THE Aug. 30 collapse of the international conference on Cambodia's future raises the prospect of continued civil war in that unfortunate country, but it also offers an opportunity. The suspension of the talks makes it possible for the United States to support a genuinely humane strategy to help Cambodian proponents of a democratic, non-communist Cambodia attain victory. Many observers view the communist People's Republic of Kampuchea (PRK) regime, established in 1979 by the Vietnamese invasion, as the only practicable alternative to the murderous Khmer Rouge. And the outline of a political settlement which the international conference announced on Aug. 1, 1989, while it set laudable goals, would likely have had as its end result the continuation of the current Soviet- and Vietnamese-backed regime in Cambodia.
Although it is less brutal than the Khmer Rouge, the PRK regime remains a repressive communist dictatorship. Few of the hundreds of thousands of Cambodian refugees would return to their country if that regime were left in place. Once it had consolidated its power and neutralized the decade-long armed resistance, the PRK could decide to increase its internal repression and threaten its noncommunist neighbors (especially Thailand and Malaysia).
Moscow, Hanoi, and the PRK had sought to use the Paris conference to obtain international approval for a continuation of the PRK regime. But communist Vietnam violated with impunity solemn international agreements it made in 1954, 1962, and 1973 - and would likely do so again.
The Bush administration should not agree to any arrangement that legitimates the PRK regime, no matter what cosmetic coalition or transitional promises might be used as a disguise. Instead, the administration should use its influence with the ASEAN countries and their free-world trading partners (such as Japan) to maintain a unified coalition seeking an independent, noncommunist Cambodia. All of these free-world countries should continue to withhold financial subsidies, commercial credits, and other economic aid from Vietnam, the PRK regime, and China until all of them stop supporting continued communist rule in Cambodia.
With US leadership, the combined political and economic weight of the free-world coalition could in time produce positive results. Neither the Soviet Union nor China nor Vietnam needs a communist Cambodia.
The US should also make termination of Soviet military support for the Vietnam-PRK axis a major issue of bilateral relations. And it should conduct a major public-diplomacy campaign to counter the Soviet and Vietnamese propaganda line that the PRK regime is the only alternative to the Khmer Rouge.
At the same time, the US and other friendly nations should increase their political, economic, and military support for the noncommunist resistance forces led by Prince Sihanouk and Son Sann. It should cooperate with France in providing local, regional, and national administrative and political training for the noncommunist resistance.
If the US and its free-world allies deliver a realistic level of military aid, there is every prospect that the noncommunist resistance forces could expand in the coming months from their current estimated 30,000 (the Khmer Rouge has an estimated 35,000) to between 60,000 and 70,000. An effective force of this size would give the Cambodian people their first practical opportunity to rally to the cause of a noncommunist resistance movement with prospects of success.
Vietnam would then be left with only the option to invade Cambodia anew - and the lesson of the past 10 years of its unsuccessful occupation, repression, and warfare is likely to discourage this course. The US and the ASEAN countries could provide a corollary incentive for Vietnam to permit a neutral, noncommunist Cambodia by making it clear that once such a government exists, impoverished Vietnam can have normalized economic relations with the free-world states.
This summer the US Senate voted 59 to 39 in favor of military aid to the Cambodian noncommunist resistance. In addition to the overwhelming support among Republicans in Congress, Democrats such as Stephen Solarz of New York have been urging such aid for years.
Given sustained political, diplomatic, and military support by the US and other free-world countries, it is possible that the people of Cambodia can recover their independence and freedom.