Peacekeeping in Transition

The United Nations in Cambodia

Janet E. Heininger
Release Date: November 1, 1994

The prominent and new activist pursuits of the United Nations is the placement of its peacekeeping forces in a host of countries, often nations where such involvement would have been impractical, if not impossible, in the past. To be sure, between 1945 and 1980, fourteen UN peacekeeping missions were sent into the field (half in the Middle East), but these efforts were puny compared to the dispatch of UN forces to trouble spots around the globe in recent years. By 1993, the United nations had such forces in seventeen countries, totaling 75,000 personnel at a cost of $3.29 billion annually. The most extensive involvement was its peacekeeping missions in Cambodia.

In many ways, the painful recent history of Cambodia reflects that of the world itself in the decades following World War II. It became a major battlefield in the cold war after escaping from colonial domination. The long struggle between the superpowers an their proxies for influence in Cambodia culminated in the ascension of an indigenous political force — a political movement marked by stark extremism that engaged in genocide on an immense scale. Indeed, the universal revulsion generated by the death and destruction brought by th Khmer Rouge in Cambodia transcended cold war rivalries, laying the foundation for the large-scale peacekeeping effort that has been in place since 1991

In this document, Janet E. Heininger’s study is one of the first to assess the experience of the UN and peacekeeping missions abroad. Heininger’s in-depth analysis of the Cambodian case study helps us to understand the extent and nature of the United Nations successes and shortcomings — and it offers lessons for future peacekeeping enterprises.