broad knowledge. Believing in competition and self-improvement, they were eager to learn and open to new ideas. Many of them were interested in technological improvement and military reforms. The survey also found that some of the only-child officers were liberal and democratic, emphasizing individual competition and equal opportunity. Some disliked political control and described the party system as “controlling,” “demanding,” or “oversimplified and crude.” They projected a new and contrasting spirit. Nevertheless, their retention level has been lower than that of officers with siblings in recent years.

The low retention rate of only-child officers may be partially the result of the aging of the Chinese population and the new four-two-one family-household structure (four grandparents, two parents, and one child). The task of supporting aging parents and even grandparents falls directly on the shoulders of only children. In today’s China, children, spouses, and kinship ties are still seen as primary sources of economic support for the elderly. The urban elderly are, however, less financially dependent on their adult children than are those in rural areas. Although the Hebei Military District survey does not explain why the only-child officers have a low retention rate, it is reasonable to assume that the lack of a social welfare and retirement system pressures only-child officers to retire early and accept a better-paying job outside the military in order to support their parents and grandparents now and themselves later.

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Filed under China, family, migration

Cambodia’s Thirty Years War

From After the Killing Fields: Lessons from the Cambodian Genocide, by Craig Etcheson (Texas Tech U. Press, 2006), pp. 2-4 (footnote references omitted):

It is an extraordinary situation. Cambodia is a country where as much as a third of the population died in one of the worst genocides of modern times, and many Cambodians do not believe it happened. How can it be that so much destruction occurred so recently, yet so few are aware of this history? In order to explain how this peculiar situation came about and perhaps to help to correct it, we must start at the beginning of the Thirty Years War.

That war began in 1968, when the Communist Party of Kampuchea—popularly known as the “Khmer Rouge”—declared armed struggle against the government of Cambodian leader Prince Norodom Sihanouk. Over the course of this war, the conflict took many different forms, went through many phases, and involved a list of participants nearly as long as the roster of the membership of the United Nations. The country changed its name six times during the Thirty Years War, beginning as the Kingdom of Cambodia, changing to the Khmer Republic in 1970, Democratic Kampuchea in 1975, then the People’s Republic of Kampuchea in 1979, the State of Cambodia in 1989, and finally back to the Kingdom of Cambodia again in 1993. These contortions reflected the extraordinary violence of the underlying turmoil. Cambodia finally emerged from the Thirty Years War in 1999, with the capture of the last Khmer Rouge military leader still waging armed resistance.

The Thirty Years War wrought upon Cambodia a level of destruction that few nations have endured. At the epicenter of all this violence, from the beginning until the end, there was one constant, churning presence: the Khmer Rouge. Though they have now ceased to exist as a political or military organization, Cambodia continues to be haunted both by the influence of the individuals who constituted the Khmer Rouge and by the legacy of the tragedy they brought down on the country. The social, political, economic, and psychological devastation sown by the Khmer Rouge will take generations to heal, if indeed it ever can be healed. This epic saga of havoc is so complex and confusing that scholars do not even entirely agree on how to name all the ruin.

Many historians describe the conflicts in Southeast Asia during the second half of the twentieth century in terms of three Indochinese wars. The First Indochina War was the war of French decolonization in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, beginning in 1946 and ending with the Geneva Conference of 1954. The Second Indochina War can be said to have run from 1954 to 1975; it is typically known in the United States as the “Vietnam War” and in Vietnam as the “American War,” a dichotomy that reveals much about who was centrally involved. In this war of Vietnamese unification, as the United States attempted to prevent the consolidation of communist rule over all of Vietnam, the war also spread to engulf both Laos and Cambodia. The Third Indochina War began hard on the heels of the second, when from 1975 to 1991, the issue of who would rule Cambodia and how it would be ruled drew deadly interest from virtually every country in the region and from all the world’s major powers.

From 1968 onward, it appeared to many Cambodians that these wars flowed from one into the other, as inexorably as the Mekong River flows into the sea. The 1991–1993 United Nations peacekeeping mission in Cambodia marked the end of the Third Indochina War, but the fighting in Cambodia continued for nearly another decade afterward. The outlines of the conflict in Cambodia changed with the United Nations intervention, but the basic issue underlying the war—the Khmer Rouge drive for power—was not resolved by the peace process. Combat continued between the central government and the Khmer Rouge until the government finally prevailed in 1999. Thus, what historians characterize as distinct wars with distinct protagonists appeared to many Cambodians to be simply one long war, with one central protagonist—the Khmer Rouge—driving the entire conflict.


Filed under Cambodia, China, France, Laos, Thailand, U.N., U.S., Vietnam, war