UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Sideshow revisited : Cambodia and the failure of American diplomacy, 1973 Dunlop, Philip


After the Paris Peace Agreement formally ended America’s involvement in the Vietnam war in January 1973, there still remained the unsettled issue of Cambodia, embroiled in a civil war between a coalition of insurgents (including the Khmer Rouge, the Cambodian communist party destined for infamy) and an American-backed regime in Phnom Penh. In the months between the Paris Agreement and the US Congress’ forced cessation of American military activities in August 1973, the Nixon administration sought a diplomatic solution to its Cambodian problem, but the details of this period remain contested. Henry Kissinger, Nixon’s top diplomat, has consistently maintained that he was engaged in delicate negotiations with his counterparts in Hanoi and Beijing in an attempt to broker a settlement between the warring Cambodian factions, but that Congress’ actions deprived him of the necessary leverage to bring it to fruition; that Cambodia fell to the Khmer Rouge, therefore, was Congress’ responsibility, and not the administration’s. Using primary documents that have become available in recent years, it is now possible to test Kissinger’s claims by partially reconstructing the diplomatic activity that took place in the corridors of power in Hanoi, Beijing, Paris and Washington. Examination of the available record indicates that Kissinger’s claims are disingenuous at best; although he did have extended discussions with Le Duc Tho, Zhou Enlai and others about the Cambodian issue, these talks were tedious, repetitive and not conducive to any kind of breakthrough. Moreover, upon scrutiny, Kissinger’s interlocutors appeared to be sending subtle messages to the Americans that the solution to the Cambodian problem was to be found through direct contact with the insurgency, rather than through Beijing or Hanoi. These signals were, however, ignored by a diplomatic crew that, despite Kissinger’s reputation for strategic brilliance, proved unimaginative and obstinate, with tragic results for the Cambodian people.

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