38/ Morris wants to send arms to Cambodia, 1985
The Wall Street Journal, as reproduced in The Age
(Melbourne), Wednesday 2 October 1985.
ON 25 DECEMBER 1978, Vietnam invaded Cambodia. The Vietnamese communist leaders claimed that they had come to liberate their neighbor from the tyrannical rule of Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge, yet they immediately installed a puppet regime riddled with former functionaries of the Khmer Rouge
Instead of allowing internationally supervised free elections, as the United Nations had demanded, Hanoi declared the political outcome it had imposed "irreversible", and proceeded to create the appurtenances of a colonial regime: indigenous administrators forced to defer to foreign "advisers" (or every major policy decision, and the mass migration of settlers from the occupying nation, who were given control of key segments of the local economy.
The Vietnamese occupation is not only colonialist, it also totalitarian (sic). The Hanoi regime as imposed on Cambodia the institutional structures of its own communist state, with a secret police exercising arbitrary power overall aspects of the lives of the local people.
Hanoi's twin scourges of colonialism and totalitarianism have fed the rise of a Cambodian resistance.
In Cambodia today there is a three-way struggle for power, among the Vietnamese communists, the Cambodian communists (the Khmer Rouge) and the non-communists, led by prince Sihanouk and Son Sann. It is a struggle in which the two rival Cambodian factions have agreed to a truce in their nascent civil war in order to confront their common and more powerful hereditary enemy, the Vietnamese. It is a struggle in which the United States has undertaken a very limited role.
Why should the US care about what is happening in Cambodia? There are two reasons. First, American economic and strategic interests are involved. US trade with East Asia and the Pacific is greater than US trade with any other region of the world. Japan is America's biggest trading partner after Canada. More than 10 per cent of US investment goes to the region, principally to Japan and Australia, although the South-East Asian nations are growing in significance as focal points in this regard.
It should be emphasised that the economic growth and prosperity of all the East Asian nations (China excepted) has been based upon a high volume of international trade. Japan, in particular, is totally dependent upon imports for its raw-material resources. Thus the security of the sea lanes of East Asia, and in particular of South-East Asia (through which most of Japan's energy resources pass) is vital for the economic well-being of East Asia and the Pacific.
Here is where the economic and strategic interests of the US intertwine. All of the countries of East Asia and the Pacific, with the exception of North Korea, Vietnam and Laos, are friendly to the US. Six of these countries Japan, South Korea, Thailand, the Philippines, Australia and New Zealandhave defence treaties with the US.
The Philippines provides air and naval base rights to the US Pacific Fleet and Strategic Air Command. Australia provides communications bases that are vital to US strategic forces. particularly its nuclear submarine fleet. That is why the economic viability and pro-Western political orientation of the East Asian and Pacific nations are important to both America's economy and its strategic position.
The main challenge to these vital interests comes from Vietnam and the Soviet Union. Since the fall of Saigon, the Communist Government of Vietnam has allowed the Soviet Union increasing access to naval and airport facilities, particularly those constructed by the US at Cam Ranh Bay and Da Nang.
The Soviet Union, which does little trade in the South-East Asian region and whose economy is only marginally oriented towards international trade, has no vital defensive interests in the region that it must protect. The only conceivable purpose of the increasing Soviet military presence in Vietnam is offensive: first, to enhance the capacity of the Soviet Union, particularly its naval forces, in order to interdict the vital sea lanes of the pro-Western countries of the region and the US; second to provide a convenient logistic supply depot for its highly militarised client-state and sustain that country's ground offensives against pro Western governments on the mainland of South-East Asia. The first motive is not open to serious discussion. The interdiction capacity has been realised, and is being flaunted on a daily basis.
The second motive hinges upon an interpretation of Vietnamese behavior, which may be somewhat more difficult for Westerners to comprehend. Of course, as we have seen, there can be no doubt that Vietnam aims to colonise Cambodia permanently. But why should anyone fear any further expansion of Vietnamese power and influence beyond Cambodia?
One way of demonstrating Vietnamese ambitions is by looking at what the Vietnamese leaders say. Communist Party General Secretary Le Duan, in his major work, 'The Vietnamese Revolution', published in 1970, wrote:
"The fundamental interest of the proletariat, the people and the nations of the world lies in safeguarding world peace while promoting the revolution in various countries. These two objectives are organically linked together, each in the premise of the other. Both are perfectly attainable once the communists, thoroughly conscious of the strategically offensive position of the world revolution, are successful in setting up a united front bringing together all currents of the world revolution, all forces fighting for peace, national independence, democracy and socialism, and are resolved to crush all imperialist aggression, repel every one of imperialism's belligerent moves and schemes, drive it back step by step, destroy it piecemeal, and eventually overthrow it entirely."
But more important than what the Hanoi leaders say, and what gives their words real significance, is what they do.
The Vietnamese communists are training guerrillas to fight in several neighboring countries. Most significant is the presence in Laos of Thai communist guerrillas. The Thai insurgency had begun to unravel after its principle patron, China, cut off aid. Vietnamese attempts to revive that insurgency, although not immediately dangerous, pose a long-term threat and indicate long-term intentions. And Vietnam's million-man army, armed with Soviet weapons, represents a menacing colossus that, in the absence of countervailing power, could be decisive.
Thus the increase in and positioning of Soviet air and naval forces in Vietnamese territory, and the activities of the Vietnamese Army, pose a significant threat to American political and economic interest in East Asia.
But there is a second reason why Americans should be concerned about the outcome of the struggle for Cambodia and that is the issue of human rights. It is fairly clear that the deprivation of human rights in Cambodia over the past decade has been one of the most profound in the modern world.
Regardless of what particular views one holds on American culpability, both hawks and doves agree that America has some responsability for what happened to that country. Guilt should not be the basis for moral action. But a desire to provide some restitution to the victims of a failed policy certainly can be.
The current US policygiving diplomatic and humanitarian support to the Son Sann and Sihanouk forces, while making proper gestures of abhorrence towards their coalition partners cannot serve the legitimate interests of either the American or the Cambodian people.
This policy, lacking a concrete military element, is useless since it does not redress the imbalance in the quality of weapons that favors Vietnam. It leaves the Khmer Rouge forces dominant within the resistance coalition, and thereby plays into the hands of Vietnamese propaganda claims that the main choice Cambodians face is between the Vietnamese and the Khmer Rouge.
Finally, it is defective in that it leaves all effective anti-Vietnamese leadership in the region in China's hands. This situation is dangerous for two reasons. First it enables Moscow and Hanoi to divide the Association of South-East Asian Nations by playing upon Indonesia's and possibly Malaysia's fears of China.
Second, the current inactive policy is flawed because it guarantees that the political outcome of the conflict will be decided by the Soviet Union and China. The US, which has real strategic interests at stake, has no influence via Cambodian forces involved.
There is an alternative policy, which is the only one that simultaneously is consistent with a concern for human rights and supportive of American economic and strategic interests. The US should provide military assistance to the non-communist resistance of Prince Sihanouk and Son Sann. Their forces are the only ones that represent non-totalitarian Khmer nationalism. And they are not clients of America s major adversary, the Soviet Union That is why they have the enthusiastic backing of Asean, America's major allies in the area.
That the non-communists have not only survived, but continue to grow in the face of 180,000 heavily armed Vietnamese and while receiving limited external aid testifies to their grass-roots support. If rifles, ammunition, mortars, field radios and, most important, antitank weapons were provided, the noncommunists could expand their manpower and effectiveness dramatically.
This would not in itself drive out the Vietnamese Army. But by breaking its protective shield of Soviet-supplied armor, the nonCommunists would inflict heavy reverses on that army.
Not only would there be heavy Vietnamese casualties, but in all likelihood a heightened Vietnamese moral problem. (One cannot overstate the extent to which the Vietnamese conscripts fighting in Cambodia, especially the southerners, lack real motivation for this fight.) And the growth of the non-communists would make them equal to. if not more powerful than, the Khmer Rouge.
These two factors are crucial, Only If the Vietnamese are forced to pay heavily for their aggression are they going to contemplate a negotiated solution. And only if they have a powerful opponent other than the Khmer Rouge, whom they regard as implacable enemies, will they have an incentive to negotiate. For a major increase in strength of the non-communists would be necessary to allay the fears of the Vietnamese, and many Cambodians, that their withdrawal will not lead to a takeover by the Khmer Rouge.
US help to the non-communists will not be countered by escalation from the other side. The Vietnamese Army, occupying Laos as well as Cambodia, and pinned down by an angry China to the north, cannot escalate much further. The Soviet Union, burdened by its aid to the Polish, Cuban and Vietnamese economic fiascos, and still unable to deal with its own Afghanistan quagmire, is in no position for large scale intervention in Cambodia.
Aiding the non-communists in Cambodia would not be the prelude to another Vietnam for the US since no American troops, and perhaps no Americans at all, need be directly involved. (Asean will gladly act as a conduit.) It would instead set the groundwork for "Vietnam's Vietnam".
Asian Wall Street Journal
Stephen Morris is a researcher at the Institute of East Asian Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. He visited resistancecontrolled areas of Cambodia last year.