Vietnam's invasion of Cambodia





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Published on Nov 17, 2008

When tensions between Cambodia and Vietnam broke into the open, the reason was ostensibly Cambodian demands that Hanoi return territory conquered by the Vietnamese centuries earlier. Vietnam's offers to negotiate the territorial issue were rejected, however, because of more urgent Khmer concerns that Hanoi intended to dominate Cambodia by forming an Indochina Federation (see below) or "special relationship." In any event, Vietnamese interest in resolving the situation peacefully clearly came to an end once the decisison was made to invade Cambodia.

Indochina Federation A political concept, never fully realized, joining the three Indochinese states into a confederation, first proposed at the Indochinese Communist Party Central Committee meeting in October 1930. The government of France resurrected the term in 1946 to describe a limited internal self-government granted to the states of Vietnam (including Cochinchina), Laos, and Cambodia. In the 1980s, the term was used disparagingly by some observers and analysts to categorize Vietnam's military presence in, and influence over, Laos and Cambodia.

The invasion and the subsequent establishment of a puppet regime in Phnom Penh were costly to Hanoi, further isolating it from the international community. Vietnam's relations with a number of countries and with the United Nations (UN) deteriorated. The UN General Assembly refused to recognize the Vietnamese-supported government in Phnom Penh and demanded a total Vietnamese withdrawal followed by internationally supervised free elections. The ASEAN nations were unified in opposing Vietnam's action. Urged by Thailand's example, they provided support for the anti-Phnom Penh resistance. In February 1979, China was moved to retaliate against Vietnam across their mutual border

In retrospect, Vietnam's invasion of Cambodia appears to have been a serious mistake. Apparently it was a decision hastily taken in the belief that a quick, successful takeover would force the Chinese to accept the new situation as a fait accompli. The undertaking was also based on the estimate that Pol Pot had neither the political base nor the military power to resist a traumatic assault, which would shatter his capability to govern and cause the Khmer people to rally overwhelmingly to the new government. Assumptions proved wrong, and the strategy failed. The invasion did not solve the Pol Pot problem, but rather bogged Vietnam down in a costly war that tarnished its image abroad and undermined relations with China that might otherwise have been salvaged. The war drained the economy and continued to be one of Vietnam's unsolved national security problems in late 1987.

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