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Cambodia Organization and Control
Sources: The Library of Congress Country Studies; CIA World Factbook
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    The establishment of a legal and a bureaucratic structure for the armed forces was concurrent with the founding of the KPRAF. The legal basis was found in the Constitution of the PRK, which went through several versions before being adopted by the National Assembly in 1981 (see The Constitution , ch. 4). Article 9 of the Constitution acknowledges the existence of the KPRAF and notes that its obligation is "to defend the fatherland and the revolutionary power, safeguard the revolutionary gains and the peaceful life of the people and join with the latter in national construction." The Constitution also imposes a reciprocal obligation on the people, declaring that it is their "supreme duty and honor" to "build and defend the fatherland," and that all citizens without respect to gender "must serve in the armed forces as prescribed by law."

    In an early draft, the Constitution had specified that the chairman of the Council of State was concurrently the supreme commander of the armed forces and the chairman of the National Defense Council. In a curious deviation from the initial draft, however, the definitive version of the Constitution omitted this key passage. Its omission provoked speculation about the true locus of authority over the KPRAF and fueled suspicions that the deletion could have been related to the relief, under murky circumstances, of then-chairman and armed forces head Pen Sovan. In 1987, however, supreme command of the KPRAF was vested once again in the chairmanship of the Council of State (see Government Structure , ch. 4).

    The KPRAF was answerable to two organizations below the Council of State, namely, the Ministry of National Defense and the General Staff. The minister of national defense, a position established sometime in 1979, was a member of the Council of Ministers, the executive body empowered by the Constitution "to consolidate and develop the national defense forces; to carry out the mobilization of the armed forces; to order curfews and take other necessary measures for national defense." To carry out his duties, the minister of national defense was assisted by four deputies who oversaw, in 1987, the work of at least nine departments (see fig. 14). The incomplete evidence available in 1987 suggested that functions such as administration, operations, and logistics, normally reserved for general staff sections in some armed forces, were carried out at the Ministry of National Defense level.

    Below the Ministry of National Defense, the General Staff was the second echelon concerned with defense and security matters in the PRK. It was one of the earliest KPRAF organs to be established and was already in place by mid-1979. In 1986 it was headed by a chief of general staff, with a secretariat and four deputies, all of whose responsibilities remained obscure. The General Staff exercised jurisdiction over the three components of the KPRAF: the ground force (army), and the embryonic coastal/riverine naval force and air force. It probably oversaw administratively the country's military regions and certain specialized commands, such as the Signals and Special Warfare Command. It may have exercised operational control over some KPRAF tactical formations as well, especially those operating autonomously, apart from Vietnamese forces. The lines of authority delimiting General Staff responsibilities from Ministry of National Defense responsibilities appeared to be more blurred than in some contemporary armies. This may not have caused jurisdictional disputes, however, because, with the paucity of military leadership, key officers sometimes served concurrently in both bodies.

    Control of the KPRAF military establishment and its adherence to the political orthodoxy of the Kampuchean (or Khmer) People's Revolutionary Party (KPRP--see Appendix B) were ensured by a party network, superimposed upon the national defense structure, that extended downward to units at all echelons. Party control of the armed forces also was exercised by the assignment of senior officers to top-echelon military and party positions with, for example, key Ministry of National Defense or General Staff officers also serving on the KPRP Central Committee. At the national level, supervision of party work in the armed forces was entrusted to the General Political Department of the Ministry of National Defense. Incomplete evidence suggested the presence, among the country's regional military commands, of political officers with small staffs or commissions at their disposal. Logically, such officers would have kept in close contact and would have coordinated party activities in their military jurisdictions with their counterparts in KPRAF tactical units and on party provincial committees.

    During the 1980s, party activity in the KPRAF focused on building support for the "socialist revolution" in Cambodia, and on increasing membership in all military units. In late 1984, party goals were to establish a committee in each regiment of the provincial forces, as well as a party cell or chapter in each battalion and in each company at the district level. This endeavor reportedly had achieved partial success by mid-1985. In a relentless effort to build party membership in the KPRAF, cadres at all echelons over the years have been urged to spot capable military personnel with potential and to induct them quickly into the party. Such appeals hinted, that for KPRAF members, the trial or waiting period for party acceptance was waived, and that even the act of joining may not have been completely voluntary. KPRP officials also sought to expand membership by junior officers and by KPRAF rank and file in the People's Revolutionary Youth Union of Kampuchea (PRYUK--see Appendix B). As the party's mass organization to which all young people could belong, the PRYUK was in a strong institutional position to accept all applicants, and it could make deeper inroads into the KPRAF than the more elitist party. In an exhortatory message in early 1987, defense officials proudly noted the existence of PRYUK "structures" in more than 80 percent of the armed forces, and they acknowledged a debt of gratitude to the mass organization for occupying the forefront of a national effort to induce Khmer youth to serve in the KPRAF.

    When considering the dynamics of the KPRAF, the possibility of factionalism should at least be considered. In some armies, this factionalism may take the form of interservice rivalry, of the coalescence of groups around certain leaders, or of shared commonalities, such as military schooling, unit affiliation, or combat experience. In the case of the KPRAF, it is unlikely that such factionalism existed. Vietnamese advisers, for example, present at all KPRAF echelons, would have detected such activity at an early stage and would have suppressed it promptly, because it would have detracted from the building of an effective Khmer fighting force, which it was the Vietnamese army's mission to develop.

    Interservice rivalry also could be dismissed as a cause of factionalism in the KPRAF for the time being. The ground forces clearly were the dominant service both by size and by seniority. The coastal/riverine naval force and the air force were newly established; very small in numbers, they were not in a position to challenge the primacy of the larger service, despite the possibility of some elitism engendered by their more technical orientation.

    The composition of the KPRAF officer corps also militated against the rise of factionalism. As members of a comparatively small armed force, the officers were relatively few in number and were subject to a system of rotational assignments, which bred familiarity with a variety duties. The consequent personnel interchangeability presumably prevented the creation of warlord fiefs and the development of inordinate personal loyalties within the military establishment. As is true of the military elite in other small, undeveloped countries, KPRAF officers were personally known to one another, and they were thoroughly acquainted with one another's family and political antecedents. This network of personal and family relationships, always important in Asia, may have fostered a spirit of cooperation rather than competitiveness; moreover, the ubiquity--the perhaps even suffocating presence--of Vietnamese military advisers also may have been sufficient inducement for Khmer personnel to submerge whatever differences existed among them.

    The final factor that may have inhibited the rise of factions within the KPRAF was the range of options available to its dissident officers and to its enlisted troops. Unlike the armed forces in other Third World countries, where disaffected military personnel had little choice but to plot coups or to swallow their resentments, KPRAF personnel could (and many did) simply walk away from their military commitments and join the anti-Vietnamese insurgents, which had policies of welcoming KRAF defectors. If they exercised this option, they had an additional choice: they could join the communist NADK, the nationalist KPNLAF, or the royalist ANS. For the armed forces of the Phnom Penh government, this range of options meant that those personnel who remained in the KPRAF did so voluntarily because of common purpose and loyalty to the institution or the regime. Although in the short term this dynamic may have had a purgative effect on the KPRAF, ensuring its ideological purity, it was based on Khmer acquiescence to the continued Vietnamese domination of the PRK and of its armed forces. Whether or not continued acceptance of this domination would long prevail in the face of Khmer nationalism among military personnel remained debatable.

    Although logic might argue against the existence of factions in the KPRAF, the case is not entirely one-sided. It could be noted, after all, that Cambodia since 1970 has been subjected to cataclysmic events that have produced deep cleavages within Khmer society and that may well have been reflected in the armed forces themselves. In the KPRAF, even among personnel who had chosen not to join the insurgents, it was possible to note a variety of backgrounds; there were ex-Khmer Rouge turncoats, Vietnamese supporters, former royalists, and a younger generation of junior officers and of men without political antecedents. Although it could not be proved by outside observers, it could be inferred that factions in the KPRAF might have coalesced around such shared former political loyalties, affiliations, or backgrounds. If this were the case, such coalescence could take several forms in the future: either there could be a hardening of factional lines as the KPRAF itself becomes more entrenched as an institution of the PRK, or as stated at the outset, Vietnam, in its role of mentor to the armed forces of the Phnom Penh government, could keep a tight rein on the KPRAF and could forcibly prevent its polarization around internal factions.

    Data as of December 1987

    NOTE: The information regarding Cambodia on this page is re-published from The Library of Congress Country Studies and the CIA World Factbook. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Cambodia Organization and Control information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Cambodia Organization and Control should be addressed to the Library of Congress and the CIA.

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Revised 24-Mar-05
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