Development, Trade and Foreign Affairs

Foreign Policy Studies: Cambodia’s Strategic Interests


Central Strategic Interest

 The Strategic Rationale of Cambodian foreign policy emphasises the national setting such as security and sovereignty. The term “Strategic” has been wisely used by numbers of scholars, analysts, and practitioners, namely Graham T. Allison in 1971, Han J. Morgenthau in 1985, Henry Kissinger in 1994, and Kao Kim Hourn in 2002. It is a significant parameter among others for the calculation on the foreign policy studies and decision-making. Although there are some scholars has taken term “Security” instead of “strategic,” for instance Michael Hass, but likewise it still falls into the same aspect of strategic interests. Similarly, Michael Nicholson also applies the term “Strategy” or “Strategic studies” in the way that it comprises of security, violence, and military systematically.[1]

The Strategic Interest seems to be the most important factor of all and all times because it gives direct impact on the survival of state immediately. It is all about critical dimension of the state with regard to the security of state’s territory, the protection of state’s sovereignty, and the insurance of state’s independence. Likewise, Robert J. Art, Terry L. Deibel, and Henry R. Nau also admit the security on their homeland is the most fundamental national interests of the United States. In accordance with the realist perspectives, in order to preserve security, territory, sovereignty, and its independence, state must strengthen its military capacity continuously, and it must wisely reexamine strategic stand points. To ensure its survival within this anarchy world, state has to elevate its military power to make a balance of power or to raise its primacy becoming hegemon.

In this sense, in the perspective of realist, the strategic national interest at the Center of Cambodian Foreign Policy, as a tiny state surrounding by sub-regional powerful neighbours like Thailand and Vietnam, would first strengthen its military capacity while at the same time seeking for its alternative to maintain the balance of power through the regional framework.

Peripheral Strategic Interest

From geo-strategic point of view, Cambodia is located in between the two sub-regional powers, Vietnam and Thailand, surrounding both east and west. Taking a quick consideration on the comparison of these two countries with Cambodia in terms of population sizes (Thailand: 67.01 million, Vietnam: 89.71 million, and Cambodia: 15.14 million) and GDP (Thailand: $387.3 billion, Vietnam: $171.4 billion, and Cambodia: $15.25 billion),[2] it is simply assumed that Cambodia is much less competitive with regard to the resources for the development of its military capacity. The number of population and the size of GDP could mathematically project the military power as they simply constitute the number of soldiers and industrial outputs for the security purposes, even the information technology development.

Since Cambodian Strategic stand point at the Central level cannot immediately generate greater power to balance with Vietnam and Thailand in the short and medium terms, the best alternative to strengthen the strategic interests in the Central is to instantly engage with the regional grouping, namely Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Although it is not security community nor treaty obligation,[3] as NATO for example, and there are many tasks need to further achieve and readjust within these regional frameworks, the strategic factors of this Peripheral Strategic interest has provided the regional optical guarantee and potential sources to ensure the national peace, security, and stability of Cambodia.

Being member of ASEAN does not mean Cambodia is fully in peace and secure, but it means the challenges and concerns in terms of security matter are cut down to its minimum. Under the ASEAN framework, Cambodian has enjoyed the potential strategic benefits from the principle of sovereign equality and principle of non-interference in the country members’ internal affairs.[4] To some degree, ASEAN also expands its umbrella to provide means for Cambodia to possibly make use of its security protection from the regional grouping, but it would be effective if Cambodia could encourage ASEAN to highly value on the actual works rather than the achievements reflecting through paper works. Although it is less important than the Central Strategic Interest, but ASEAN in the Peripheral Strategic Interest remains the ongoing cornerstone of Cambodia’s foreign policy. This is because strategically ASEAN has played its role as the driving force and also provided other significant regional multilateral security consultations and conferences, namely ASEAN Regional Forum, East Asia Summit, ASEAN Defence Ministerial Meeting Plus (ADMM Plus), participated by not only ASEAN Member States but also regional Powers and Global powers. And the benefits of strengthening ASEAN centrality are much more beyond the strategic interests for Cambodia.

Therefore, the strategic approach of the second Cambodian sphere of interest delivers its significant benefits from the Peripheral to strengthen the Central, provided that the regional peace, security, and stability are maintained among its member states. However, it is not one-way contribution, but vice versa. In order to make it happens, respective ASEAN Member States, including Cambodia, shall take part to enhance ASEAN Centrality, ASEAN rules and norms, and other ASEAN institutions. In this connection, the strategic interaction between the Central and the Peripheral level are very crucial to correspondingly produce strategic interests of one another.

Special Strategic Interests 

The strategic interest of Cambodian, it also has an extraordinary interest which does not stop at the border line. I argue that this extraordinary strategic interest goes far further than the impacts on the survival of state, sovereignty and independence, but it also provides incentives for state to take action with regard to the oversea protection of its citizens, companies with Cambodian nationality, and its consuls and embassies. In addition, it is also a loss of strategic interest coming from the gate way to impact on the Central when there are attempts to attack or the clash on foreign embassies by terrorists on Cambodia territory as well.

Looking back to Cambodia, it also has numerous citizens who are living overseas. There are two sorts of people, first is referred to permanent residence and second referred to immigrated workers both legal and illegal. In fact, permanent residence are those Cambodian citizens, who are currently and mostly living in countries, namely United States, France, Australia, and Canada, having immigrated from Cambodia during the civil war period from 1970s to 1980s or they are the next generation of those people. On this note, they have legally received citizenship, obtained security protection, and even benefited the social welfare from those countries. Although they are under the umbrella of other countries, still it is just a matter of more or less concerns for the Royal Government of Cambodia as long as they still claim themselves as Cambodian citizens because it is legally binding by the constitutional law[5] of Cambodia. Despite of this group of people, Cambodia still has more people working as both high and low skilled labours in some countries such as South Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, and other than these countries.

The protection of its embassies also takes into consideration of strategic interest at the Gate way since as embassy of a particular state representing and behaving on behalf of that state oversea according to the five main functions of diplomatic mission[6] in the spirit of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. It does not limit or emphasizes only the protection from the armed attacks by the other states and non-state actors, but also including the attacks by other means such as “imported diseases” and “terrorism” (Terry L. Deibel, 2007). The attack or attempt to attack is strategically vital because it has already reflected the intension of targeting to harm the physical security of Cambodia. Both terrorist attempts and terrorist attacks targeted on either citizens or embassies oversea would be the preliminary signal to alert security system of the state to increase its efforts to further enhance and expand protections at home and oversea.

Phnom Penh, April 20, 2015

Khov Ea Hai

[1] Michael Nicholson, “International Relations: a concise introduction,” Second Edition, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2002, pp 128-152

[2] Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam, Country at a Glance, World Bank 2013 Data, accessed on Nov 30, 2014

[3] Joining the military alliance is legally prohibited by constitutional law of Cambodia. It has, therefore, constrained the state from being fully implemented its ordinary exercise as other states ca do to strengthen its military power by accessing to security community. Read Article 53, Constitutional Law of Kingdom of Cambodia, English Version, this constitution was adopted by the constitutional assembly in Phnom Penh, on Sept 21, 1993, at its 2nd Plenary Session, pp-12

[4] Article 2.2, Chapter 1: Purposes and Principles, The ASEAN Charter, Association of South East Asian Nations, ASEAN Secretariat, Jakarta, Aug 2011, pp 6

[5] Article 33, Chapter 3: Right and Obligation of Cambodian Citizens, 1993 Constitutional law of Cambodia, page 14

[6] Article 3, Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, entered into force 24 Apr 1964, Vienna, p-3

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This entry was posted on April 1, 2016 by in International Relations and tagged .






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