Cambodia: Genocide, Autocracy, and the Overpoliticized State
Cambodia: Genocide, Autocracy, and the Overpoliticized State
Abstract and Keywords
During 1975–1979, under the Khmer Rouge regime, over 1.8 million people died due to hunger, disease or murder. Though there were numerous deaths even before the Khmer Rouge regime, these have been overshadowed by the crises happening throughout it. Both politics and economics became unstable during these periods, which resulted in a humanitarian emergency: a profound social crisis in which a large number of people die and suffer from war, disease, hunger, and displacement. However, even after the Khmer Rouge regime, the humanitarian emergency continued, due to the vulnerability of the society to man-made and natural disasters. This continuing crisis of Cambodia is due to its overpoliticized state, which stemmed from the structural weakness of the society as demonstrated by its history. With its ruling elite and Cambodia's autocracy, corruption persisted and factionalism weakened the nation's ability to fight war and retain its basic social services.
In Cambodia between 1975 and early 1979 under the Khmer Rouge regime, perhaps as many as 1.8 million people died from hunger, disease, torture, or murder (Sliwinski 1995).1 The deaths of several hundred thousand Cambodians between 1970 and April 1975, before the Khmer Rouge (KR) had gained control of the country, are generally overshadowed by the sheer magnitude of the crisis under the Khmer Rouge (Figure 3.1). Yet Cambodia’s extreme political and economic instability during the first half of the 1970s had resulted in a humanitarian emergency well before the KR entered Phnom Penh. After the fall of the KR regime, humanitarian emergency conditions continued through the 1980s. At their peak, the number of refugees on the Thai-Cambodia border and internally displaced Cambodians was perhaps close to a million (Mysliwiec 1988), most of whom were not able to return home until the UN-sponsored repatriation in 1992–93.
There are thus three distinct periods of humanitarian emergency in Cambodia: 1970–75; 1975–78; and 1979–93. The role of external geopolitical actors (the United States, Vietnam, and China) as well as influential individuals (Cambodia’s King Sihanouk, Pol Pot and Nixon) in these crises should not be discounted, and has been well documented by numerous authors.2 This chapter, however, places emphasis on the internal political and economic factors that made Cambodia susceptible to foreign interference, and rendered its society and population so vulnerable to the events of the 1970s and the following decades.
2. The Political Economy of Vulnerability to Humanitarian Emergency
A humanitarian emergency can be defined as ‘a profound social crisis in which a large number of people die and suffer from war, disease, hunger, and displacement owing to man-made and natural disasters, while some others may benefit from it’ (Väyrynen, Volume 1, Chapter 2). A key factor in explaining why and how humanitarian emergencies occur is the vulnerability of individuals and communities to man-made and natural disasters. Vulnerability is characterized by a number of factors that ‘determine the degree to which someone’s life and livelihood is put at risk by a discrete and identifiable event in nature or in society’ (Blaikie et al. 1994: 9). Class, gender, ethnicity, income, age, and geographical location are some of the factors that may increase or decrease the extent to which any one individual or group is negatively affected in both the short- and long-term by disasters. Vulnerability has temporal as well as spatial, socio-economic, and political components; poorer families, for example, may not only be more negatively impacted by a disaster but will need longer to recover than their better-off neighbours. In other words, ‘vulnerability is a set of characteristics…of a person or group in terms of their capacity to anticipate, cope with, resist and recover from the impact of these events’ (Blaikie et al. 1994: 9). In using the concept of vulnerability, (p.55) we are seeking not only to explain how and why humanitarian emergencies occur, but also how and why different sectors of society suffer differing impacts and degrees of impacts.
This analysis is not a reiteration of the causes of conflict in Cambodia.3 Rather, we use a political economy approach as a means of identifying the critical factors of vulnerability during this period. The legacy of colonialism had tremendous influence on the political and economic development of the country after independence from France in 1953; for this reason, our main period of study extends from independence to the present (see Table 3.1). The third section examines the colonial legacy, through a brief analysis of French colonial rule. The fourth section presents an analysis of the post-colonial period (1953–70), while the fifth section examines the first phase of the humanitarian emergency (1970–75). The second and most profound phase of humanitarian emergency, the Khmer Rouge period (1975–78), is examined in the sixth section. The period of Vietnamese-backed communist rule, and the continuing humanitarian emergency experienced by the refugees on the Thai-Cambodia border as well as by the population in general is explored in the seventh section. An analysis of the major determinants of vulnerability follows, and a discussion of future instabilities is presented in the penultimate section.
3. The Political Economy of Vulnerability in Cambodia, 1953–79
3.1. The Colonial Period (1863–1953)
Cambodia gained its independence in 1953, ending ninety years of French rule, during which Cambodia had gained a measure of independence from its once-dominant neighbours, Thailand and Vietnam. A powerful empire between the ninth and the thirteenth centuries, the Khmer monarchy ruled much of the Indochinese region, including the Mekong delta (now in Vietnam), southern Laos, and northeastern Thailand. By the 1860s, however, Thailand and Vietnam controlled much of Cambodia’s territory; the monarchy existed, but had limited control over its former empire.
The kingdom was rescued from near-extinction in 1863 by the establishment of a French protectorate at the request of the Cambodian monarch.4 Regionally, French interest in Cambodia was guided by its desire to stem the expansionist interests of Siam, that were actively supported by the British. Cambodia was viewed as a buffer state between the (p.56) (p.57) British zone of influence (Thailand) and the heart of French Indochina (Vietnam), a geopolitical role that persisted after independence.
Table 3.1. The Political Economy of Vulnerability to Humanitarian Emergency: Cambodia, 1953–97
Main political-economic characteristics
Independence King Sihanouk in power after French withdraw
Economic malaise Political underdevelopment Dangerous geopolitical environment
Low war casualties, few political murders, low livelihood insecurity
Coup d’etat Lon Nol overthrows Sihanouk
Economic bankruptcy Political polarization State failure War (international and civil)
High war casualties, some political murders, increasing famine, high flight/ internal displacement, very high livelihood insecurity
Military defeat Lon Nol defeated by Khmer Rouge
Economic failure State terrorism Nation building failure Genocide
Low war casualties, numerous political murders, widespread famine, high flight/ internal displacement, no livelihood security
Military defeat, Peace Accord Khmer Rouge defeated by Vietnam
Slow economic recovery Authoritarianism Geopolitical stalemate Low intensity conflict
Medium war casualties, low-scale hunger, medium political murders, high flight/ displacement, high livelihood insecurity
UN operation and coalition government
Economic boom (urban) Political factionalism State building failure Favourable geopolitical and economic environment
Few war casualties, few political murders, medium livelihood insecurity
3.1.1. The Economic Legacy of Colonialism
At independence, Cambodia’s economy was characterized by an extremely low level of industrialization and an exogenous modern agricultural sector mostly consisting of rubber plantations that operated largely independently of the rural peasant economy. As the French had limited control over the provinces during the first three decades of colonial rule, little economic development took place before the early twentieth century. Vietnam, a full colony rather than a protectorate, remained politically and economically more significant.
In Cambodia, the French focused on creating infrastructure and administrative bodies to facilitate the export of such commodities as timber, fish, and rubber, the latter produced on French-owned plantations. Colonial development therefore focused on communication networks and plantations; no industrial capacity was developed, and Cambodia was thus a resource periphery for the rest of French Indochina, and in particular for Vietnam. Under French rule, the economy of Cambodia was colonial with respect to the other colonies (Pomonti and Thion 1971) and this set-up remained largely unchanged after independence in 1953 (Prud’homme 1969).
The rural Khmer population suffered more from the French policies than benefited from them. The rate of taxation was the highest within the French Indochinese colonial system (Jennar 1995); but the Khmer peasants received little in return, as French investments in education, health and social security were minimal. In addition to taxes, the peasants provided corvée (compulsory free labour) to build the infrastructure that facilitated penetration by the French administration into rural areas (and subsequent taxation by the authorities) and exploitation of the rural economy by Sino-Khmer5 merchants. Vietnamese workers, whose immigration was encouraged by the French, took over most of the salaried jobs either in the urban areas or on the plantations.
Foreign-driven development of the cities and heavy taxation of the peasants to finance the modernization process that largely excluded them, accelerated the division of the Cambodian society along urban-rural lines. Wealth and control of the exploitation of rural resources became concentrated with the small urban elite. In this respect this ‘modernization’ process favoured the emergence of new classes of political-economic actors, who were to play an important role in the political developments of the 1960s and 1970s. The resulting political system, dominated by the king and a core of courtiers/bureaucrats, allowed for little development of the civil society after independence. Cambodia’s economy—oriented (p.58) almost exclusively towards subsistence agricultural production and export of plantation-produced agricultural goods—struggled to diversify. The urban-rural and ethnic divisions that later proved to be significant in the 1960s and 1970s were accentuated by the modernization process initiated by the French.
3.1.2. The Political Legacy of Colonialism
Support for the monarchy helped to legitimize the French rule and to circumscribe Cambodian discontent. As noted by Osborne, ‘the effect of the French control was to enhance the symbolic position of the monarchy even as the king’s temporal power declined’ (Osborne 1973: 18). Two parallel systems thus emerged: the French administration with its focus on resource extraction; and the relatively powerless Cambodian administration controlled by the monarchy, which maintained the stability of traditional hierarchical systems. The main political impact of the colonial era arose in the penultimate years of French rule; nascent democratic bodies were dissolved and democratic movements quashed by the young King Sihanouk with the support of the French. By strengthening the traditional system of kingships and mandarins/courtiers, and by stifling the growth of indigenous democratic institutions, the French provided Sihanouk with a monopoly on political decision-making, allowing him to claim sole responsibility for independence in 1953 and facilitating the transformation of the Cambodian state into an autocracy throughout his period in power (1955–70).
3.2. Island of Peace? The Post-Colonial Period (1953–70)
After independence, King Sihanouk took increasingly direct control of the country. Sihanouk’s attempts to maintain Cambodia’s neutrality between the USA and the communist bloc were increasingly compromised by all parties of the conflict that was raging in Vietnam. Discontent with the king’s political stance as well as with his management of the stagnant economy was expressed through the growth of several armed resistance movements. The most notable of these was the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK)6 in remote areas of the country (Pomonti and Thion 1971). The Vietnam war theatre extended to Cambodian territory as early as 1962 with regular bombardments and incursions of troops; intensive American bombing began in 1969.
3.2.1. Economy during Sihanouk’s Rule
The declining economy during the latter half of Sihanouk’s regime was a significant factor contributing to (p.59) the humanitarian emergency of the 1970s. While growth took place in some sectors, economic performance was poor.7 Performance of the agricultural sector, employing a vast majority of Cambodians, was erratic. The colonial tradition of large, foreign-run plantations producing for export—and of exporting the profits—persisted. In failing to secure a consistent growth of the agricultural sector or to ensure that any resulting benefits were properly channelled through the state, the government discouraged the development of robust industrial and service sectors. Consequently, the government increased its reliance on agricultural revenues over which its control was diminishing. The widespread usury nature of the agricultural sector and the corruption and mismanagement of the economy dominated by the Sino-Khmer population meant that purchasing power stagnated for all, except for a small fraction of the urban elite. Income per capita remained low while taxes, prices, unemployment, and popular discontent with the regime rose (Summers 1986). The political economy of the country at the end of Sihanouk’s rule had reinforced long-existing economic disparity. It had also weakened the capacity of the state to address internal political challenges, to withstand armed rebellion, or to resist international pressure to engage in the widening Indochinese conflict. The result—the increasing insecurity of the livelihood of the peasants—was the main source of vulnerability during this time.
3.2.2. The Agricultural Sector
Throughout the pre-war period (prior to 1970), agriculture was the dominant economic sector, representing 56 per cent of GDP in 1952 (Figure 3.2).
Most of the 75 per cent of the workforce employed in this sector were smallholder rice farmers.8 While rice production figures showed relative growth during the pre-war period (Figure 3.4), this did not necessarily translate into improved livelihoods. The overall increase in production in the 1960s resulted from an expansion of arable land, rather than improved yields.9 Government prices for rice—the main cash crop—remained low. High taxes and excessive interest charged on loans to farmers exacerbated their difficulties, as did fluctuations in world prices. The rural population remained entrenched in subsistence, unable to increase or even sustain a (p.60) profit margin.10 Rural opportunities were further limited by population pressures in the central plains, the most fertile and long inhabited region of Cambodia. Landlordism added pressure on available land; although land distribution was relatively equal and a large majority of peasants owned their land (84 per cent according to the 1962 census), landlordism was on the increase by the late 1960s in a few Cambodian provinces.
Efforts were made by the government to improve the economic situation of the rural population. To a large extent these measures focused on greater access to primary education and health services. A governmental institution, OROC, was set up in 1956 to break the monopoly of Sino-Khmer traders, who were responsible for usurious loans to farmers. By the 1960s, however, this institution had evolved into a rural segment of the civil service, benefiting corrupt functionaries and the same Sino-Khmer traders it had supposedly targeted for discipline. OROC and other government institutions progressively took control of rice transactions. This dampened rice production (Figure 3.4), and prompted peasants to seek alternative markets. Nationalization of foreign trade in 1964 encouraged clandestine trading with communist forces in Vietnam. By 1967, over a quarter of the rice harvest was being smuggled to these forces, which paid higher prices than those offered by the Cambodian government (Chandler 1996).
To regain control over rice revenues, in several areas army units were placed in charge of collecting the rice surplus; government prices were to be paid and the rice was to be transported to government warehouses. Armed conflict developed, tens of thousands of farmers fled, and perhaps thousands were killed (Chandler 1996). The political discontent was exploited by the (then) relatively powerless Communist Party of (p.61) Kampuchea, which used the backlash caused by the brutal suppression of the 1967 uprisings to their advantage to attract supporters (Kiernan 1986). From 1966 onwards, little revenue from rice crops went to the government.11 By failing to raise productivity, to improve peasant incomes, or to limit ‘predation’ of the peasantry by functionaries and moneylenders, the government effectively ensured its long-term economic decline.
3.2.3. Industrial and Service Sectors
The emergence of industry in the post-colonial period was slow, and was driven by the public sector and external aid rather than by domestic, private investment. Industrialization was motivated by internal demand rather than export concerns, but the small size of the domestic market limited growth, and ‘prestige spending’ resulted in unwise investments. Inefficiency in this sector often kept domestic production costs higher than international market value. Furthermore, reluctance to devalue the national currency prevented potential exports and kept imports high. Sihanouk was unable to ensure the profitability of the sector or to attract large foreign investors, and was thus forced to rely on inadequate international aid and an inefficient public administration. Nationalization of the banking sector further discouraged potential investors. Consequently, only minimal development of this sector took place during the 1960s.
In contrast to the industrial sector, the service sector grew during Sihanouk’s rule (Figure 3.2). Apart from small, nascent tourism sector, trade, banking, and administration dominated the services.12 These sectors were characterized by usury and corruption, and stimulated a vast underground economy unable to support the efforts for the creation of a centrally controlled economy, as envisioned by Sihanouk in his model of ‘Buddhist socialism’. By the late 1960s, the service sector was increasingly important to the national economy, primarily because of an escalation in the number of civil servants and an increase in commercial trade and lending activity (Prud’homme 1969). Average GDP growth, corrected for population, over the period 1952–66 was 2.4 per cent (Figure 3.2). This GDP growth trend apparent throughout the mid-1960s, did not continue into the latter half of the decade; nationalization and worsening external conditions were to have significant negative impacts on the economy.
To neutralize the private sector Sihanouk judged to be both predatory and potentially politically hostile to his regime, he nationalized in 1963 the import-export trade, private banks, and distilleries, and limited the import of luxury goods (Chandler 1996). At the same time, he renounced American aid in an attempt to maintain Cambodia’s neutrality in the Indochinese conflict. Sihanouk hoped to provide through the nationalization of the banking and import-export sector, a greater economic lever for the state in the internal affairs of the country. However, nationalization was transformed into a new opportunity for graft and corruption which benefited, as before, a small number of urban commercial élite and segments of the civil service and royal entourage. The Bank of Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s largest financial institution, collapsed the same year. As a result, private investments which had been weak even before nationalization, declined quickly.13 The commercial elite reoriented their activities towards the ‘grey economy’ and capital fled the country. Both developments weakened the economy, productive investments, and tax revenues, thus limiting modern sector employment and government salaries. Furthermore, Sihanouk was ambivalent as he sanctioned rice smuggling operations by the commercial elite and covert arms trade with the Vietnamese by the army14 thus denying the state much-needed resources and compromising its neutrality (Martin 1989).
3.2.5. Worsening External Conditions
In addition to nationalization, other factors such as declining terms of trade, structural changes in world commodity prices, and diminishing aid and capital flows had significant adverse effects on Cambodia’s economy in the 1960s. Unprocessed primary goods represented the quasi-totality of the country’s exports. Together rice, latex, and corn represented on average 83 per cent of exports between 1957 and 1966 (Prud’homme 1969). Overvaluation of the riel, and a fall in international latex prices engendered declining terms of trade and resulted in a chronic trade deficit.
The disappearance of American aid was also significant. Cambodia, since independence, had largely relied on foreign aid rather than private capital flow to support its development.15 Although the country had been able to secure assistance from numerous multilateral and bilateral donors during the Sihanouk regime, only a minimal part of foreign aid was (p.63) directed toward agriculture. The impact was negligible. More aid was allocated to industry, but even this impact remained small. The cessation of foreign aid was felt most severely on the budget and the balance of payments. The US military aid programme had provided wages for the armed forces up until 1963 and ‘in effect, had amounted to a 15 per cent subvention to the national budget’ (Chandler 1996: 200). Combined with nationalization, which meant that private foreign direct investments were totally absent in the mid-1960s, the decision to renounce aid eliminated almost entirely foreign capital flows to the country (Prud’homme 1969).
3.2.6. The Failure of the Modernization Process
In contrast to the economies of neighbouring Thailand and south Vietnam which were fuelled in part by US war spending, the Cambodia economy stagnated throughout the 1960s, resulting in a shortage of foreign currency. Income of the vast majority of the people was stagnant during the entire period (Figure 3.3). High income differentials and high unemployment of the modern section added to the political discontent.
High income disparity was not a new phenomenon in Cambodia. Historically, wealth had been concentrated in the hands of Sino-Khmer merchant élite. In the twentieth century, this ethnic and economic divide took on spatial dimensions as new employment opportunities in high-paying industrial and service sectors became available in urban areas. In (p.64) 1962, agricultural sector workers earned only half of the average income per capita,16 while industrial sector employees made nearly five times as much.17 It was estimated that 20 per cent of the economically active, non-agricultural population earned 60 per cent of the national income. The richest 125,000 citizens (5 per cent of the economically active population) received more than 30 per cent of the national income18 (ibid.). But even the urban élite were affected by the economic decline of the late 1960s:
…except for a few narrowly defined fractions of the urban elite (for example, bankers, landlords, and importer-exporters), Cambodians did very well between 1954 and 1967 if they simply maintained their standard of living at a stable level; however most experienced significant declines. Thus in general the urban elite suffered along with the rural masses (Ear 1995).
Sihanouk’s reforms began to affect the urban elite at the same time as young urban Cambodians, having passed through the generously expanded education system, were facing high unemployment. Sihanouk had consistently made large allocations to education, amounting in some years to over 20 per cent of the national budget. However, these programmes, from primary school to university level included, generally failed to provide the technical skills needed to diversify the economy. In the late 1960s, only few jobs were available for the tens of thousands of high school graduates and hundreds of university graduates,19 in spite of the limited education of the population as a whole.20 Badly mismanaged modernization of the technocratic élite had created a group of intelligentsia, who were frustrated at being largely excluded from a productive role in economic or political life. Consequently, ‘some of these young men and women drifted into the communist movement, and many more blamed Sihanouk for their plight’ (Chandler 1996:199).
3.2.7. The Interweave of Social and Economic Factors
As the difficulties of integrating young, well-educated Cambodians into the economy in the late 1960s demonstrate, the decline of the 1960s was ‘as much a reflection (p.65) of Cambodia’s unsolved social and political dilemmas as much as its purely economic difficulties’ (Osborne 1973: 88). The family unit socially dictated much of one’s professional career and economic wealth. A small, exclusive network of Cambodians of largely Sino-Khmer ethnicity held a near-monopoly on commerce and trade as well as on high-ranking governmental positions.21 Being involved in the export of agricultural products and the import of manufactured goods with their attendant usurious credit schemes, this well-established group was able to command the economy.22 Sino-Khmers were mostly city-dwellers, but a network of Sino-Khmer traders covered rural areas. The concentration of wealth and power in the capital city was overwhelming. Most of the Khmers were economically, spatially, and ethnically excluded from trade and commerce and only a very limited number of powerful Khmer families were able to secure access to important wealth.23
In a country where ‘power provided access to wealth rather than wealth providing access to power’ (Prud’homme 1969: 17), public service, especially after nationalization, constituted one of the main economic and political forces of the country. Traditional patronage systems and patron-client relationships were integrated with, rather than invalidated or replaced by, the political and administrative systems imposed by the colonists. This effectively reinforced the submersion and corruption of the most profitable sectors of the economy in order to accommodate the perceived entitlements of members of the elite and of the growing administration. In a vicious cycle, this in turn increased the power of these political-economic groups and restricted the effect of governmental policies.24 It also reduced the legitimacy of the state and its capacity to respond to the ensuing crisis. Cambodia became plagued by a widening gap—the impoverished rural society disdained by the frustrated urban and educated elite, who themselves were dominated by a circle of cronies, empowered by Sihanouk’s approval and a corrupt state apparatus.
Between 1952 and 1970, political life in Cambodia was overwhelmingly dominated by Norodom Sihanouk. He included in his cabinets conservative and leftist leaders in order to contain and possibly silence all opposition through the provision of high public posts.25 During the space of 18 years, 34 different governments—all overseen by Sihanouk—succeeded one another. At its onset in 1955, his ‘socialist Buddhism’ programme (Sangkum Reastr Niyum) was to offer an exclusive forum for political debates, but as early as 1963, members of some left-wing groups boycotted this political tool and went underground.26 Resentment of Sihanouk’s authoritarian, self-indulgent style of politics added to the discontent. Sihanouk’s ‘long personalistic rule did much to ensure that Cambodia’s political evolution was inhibited. Administrative and political talent were scarcely a surplus commodity in Cambodia, and they had little opportunity to flourish under Sihanouk’s regime’ (Osborne 1973: 116).
Sihanouk’s political legitimacy was largely compromised by his international and domestic policies perceived by the urban, intellectual, and military elite as ruinous. With Vietnam and Laos at war, and Thailand solidly anchored to the American sphere of influence, Cambodia was economically and politically isolated.27 Although Sihanouk’s diplomatic efforts to keep the country out of the Vietnamese maelstrom were a credit to his personal success, his policy of ‘extreme neutrality’ had resulted in increasing concessions to both sides of the conflict in Vietnam.28 Domestic agrarian unrest and the armed rebellions that sprang up in 1967 and 1968 in response to Sihanouk’s decision to transfer responsibility of the rice harvest to the military, further weakened the legitimacy of his government.
In a context where national political debate was impossible, these developments resulted in a greater rift of petty feuding. In the countryside ‘right and left were now joined in…serious armed conflict that went far beyond political skirmishing in its threat of future disaster…unrest broke out in scattered parts of the country to shatter any remaining illusions about Cambodia’s internal unity’ (Osborne 1973: 98). In 1969, as opposition increased and economic decline continued, Sihanouk finally acknowledged the domestic economic crisis. He proposed economic liberalization and a renewal of US aid; too late, however, to mollify his opponents, who backed General Lon Nol’s Khmer republic after his 1970 coup d’état (Meyer 1971).
By virtue of the new regime’s pledge of economic and political reform, popular support of the coup was widespread.29 The new government promised to reverse many of Sihanouk’s policies: freedom of speech was to be allowed, and ‘the middle class was promised that the economic stagnation of recent years was over; that industry was to be denationalized; that interest rates would rise; and that tourists and capital would flow into Phnom Penh’ (Shawcross 1991: 126). However, the persistence of corruption, destruction of productive segments of the economy, and the pervasive influence of vested economic interests in political and administrative decision-making, together with the intensification of the civil war, inhibited all economic recovery.
Heavily dependent on US economic and military assistance, the newly established Khmer republic attempted to suppress the emerging communist-led rebellion. Lon Nol initiated his regime with a brutal suppression of student and peasant movements that supported Sihanouk, killing several hundreds. His police and army conducted a Vietnamese pogrom, killing thousands and pushing more than 300,000 into exile. The CPK, assisted by North Vietnam and led by Pol Pot with the exiled Sihanouk as titular head, gained ground throughout the early 1970s against the corrupt and inefficient government army. American carpet-bombing of ostensibly CPK and Vietnamese communist-controlled areas in Cambodia exacerbated the effects of the civil war on the civilian population.30 Although the number of war casualties is disputed, this period witnessed a dramatic rise in mortality among both rural and urban communities. When the war ended in 1975 with a Khmer Rouge victory, between 300,000 and 700,000 Cambodians had died31 and, out of an estimated population of 7.5 million, approximately 2.5 million were internally displaced.32 The Lon Nol period was the first phase of the humanitarian emergency in the 1970s in Cambodia. Although conditions were not as severe as during the (p.68) subsequent regime, few escaped the effects of the war, of the collapsing economy, or of ensuing insecurity of livelihood.
3.3.1. Economic Situation
Mismanaged and corrupt, the republic’s wartime economy subsisted on extensive American subsidies. By the final year of the republic, the agricultural sector had collapsed (Figure 3.4).33 Even before their victory in 1975, the Khmer Rouge controlled other export sectors, such as rubber.
Faced with hyperinflation and a fall in tax revenue, the Lon Nol regime sharply reduced the public services budget in favour of defence, which rose from 2 per cent in 1968 to 10 per cent in 1970 and to 74 per cent in 1971.34 American aid was again introduced; a congressionally funded (p.69) package of over US$ 180 million was provided in 1971 (Chandler 1993). The war halted most exports as production areas and communications fell to the CPK.35 By 1974, the Lon Nol government was almost completely subsidized by the Americans; 95 per cent of all income came from the US administration (Shawcross 1991). By early 1975, the American military and economic aid to Lon Nol totalled US$ 1.85 billion (ibid.).
Ethnic differentiation within the economic activities of Cambodia had rendered the economy particularly vulnerable. Historically, ethnic Khmer had preferred public service or farming, without interest in business or technical activities. These were dominated by the Vietnamese and Sino-Khmer populations. This meant that the extreme nationalism and racism of the republic was a threat not only to certain ethnic groups, but also to certain critical sectors of the economy dominated by ethnic minorities and/or foreign experts. This dramatically compounded the effects of the decline of Cambodia’s external assistance (France, China and socialist countries), of its trade outlets (France and China), primary economic actors (both the Vietnamese and Sino-Khmer communities), foreign experts, and intermediaries (Sino-Khmer traders).36 Similar to the situation in the late 1960s albeit more extensive, entire sectors of the economy went underground. This diverted state resources to a small group of army officers, bureaucrats, and urban commercial elite. Embezzlement of large amounts of US aid flowing into the country also provided important revenue to these same groups.37
3.3.2. Vulnerability during Lon Nol’s Rule
Vulnerability increased dramatically during the four years of Lon Nol’s rule. The only populace segments spared were the powerful and wealthy urban elite, as well as isolated pockets of rural people. Large-scale bombing of communist-controlled border areas had begun in secret in 1969; this escalated into a more widespread campaign in 1973 as the communists gained control of much of the country. By 1975, two million refugees had fled into Phnom Penh to escape the war zone.38 Refugees also flooded to other urban centres and by 1975 perhaps one-third of the population had been displaced (Sliwinski 1995). Throughout the first half of the 1970s, people in Lon Nol controlled areas suffered from chronic food shortages and (p.70) hyperinflation.39 Public services were severely reduced. The health budget fell to 2.6 per cent in 1971 from 5 per cent in 1968 and pharmaceutical imports were cut by nearly a half even though demand had multiplied (Shawcross 1991). US aid could not compensate for the shortfall in the social services budget. On the contrary, US humanitarian relief, started only in mid-1972, accounted for only a small proportion of the total amount spent in supporting the regime.40 Segments of the private sector were also affected by the mobilization of resources to meet security imperatives. Emergency measures, such as the requisition of two-thirds of the private transport fleet for the army, accelerated the collapse of the economy. The rural population, on the other hand, was protected in the short term by its semi-autarky, which replaced money with barter.41
By 1974, the CPK controlled perhaps 60 per cent of Cambodia’s territory and 40 per cent of the population (Kirk 1975); conditions in rural areas, devastated by American bombing, degraded rapidly as the CPK took an increasingly authoritarian and repressive stand, even against the peasants. By late 1974, as the communist cordon closed in on Phnom Penh, three hundred people were killed or wounded daily within the city by indiscriminate shelling (Chandler 1993). The morale of the disorganized, poorly paid armed forces was low, and dropped further as Lon Nol began conscripting young teenage boys in the final year of the war. The poorly motivated government army gradually lost ground to the committed CPK forces.42 In the capital, food and medical supplies ran out; intermittent supply convoys moving up the Mekong or by air averted starvation until the final weeks of the siege when hundreds perished from hunger. Social services—health care, education, and housing—were non-existent. By 1975, people in areas still free of communist control ‘were exhausted by the war and ready for almost any alternative to the corrupt and inefficient Khmer Republic’ (Chandler 1993: 208).
3.4. The Khmer Rouge Regime (1975–78)
The humanitarian emergency intensified during the latter half of the 1970s, as the CPK’s Democratic Kampuchea regime attempted to implement (p.71) its vision of a radically transformed society. Supported by China and North Korea, between 1975–78 the new Khmer Rouge regime emptied the cities, displaced more than 60 per cent of the population, and attempted to establish an egalitarian, collectively organized society that was nonmonetary and agrarian-based.43 During the first five months, approximately 350,000 perished, mostly through execution of governmental staff and educated people (Sliwinski 1995). Amidst internal political purges, the KR project failed dramatically. Agricultural production had collapsed, and widespread famine and epidemics ensued.44 Numerous attacks by the KR army on border areas, motivated by historical antagonisms, prompted an invasion by the Vietnamese in late 1978. The weakened KR regime fell in less than two weeks to the invaders.
3.4.1. Economic Ideology and Practices
The ideological goals of the KR remained consistent through most of their time in power: ‘national defence and self-reliance, radical egalitarian collectivism, puritanical morality, economic modernization, and the dictatorship of the proletariat’ (Jackson 1979). The regime abolished private property, market trade, and money, as well as the relevant symbols of these: cities were emptied and abandoned, financial institutions destroyed, luxurious villas blown up. The economic priorities of the regime—collectivism, autarky, and empowerment of the poor driven by ‘revolutionary will’—were embodied in a four-year plan with the aim to accelerate Cambodia’s conversion to socialism (Chandler 1992). The main emphasis was on rice production (Twining 1989), with the intent to increase production by a factor of three, but the KR’s simplistic irrigation plans were disastrously misguided, and ignored basic hydrological and technical guidelines (Pijpers 1989).
The economic failure of the Khmer Rouge regime was closely associated with the dismantling of the societal structure through four measures: the introduction of forced labour, the massive change in professional occupations, retardation of productive technology, and the disproportionate growth of the bureaucratic and repressive apparatus (Sliwinski 1995).45 This economic failure was also driven by the ideological motivations that dictated annihilation of the class enemies and strengthening of the administrative control of the population through a policy of ‘empty stomachs’, which included such measures as forced labour on public works by undernourished workers, agricultural expansion into malaria ridden areas, and artificial creation of ‘surplus’ rice on supply for food and seed (Yathay 1989). As these surplus rice stores were produced, whether genuinely or (p.72) artificially, they were collected from the producers for distribution among the administrative and repressive apparatus of the regime or for export for essential products or arms.46
3.4.2. Political Rule under the Khmer Rouge Regime
The increasingly evident massive economic failure of the KR regime added to a growing paranoia among the top KR command, leading to widespread purges and increasing hunger that was the culmination of the forced economic policies. In spite of its underdeveloped economy, ‘the regime probably exerted more power over its citizens than any state in world history’ (Kiernan 1996: 464). The regime’s obsession with the creation of a nation of ethnically and ideologically pure Khmer who would subsist on rice culture resulted in entire social groups—bureaucrats, merchants, administrators, highly educated and all technically skilled people—being annihilated. The ‘new people’, or the urbanized Cambodians, were to be eliminated, or reeducated through intensive agricultural and infrastructure projects. But neither were the ‘old people’ (peuple ancien)—the peasantry—spared. Peasants were required progressively to abandon their traditional livelihood. Possession of land, as well as links with family and religion, were banned and their means of subsistence were confiscated (Kiernan 1982 and 1996).
Despite social reorganization and destruction of the market-based economy, the KR resembled previous regimes, with emphasis on Cambodia’s glorious past and grandeur of race that was based on a hatred of Vietnam. The KR rulers also entertained visions of their own uniqueness and originality of the regime. Like prior regimes, the KR regime was characterized by nepotism and corruption, and even sought to benefit from the traditional political model—the monarchy with Sihanouk as a figurehead (Thion 1982).
Politically, the main objective of the Khmer Rouge was to consolidate their power, first by destroying the remnants of the old administration and army, and second by stifling diverging views and dissidents within their own movement, the NUFK,47 that had attracted Vietnamese- and Chinese-influenced communists as well as ex-monarchists. But the revolutionary ideals of the Khmer Rouge had very few followers, especially after these had been demonstrated in practice.
As early as 1970, it became evident that the Khmer Rouge lacked the widespread political support of the peasants, but that ‘the Khmer Rouge could lose the revolution [for lack of supporters] while they were in the process of winning the war’ (Frieson 1993: 47). Maintaining power, thus, (p.73) was a struggle that entailed elimination of the dissident leaders, new and secretive administrative structure, and dispersion of the population.48 ‘…Once the revolution’s initial control was established, many [KR cadre] might well have desired a relaxation of the regime, while to consolidate his domination, Pol Pot needed to tighten his grip through further exactions…[as such]…Cambodia under Pol Pot was an extreme case of a power struggle’ (Barnett 1983). Greed, cynicism and nepotism typified the KR leadership, and its racist ideology, incompetence, and internecine struggles for total power perpetuated widening purges and indoctrination of the population.
3.4.3. Ulnerability under the Khmer Rouge
While inequalities of the society during the Sihanouk and Lon Nol regimes served to justify the communist revolution, the Pol Pot regime was characterized not by the creation of an egalitarian society, but by the attempt to build a new society through a set of far-reaching inequities. To this end, through the reconfiguration of new social classes, as well as regional biases in the implementation of policies, the very survival of individuals was determined by their former class, level of education, ethnicity and ‘urbanization’ level. Considering that nearly four years of the regime were relatively free of war activities (with the exception of raids on Vietnam and the insurrections particularly in the eastern zone), the death toll of this period can only be explained by deliberate physical and psychological measures to intimidate the population. This process attempted to sever all traditional links of solidarity (linguistic, geographical, kinship) within families, communities, and class groups.49
The vulnerability of the Cambodians was strongly correlated to their social background and their location at the time of the Khmer Rouge victory, when the regime targeted specific groups.50 Impossible agricultural production goals (leading to inhuman workloads and malnutrition to produce the required ‘surplus’); increasing paranoia among the leaders, and diversion of resources for the Vietnamese war compounded the (p.74) vulnerability of the people. Many explanations have been offered for the extremist policies of the KR, such as the influence of Mao and continual purging during China’s Cultural Revolution; the five years of brutal warfare and bombing of the Cambodian countryside that produced very high casualties among the young KR cadres; political isolation leading these cadres to impose a reign of terror as the only means of political survival; the dehumanization of the KR cadres through indoctrination and combat; and belittling the traditional reverence for old age by endowing minors (who were supposedly pure ideologically) with decision-making authority over community elders. Helplessness of the Cambodian society against the KR arose because of the political polarization initiated by Sihanouk and further entrenched by cold war politics.
By 7 January 1979 when the Vietnamese army captured Phnom Penh and gained de facto control over Cambodia,51 approximately 25 per cent of the population had perished from forced labour, malnutrition, disease, execution, or political purges52 (Sliwinski 1995). Infrastructure, already largely damaged by the 1970–75 war, had been further destroyed by years of neglect and vandalism. Vast majority of the educated had either been killed or had fled the country; only a few people with the vital skills needed for an industrialized, urbanized society remained in Cambodia, or had returned home.
3.5 The 1980s: a Continuing Humanitarian Emergency
With the support of the Soviet bloc, the Vietnamese-backed People’s Republic of Kampuchea (PRK)53 government, which also included Khmer Rouge defectors, imposed a rigid one-party communist rule in Cambodia. PRK faced a tremendous challenge because of the extent of destruction of the 1970s. Rebuilding was made more difficult by the UN embargo on development aid (in protest against the Vietnamese ‘invasion’) and the international isolation of the country. While the Vietnamese offensive had ousted the KR regime from most regions, the Khmer Rouge and allied Royalist54 and Republican55 forces remained in control in the heavily (p.75) forested northern and western regions along the Thai border. Funded collectively by the USA, European countries, ASEAN, and China, the war with the Khmer Rouge and their allies continued throughout the 1980s with no major territorial takeovers (Regaud 1992).56 The Vietnamese offensive also triggered a flow of refugees to the Thai-Cambodia border, adding to those who had fled the Pol Pot regime. By 1980, between 1 and 1.2 million Cambodians had fled to the border (Mysliwiec 1988), to which a massive international relief effort responded. The refugee population fluctuated between 300,000 and 600,000 during the 1980s; the majority were denied resettlement away from the border or to a third country, thus these people remained vulnerable to Vietnamese and PRK attacks and exploitation by various resistance factions. Within Cambodia, and especially in the western part of the country, the continuing conflict resulted in a large number of internally displaced persons (Lis-Svarre et al. 1992; Mason and Brown 1983).
After the fall of the Khmer Rouge, a massive population movement began; refugees and individuals criss-crossed the country, looking for relatives and returning home. This resulted in a major disruption of that year’s crops; only 5 per cent of the rice fields were under cultivation in July 1979 (Leifer 1980). The new Vietnamese-backed regime began the task of rebuilding the society with “an acute shortage of trained personnel and a major devastation of basic infrastructure…[and] a virtual standstill in the subsistence economy’ (ibid.: 38).57 Furthermore, lacking investment capital and technology, the per capita income and GDP were amongst the lowest in the world; infant mortality was the second highest (Chanda 1988). The government followed pragmatic policies for the most part, but humanitarian emergency conditions persisted throughout the 1980s, reflecting the continuing war, the international political stalemate, and the refugee crisis on the Thai–Cambodia border.
Superficially, the 1980s were a continuation of the previous decade. War, famine, and flight were a re-occurring theme among the refugees. However, the refugee population and even the continuing existence of the camps were manipulated by external forces that had largely been absent during 1975–78. Cold war politics, deteriorating Sino-Vietnamese relations, and the Thai fear of Vietnamese empire-building—these factors promoted Western and Chinese support, re-establishing opposition forces along the border, and maintaining the ‘Kampuchean issue’ on the international agenda. The refugee camps were a political tool in the ‘wider struggle engaging the interests of major external states over the (p.76) appropriate and acceptable pattern of power in Indochina’ (Leifer 1980), while also serving to keep the political issue of Vietnam’s occupation of Cambodia alive internationally (Mysliwiec 1988). The camps’ political economy was largely controlled by, and responded to, the needs of a coalition of governments and institutions (CGDK) allied against the Vietnamese-backed state of Cambodia (Figure 3.5). Cambodia remained at war—and refugees remained at the border—throughout the 1980s.
Within Cambodia, the communist PRK faced a tremendous challenge of rebuilding the devastation of 1975–78. Its leaders adopted a pragmatic approach. They sought to encourage the development of a ‘dual’ economy of barter and subsistence (the ‘family economy’) and private trading, which complemented, and eventually surpassed the state-controlled sector. With emphasis on poverty alleviation rather than ideology, the nominally socialist government opened the country to a free market economy in the late 1980s (Chanda 1987). The Soviet bloc and various Western NGOs provided the main bulk of development aid, but this alone was insufficient for the country’s needs.58 Lack of basic infrastructure, capital (p.77) investment, and trained personnel made rebuilding difficult. Shortfalls in rice production (Figure 3.4) and a stagnant industrial sector inhibited economic growth; production remained below the 1969 levels for all major sectors (Hiebert 1989). The continuing international embargo, the ongoing civil war, and the related internationally engineered military and political stalemate played a large role in preventing reconstruction.
4. Major Determinants of Vulnerability
4.1. Geopolitical Position
Cambodia is a small state with limited resources, playing a buffer role within the security dynamics of the region, notably between Thailand (60 million people) and crowded Vietnam (70 million). Since the fall of the Angkor Empire at the end of the thirteenth century, Cambodia’s history has been influenced by “inescapable pressures from intense local security complexes’ (Buzan 1991: 223). The country has been dominated by either—or both—the Thai and Vietnamese, the western part of the country influenced by the former, and the eastern by the latter.59 This geographical-economic fissiparity has remained important throughout Cambodia’s history (Vickery 1986) and for many Cambodians the Very survival of the nation is a major political issue’ (Shawcross 1991:51). When allied with racism and xenophobia, it has allowed successive governments to perpetrate human rights violations on ethnic minorities, has mobilized discrimination against perceived enemies, and further deepened ethnic divisions within Cambodia (see section 4.3.1).
4.2. State Failure
State failure—the near-complete collapse of the state and state functions—was a critical internal political source of vulnerability during the 1970s crisis. There are three interrelated factors that explain the failure of successive regimes: factionalism, corruption, and weak state legitimacy.
Throughout the post-colonial period, ‘the behaviour [of Cambodian politicians] focused on individuals, families, feuds, tactics, and power rather than on institutions, strategies, and political (p.78) ideals’ (Chandler 1993: 223). This factionalism has its roots in Cambodia’s traditional systems of patronage (Bit 1991), which were modified but not eradicated under colonial and post-colonial regimes. Under Sihanouk, traditional systems of patronage merged with and shaped political alliances within the civil service. Under the Khmer Republic, factionalism took a new form as financial and military interests merged; a small minority of government and military officials controlled Cambodia in an allegiance of ‘fiefdoms’, shaped and driven mainly by the pursuit of private profit.60 The inability to tolerate opposition, or to organize and sustain coherent political opposition, were important factors in the political polarization under the Sihanouk and Lon Nol regimes. Under the KR, both actual and perceived threats of factionalism were critical to cadre policy, its core group securing power through ‘family dictatorship’, purges, and state terrorism sanctioned as the answer to dissent.
Elite factionalism depended on a high level of corruption to maintain allegiance (Sangpam 1995). Under Sihanouk, the parallel systems of taxation—in which ‘tax’ revenues extracted by the authorities were diverted to the treasury, to discretionary secret funds for Sihanouk himself,61 and to private pockets within the administration—were kept more or less in check, if not in balance. Under Lon Nol, however, the ‘shadow’ taxation system constituted an increasingly larger proportion of revenues, and centralized control over these revenues decreased. More importantly, corruption meant that control over what resources the government did have to distribute (namely American aid) was limited. With little control over revenue and limited capacity to mobilize resources for pressing needs (that is, the military, and nutritional and medical needs of the civilian population), the government was increasingly unable to manage the war effort or to cope with the ensuing civilian crisis. The diffusion and dissolution of state power served to reorient people towards the existing patronage system, thus reinforcing the power of local interests vis-à-vis the central authorities. By 1975, corruption had reached staggering proportions and was severely detrimental to the war effort. The Khmer Rouge benefited greatly from the weakness of the state, which provided them with a strategic advantage, and from the corruption of the fiefdoms, which provided them with the ideological advantage that attracted many followers.
The legitimacy62 of Cambodian rulers and state models was highly contested throughout the late 1960s and 1970s (Kirk 1975). This contestation was closely linked to ‘the successive efforts of [political leaders] to construct and impose on Cambodia internationally inspired state models that are in reality shot through with modes of domination, the roots of which are mainly indigenous (most notably in the form of patron-client relationships)’ (Heder 1995:425). For both Sihanouk and Lon Nol, legitimacy ultimately depended upon ‘acceptance by state institutions or political forces to be found within the circle of power’ (Alagappa 1995: 28), that is, upon the persistence of stable internal and external patron-client relationships rather than popular support. Although Sihanouk had broad based support among ordinary Cambodians, Sihanouk’s political and economic policies eroded his legitimacy with the urban élite and the army,63 leading to the 1970 coup. After the coup, the traditional pattern of patron-client relationships, implying reciprocal relationships of rights and responsibilities at many levels in the Cambodian society, further deteriorated. Lon Nol’s regime was built on serving the interests of the élite; however, the resulting lack of popular legitimacy forced its acceptance of foreign troops (South Vietnamese) and foreign aid (American) without which it could not have ensured its survival. Under Lon Nol, the élite were ‘obsessed by regime…security, and they [shaped] their policies accordingly’ (Ayoob 1991:19). Ironically, this served only to draw the Republic further into the conflict. Reliance by the state on elite and external actors for legitimacy drew Cambodia into a vicious circle of corruption and factionalism that eventually destroyed its ability to fight the war or to maintain basic social services for its citizens.
4.3. Divided Society
As previously discussed, the simultaneous economic, spatial, and ethnic segregation of Cambodian society was not only a major factor of the 1970s instability, it was also a major determinant of vulnerability. Ethnic divisions not only increased the vulnerability of certain groups in society, but also provided various political groups with ideological scapegoats and targets for oppression. Often, these minority groups were particularly vulnerable because of their concentration in urban areas, and in certain sectors of the economy.
Whereas Sihanouk regarded both the Vietnamese and Sino-Khmer communities as internal threats to the monarchy and to the country’s neutrality and stability, the Khmer Republic and the KR directed its racism against the Vietnamese. Racism was closely linked to the ‘Angkor myth’—a perception, fuelled by all political parties, of past grandeur of the Khmer race and of Cambodia, to which contemporary Khmer should aspire. Used as a scapegoat by all political parties promoting a nationalist line, the Vietnamese in Cambodia were repeatedly attacked and murdered by various armed groups.
Anti-Vietnamese sentiment has had a strong resonance with ethnic Khmers (the majority of Cambodians) who had feared Vietnamese expansionism for centuries.64 The promotion of the Vietnamese as administrators by the colonial French as well as their decision to allow limited Vietnamese immigration into Cambodia, may have exacerbated local xenophobia. During the 1960s and early 1970s, the Khmers’ historical perceptions of injustice were reinforced by threats to Cambodia’s territorial integrity from both south and north Vietnamese. When it became apparent that the Vietnamese were supporting both sides of the Cambodian political divide against the Lon Nol regime, both organized and random violence against this minority group became more common.65 Many of the Vietnamese residing in Cambodia (who had constituted approximately 4 to 6 per cent of the pre-1970 populace) (Vickery 1986) were killed or expelled between 1970 and 1978. Many of these people had lived in Cambodia for generations.
Ethnicity was a key determinant of vulnerability, in part because of its reflection to class and occupation. The Sino-Khmer minority in Cambodia, who for centuries had dominated business and commerce, particularly the rice trade, was further discriminated against by Sihanouk’s economic policies (Chantrabot 1993; Prud’homme 1969). These ineffective policies, deeply resented by students, intellectuals, and the largely urban Sino-Khmer élite, resulted in increased support for the various factions opposing Sihanouk. The Sino-Khmer, perhaps 6 to 7 per cent of the population (Debré 1976), also suffered greatly during the 1970s; given their traditional occupation as merchants and traders, and their largely urban concentration, some prospered during the Lon Nol regime, but those who remained after 1975 suffered under the KR regime, as it targeted former merchants (p.81) and city-dwellers for the harshest punishments (Kiernan 1996).66 A substantial proportion of the remaining Sino-Khmer population chose to emigrate after 1979 (Vickery 1986).
Minorities living in rural areas were similarly drawn into the conflict along ethnic lines. The Muslim Cham in particular were targeted by the Khmer Rouge; perhaps 100,000 were killed between 1975 and 1978. Conversely, the upland non-Khmer minorities in Cambodia’s northeast were initially spared much of the brutality of the KR regime, in part because of their support during the early stages of the communist-led rebellion against the Phnom Penh government, but these were also targeted later (Colm, forthcoming).
4.3.2. Urban-Rural Divide
In addition to ethnicity, the division of society into distinct groups along urban-rural lines was a major source of vulnerability. As Vickery observes, the ‘enemy’ of the Cambodian peasant had always been ‘urban businessmen…if the Cambodian peasantry became revolutionary, they would direct their wrath against the towns’ (Vickery 1986). The policies of the KR had a disproportionate effect on those from urban areas, who were much more likely to be classed as ‘new people’ and to suffer the effects of long, forced migration.
Displacement of all urban populations in Cambodia by the KR also had a disproportionate effect on ethnic minorities, given their concentration in urban areas. Whereas in 1970 the ‘foreign’ sector comprised 10–13 per cent of the population with the vast majority being Vietnamese and Sino-Khmer (Migozzi 1973), according to the 1962 official census, 40 per cent of the residents of the capital were ‘foreigners’; reliable estimates place this figure above 50 per cent (Migozzi 1973). By 1980, most had been killed or had fled the country.
Political opinion in the country was often distinctly fractured along urban-rural lines. Most urban Cambodians, who deeply resented the extravagance and corruption of Sihanouk’s regime, welcomed the 1970 coup that deposed Sihanouk to install a republic with Lon Nol as prime minister. Lack of freedom of expression in the 1960s, political repression, and consequent political immaturity were factors adding to urban frustration and dissent.67 In the rural areas, however, such sentiments were not widely held. Rural Cambodians still regarded Sihanouk as semi-divine, and political repression that was so frustrating to the urbanites, meant less to rural populations far removed from the centre of economic and (p.82) political power. Thus, many urbanites and students drawn to the republican movement were enthusiastic supporters of the republican regime headed by Lon Nol. Rural populace, on the other hand, followed Sihanouk and allied themselves with the insurgent communists. The coup of 1970 thus served only to accentuate an already existing urban-rural societal and political divide.
5. Future Instability and the 1990s: Continuing Crises
International pressure for the withdrawal of Vietnamese troops from Cambodia remained high throughout the 1980s. The easing of Sino-Soviet and Sino-Vietnamese tensions in September 1988 offered the opportunity for negotiations to end the political and military stalemate. With the end of the cold war, the Western community was ready to endorse the initiative and to withdraw their support from the Khmer Rouge.
A complex peace accord signed on 23 October 1991 in Paris concluded the negotiations. Vietnam had already completed its withdrawal of troops from Cambodia in September 1989. China withdrew its support from the Khmer Rouge, the Soviet Union phased out its assistance to the communist regime in Phnom Penh, and the UN initiated an operation (UNTAC, United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia) mandated to demobilize warring factions and organize a general election. This, it was hoped, would end—or at least confine—the conflict that had complicated international relations and hindered regional cooperation and economic development. The Khmer Rouge finally lost their seat at the UN. The Western-led international embargo on assistance to Cambodia was lifted. Refugees on the Thai-Cambodia border were repatriated over a 2-year period (1992–93), thus ending—or, more accurately, displacing—the third phase of humanitarian emergency.
5.1. Un Peace and International Aid
With the end of the cold war, regional détente, and the willingness of most Cambodian political actors to end the conflict, a comprehensive agreement was reached with the signing of the Paris Peace Accords, which were implemented by the United Nations in 1992/93 (Carney and Choo 1994; Findlay 1995). The Accords, and UNTAC’s final achievements, were a mitigated success, leaving Cambodia with a shaky coalition government between the former communists (CPP), headed by Second Co-Prime Minister Hun Sen, and their main political opponents, the Royalists, headed by First Co-Prime Minister Norodom Ranariddh. This Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) oversaw a still-factionalized national army, an issue difficult to resolve in the face of the continuing threat posed (p.83) by Khmer Rouge faction which had withdrawn from the peace process and continued to be supported by Thai military and business interests (Le Billon 1999). While the RGC coalition presented a façade of democratization and stability sufficient to mollify international support and to provide reassurance for foreign investors, the reconstruction process remained deeply overpoliticized. Both co-prime ministers consolidated their power-base at the expense of the state and the population (Ashley 1998), by setting up networks of supporters that extended to attempts to secure allies with different factions of their erstwhile ‘enemies’, the Khmer Rouge. The weakening attempts of the Royalists to consolidate power through closer alliances with their former allies in the Khmer Rouge provided Hun Sen with the pretext needed to deliver a final blow to the international democratization endeavour. In July 1997 Hun Sen’s faction in the CPP forcefully removed Ranariddh from power.
The threat of political strife still looms over Cambodia. Although the threat of the Khmer Rouge has (officially) faded, as yet no political alternative has emerged. The violence against political opponents witnessed in 1997 and the post-electoral attacks in 1998, conjoined with a political discourse that traditionally emphasizes prosperity rather than pluralism through ‘a stated or unstated neoauthoritarianism’ (Heder 1995), suggests that there is little hope for a continuation of the democratization process promoted by the UN in 1993.
5.2. Insecurity of Livelihood
Although market economy has been in effect since the late 1980s, living standards have remained highly insecure for most Cambodians (Curtis 1998). In 1997, Cambodia ranked 153 of 175 countries in UNDP’s human development index; 53 per cent of Cambodians live in extreme deprivation (UNDP 1997). Distribution of wealth in post-UNTAC Cambodia is grossly unequal. In 1993/4, the richest 10 per cent of households in Phnom Penh (89,000 people) had an average monthly income 147 times higher (US$ 950 versus US$ 6.4) than the lowest 10 per cent in rural areas (612,500 people). Average incomes in the capital were four times that of rural areas (US$ 214 versus US $52 per month). This skewed income distribution according to which 20 per cent of households receive well over half of the total national household incomes (National Institute of Statistics 1995) is reminiscent of the early 1960s. Sectors showing growth such as forestry and light manufacturing, have provided few benefits for the people because of corruption and subsistence level salaries. In addition, some current large-scale development schemes in the agricultural sector are reducing access to both land and resources, thereby increasing the vulnerability and number of low-income households (Le Billon 1999). The predatory nature of élite networks organized during the concomitant economic and (p.84) ‘democratic’ transition had much to do with this skewed distribution of income and the livelihood insecurity of the population.
6. Conclusion: Continuing Vulnerability
This chapter has employed the concept of the ‘overpoliticized state’ in arguing that the increasing authoritarianism of the Cambodian state in the 1960s stemmed from structural weaknesses related to the inter-penetration of exogenous models of the modern state apparatus with indigenous networks of patron-client relationships. This overpoliticization was also evident, albeit with important differences, during the communist rule following the ousting of the Khmer Rouge. Rather than the KR period being an exception, as it is often portrayed, we argue that overpoliticization of the state was expressed in its most extreme form in the totalitarianism of the Khmer Rouge period, which exerted more control over its citizens than any other regime in that country’s history. This overpoliticization led to successively deeper and destructive purges among KR cadres and the general population. Prioritizing all societal decisions to ideological concerns and in support of the paranoia of its elite quickly undermined societal cohesion, economic production, and led to widespread famine and disruption.
The concept of a weak state used in this analysis proves to be paradoxical in the Cambodian case, because a weak state can exert a tremendous degree of control over certain segments of its peoples. It does so through frequent violent state intervention, but also through the creation and maintenance of diffuse and competing networks of predatory élites. Both sustain and systematically undermine the power of the formal state. But, authoritarianism and a weak state are not mutually exclusive. In the case in question, Scott’s notion of the ‘weapons of the weak’ of the peasantry (Scott 1985) can be adapted as the ‘weapons of the weak state’ applied against its own population. Further research is required on why this has proved so enduring in the Cambodian case.
The 1970s crisis in Cambodia was thus not a sudden humanitarian emergency. If the conjuncture of historical and geographic determinants was crucial, the escalation of the crisis was only partially attributable to superpower involvement and regional political imperatives. Internal political and economic factors were critical elements for the intensification of the crisis and the ensuing humanitarian emergency. Cambodia’s politics—relying on a system that resisted even moderate criticism and political opposition—bred polarization and crises rather than consensus or democratic debate. This ‘creeping’ political crisis was characterized first by the gradual withdrawal of the state, which left the country to drift to war. As the ruling élite increasingly utilized state apparatus to pursue private profit, it created a vicious circle of corruption and factionalism that (p.85) eventually destroyed the state’s ability to fight the war or to maintain basic social services. The predatory behaviour of the Cambodian mercantile and administrative élite was compounded by non-existent economic growth and diversification. In particular, the inability or unwillingness on the part of the state to alter the exploitative rural microeconomies lent credibility to the communist alternative. This provided initial political endorsement for the KR, which in turn facilitated their ascent to power. Indirectly, it also led the implementation of the KR revolutionary policies with tragic consequences, causing the spiral of terror needed by an increasingly incapable and isolated group of ideologues to maintain absolute power.
Unequal power relations, expressed as factionalism, corruption, violence and contested legitimacy, still characterize the contemporary politics of the state. Inequality of income and of living standards is as high as previously—if not higher. However, the contemporary geopolitical situation is markedly different than that of the past thirty years. Regional powers of southeast Asia support efforts to promote regional stability. The inclusion of Cambodia in ASEAN, the pressures exerted by the international community and by the economic interests of Asian transnational corporations and lending agencies may do much to counteract Cambodia’s internal instability. Yet, this largely externally driven process of economic development also represents a potential threat to this virtually rural society. Even if large-scale social unrest is improbable, the social cost of this economic development is likely to be high. The prolonged political conflict and deliberate stalemate have ended. Yet, as the successful coup staged by Hun Sen in 1997 and the subsequent resumption of fighting demonstrated, internal weakness and vulnerability persist in the Cambodian society.
The recent history of Cambodia is an example of a tragic conjuncture of geopolitics and a vulnerable society in which internal mechanisms added to the emergence and persistence of humanitarian emergencies. The Khmer Rouge genocide demonstrated the fallacy of utopia being implemented through totalitarianism. But the KR regime also highlighted the deep-rooted and distorted power relations that had pervaded the political economy of the ‘overpoliticized’ society. Patronage, corruption and violence—all expressions of the predatory relations between absolute rulers and the historically disempowered population. To the extent that these patterns persist in Cambodia, the historical sources of vulnerability will remain potent.
Greater stability in the country resulted from the clientelist authoritarian regime that was imposed by the coup d’état in 1997 and legitimated by the 1998 elections. However, political differences within the CPP as well as the broader socio-political struggles over the distribution of labour and wealth are likely to cause internal conflict. Tension will no doubt be articulated over greater political involvement of the opposition against the ‘overpoliticization’ of an elitist state. In this context, and in the absence of (p.86) a legitimate political interface between the elite and the electorate, improving living standards is not the only answer to the challenge to Hun Sen’s developmental state. Hun Sen will also need to control the threat posed by the state’s security forces to human rights, while orchestrating the dissolution of predatory élite networks that have been so critical to establishing and maintaining power in Cambodia.
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(1) Although population figures and death rates are disputed, most observers agree that out of a population of 7 to 8 million, between 1 and 2 million people died.
(2) For the role of Sihanouk, see Osborne (1994) and Lacouture (1969); regarding Pol Pot, see Chandler (1992) and Kiernan (1986); on the Nixon era, see Shawcross (1991). For greater detail on the geopolitical context of the 1980s, see Regaud (1992) and Chanda (1988).
(5) Sino-Khmers are Cambodians of Chinese ethnic origin.
(6) The CPK are conventionally known as the ‘Khmer Rouge’ (or ‘Red Khmer’), a name they never use themselves, but which is used throughout this chapter. The CPK later changed its name to the Party of Democratic Kampuchea (DK).
(7) Reliable statistics on this period are not available because after 1967, national macroeconomic information was not released to the public. This was prompted by the fear of ridicule over Cambodia’s poor economic performance, especially after Sihanouk nationalized some sectors of the economy in 1964.
(8) Rice dominated the agricultural sector, with 15 per cent of GDP coming from this pro duce alone. More than two-thirds of economically active Cambodians were rice growers, and 70–90 per cent of cultivated areas were paddy fields (Tichit 1981).
(9) Rice yield improved from 0.95 t/ha. in 1950 to 1.1 t/ha. in 1970; this was in part due to the efficiency of the new large-scale farming schemes which were inaccessible to a majority of the peasants.
(11) Rice represented approximately 40 per cent of exports in 1964 (Bulletin de la Statistique et des Etudes Agricoles, March 1964).
(12) In 1962, Cambodia’s workforce was composed of 81 per cent for agricultural, 4 per cent for industrial and 15 per cent for service sectors. This contrasts sharply with the average found by Kuznets on a study of 15 developing countries, where the average distribution was 56, 18, and 26 per cent in the respective sectors. Interestingly, the estimate of 6 per cent of the labour force in Cambodia’s commerce and banking sector is quite close to the figure of 7 per cent for the cohort average (Kuznets 1963). One can infer that Cambodia’s commerce and banking sector was disproportionately large in relation to the productive sectors of the economy.
(14) The agreement by Sihanouk and the active involvement of the Cambodian army in the provision of arms through Cambodia to Viet Cong forces since 1965 effectively cancelled the country’s neutrality. Although the Ho Chi Minh trail was greatly publicized, the ‘Sihanouk trail’ was also very strategic.
(15) Foreign aid amounted up to a quarter of the state budget during the early 1960s. Its first two-year plan was 93 per cent financed by the USA, China and France. Between 1955 and 1963, Cambodia received more than US$ 350 million from the United States alone.
(16) In 1962, the breakdown of professional occupations included farmers (88.8 per cent), rural traders (5.7 per cent), urban traders (2.8 per cent), waged workers (2.4 per cent), and civil servants (0.4 per cent) (Migozzi 1973).
(17) This inequality was far greater than the average surveyed in 25 other developing countries. In Cambodia in 1962, the maximum ratio of income difference between sectors was 8.8, compared to 2.2 for the average of 25 countries (Kuznets 1963).
(18) The proportion in 1994 was quite similar. Twenty per cent of households received 62 per cent of household incomes, the top 5 per cent received 25 per cent (National Institute of Statistics 1995).
(19) There are too many would-be-intellectual youth even though there are very few new jobs for them in the industrial and service sectors: this situation results from the inadaptation of the national education system’, governmental report of 1967, cited in Prud’homme (1969: 56).
(20) In 1962, the literacy rate of the population aged 10 years and older was 50 per cent; only 2 per cent had completed primary education (1962 census).
(21) It is estimated that Sino-Khmers have since 1953 filled 95 per cent of the ministerial and state secretary posts, directors of vital departments, chief executives, and rich traders. This group provided the country with its leading class, business bourgeoisie, and intellectuals (Meyer 1971).
(22) Although acknowledged as exploitative, this segment of the population was relatively well integrated and was even considered useful and strong; a common aphorism said that, ‘If one has the good idea of strangling these Chinese, those to suffocate will be the Cambodians’ (Vandy 1993: 25)
(23) Before 1970, the majority of Phnom Penh residents were non-Khmers. The population was composed mainly of ‘foreigners’ (Vietnamese and Sino-Khmer who represented up to 50 per cent and westerners) and civil servants. As such, the city remained aloof from the traditional Cambodian society. The ‘Khmerization’ of the capital accelerated only with the arrival of refugees and the departure of Vietnamese at the beginning of the war.
(25) Dr Lao Mong Hay, personal communication (1997).
(26) Among them were Saloth Sar (Pol Pot), and Ieng Sary, the two main KR leaders.
(27) Sihanouk had cut diplomatic ties with Thailand in 1961, South Vietnam in 1963 and the USA in 1965.
(28) By the mid-1960s, the communists were using Cambodian territory for bases and sup ply lines; whilst tacitly supporting this, Sihanouk also allowed the Americans and South Vietnamese to jeopardize Cambodia’s neutrality in their mismanaged attempts to disrupt communist activity.
(29) While urbanites generally backed the coup, rural peasants tended to support Sihanouk; pro-Sihanouk demonstrations in the weeks after the coup were brutally suppressed by Lon Nol’s new government.
(30) According to Khmer Rouge sources, during 1969–73, ‘more than a million people and two-thirds of the country’s draught animals were killed, wounded, or maimed…when the US dropped an estimated 550,000 tons of bombs on Kampuchea—about 25 times the tonnage of the atomic bomb devastating Hiroshima’ (Mysliwiec 1988).
(31) While figures between 600,000 and 700,000 are generally quoted, Sliwinski (1995) argues that the number of victims from the war did not exceed 310,000, and was probably lower. He gives the breakdown of causes of mortality between 1970–74 as follows—natural causes (41 per cent); child mortality (31.1 per cent); war (19 per cent) (distributed as firearms (46.3 per cent), murders (31.7 per cent), bombardment (17.1 per cent), and accidents (4.9 per cent)); and hunger (8.9 per cent) (Sliwinski 1995).
(32) Most political and urban élite—approximately 25,000—also left the country during the Lon Nol regime, emigrating mostly to France and Switzerland.
(34) The deficit was over 400 million riel in 1968, 465 million riel in 1969 and over one billion riel in 1970 (50 riel to the dollar) (Chantrabot 1993). Inflation reached 280 per cent in 1974 (Hildebrand and Porter 1976).
(35) The trade of certain commodities such as rubber occurred between the warring parties; revenues, however, were not deposited to the treasury.
(36) The outflow of Sino-Khmer capital from Cambodia has only been anecdotally documented. By 1974, industrial production had virtually stopped, hyperinflation had hit, and the only sector showing growth was imported luxury products.
(37) One audit in 1971 found that commanders and officers diverted between 6 and 8 per cent of all salaries; by 1974, perhaps more than 40 per cent of military salaries were being paid to ‘phantom’ men (Shawcross 1991).
(38) The indiscriminate bombing also provided a strong motivation for the rural population to leave their villages for the safety of the forest—and join the communists in the fight against the US-backed republicans (Kiernan 1986).
(40) By early 1974, US humanitarian aid accounted for 0.3 per cent of the total of US$ 733 mil lion for direct military and economic aid to Cambodia. This excludes the costs of bombing, estimated at US$ 7 billion (Shawcross 1991).
(42) Corruption reportedly reached such levels that ‘pilots were keener to fly for contraband than for combat, and often demanded bribes from ground units before providing air support’ (Shawcross 1991: 316).
(45) Sliwinski estimates that close to 20 per cent of the population was a part of the KR state apparatus.
(47) The National United Front of Kampuchea was the facade of the Khmer Rouge movement during the 1970–75 war with Sihanouk as its head.
(48) These included massacres carried out in the eastern zone, where the population and cadres were suspected of being sympathetic to Vietnamese, and an interrogation and execution centre (S-21), where 20,000 were killed (Chandler 1993).
(49) A cultural dimension can be added to this explanation as, according to Nepote (1992: 18), In Cambodia, solidarity is not culturally, nor structurally prescribed, it is a pure choice of concerned parties…not [intended for] resolving a ‘problem’: it is on the contrary a sign that everything is well. [Thus, in] moments of crisis, the whole social cohesion and structure can smash to smithereens and leave organized minorities like the Khmer Rouge a clear field’.
(50) For example, 51.5 per cent of the educated population (high school education or higher) perished during Pol Pot’s rule, compared to 28.7 per cent for those with only primary education. Those with specific professional backgrounds were targeted, including military officers (82.6 per cent died), policemen (66.7 per cent), executives (60 per cent) and civil servants (50 per cent). In contrast, only 19.5 per cent of peasants died during the same period (Sliwinski 1995).
(51) The Vietnamese intervention was triggered by two years of attacks by the KR forces motivated by the Khmer irredentism regarding the Mekong Delta (Kampuchea Krom).
(52) During the four years of the KR regime, 32 per cent of the population died, compared to 6.9 per cent in peacetime. Causes of mortality include assassination (12.5 per cent); to this can be added those who disappeared (4.2 per cent) and those who perished due to hunger (11.5 per cent); natural causes (3.1 per cent); and war (0.5 per cent); (Sliwinski 1995).
(53) In April 1989, the PRK was transformed into the State of Cambodia (SoC) and abandoned all constitutional references to socialism. The PRK was headed by Heng Samrin and from 1985 onwards by Hun Sen,
(54) Funcinpec (‘Front Uni National pour un Cambodge Indépendant, Pacifique, et Coopératif’) is led by Prince Norodom Ranarridh, son of King Sihanouk.
(55) The Kampuchea Popular National Liberation Front (KPNLF) was led by Son Sann, a prime minister of Cambodia in the 1960s.
(56) The number of victims from the 3rd Indochinese war is estimated at 30,000 to 40,000 Cambodians and approximately the same number of Vietnamese soldiers. This war was characterized by the use of mines; one out of 236 Cambodians is an amputee (Jennar 1995).
(58) After an initial international effort to provide relief to the entire population between 1979 and 1980, the international political agenda restricted multilateral (that is, UN) aid for ‘humanitarian aid’ in PRK-controlled Cambodia, thus isolating the country from all development efforts. Development aid to the Cambodian people was denied while relief aid to the refugees was permitted. “Because of political considerations which…have given Kampuchea’s UN seat to the ‘Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea’, the UN agencies are currently forced, under a special mandate renewed annually by the UN General Assembly, to ban ‘development aid’—as opposed to ‘humanitarian aid’ for Kampuchean people in need’ (Mysliwiec 1988).
(59) The notion of territorial integrity as the foundation of a nation was unknown in Southeast Asia. Power was asserted not in reference to physical borders but to religion, political allegiance, and ethnicity. ‘Cambodia is wherever there are sugar palms’ was used by the Pol Pot regime as a basis for its territorial claims.
(60) One notable example concerned the governor of Battambang province (also the military commander for the region) who ‘was widely considered to be the most corrupt of Lon Nol’s commanders, selling rice and ammunition to the Khmer Rouge’ (Shawcross 1991: 326)—at a time of endemic domestic shortages of both commodities.
(61) Professor Gour, personal communication, 1997.
(62) Legitimacy is here defined as ‘the right to rule’, in other words, a belief on the part of the governed ‘that their government is morally right and they are duty bound to obey it’ (Alagappa 1995). Without this belief, relations of power rather than of authority characterize political life, and political legitimacy becomes contested.
(63) Charles Meyer, long-time adviser to Sihanouk, states that Sihanouk’s control over the army in the 1960s was increasingly tenuous and faded altogether by the late 1960s as the com munist insurgency intensified (Meyer 1971).
(64) The territorial acquisition of much of the Mekong Delta (which is still known as ‘Kampuchea Krom’ or Tower Cambodia” to Khmer) in the seventeenth century with its indigenous Khmer population, and the resulting loss of a maritime access are considered injustices which should be redressed. In contrast, territorial losses to Thailand are rarely mentioned.
(65) After Lon Nol’s 1970 coup deposing Sihanouk, ‘fuelled by panic, arrogance, and racism, Cambodian army units massacred thousands of unarmed Vietnamese civilians near Phnom Penh on the dubious charges that these had been allied with the communists’ (Chandler 1996: 205).
(66) Sliwinski (1995) provides the following estimates for death rates for 1975–79 based on ethnicity and religion: Vietnamese (37.5 per cent), Chinese (38.4 per cent), Cham (40.6 per cent), Catholic Khmers (48.6 per cent); the average death rate for Cambodians being close to 32 per cent. This would indicate that ethnicity was less of a discriminating factor than class and professional background.