Cambodia: Armed Forces Under Personalized Control
- Paul W. ChambersPaul W. ChambersCenter of ASEAN Community Studies, Naresuan University
The evolution of Cambodia’s armed forces has been incremental yet highly disjointed, reflecting the country’s post–World War II history itself. At the same time, there has been a legacy of military authoritarianism in Cambodia. Using the framework of historical institutionalism, this chapter looks at the evolution of Cambodia’s armed forces across time. The chapter points to a 1979 critical juncture which affected the military’s organizational history. It also stresses that especially since 1997 the armed forces has become increasingly concentrated under the personalized control of Prime Minister Hun Sen. The military in 2020 appears as a mechanism of Hun Sen’s, doing his bidding and following his preferences.
As such the armed forces in Cambodia should be viewed as an interventionist military that has acted as the junior partner in an asymmetrical relationship with Hun Sen. With Hun Sen’s 2018 appointment of his son Hun Manet to command the army, concurrent with being deputy supreme commander of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, it appears as though the military is becoming even further centralized under the Hun family. As a result, although civilian control over the military technically exists in Cambodia today, it is not an institutionalized, accountable form of control, but rather an unofficial, tool of violent power for the Prime Minister.