The United States has now apparently given its conditional support to a "third force" solution to the conflict in Kampuchea (Cambodia). This "third force" proposal is the preferred option of the Association of Southeast Asia Nations (Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Indonesia). More than just diplomatic maneuvering, it is both serious and urgent.
Singaporean Deputy Prime Minister for Foreign Affairs S. Rajaratnam, a respected and persuasive spokesman, recently expressed ASEAN's strong support for the creation of a unified Kampuchean coalition to resist Vietnam's military occupation. The coalition would need to be actively supplied with both material and financial support. ASEAN's ultimate goal, which fits closely with US interests, is to force the withdrawal of Vietnamese forces from Kampuchea and the holding of free elections.
This proposal comes at a time when events are moving the Kampuchean situation toward a critical juncture. The military situation has reached a stalemate. The numerically superior Vietnamese army is unable to eliminate nationalist resistance throughout the country, yet is too strong to be forcibly expelled.
Last fall Vietnam and its surrogate Heng Samrin suffered a serious setback when the UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to continue its recognition of "Democratic Kampuchea" under the Khmer Rouge. A massive Soviet effort to unseat the Khmer Rouge was defeated largely due to the efforts of ASEAN. Whether or not this can be repeated when the Kampuchean seat comes up again for debate in late 1981 is at best uncertain. The Khmer Rouge are justifiably unpopular; most nations which voted to continue their seating in 1980 made it clear that their vote was cast in opposition to the Vietnamese occupation rather than in support of the Khmer Rouge or their policies. As another year passes with the Vietnamese in control of Kampuchea, Democratic Kampuchea's already thin margin of diplomatic support will inevitably erode.
Khmer Rouge retention of the Kampuchean seat is critical to ASEAN and Western efforts to deny Vietnam ultimate control of Kampuchea. So long as anti-Vietnamese forces retain the legitimacy of UN recognition, a vehicle exists for broader international support. If the mantle of legitimacy should pass to Heng Samrin, however, little will stand in the way of complete Vietnamese consolidation and control and the high risk of still further Vietnamese adventurism.
The creation of a third-force coalition is therefore essential to Kampuchea's survival as an independent state. Such a coalition would necessarily include the Khmer Rouge, who with 60,000 men under their command constitute the only force capable of challenging the Vietnamese. The coalition would also include the Khmer People's National Liberation Front, a non-communist group headed by former Prime Minister Son Sann which also has several thousand men under arms. Prince Norodom Sihanouk, whose name still commands the loyalty of most Khmer, could conceivably head the unified front.
The problems of achieving this proposed coalition are obvious, as the obstacles to a negotiated settlement.Yet if Kampuchea's UN seat, and with it Kampuchea as a nation, is to be saved from Vietnamese control, this is an objective that must be pursued. Vietnam's regional expansion threatens not only the integrity of Laos and Kampuchea, but also the security of Thailand and the rest of non- communist Southeast Asia. In the meantime, protracted warfare inside Kampuchea continues to take a heavy toll in human lives and suffering.
The concept of a Khmer coalition as a third force offers a viable political alternative at a time when new initiatives are badly needed. It has been actively endorsed by China, and both Son Sann and Sihanouk have indicated their conditional willingness to join in such a coalition.
Related is the need for the US to support the ASEAN request to the UN Secretary General to convene an international conference on Kampuchea on the basis of UN General Assembly Resolution 35/6. These are proposals whose time has come, and which merit the United States' positive encouragement and active support.