94. Memorandum From the Officer in Charge of Cambodian Affairs (Arzac) to the Director of the Office of Southeast Asian Affairs (Koren)0


  • White House Meeting November 8: Cambodia1

General. Cambodia’s foreign policy stance, in particular its relationship with the United States, has reached a new turning point. The decision has been taken to seek to ensure Cambodia’s security through an international guarantee of its neutrality and territorial integrity. Such a guarantee will involve the withdrawal of the MAAG, which will in turn probably bring about a cessation of US support for Cambodia’s military budget and of our MAP. Cambodian leaders have made clear that if the desired guarantees are not forthcoming, Cambodia will call on the Bloc for protection, if necessary even abandoning its neutrality policy. The next few months are likely, therefore, to see Cambodia loom as a major problem for the US in Southeast Asia.

As in the past, the major determinant of Cambodia’s foreign policy is the state of its relations with its traditional enemies, Thailand and Viet-Nam (i.e., South Viet-Nam). Relations with Thailand have remained broken for over a year and there are no signs of improvement. Relations with South Viet-Nam are bad and deteriorating, and a break appears likely in the near future. Since these neighbors are closely allied with the US, any worsening of relations with them connotes difficulties for relations between Cambodia and the US. Not much improvement can be expected soon from the appointment of the UNSYG’s representative in the area.

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Cambodia holds that its unfriendly neighbors harbor designs against Cambodia’s security, and every incident or untoward event between them adds impetus to this conviction. The RKG believes that the US could control these neighbors if it so desired, hence unfriendliness on their part is seen as an extension of US policy. Cambodia has in the past believed that so long as a military aid tie exists with the US, the US will exert sufficient pressure on the neighbors to ensure Cambodia’s security against them. Recent events have evidently convinced Cambodia this is no longer the case, and that Cambodia is in effect being “sacrificed” by the US in favor of our ties with SVN and Thailand. This appears to be the background for the presently expected proposals for international guarantees on Cambodia, modelled on the recent Laos Agreement.

The present searching by Cambodia for a new status has been accompanied by a recrudescence of old charges that US military aid is inadequate for Cambodia to defend itself against its immediate enemies. There has at no time been any specific request by Cambodia for an increase in military aid, except for the June request for an increase to man the northeast to which the US agreed insofar as MAP is concerned. In informal discussions the consequences of a withdrawal of the MAAG have been spelled out, as well as the unlikelihood that the US could subscribe to guarantees. This information has apparently been treated as US pressure in RKG official circles. The basic difficulty has been a lack of frank communication between the US and Cambodia, despite the numerous overtures of the US.

Cambodian suspicions of US intentions toward Cambodia are of long standing. They have been accompanied by a conviction that Communist China represents the “wave of the future” in Southeast Asia and by the growth of close relations with that country. Largely through the press and well-placed advisors, extreme leftists and other anti-US elements have come to have increasing influence in Cambodia, in particular on Prince Sihanouk who is the fount and voice of political decision. Sihanouk has given full vent to his proclivity for invective in his public statements on the US, [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] and to his underlying “David and Goliath” complex. There are signs that the present trend is not unopposed in Cambodia’s politically informed elite, but this opposition carries little weight with Sihanouk.

Neutrality Proposal. On October 23 the National Assembly, virtually without discussion, approved the draft neutrality proposal. The latest information is that it can be expected to be presented to the Geneva Powers (or, possibly, only to some of them in the first instance) next week. Our purloined text shows the proposal to be clearly unacceptable, as it constitutes an elaborate and comprehensive multilateral treaty in effect guaranteeing Cambodia’s neutrality and territorial integrity. It does not appear likely that such a treaty could be negotiated without an international [Page 213] conference. With the recent agreement on Laos as a model, the proposal would require the withdrawal of the MAAG but not of the FMM. It defines Cambodia’s frontiers, thus raising questions with Viet-Nam and Thailand. Cambodia can be expected to remain inflexible on the essentials of the proposal, and it will probably be difficult even to modify its general form. Whether Cambodia will go so far as to turn to the Bloc for protection if the proposal is not accepted remains to be seen, but this appears likely. The economic implications of the consequences of a withdrawal of the MAAG are apparently not clear to the RKG, which is already facing financial difficulties of major proportions.

South Viet-Nam. On October 25 the VNAF bombed two remote villages in northeast Cambodia, the RKG alleges, resulting in eight killed and other casualties. It is also alleged that on October 31 VNAF planes threatened FARK aircraft covering removal of the wounded from the villages, and that a FARK naval craft was fired on and detained by the FARVN on the Mekong. The RKG has issued a warning on these events, specifying that this constitutes the second serious notice to the GVN, and that one more incident will cause a break in relations. The first warning was issued after the Koh Rokar incident in September, concerning which the ICC is expected momentarily to forward to the Geneva Co-Chairmen a report holding the GVN responsible. Although the GVN appears convinced the October 25 attack took place in Vietnamese territory and alleges that on October 31 FARK planes violated Viet-Nam’s airspace, Embassy Saigon has been informed the GVN will send a conciliatory reply to the RKG’s protest, offering to undertake a joint investigation and to present compensation should the RKG’s allegations prove correct. In general, the RKG has been reluctant to sever its quasi-diplomatic relations with SVN due to the expected economic consequences (shipping down the Mekong, still Cambodia’s main access to the outside world, would particularly be affected), but Cambodian patience is growing short. As no progress is being made on the GVN military mission proposal, the time may have arrived for bringing the UNSYG’s representative in the area into play as a stopgap measure.

Sino-Indian Dispute. Cambodia will probably retain its formal neutrality on this issue, while deploring the conflict between two nations with which it is on friendly terms. Nevertheless, RKG leaders can be expected privately to have a pro-Chicom outlook, and this is also very evident in the leftist-controlled press. India’s coolness toward Cambodia’s neutrality guarantees initiative, as compared with Peking’s warm attitude and its readiness to extend military help in case of aggression against Cambodia, undoubtedly plays an important role in the situation. Moscow’s support of Peking in the issue will only confirm the Cambodian thesis that, in the final analysis, the USSR stands with Peking despite differences between them. Cambodia is not likely to view the [Page 214] Chicom campaign as aggression, but rather as a military effort to rectify a situation in territory to which Peking and its predecessors have always laid claim. Cambodia will watch the course of events with interest, as a test of its belief that Communist China must inevitably come to exercise the predominating influence in Southeast Asia. Maintenance of the friendliest relations with Peking will probably remain a keystone of Cambodia’s foreign policy.

Cuba. Cambodia is remaining neutral on the Cuban problem, but the RKG has instructed its UN Delegation to cooperate in the UN’s efforts to find a peaceful settlement. At the height of the crisis, on October 26, Cambodia announced its decision to exchange ambassadors with Cuba (relations were previously in principle at legation level, although representatives were apparently not accredited), but this has been explained as a coincidence; the RKG has been noncommittal about delaying the execution of this decision. Cambodia has tended to draw a parallel between the Cuban problem and its own difficulties with its neighbors, identifying itself with Cuba in this process, and this comparison appears even in Prince Kanthol’s reply to the President’s message.3 As late as November 5, in his press conference, Sihanouk warned the US against treating Cambodia like Cuba, saying that Peking would not be as “weak-livered” as Khrushchev. The Cambodian press, largely in the control of extreme leftists, has been bitterly anti-US in the crisis, to the point that the Information Department issued a warning against press attacks on countries with which Cambodia maintains friendly relations.

US Assistance. From FY56 to FY62, the US has extended a total of about $85 million in MAP assistance to Cambodia. The present figure for FY63 is $9.5 million. Economic aid has totalled some $252 million through FY62, including military budget support. In the early years the economic aid program was devoted largely to repairing physical damage resulting from the Indochina hostilities, military and internal security forces support, stabilization of the disorganized economy, and the expansion of some capital facilities to stimulate economic growth. The largest single project was, of course, the Friendship Highway (original construction cost $32.5 million). The proposed program for FY63 totals $21.7 million and is concentrated in the priority areas of human resources development (especially education), increased agricultural production, industrial growth, and maintenance of internal security. The total Bloc aid commitment to date is estimated at $65.2 million.

  1. Source: Department of State, FE/SEA/Cambodia Files: Lot 65 D 55, 1.4 Neutral Policy of Cambodia, Nov.-Dec. 1962. Secret.
  2. The meeting was held from 4 to 4:30 p.m. and attended by the President, McNamara, William Bundy, Harriman, Koren, William Sullivan, Seymour Janow, General Lucius Clay, Admiral Heinz, General Maxwell Taylor, and Hepworth of CIA. (Kennedy Library, President’s Appointment Book) The participants at the meeting apparently discussed only Laos and Thailand; see vol. XXIV, pp. 911915.

    William Bundy received an unsigned briefing memorandum for the meeting November 7, probably from the Director of the Far East Region, ISA. This memorandum offered four possible courses of action: an interagency reassessment of a neutral Cambodia over the next 5 to 10 years, formulation of a diplomatic package attempting to settle U.S.-Cambodian differences on an unspoken quid pro quo basis, dispatch of a special U.S. emissary to Sihanouk to try to solve the problem, or consultation with the British and French to provide a prompt response to the neutrality proposal. (Department of State, FE/SEA/Cambodia Files: Lot 65 D 55, 1.4 Neutrality Policy of Cambodia, Nov.-Dec. 1962)

  3. Not found.