21. Memorandum From Philip A. Odeen of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1
During my recent Vietnam trip, I spent one day in Phnom Penh. It reinforced my concern that we need to take prompt steps to invigorate the U.S. Mission and help the Cambodians cope with a growing enemy threat and a deteriorating economic and political situation.
Two trends call the very survival of the Lon Nol government into question. On the one hand the indigenous communist forces, the KC, are increasing in strength and aggressiveness. During the past four months they have challenged the GKR throughout the country including numerous actions close to Phnom Penh. The KC did this even though most of their NVA/VC supporters were fully occupied in Vietnam. For example, the KC have kept the key west-central road to the rice bowl closed for nearly two months.
On the other hand, war-weariness and political bickering among the anti-communist forces have dissipated the national will to resist and resulted in the loss of both administrative skills and drive in the government and the military. Lon Nol has now legitimized his government with elections and may be in the process of pulling together a more cohesive government. He has no time to waste.
The U.S. Mission’s role in Phnom Penh has been largely that of observer and reporter. General Cleland2 has pressed hard to overcome purely military problems but has not, until very recently, received much backing where military problems interface with the basic political problems. We have not until the past month been a catalytic force for national political unity and we have limited our economic activities to ordering and paying for essential imports.
The Embassy Staff
While staffing is generally a problem, the key issues are the Ambassador and the need for a top flight economics man.[Page 172]
Ambassador Swank is a competent representative and reporter. He has clear orders from State to play a passive role. But my impression (buttressed by other views) is that he would not be effective should his orders be changed and a more active, positive policy be directed. If we wish to push the GKR to take what we see as essential political, economic and military steps, a new Ambassador is essential.
Ambassador Swank has just completed two years in Phnom Penh and a transfer from this “hardship” post could be routine. Tom Enders, the DCM, has, in my view, been doing a fine job in moving toward U.S. objectives without increasing our commitment. Enders has been in charge during the past six weeks (Swank is back in the States on leave) and has been far more aggressive in encouraging Lon Nol and Matak3 to mend their differences and work jointly to overcome the formidable problems that Cambodia faces. He is well liked and respected by the Cambodians, speaks fluent French, and his approach and policy seem in line with our views rather than the State “low profile” approach.
What is needed is an Ambassador more in the Enders mold, although leaving Enders in charge for a considerable period would be far preferable to Swank’s return, which might undo some of the good work of the past few weeks.
The other pressing problem is to beef up the economics staff. Cambodia’s economic problems are mounting rapidly. Our policy has been one of “hands off,” in part because the IMF had a capable and strong representative in Phnom Penh. Now the IMF man has been replaced with a low profile IMF representative, the handful of competent economists have about all left the government (they were Matak supporters), and the economy is in chaos.
At Al Haig’s request, Chuck Cooper (U.S. economic counselor in Saigon) recently visited Cambodia. His view, which I support fully, is that we need a first rate economics staff headed by an experienced active advisor. Miles Wedeman, the current AID Chief and Economic Counselor,4 is a capable bureaucrat but with experience in capital development, and the Cambodian situation is totally different.
We have asked State to take steps to build up the economics staff and they have begun suggesting names. But they have not moved to find an appropriate man to head the staff. In part, there is a reluctance to move because it is at odds with the “low profile” approach to put in a strong economics team. There may also be reluctance to move the AID [Page 173] Chief, Wedeman, aside. John Holdridge raised the issue again with Marshall Green last week, so we may be able to get this issue settled without your intervention.
The NSSM on Cambodia has done little more than examine possible modifications of the U.S. program to develop a 254,000 man FANK within the existing budget and U.S. personnel constraints. It concludes that the basic military problem of developing a large, capable military force is leadership in a country without significant military experience and with limited administrative experience (French, Vietnamese and Chinese expatriates largely ran the country before 1970). It has proposed some fixes which are being implemented:
- —concentration on development of two reserve divisions to carry most of the main force fighting;
- —improving incentives including housing for the reserve forces;
- —development of some auto-defense capability;
- —expansion of patrol and guerrilla forces.
However, the force structure toward which we are moving was developed primarily to meet the NVA/VC main force threat. The primary threat is now the KC. Moreover, analysis has not been done of the economic problems of supporting the large military establishment our MAP program is developing. During the past two years the cost of living has increased about 100 percent while military and civil service salaries have increased only 25 percent.
We are beginning an examination of our alternatives in Cambodia in a country program memorandum under NSDM 112.6 The response of the bureaucracy to looking at alternatives has thus far been poor and we may have to find ways to accelerate and improve this study.
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 514, Country Files, Far East, Cambodia, Vol. 16, Sep–Dec 72. Secret; Sensitive; Completely Outside the System. Sent for information. Kissinger initialed the memorandum.↩
- Brigadier General John R.D. Cleland, USA, Commander, Military Equipment Delivery Team, Cambodia (MEDTC).↩
- Sisowath Sirik Matak resigned as Cambodian Prime Minister on March 18, 1972, because of disagreements with Lon Nol; he remained active and influential in Cambodian politics.↩
- Miles G. Wedeman, head of the AID Mission and Counselor for Economic Affairs at the Embassy in Cambodia since March 1971.↩
- Dated March 27 and entitled “Cambodian Assessment,” NSSM 152 and backup material are in the National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Boxes H–190 and H–191, National Study Security Memoranda, NSSM 152.↩
- See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume II, Organization and Management of U.S. Foreign Policy, 1969–1972, Document 151.↩