Sunday, November 29, 2015

The European Parliament’s Resolution on Cambodia

It certainly was an overwhelming show of support for Sam Rainsy and his international endeavors to put pressure on the Cambodian government to allow him back into the country without threat of imprisonment for a dubious court sentence.

The explanations for the arrest warrant given by various government spokesmen are, of course rather ridiculous. This is a conflict between the opposition leader and the PM, not the Foreign Minister. Who are they trying to kid here? The excuses put forth are so transparent as to be laughable. Additionally and this is what the government officials seem to forget is that Cambodia is a signatory to a U. N. convention that prohibits double jeopardy. For those who don’t know what this is: if somebody has been tried in a court of law in a signatory’s country that person cannot be tried again in another signatory’s country for the same matter. Since Sam Rainsy prevailed in France the sentence in Cambodia which was passed later contravenes that convention and is illegal by international standards. Cambodia does not much care about international standards always citing its sovereignty. Cambodia, however, is not alone with this stance. Many other signatory countries to that convention disregard this and other U.N. conventions at will, most notably the United States – Guantanamo, torture, illegal wars (Iraq), come to mind. So it actually is no great surprise that Cambodia does the same thing, although one would wish that they used more erudite reasoning for their actions.

Colloquially speaking, one could say Sam Rainsy, on the other hand, has always been pushing the envelope. The Vietnam border issue is as trumped up as many of the government’s legal maneuvers against him. His outspoken racism is also clearly an incitement for possible riots. Common people may not fully understand the implications of how serious such matters are. It is surprising that his rhetoric hasn’t led to more serious clashes with the ethnic Vietnamese in the country. A look to Europe would show them what such rhetoric can lead to. Refugees are attacked because leaders of right wing groups encourage them with their hateful speeches. For a while he toned it down somewhat but the beatings of two fellow opposition MPs at the hands of thugs was enough for him to call the PM a dictator and fascist. Never mind that he later apologized for this. The opposition party clearly encouraged overseas Cambodians both in New York and in Paris to demonstrate against the PM on his visits there. Demonstrations in other countries are an expression of free speech and sanctioned by those countries’ constitutions but whether overseas Cambodians in greater numbers would really have cared about the PM's visit there is highly doubtful. New York has a minuscule Cambodian population. One could assume that they were bused in from Massachusetts. Although Paris surely has a larger Cambodian community they tend to live outside Paris where it is more affordable. Rents are sky-high in Paris. It stands to reason that many of them were encouraged to travel to the city. The government may have played the same game, but what’s right for the goose is right for the gander.

This all provoked the PM’s ire. He, never one to mince words, called Sam Rainsy the son of a traitor. Earlier  he had called him the leader of thieves. The consequence of that ire was the sudden invocation of a past dormant court sentence and swift issuance of an arrest warrant. Sam Rainsy being Sam Rainsy chose not to return from a visit to Korea. He instead has been seeking international support in the Philippines and more significantly in Europe. Why he didn’t lobby the U. S. government or the Congress may have been due to the fact that the Asian-Pacific meeting was being held in Kuala Lumpur at that time and the U. S. president was in attendance. Barack Obama even shook hands with the PM and invited him, but along with all the other Asian heads of state too, to the U. S. next year.

In seeking international support he could obviously only turn to European countries. Those governments and the parliaments there had their hands full with the refugee crisis and how to cope with it. They obviously had no time for Sam Rainsy and his problems with the Cambodian PM.

The European Parliament, on the other hand, has always had an open ear for Sam Rainsy. He must have some influential proponents of his cause. That resolution had been prepared and was ready for a vote when he arrived in Strasbourg.  But what effect will that resolution have?

It did contain a paragraph that the parliament would ask the European Commission, which is the executive branch, to suspend some $400 million in aid for the years until 2020. Most of that aid is for humanitarian and human rights efforts. EU member countries pledged around $1.8 billion from 2014 to 2019. The European Union is the largest partner in terms of aid for Cambodia. That aid, though, comes from individual European countries and is given by the national parliaments and governments, not by the European Commission.

As with all European Parliament resolutions concerning foreign policy they don’t carry much weight in the great scheme of things. This resolution on Cambodia is a very nice symbolic victory for Sam Rainsy but in the end it won’t achieve any of the goals set forth in it. Cambodia went through the motions and immediately protested vehemently again citing its sovereignty but will most surely just continue to ignore it.

Sam Rainsy also did not consider one significant factor in his international efforts. Europe is too busy with its own problems. The U. K. might even leave the E. U. which would weaken it considerably. The common European currency is in danger, as many economists see it, and the refugee crisis could actually be the beginning of the disintegration of the European Union, as some prominent European politicians, including Prime Ministers, see it. The Cambodian issue, if it were an issue there at all, is a non-issue.

The European Parliament does not even have the power to rein in wayward, for lack of a better word, nations like Hungary and Poland, both members of the EU. Hungary recently stripped its Supreme Court of its powers, giving the prime minister almost absolute authority, and Poland just elected a new government that is about to repeat this. This is against the EU statutes but the European Parliament is powerless or unwilling to do anything about it. In the face of the current problems this might only hasten the split-up of the EU, which currently is in a precarious state.

As a consequence, Sam Rainsy achieved a victory but will still remain the Don Quixote in Cambodian politics fighting his war with the powers-that-be from his exile. And what’s new about that?


Today I finally found the time to post again. I am posting two articles on the same day at. The previous one had been written a while ago and only today did I get to post it.

The next one is on some recent developments and this has been on my mind these past few days, of course, apart from other more mundane things, like running a business.

Military Generals in Cambodia

There are well over 1200 generals in the Cambodian military, not counting the ones on the police forces. There is no accurate number how large the military and police forces are; estimates  say about 150,000 for the military and possibly 100,000 for the police, of which about 7,000 to 10,000 are military police. The police comprises gendarmerie, municipal, military, traffic, and immigration police, and basically all branches must be considered para-military.

In comparison the U. S. military is about 1.4 million on active duty and there are about 500 generals and around 216 admirals. The police in the U. S.  is a local matter,except the FBI, and cannot be used in comparison, inasmuch as the U.S. population currently stands at 320 million whereas Cambodia has a ‘paltry’ 15 million.

The contrast between these numbers is striking. Why would a nation as small as Cambodia need so many generals, some might even ask why it needs such a relatively large military to begin with. Cambodia does not have any real enemies from whom it would have to defend itself. Both Thailand and Vietnam are much stronger militarily and could defeat Cambodia in a heartbeat if ever came to a serious conflict. That, however, is highly unlikely as no country would have anything to gain by waging war on one another besides dead soldiers and an immense cost that especially Cambodia could ill afford. Additionally, Vietnam is a close ally, and Thailand, depending on the government in power, is either a friend, or an adversary in historical questions, such as Preah Vihear. There is some antagonism among the populations of all three countries but that certainly would and will not lead to an armed conflict in this day and age. The skirmishes with Thailand a few years ago about Preah Vihear was more for show and muscle flexing on the part of some firebrands than for anything else. Unfortunately and sadly, this unreasonable and fanatical thinking cost lives on both sides.

The benefit of such a large military/police force is the jobs this provides for people in a poor country. It is a well-known axiom that young, poor men without any great prospects in poor countries join the military. The get free housing, food, and a lot of free time. The military could also be deployed in other areas, most notably in natural disasters. Many soldiers moonlight as guards in factories, plantations, etc., using their free time to supplement their incomes.

By all appearances, and the PM underscored this in a recent speech, the military serves a more domestic purpose. It is the backbone that supports the ruling party. Many of those generals aren’t really soldiers; they didn’t get their rank because of merit but out of gratitude for their support of the ruling party and by extension the PM. They use their position in the business community to influence deals that would greatly benefit their wives’ businesses. It has been a running joke that all high officials have wives that are very successful in business. This is why they have become so wealthy they otherwise could not have become on their meager salaries. The PM said the high ranking generals would not stand for it if the opposition party would retire them. In other words, this would provoke a Thai solution, meaning a military coup. These people have too much to lose to be shunted aside by a new reform-minded government. There are also too many loyal officers and soldiers feeding from the same trough.  That statement made it abundantly clear what the real role of the military in Cambodia is.

Another possible explanation for the high number of generals is that most officials in ministries, e. g. state secretaries also hold a military rank. In other countries you would have all kinds of under secretaries,  assistant secretaries, and assistant under secretaries or directors, etc., in the civil service.  Those positions are usually held by generals in many ministries, particularly the Defense, and the Interior Ministries. Even the PM and the President of the Assembly hold the rank of general. They created a five-star rank especially for them. The late Chea Sim, the President of the Cambodia People’s Party, also held that rank.

Another baffling thing is that there are seemingly hardly any common soldiers or NCOs  (sergeants) visible in public. You only see officers denoted by at least one stripe on their shoulder sleeves. This also applies to the various police branches with the exception of the traffic police.

Still, statistically there is one general for every 110 soldiers. That function is usually performed by a captain in most of the Western militaries. So it does appear as though favoritism and power considerations play a large role.