Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 01/2010

U.S.-Cambodia Defense Relations: Defining New Possibilities

Lewis M. Stern

December 2009

Institute for National Strategic Studies


Cambodia’s lax border controls, widespread corruption, extremely active arms trade, and surfeit of small arms remaining from the Third Indochina War have made Phnom Penh an attractive platform for transient interests, as well as a staging ground for numerous activities that challenge the safety and well-being of the region. China has actively pursued security ties with Cambodia through modest assistance programs whose significance has been magnified by the lack of similar U.S. efforts, which were severely curtailed as a result of congressionally imposed restrictions in the aftermath of the 1997 coup. U.S. interests in Southeast Asia would be well served by a stepped-up program of cooperation with Cambodia in areas such as counterterrorism, peacekeeping, counternarcotics, disaster response, and stability operations. U.S. early investment in Cambodia’s future, beginning with support for the regional peace process, would provide a useful foundation for cooperation between the two countries that would have beneficial impact for Southeast Asia as a whole.