68. Telegram From the Embassy in Cambodia to the Department of State0

1366. Department telegram 977.1 Obviously elements lacking here for judgment present political and military situation Laos. Nevertheless [Page 148] what happens there must inevitably affect neighboring Cambodia in which US strategic interest largely a question of geography. If fall of Laos to bloc would endanger SVN and Thailand, equally true closer alignment of Cambodia with bloc would have same general effect.

Cambodian neutrality predicated on balance between major world camps. Without such equilibrium, Cambodians believe neutrality impossible, implying accommodation in that case necessary with winning side. Sihanouk, who formulates Cambodian policy, has expressed conviction that eventual Communist hegemony over world inevitable and in particular that ChiComs “wave of future” in SEA. However so long as free world power counterbalances bloc, neutrality a viable policy.

To Cambodia, Laos a battle between two major world camps which fully responsible for situation there, having used elements in that country to own ends. A Communist Laps distasteful to Cambodia both because of danger of subversion and because need for choice between major camps would be more imminent. Present Cambodian pessimism over course of events in Laos therefore apparently foreshadows further accommodation with bloc, though precisely what form this may take too early tell. Compulsion seek such accommodation likely be compounded by new factor of Sihanouk’s falling out with Savang Vattana (which US suspected of haying maneuvered) from which spiteful reaction can be expected due Sihanouk’s well known [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] temperament.

Naturally flames fanned by leftists who control local media and are closest advisors of Prince who essentially a publicist (not to say demagogue) in terms tools he uses accomplish his ends. They have insistently interpreted world events as continuing setbacks for US—Turkey revolt, overthrow of Rhee, Japan events in conjunction proposed Eisenhower visit, etc. This line has made deep impression on Cambodians, particularly Sihanouk. Apparently inability US intervene successfully in Cuba, its own back yard, has been especially damaging. Thus US failure in Laos seen as inevitable and this view drummed in ceaselessly here.

Sihanouk’s proposals for Laos solution held by Cambodians to be noble, realistic, disinterested attempt salvage situation in interest world peace and Cambodia’s own future. Delays in acting on his suggestions, attributed to US fumbling in which CIA chief culprit, seen as making almost inevitable Communist takeover in Laos. In effect, Cambodians believe truly neutral Laos now impossible. Although having no illusions about Communist purposes, free world held be just as bad as bloc as to means and in some cases as to ends. US seen as facing only two choices, either a Laos of pro-Communist “neutrality” or direct intervention which will escalate to major war. Cambodia would prefer former but both imply defeat for US since bloc thought be superior protagonist in major armed conflict.

[Page 149]

Cambodian estimate of world balance of forces obviously not based on accurate information of its many complex factors. However, Cambodians (read Sihanouk) convinced of ability make judgments and no reason believe they will not act thereon.

In final analysis, attitude of RKG determined not by what West says and does in Cambodia but by what West says and does worldwide vis-à-vis bloc, and in its view present power posture favors other side.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/5–361. Secret; Niact. Repeated to Bangkok, Saigon, and Vientiane.
  2. In telegram 977, May 1, also sent to Vientiane and Bangkok, the Department requested the three Embassies’ “best estimate” on the current military political situation. (Ibid., 751J.00/5–161)