Country Listing

Cambodia Table of Contents


Chapter 5. National Security


(Top) Male officers and female militia member of the Kampuchean (or Khmer) People's Revolutionary Armed Forces
(Bottom)Guerrillas of the Khmer People's National Liberation Front

HISTORY ATTESTS TO CAMBODIA'S martial origins. In antiquity Cambodia, having conquered Laos, parts of Thailand, and the Malay Peninsula, held sway over a vast area of Southeast Asia. Khmer martial prowess waned in the early fifteenth century, however, and Cambodia subsequently endured periods of colonization, occupation, and vassalage by its more militarily powerful neighbors, Thailand and Vietnam. This long period of decline reached its nadir in the early nineteenth century, when Cambodia nearly ceased to exist as a sovereign state as the result of encroachments by its neighbors. In 1863 the Cambodian king acquiesced in the establishment of a French protectorate over his nation, in order to preserve it from extinction. The protectorate's authority was extended often by force of arms, and ultimately Cambodia became a de facto colony that eventually gave birth to a modern state with its own armed forces and military doctrine.

Since World War II, Cambodia has enjoyed few strife-free periods. Its people have suffered colonization, prolonged civil war, and occupation by a foreign power almost continuously. During this time, it has been ruled by three authoritarian governments of differing ideological orientations and varying degrees of repression.

American military aid to Cambodia began indirectly in 1950 in the form of a security assistance program for the French forces in Indochina, that enabled them to expand a recently created indigenous army. In 1955 the United States agreed to continue this aid to the independent kingdom of Cambodia. The program, which included military training and a resident Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG), lasted until terminated by the Cambodian government. Security assistance was again extended to the Khmer Republic (see Appendix B) from 1970 until that government fell in 1975 to the Khmer Rouge (see Appendix B). After 1975 the United States extended humanitarian assistance through United Nations (UN) agencies to Cambodian refugees on the Thai border and gave nonlethal aid, only, to the two noncommunist components of the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea (CGDK--see Appendix B).

In 1987 Cambodia was the reluctant host to a substantial Vietnamese military presence, reinforced by its Cambodian surrogate army. History thus appeared to be repeating itself, and foreign observers and Cambodian nationalists feared that the country eventually might become part of a Hanoi-dominated Indochinese federation. The UN recognized the tripartite CGDK as the legitimate government of Cambodia. The insurgent forces of the coalition were capable only of conducting guerrilla raids and sabotage missions within Cambodian territory, against the Vietnamese occupation forces and the Kampuchean (or Khmer) People's Revolutionary Armed Forces (KPRAF--see Appendix B) of the Phnom Penh government, the People's Republic of Kampuchea (PRK--see Appendix B). A number of foreign observers assessed the military situation as a stalemate and doubted that Hanoi would, or could, fulfill its public commitment to withdraw its forces by 1990 from a Cambodia that was becoming a "strategic appendage" of the "indivisible strategic unit of Indochina" claimed by Vietnamese military doctrine.

Data as of December 1987