From warmongers to peacemakers: biased mediators in Cambodia
With hindsight, the peace agreement in Cambodia of 1991 stands out as quite remarkable. Through the collective effort and intense involvement of external backers, a long-raging civil war between four Khmer factions was brought to a peaceful end. It is quite clear that the external backers – transforming themselves from “war-mongers” exploiting Indochina as a battleground for their geopolitical and ideological battles, into “peacemakers” pushing for a negotiated settlement to the conflict – played a pivotal role in shaping the peace institutional arrangements that helped to end the war. In terms of biased mediation processes, there are two particularly important dynamics that stand out from this relatively successful peace process: the ability of the external backers to mount pressure on “their” faction, and the commitment of interests and resources they had in shaping the nature of the peace settlement. In this chapter we will examine in detail how the two trajectories of biased mediation – protection and pressure – played out in the Cambodian case, and how they were crucial for getting the parties to agree to a set of central peace institutions: power-sharing at the center, sharing of control over military power, an international peacekeeping force (UNCTAC), and rehabilitation and reconstruction of the war-wracked Cambodian society. The case of Cambodia is also important to study from the perspective of biased mediation since it was a formative experience of collaborative peace negotiations. There was not only one biased mediator involved in bringing about the Cambodian settlement, but, in fact, many. China and Thailand, with their support of the Khmer Rouge, Vietnam and the Soviet Union with close ties to the Hun Sen government in Phnom Penh, as well as the US and ASEAN countries backing the smaller non-communist resistance groups (that formed an alliance with the Khmer Rouge), were all key actors influencing the nature of the peace institutional arrangements that were crafted during the peace process, as well as getting the factions they supported to ultimately say “yes” to the agreement. So far in this book, we have discussed the influence of biased mediation on either the government or the rebel side. The Cambodian case is an example of biased peacemakers on all sides. What unfolded in the end-game of the Cambodian civil war was a two-step sequence, where first the global and regional powers reached a consensus on the settlement framework, and then the parties
signs onto the more fine-grained negotiated deal. The Cambodian case can therefore help us to understand how multi-party mediation with biased mediators functions, and how bargaining between the biased mediators is just as important as the bargaining dynamics that occur between the biased mediators and their protégés. Yet, it should also be said from the outset that the comprehensive peace agreement reached in Paris in 1991 was made possible only by sacrificing aspirations for justice after the Khmer Rouge genocide, and that the agreement did not pave the way for a pluralistic democracy in Cambodia. In the trade-off between peace and justice as normative goals, the involvement of biased peacemakers created a situation that favored the former over the latter. Thus, the powersharing arrangement laid the basis for an essentially authoritarian regime with democratic fig-leaves, and this remains the status quo in Cambodia decades after the peace agreement. Additionally, these conditions meant that it took several decades before justice could be sought from those committing the genocide. We will return to the discussion of the darker sides of biased mediation in contemporary peace processes, using the Cambodian case as an illustration, in the conclusion of the book. As the Cambodian case shows, biased mediators can be forceful peacemakers bringing reluctant parties to the negotiating table to reach a peace deal of the central issues of a conflict, but they can also stand in the way of more democratic developments. When thinking about the impact of biased mediation in civil war peace processes, we need to be able to keep these two contradictory thoughts in our mind at the same time. The Cambodian case can therefore also serve to add more nuances to the picture of biased mediators; as this case illustrates, while biased mediators can positively help to bring about peace institutions, they can also have negative effects on the pursuit of justice. It is important to see both sides of the coin. After a brief introduction to contextualize the conflict, we will examine the causal processes of biased mediation. In the concluding section, we will come back to discuss the role of the UN in the Cambodian case.