UN Peacekeeping in Cambodia: On Balance, A Success


From Parameters, Spring 1994, pp. 38-50

A recent report from the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Staff, titled "Reform of United Nations Peacekeeping Operations: A Mandate for Change," judged the role of the United Nations in peacekeeping to be at a critical crossroads. "As failures seem to outweigh successes," the report found, "many are calling into question whether or not the United Nations should continue this function."[1]

The specific charter of this report was to identify possible areas for UN reform which could lead to more efficient peacekeeping operations. The report also concluded that the United Nations' role in peacekeeping is vital to preserving international stability, a condition it tied directly to America's own security. Finally, the report noted that the United Nations can succeed in peacekeeping only with strong American support. As the world's only superpower, "The United States has a special responsibility in leading the rest of the world to take the risk of peacekeeping."[2]

UN peacekeeping operations certainly offer a form of multilateral burden-sharing which can help reduce some of the risks and costs associated with unilateral American action, a fact not unnoticed in Washington. While President Clinton, in his 27 September 1993 speech at the United Nations, lectured about the need to bring the "rigors of military and political analysis to every UN peace mission," he also gave his support to United Nations peacekeeping, saying it "holds the promise to resolve many of this era's conflicts."[3]

The United States almost certainly will continue to be involved in multinational peacekeeping. In a recent speech at National Defense University, the US Ambassador to the UN presented some useful decisionmaking parameters for American involvement in such operations: "The United States will support the use of force on a multilateral basis when it is in our interests to do so."[4] These, however, must be well-conceived, well-managed, cost-effective, properly supported, and justifiable UN peacekeeping operations. She also added that we would not "send America's men and women into harm's way without a clear and achievable mission, competent commanders, sensible rules of engagement, and the means required to get the job done."[5]

In 1993 the troubled UN peacekeeping operations in Somalia and Bosnia were in the news almost constantly. Those two operations also have largely shaped the ongoing policy debate over UN peacekeeping operations and the question of US participation in such missions. At the same time the sizable and difficult but relatively successful UN operation in Cambodia, completed in mid-November 1993, received little attention. When it began in 1992, the Cambodian peacekeeping operation was the largest and most ambitious UN peacekeeping effort to date. The mission eventually included more than 20,000 UN personnel, 16,000 of them uniformed military peacekeepers, and cost more than $2 billion.

The Setting

Cambodia, about the size of Oklahoma, is roughly 69,000 square miles in area. It is bordered by Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and the Gulf of Siam. A country of about nine million people, Cambodia is sandwiched between two vibrant and aggressive neighbors: Vietnam to the east has a population of more than 70 million, and Thailand to the west has a population in excess of 50 million. Culturally the Cambodians are closely linked to the Thais. This is significant in terms of how the Cambodians view their Thai and Vietnamese neighbors, both of whom have significantly encroached on Cambodia throughout history and still compete for influence in that country.

Much of Cambodia is low-lying plain; bodies of water account for ten percent of its surface area during the dry season and much more during the May-October rainy season. Because of an extremely poor road structure and lack of a transportation infrastructure, much of the country is inaccessible, except by air, during the rainy period.

When the United Nations deployed to Cambodia it found a country that had been isolated from most of the world for two decades and had been the scene of continuous fighting for almost three decades. Cambodian society had been shattered and was almost powerless to plan for its future. Eighty percent of the population is rural, dispersed in some 7000 villages, most of which do not even have access to potable water. The country experiences nine deaths in every 100 pregnancies, a rate twice that recorded in India or Africa. Cambodia also has the highest proportion of physically disabled people of any country in the world; one out of every 238 is an amputee. More than 200,000 Cambodian children are orphans, and 35 percent of women over age 18 are heads of households. Cambodian life expectancy, at 49.7 years, is one of the lowest in the world.

The key player on the political stage in Cambodia for the last half century has been Prince Norodom Sihanouk. It would be hard to overestimate his influence. Throughout the 1960s Sihanouk worked to keep Cambodia from becoming involved in the expanding war in Vietnam. He correctly guessed that the United States would not prevail, so he sided for the most part with the North Vietnamese. However, when North Vietnamese troops practically took over the eastern portion of Cambodia in the late 1960s, he turned a blind eye to American bombing of North Vietnamese military bases and staging areas in his country.

Eventually it proved impossible to keep Cambodia from becoming involved in the widening war. Prince Sihanouk lost control of events and was overthrown in a 1970 coup led by his prime minister, General Lon Nol. Cambodia then aligned itself with the United States in the Indochinese conflict, and Sihanouk went into exile in China. There he formed an alliance with the small, Chinese-supported Cambodian communist movement called Democratic Kampuchea. Sihanouk referred to these Cambodian communists as the red Khmer or "Khmer Rouge," the name they have been known by ever since.

The Khmer Rouge became the principal military element of a coalition of Cambodian resistance groups which finally ousted the Lon Nol government in April 1975. Once in power, the Khmer Rouge leadership instituted a reign of terror that lasted until January 1979, when an invading Vietnamese army defeated the Khmer Rouge military forces. During their four years in power the Khmer Rouge killed at least one million of their countrymen. The trauma they inflicted is still evident in every facet of life in Cambodia.

The Vietnamese replaced the pro-Chinese Khmer Rouge with a new Cambodian leadership, also communist but aligned through the Vietnamese to the Soviet Union. The Vietnamese kept this government in power through most of the 1980s by maintaining a large Vietnamese army of occupation in Cambodia.

The few Khmer Rouge forces that managed to escape the Vietnamese army gathered in small enclaves in the northwest of Cambodia, along the Thai-Cambodian border. From there, supported by Thailand, China, and partly financed by the United States, the Khmer Rouge regained strength and once again initiated guerrilla warfare, this time against the occupying Vietnamese forces and the Vietnamese-installed Cambodian government.

In addition to the Khmer Rouge, two other resistance groups emerged. These latter two groups also maintained their bases along the Thai-Cambodian border. Although they were noncommunist, they formed a loose alliance with the Khmer Rouge to reach somewhat of a coordinated effort in fighting the Vietnamese occupation. These latter two noncommunist resistance groups were the National United Front for an Independent, Neutral, Peaceful, and Cooperative Cambodia (FUNCINPEC), whose political platform could be summarized as "all power to Prince Sihanouk"; and the somewhat right-wing Khmer People's National Liberation Front (KPNLF), led largely by remnants of the former Lon Nol government.

These four Cambodian factions, with external sponsorship, continued fighting throughout the 1980s. But the end of the Cold War suddenly removed the principal element which had sustained their ability to fight--outside financial support and political backing. Pressure was then put on each of the four factions to end the fighting, to reach a political settlement that would remove foreign presence (Vietnamese military occupation) from Cambodia, and to allow the Cambodian people to determine the course of their future by democratic elections rather than by fighting. A peace agreement, two years in the making, was signed by the four competing factions in Paris in October 1991. Unfortunately, all the factions except the Khmer Rouge declared that they had been "forced" to sign the agreement.

The Paris Peace Agreement was a compromise negotiated by diplomats; its feasibility was justifiably questioned. The agreement prescribed a two-step transition to democracy. First, it established an interim Supreme National Council (SNC) composed of 12 individuals: six represented the Cambodian regime that had been installed by the Vietnamese in 1979, and six represented the three factions (two representatives for each faction) which had fought that regime throughout the 1980s. The SNC was headed by Prince Sihanouk. Second, the United Nations became responsible for a transitional period in Cambodia during which peace would be established along with a "neutral political environment" to permit organization and conduct of free and fair elections to determine the political future of the country. To create this "neutral political environment" the factions agreed to the dismantling, by the United Nations, of 70 percent of their military forces, and agreed that the United Nations would exercise control over the existing Cambodian governmental administrative structures.[6]

Structure of the UN Peacekeeping Mission in Cambodia

A UN preparatory mission, the United Nations Advance Mission in Cambodia (UNAMIC), was established immediately after the Paris Peace Agreement was signed. The mission was to bridge the gap between the signing of the peace agreement and the time when the full UN mission could be put on the ground in Cambodia, estimated to be six months. The 268 men from 23 countries in UNAMIC were expected to ensure respect for the cease-fire between the various parties involved during this interim period, to receive information regarding the number of personnel and equipment in the military elements of the Cambodian factions, to launch a program of mine clearance, and to obtain and provide other information that would help the peacekeeping mission. The peacekeeping mission itself was to be known as the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC). Unfortunately the six months between the signing of the agreement and full deployment of UNTAC gave the factions plenty of time to find ways to circumvent the agreement, which none of them had particularly liked anyway.

The UN Secretary General's plan for UNTAC, approved by the Security Council in February 1992, included military, political, and humanitarian agendas. In broad terms these were: to dismantle 70 percent of the opposing military forces and gain complete control over the remaining 30 percent; to organize, supervise, and conduct free and fair elections; and to return and rehabilitate the 350,000 Cambodians living in refugee camps in Thailand. The Security Council authorized the mission for a duration of only 18 months. The fulcrum event, the Cambodian national elections, was therefore scheduled for May 1993, the latest they could be held within the 18-month window without being affected by the monsoon season.

As is standard UN procedure, the Security Council placed UNTAC under the direct responsibility of the Secretary General. Overall command in Cambodia was delegated to a senior civilian UN career staff officer who was designated the Special Representative of the Secretary General.

The UNTAC mission was unique and diverse. In the broadest sense the UN mission was to create conditions that would foster the growth of a democratic nation and society in Cambodia. Because peacekeeping in Cambodia represented a new and greatly expanded mission for the United Nations, UNTAC's organization was also unique. It was composed of seven distinct operational elements--six civilian components and a military component.

The Human Rights Component was charged with establishing an environment of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in Cambodia. It had a relatively small staff to conduct educational programs and investigate human rights abuses.

The Civil Administration Component was charged with exercising direct control over existing Cambodian governmental administrative structures, principally foreign affairs, defense, finance, and internal security. With a staff of fewer than 300, this component attempted to take control of the Cambodian government by influencing these key ministries.

The Civil Police Component, numbering 3600, was the second largest of the components. The UN civilian policemen were to supervise the police of the four Cambodian factions to ensure maintenance of law and order and the protection of human rights.

The Repatriation Component was responsible for the return to Cambodia and resettlement of the 350,000 refugees from camps inside Thailand.

The Rehabilitation Component was to begin the process of restoring the nation's infrastructure, which had been devastated by the years of conflict. This work included mine clearing, road repair and construction, development of communications, housing improvements, and water and power projects.

The Electoral Component was charged with carrying out UNTAC's principal task, holding national elections. This necessitated a massive voter registration effort which had to reach into the most remote parts of the country. Eventually 4.76 million Cambodians were registered, about 96 percent of the estimated 1993 eligible population.

The Military Component, by far the largest of the seven components, had the following tasks:

In broad terms, UNTAC's Military Component was faced with cantoning about 200,000 soldiers, disarming about 450,000 soldiers (including militia), securing more than 300,000 weapons of various types and some 80 million rounds of ammunition, and monitoring the security of the borders and territorial waters of Cambodia. At the same time, the Military Component had to establish a nationwide mine training program of unprecedented proportions and assist in the process of mine clearing.

Since UNTAC was not fully deployed until May 1992 and the elections had already been scheduled for one year later, in May 1993, the Military Component had only 12 months to carry out its tasks. Because of this compressed time period, it was imperative that the four warring Cambodian factions cooperate and fulfill the commitments they had made when signing the Paris accord. It quickly became apparent that the rate at which the Military Component could pursue its tasks also depended on how fast infrastructure improvements could be made--the military needed repaired roads, operational airfields and ports, an adequate fuel supply, storage and distribution capacity, electrical power, an effective communications network, warehouse space, and adequate personnel accommodations.

Based on an analysis of the assigned tasks, an in-country reconnaissance before deployment, the experiences of UNAMIC, and information obtained from the four Cambodian factions, the Military Component organized as follows:

A joint and combined headquarters consisting of 268 personnel, located in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh. Staff positions were filled by distributing personnel from the 34 participating nations throughout all staff sections. Initially, some UNAMIC staff officers were retained to provide experience and continuity. The 12 infantry battalions reported directly to this headquarters with no intervening command. Because of the relatively low tempo of operations, this flat command structure proved to be satisfactory.

A 485-man unarmed military observer group. These United Nations Military Observers (UNMOs) from 24 countries (including 47 US military personnel) were responsible for physically checking the number of soldiers reporting to each cantonment area and weapons turned in to ensure that these numbers agreed with data previously reported by the factions. They also established and operated checkpoints along the Cambodian border and at airfields and ports to monitor cessation of outside military assistance. Finally, they established verification teams to investigate complaints received from the factions, or information uncovered on their own, about noncompliance with any of the provisions of the Paris agreement.

A naval element. Its 376 personnel operated six sea patrol boats, nine river patrol boats, three landing craft, and 12 special boats.

Support units. Support was provided by a large engineer element, 2079 strong; an air support group with ten fixed-wing aircraft and 26 helicopters; and a military police company. Support was also available from a signals unit, a medical unit, logistics elements, and a mine clearance training unit. Together there were some 4500 soldiers involved in support functions.

The 12 infantry battalions. These battalions, each 872 men strong, came from 11 countries (Indonesia provided two). The specific tasks of the infantry battalions were to establish and man 95 regroupment and 52 cantonment areas for factional soldiers throughout the country.

UNTAC Operations

UNTAC's functions can be reduced to these two: create the conditions for a national election by disarming and cantoning the military forces of the four Cambodian factions, and conduct the election during the period prescribed in the Paris Peace Treaty. Nearly all other activities, whatever collateral benefits they produced, were designed to ensure the success of these two functions. It is paradoxical that despite the failure to disarm and canton the factions, the national elections were held as scheduled.

Disarming the Factions

The Military Component was not able to accomplish its principal task, disarming the military forces of the competing Cambodian factions. In the end, less than 25 percent of the forces were cantoned; most of those were from the Cambodian People's Armed Forces, by far the largest faction. Not only did the Khmer Rouge almost immediately refuse to participate in demobilization, they also refused to permit the United Nations to enter areas they controlled. Their opposition precluded voter registration of the population under their control, in clear violation of the Paris agreement which they had signed. Of course, as soon as the Khmer Rouge refused to cooperate in the demobilization process, the other factions also stopped sending their soldiers to cantonment sites. Then the situation deteriorated further. The Khmer Rouge began detaining UN personnel who strayed into their areas, particularly military observers, holding them virtually as hostages and often stealing their personal belongings and their UN vehicles. Sporadic but significant fighting resumed among the factions. Armed attacks on UN civilian and military personnel by factional soldiers and bandit elements gradually became a daily event.

As the situation on the ground in Cambodia changed dramatically from what had been envisioned at the time of the signing of the Paris accord, a debate began within UNTAC. The essence of the debate was whether or not the Military Component should abandon the strict requirements for impartiality demanded by peacekeeping and authorize the use of force to implement provisions of the mandate. Some within the Military Component were of the opinion that the United Nations should force entry into the areas the Khmer Rouge controlled. Certainly this was also the opinion of the large and vocal nongovernment organization community in Cambodia, whose work was significantly hampered by the worsening security situation. Others who wanted the UNTAC to assert itself militarily argued that failure to respond aggressively to the increasing violations of the Paris accord would discredit the United Nations.

The issue was elevated to UN headquarters in New York. In a report on the situation in Cambodia to the Security Council on 20 November 1992, the Secretary General admitted that the process of cantonment, disarmament, and demobilization of the four factions had failed; UNTAC would cease work along those lines. The Secretary General then posed two questions to the Security Council. What, if anything, should be done to persuade or even force the Khmer Rouge to adhere to the Paris agreement? And should the process leading to elections in May 1993 be continued or was it necessary to suspend or even end it? The Secretary General recommended to the Security Council that UNTAC continue to work toward "free and fair" elections, still scheduled for May 1993. The Security Council concurred, and the Military Component changed its deployment in Cambodia from one focused on cantoning the factional forces to one which would permit better support and protection for the electoral process.

The decision not to use the military to force adherence to the terms of the Paris accord was undoubtedly correct, although this was not so clear at the time. In retrospect it is obvious that had the Military Component conducted operations to open up Khmer Rouge areas, the United Nations would have lost its impartiality and become another faction in the Cambodian conflict. Given the nature of the Khmer Rouge forces, 12 battalions of mixed quality were nowhere near sufficient for the United Nations to impose its will through military operations in a guerrilla war. Finally, since the military contingents had been recruited under a peacekeeping mandate, contributing nations would have had to authorize their forces' participation in a new and more risky effort. It is doubtful whether many of them would have acceded to this change.

Conducting the Election

By the beginning of 1993, UNTAC was being criticized for timidity and indecisiveness. Some suggested that because the United Nations refused to act with authority and impose itself forcefully under the terms of the mandate, the factions were able to interpret the imprecise wording of the Paris accord in ways that suited them best.

As the time for national elections neared, the outlook for the success of UNTAC and the future of Cambodia seemed unpromising. Factional fighting had increased and banditry was prevalent throughout the country. There was no "neutral political environment." While repatriation had been a success, the returnees had not been reintegrated into Cambodian society. Rehabilitation of the infrastructure was painfully slow. By late spring of 1993, the rationale for UNTAC's failure had been framed: it was simply impossible to conduct free and fair elections in a human, economic, and social environment as devastated as that of Cambodia.

Despite these conditions, the elections were held between 23 and 28 May 1993 and proved successful beyond all expectations. No one seemed to have correctly assessed the degree to which the Cambodian people wanted to express their free will. In retrospect, UNTAC's Information and Education Division did an excellent job convincing Cambodians that the elections would be fair and that individual votes could be kept secret, precluding fear of retribution. To cast their votes, Cambodians put aside fears of personal reprisals and disregarded Khmer Rouge threats to attack the polling stations. Had there been a series of successful attacks against polling booths on the first day (there were more than 1400 polling sites), voter turnout during the six-day election period likely would have been smaller. An amazing 89.6 percent turned out to vote during polling conducted over the six-day period.

The failure of the Khmer Rouge to disrupt the elections must be credited, in large part, to the security plan developed by the Military Component. The United Nations did not possess sufficient resources to protect the electorate from shelling and direct attacks while voting. Therefore the military elements of all four Cambodian factions were asked by the UN to assist in providing security. The military elements of the three factions that supported the elections agreed to participate in a joint security effort; the Khmer Rouge, as expected, declined. In broad outline, the plan called for the UN Military Component, supported by the Civil Police Component, to provide security only in the immediate vicinity of the polling stations. The military elements of the factions agreed to assume responsibility for security in the countryside of the areas under their control. Such a military agreement with the armed Cambodian factions was certainly not foreseen in implementing the UN mandate. The agreement allowed the United Nations to use the armed elements of three factions against the fourth in a way that did not jeopardize its impartiality.

The involvement of the Military Component in the electoral process, which was the key event for UNTAC, was essential to the success of the elections. In addition to providing security, the military provided needed logistical support: deploying polling teams, transporting and guarding polling materials, and making available medical facilities and medical evacuation. The military component's communications network provided an indispensable means of controlling and coordinating the polling process, the actions of the deployed forces, and the operations of UNTAC before and during the polling.

Policy Implications

It goes without saying that no two peacekeeping operations are the same. However, there appear to be several key elements in the planning process which, if adhered to, would facilitate the conduct of such missions.

Provide a clear and finite mandate. Every effort must be made to reduce ambiguity. Mandates are developed by politicians and diplomats during the negotiation phase of a peacekeeping mission. They tend to be collections of compromises developed to ensure success in the negotiation process. Because of ambiguities, purposeful or otherwise, in the accords finally signed, the field commander who receives the mandate may find it unworkable. In Cambodia, each faction quickly realized that it was possible to interpret the Paris agreement in ways that suited it best. The Khmer Rouge consistently justified their refusal to cooperate on the basis that UNTAC was not fulfilling its promise of insuring the departure of "foreign forces" from Cambodia. At issue was their different interpretation of the term "foreign forces."

Identify and involve the force commander as early as possible during the planning process. Australian Lieutenant General John Sanderson was designated to be UNTAC's Military Component Force Commander in December 1991. In November-December 1991 he participated in the UN's military survey mission in Cambodia. With this experience he was able to help shape the structure and composition of the military force before its deployment. In addition, his time in Cambodia gave him a firsthand look at the terrain, the people, and the leaders of the factions with whom he would have to interact, all before he assumed his official duties.

Ensure timely deployment of the force. There should be as little time lapse as possible between the end of the negotiation phase of a peacekeeping mission and implementation of the agreement. This may be the one real argument for establishing a standing UN military force. Each day of delay between signature and implementation will cause greater difficulties on the ground. Conditions that were acceptable by the parties when the agreement was signed may not be acceptable later. One criticism of UNTAC was that it arrived too late. There was a six-month gap between signature of the Paris accord and the complete deployment of the Military Component.

Establish a liaison cell from the deployed mission at UN headquarters in New York. Until significant improvements are made in administrative and command and control procedures for directing a peacekeeping operation, it would benefit each operational mission to have representation at UN headquarters. With as many as ten United Nations missions in the field at one time, the time devoted to any specific operation is necessarily limited. There were few visits to Cambodia by senior UN officials. In short, within the existing framework it was difficult for the Military Component to communicate effectively with its higher military headquarters, located 10,000 miles away in New York. Lieutenant General Sanderson attempted to improve communications by establishing an UNTAC liaison cell at New York, in the Department for Peacekeeping Operations, staffed by officers from UNTAC. While the cell was established late in UNTAC's mission, it proved to be of some value.

Develop an effective process for coordinating the operations of peacekeeping missions which include semi-autonomous components. There was no formal mechanism for integrating the efforts of the seven UNTAC components at any level of the operation. Each component operated as a "stovepipe" between its higher-level management and UNTAC. A chief of staff should be appointed for such operations with the authority to force horizontal integration and cooperation within the command. At each level--from military sector, to province, to district level--there should have been an established integrating mechanism to focus the efforts of all UN components. The individual charged with such coordination would also be tasked to coordinate UN activities with the numerous nongovernmental organizations and private volunteer organizations working in Cambodia. The military component of UNTAC, outcome-oriented and accustomed to working systematically, became the de facto integrator. Since it had no charter to do this, however, members of the other components often expressed resentment at the military's take-charge attitude.

Seek understanding and cooperation with nongovernmental and private volunteer organizations. These are impressive organizations with dedicated and determined personnel. By 1993, there were more than 100 such groups operating in Cambodia. Some had been there for ten years; for much of that time they constituted the only foreign presence in the country. When UNTAC deployed, the UN seemed surprised to discover the degree to which the country had been disrupted. Nongovernmental organizations had accurately described this condition but had not been given much credence. Since these organizations are currently working in most of the potential trouble spots in the world, they should be looked to as a resource with vital experience and unequalled knowledge. They should be accepted as full partners, beginning with planning and continuing throughout the execution of a peace operation.

Seek cooperation among national military contingents. We must understand that national contingents in a multinational peacekeeping operation will operate under national guidelines and constraints. Political impediments will prevent some states from allowing their soldiers to participate in certain operations. One of the nations with a sizable contingent in Cambodia had a particularly low level of tolerance for casualties, which directly affected operational planning. In building the force, national components should be screened to ensure that their level of training and experience is in harmony with the environment in which they will be required to operate. Again, in the case of UNTAC, one of the national contingents clearly possessed neither the requisite military skills nor the exemplary discipline necessary for a maintaining the standards and image expected of the peacekeeping force.

Conduct required special training. A well-trained and disciplined military unit is the best foundation upon which to build a peacekeeping force. But specialized training is necessary, and a few of the special training requirements are highlighted here. All personnel assigned to a peacekeeping mission must have a basic understanding of the population, culture, and political situation in the area of operations. Military tasks in a peacekeeping mission are generally carried out by small units. Junior noncommissioned officers are often first on the scene of an incident. Depending on their actions at the moment, a situation may either be resolved or quickly escalate into a major crisis. Situational exercises to train soldiers, leaders, and units in conflict resolution or conflict escalation control (with simulated press presence) can be developed from the accumulated experiences of the past four years and integrated into home station and Combat Training Center training programs. Information related to the military forces of nations that will be coalition partners must also be provided and used during training.

Recognize the importance of UN military observer duty. Peacekeeping operations take place in a joint and combined environment. There is constant interface with officers from different services and different nations. With this experience one learns to appreciate other armies, other cultures, and particularly how other nations prepare their officers to solve problems. These are valuable insights. Daily the UN military observer has to make decisions with little guidance, often under stressful conditions. Outside of combat, this is the most intensive development program that could be offered to the professional soldier. Some nations, recognizing these circumstances, have instituted a tough selection process to ensure that only their best officers are assigned to these duties.

Continue to host foreign officers for education and training in the United States. The United States gets an immense return on its relatively meager investment in its training programs for foreign military officers. At one point, two of the three most senior military officers in UNTAC--the force commander and the military component chief of staff--were graduates of the US Army War College. Numerous other military officers from various nations had studied at one of our military schools. To a man they valued that training, were proud to have studied in the United States, and had fond memories of our country. The common experiences of these officers with US training systems, doctrine, and policies provide a sound basis upon which to build the kind of personal relationships which facilitate combined military operations. They contributed to productive relationships in UNTAC.

Select senior leaders for UN operations carefully. The character and quality of the top leadership in a multinational military effort is of paramount importance. UNTAC was not a well-oiled military machine to which orders could be issued with reasonable assurance they would be carried out as intended. Focusing UNTAC's disparate military component--including contingents from 34 nations, each equipped, organized, and trained differently--was a monumental task which only a commander with exceptional abilities could carry out. Peacekeeping operations require a commander possessing strength of mind, calm optimism, confidence, limitless patience, resourcefulness, and steady nerve. The leader's vision must be clearly thought-out and consistently applied. He must not waver. He must provide the anchor not only for the military component, but often for the entire UN effort. Lieutenant General Sanderson proved to be such a commander.

The United Nations peacekeeping effort in Cambodia achieved its most important objective. It ended within the time specified by the mandate, and it stayed within budget. Compared to the difficulties being experienced in Somalia and the Balkans, UNTAC can be judged a success in spite of the failure to disarm the factions. The future of Cambodia now rests with that nation's democratically elected leaders.


1. US Congress, Senate, Committee on Foreign Relations, "Reform of United Nations Peacekeeping Operations: A Mandate for Change," August 1993, 103d Cong., 1st sess. (Washington: GPO, 1993), p. ix.

2. Ibid.

3. William J. Clinton, "Address to the General Assembly of the United Nations," United Nations, New York, 27 September 1993.

4. Madeleine K. Albright, "Remarks to the National War College, National Defense University," Fort McNair, Washington, D.C., 23 September 1993.

5. Ibid.

6. Agreements on a Comprehensive Political Settlement of the Cambodia Conflict, United Nations, Paris, 23 October 1991.

Colonel Karl Farris is the Director of the Army's newly established Peacekeeping Institute collocated with the Army War College at Carlisle Barracks, Pa. Before assuming this position he served for seven months in Cambodia with the United Nations Transitional Authority as the Senior US Military Observer and Chief of the Strategic Investigation Teams for the Military Component. He is a graduate of Kansas State University, where he also earned an M.A. in history. He is also a graduate of the US Army War College, and from August 1991 to July 1993 he was a CSA Strategic Fellow with the Strategic Studies Institute at the USAWC.

Reviewed 5 May 1997. Please send comments or corrections to usarmy.carlisle.awc.mbx.parameters@mail.mil.