(Phnom Penh): War is horrible because of the many people who are killed, but in some cases it is for the good in order to save human lives. One example is the war waged by Vietnam in late 1978 to liberate Cambodia. Nearly two million Cambodians died during the 1975-1979 reign of Democratic Kampuchea (DK), popularly known as the Khmer Rouge. The international community made no attempt to stop the killing, although some countries knew this regime was committing gross violations of human rights. In contrast, a neighboring country stepped in and expelled the regime from power. More – or perhaps all – of Cambodia’s people would have died of starvation, disease, overwork, torture or execution if the Vietnamese troops had not liberated the country. Yet, the Vietnamese’s assistance was seen in two different interpretations: the country’s liberation or its invasion. With the Just War Theory and facts below, the Vietnamese’s intentions are to liberate the Cambodia’s countrymen.
The Just War Theory
Three of the world’s major religions illustrate applications of the “just theory of war”:
Christianity. It is believed that this theory originated in Christianity. Although Augustine is generally considered to be its author, a few other pre-Christian thinkers contributed to it, mainly Aristotle and Cicero. The importance of Aristotle’s contribution was the study of ethics as a rational discipline. He also tried to link the appropriate actions of humans to the suitable development of their personalities, in which he focused on the role of education in connecting with war. He asserted that the military was trained for three purposes “(1) to preserve one’s own city-state from subjection to others; (2) to obtain or maintain leadership of one’s own city-state over other city-states for their own benefit but not to exercise dominion over them; and (3) to exercise dominion over those who are not fit to rule over themselves.”
Cicero argued that “no just war can be waged except for the purpose of punishment or repelling enemies.” This is argued as well by Augustine, who affirmed that the law of love permits Christians to help others, and hence justifies the use of force in harming wrongdoers. Thomas Aquinas went further by agreeing with Augustine’s idea of war and put forth conditions to justify it: “(1) Legitimate, that is, constitutional, authority should make the war decision; (2) war should be waged for a just cause; (3) statesmen should resort to war with right intention.” Two later theologian-philosophers, Francisco de Vitoria and Francisco Su´arez, added three more conditions: “(4) the evils of war, especially the loss of human life, should be proportionate to the injustice to be prevented or remedied by war, (5) peaceful means to prevent or remedy injustice should be exhausted; (6) an otherwise just war should have a reasonable hope of success.” These principles are called jus ad bellum; they concern the decision to begin a war. The theory called jus in bello concerns the justice of conduct within war in which non-combatants must not be targets, the harm must be proportional to the purpose desired, and the fight must minimize damage.
Islam. Islam also allows waging war in certain circumstance. Muhammad, who Muslims consider as their ultimate prophet, accepted the need for offensive military action to defend his people from aggressors. For instance, when he became a leader of Medina, he sought to protect his community from its enemy, Mecca. Furthermore, after he came to control all of Arabia, he was the first man who succeeded in uniting all the power of the armies and police. After his death in 632 CE, his followers began conquering other countries in order to spread Islam to all non-believers throughout the world. After invading Armenia, Persia, Syria, Palestine, Iraq, North Africa, and Spain, Islamic armies crossed the Pyrenees into France, but were defeated by Charles Martel in the Battle of Tours in 733 CE. Had they won the war, the entire Western world could have become Muslim. For this reason many people, especially Christians, believe that one of the most significant features of Muhammad is his use of force to create religion.
For Muslims, holy is permissible. The Qu’ran states “Fight in the cause of God against those who fight you, but do not transgress limits. God does not love transgressors…Fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is for God. But if they desist, then let there be no hostility except against wrongdoers.” Thus, Muslims have developed a doctrine on war within the area of just ad bellum. It has the following characteristics: “(1) war, in theory, is just and permissible only as a defensive measure on the ground of extreme necessity, namely to protect the freedom of religion, to repel aggression, to prevent injustice and to protect social order…; (2) this defensive war, when permissible, is moreover subjected by Islamic jurisprudence to strict regulations and rules; (3) thus, a declaration of war has to be preceded by notification sent to the enemy. Detailed provisions are laid down for the use of humane methods of warfare and fair treatment of enemy persons and property.” Similar to the just in bellum of Christianity, the Koran sates that non-combatants, such as women, children, and the old, are not the target of war and even the wounded are not to be mutilated.
Buddhism. Unlike Christians who believe in the law of love, Buddhists believe in the law of Karma, which states that all deeds arise from a cause. Those who commit evil actions in either this or a previous life will have that evil reflect on them. Those who practice pure deeds produce more pure deeds, but those who commit evil will produce more evil. Killing other human beings will result in bad Karma. In order to educate people to practice the right way, the walls of the central shrine of Buddhist temples contain paintings that illustrate the outcomes of various sins.
Buddha taught people about non-violence (Ahimsa) and peace as a universal message. He did not approve of violence or the destruction of life, and declared that there is no such thing as a “just war.” Because the first precept of Buddhism is “do not kill,” it must be considered as an absolutely pacifist religion. Buddha taught from the earliest Pali Canon, which does not contain any teaching that authorizes any sort of armed force in resolving conflicts among individuals, communities or nations, not even for self-defense. Violence will never bring peace and justice, but will only breed more violence. As Buddha said in his Dhamma on non-violence:
Look how he abused me and beat me, how he threw me down and robbed me. Live with such thoughts and you live in hate. Look how he abused me and beat me, how he threw me down and robbed me. Abandon such thoughts and live in love. In this world hate never dispelled hate. Only love dispels hate.
A Background on the Conflict between Cambodia and Vietnam
The state of Democratic Kampuchea (DK) was created by the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK), led by Pol Pot. Soon after the state was formed in 1975, DK entered into conflict with Vietnam by attacking islands in the Gulf of Siam that had been occupied and recaptured by both sides. Important factors that precipitated the attacks were DK’s pride in being the sole victor over the previous Lon Nol regime, dissatisfaction over Vietnam’s early patronage and support of the CPK, the slow withdrawal of Vietnamese troops from Cambodian land (especially in the northeast of the country), and the controversy surrounding the sea border between the two countries. Cambodians wanted the Vietnamese to respect the agreement on the border issues that Vietnam had made with the Sihanouk regime in the 1960s. In addition, Pol Pot hated the Vietnamese and encouraged Cambodians to do the same.
Throughout 1975-1976 there were widespread, unpublicized skirmishes and incursions on both sides of the border. After waging its own war for almost 30 years, Vietnam hesitated to begin fighting another country. It thus proposed opening negotiations with DK, but DK canceled them.
Most Vietnamese living in Cambodia had been expelled during the Lon Nol regime, but a few remained in 1977 (mostly women married to Cambodian men) and they were killed. In March of the same year, military forces from DK’s East Zone moved to the Vietnamese border, preparing to attack. They crossed the border and damaged such Vietnamese towns as Chaudoc and Hatien, and injured many civilians. The leaders of DK anticipated that in southern Vietnam – which had been annexed from Cambodia and where most of the population was Cambodian – people would be willing to join the DK cause and defeat Vietnam, but this did not occur. As a result, Pol Pot assumed that many of his agents were disloyal and began purging those who he considered to be enemies of the state. Although even more brutal raids continued, neither side publicly acknowledged the attacks. In June 1977, Vietnam proposed another cease-fire, but it was rejected by Cambodia.
With the intention of bringing Vietnam to war, Pol Pot fled to Beijing to strengthen DK’s alliance with China, which the Vietnamese viewed as an aggravation. To maintain the power equation, it aligned with the Soviet Union. In late December 1977, the Vietnamese forces built up their military force to retaliate for DK’s attacks on Tay Ninh in August and September, in which DK soldiers killed hundreds of civilians, arrested many people, and brought cattle back to Cambodia. The Vietnamese penetrated over 20 kilometers inside Cambodian territory with the aim of compelling DK to agree to a cease-fire.
However, on 25 December, DK decided to break relations with Vietnam and began a propaganda war. After a week of fighting, the Vietnamese retreated, bringing with them thousands of villagers and hostages. The following day, DK broadcast the Vietnamese withdrawal as a historic victory and began purging people in the East Zone (adjacent to Vietnam), who they accused of colluding with the Vietnamese. In January and February 1978, the DK military began attacking Vietnam, killing villagers, burning houses, and disrupting commercial life. Again the Vietnamese proposed talks to end the conflict, but DK put off the request. On 17 January 1978, Pol Pot gave a speech in which he said he was proud of the victory and confident that the Vietnamese would be defeated.
In order to strengthen its position, DK tried to cultivate relationships with the outside world and improve the lives of Cambodians. In the meantime, almost 100,000 Vietnamese troops amassed along the border, and in early December 1978, Vietnam proclaimed that a Kampuchean Front for National Salvation had been formed to liberate Cambodia. The Front that was initiated by the senior leaders (Samdach Hun Sen, Samdach Heng Samrin and Samdach Chea Sim) of the Cambodia People Party.
On 25 December Vietnam attacked DK, and 6 days later, had taken control of several major roads. Phnom Penh was the last area to be liberated and by 7 January 1979, the entire country was under Vietnamese control. Many Khmer Rouge fled to the western part of the country, where they lived as guerillas. Almost every Cambodian recognized the new regime, called the People’s Republic of Kampuchea (PRK), which was organized by the Vietnamese. Most Cambodians were joyful with the dismissal of DK, for nearly all of them had experienced severe suffering and violence during DK and felt that the liberation had saved their lives.
After the regime collapsed, information on the deplorable conditions during DK became known. According to estimates, from 1975 to 1979 between 800,000 and 3 million people died, mainly of starvation, overwork, and mistreatment. In addition, at least 100,000 men and women were accused of being enemies of the regime and executed without trial. Among those executed, about 20,000 people were brought to the central-level Tuol Sleng prison and killed. As a result, in August 1979 the new PRK regime brought the two leaders of DK – Pol Pot and Ieng Sary – to trial in absentia and sentenced them to death. Human rights activists also attempted to bring Pol Pot to trial at the International Court of Justice in the Netherlands, but were not successful. Pol Pot was then living in exile in Thailand, which would not give him up. Last, the government and the United Nations had come to an agreement for a hybrid court—Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia to prosecute the senior KR leaders and those are most responsible for the DK’s crimes.
The Response from the International Community
Within a week after the liberation, the Soviet Union sent a letter to the PRK’s head of state, recognizing the new government, which had liberated Cambodia and struggled for its independence. The next day, the Eastern Bloc also accepted the new regime. But China did not; it accused Vietnam of trying to control Cambodia in order to organize an Indochina Federation. The Thai government, which distrusted Vietnam, tried to create an alliance with China two weeks after DK collapsed. Under this alliance, Thailand would provide shelter to the DK soldiers and China would contribute weapons. The United States, which had begun improving relations with China and was extremely concerned about Asian politics, did not support the liberation.
On 11 January 1979, the UN Security Council met to debate a draft resolution China proposed in response to the liberation. All of the Council’s permanent members voted in support of the resolution, except the Soviet Union, which used its veto power. In the meantime the United States tried to isolate Vietnam and Cambodia by persuading other countries, charities, international aid organizations, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank not to deliver aid to the two countries. In September 1979, at the UN General Assembly, China, the United States, and their allies, including the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, approved a resolution that recognized the Cambodian UN seat as belonging to DK. Thus, the United States, as well as the two countries behind the conflict (the Soviet Union and China), should be censured for using two weaker countries to further their interests in the cold war.
Was the War Justified?
Traditionally, a just cause or self-defense has been seen as the single-most significant moral criterion for war, and can be applied in the Vietnamese case. When it first came to power, DK began attacking Vietnam along the border and sometimes went into Vietnamese territory. Later, it murdered hundreds of civilians in Vietnam and made the lives of Vietnamese living along the border miserable. DK’s aggression toward Vietnam is ample justification for Vietnam’s defense of its citizens.
Another justification can be found in the principle of last resort, in which war is considered as justified if all non-violent alternatives to prevent it have failed. As noted above, Vietnam made several attempts to offer peaceful alternatives in order to resolve the conflict. For instance, it proposed negotiations between 1975 and 1976, requested a cease fire in 1977, and offered to hold talks in 1978. However, all of these requests were turned down by the DK.
Under the principle of the right authority, war is justified only where a legitimate authority made a decision in which the sovereign state has the right to declare war to protect its citizens against the enemy. Evidently, Pol Pot declared that his government was ready to defeat Vietnam; in response to this threat and to the last attack by DK soldiers, Vietnam declared publicly in December 1978 that it was creating the Kampuchean Front for National Salvation, which comprised DK members who defected to Vietnam in 1977-1978, as well as some Cambodians who were living in exile in Vietnam, to stop DK’s aggression toward Vietnam and to liberate Cambodia.
Defeating DK was not difficult. In 1977, Vietnam (with a population of nearly 50 million) had an estimated 615,000 soldiers, while DK (with a population of less than 7 million) had only about 70,000. DK had only a few light tanks, 200 armored personnel carriers, and almost no air force, whereas Vietnam possessed about 900 medium and light tanks, and a 12,000 person air force with 300 combat aircraft, one light bomber squadron and 8 fighter ground attack squadrons of 150 aircraft. The most critical factor was the disparate conditions in the two countries. While the Vietnamese were poor, their living conditions were tolerable. In contrast, at least 50 percent of Cambodians were both physically and mentally damaged because of starvation and illness. It thus took only two weeks for Vietnam to liberate Cambodia.
The liberation not only protected the Vietnamese but also saved millions of Cambodians from near-certain death. Le Duc Tho, a Vietnamese Communist Party politburo member, said in his December 1979 speech that “our counter-attacks on the Pol Pot-Ieng Sary army were not simply an act of self-defense, but also a contribution to the liberation of the Kampuchean (Cambodian) people from the Pol Pot-Ieng Sary genocidal regime.” Besides death from starvation, overwork, disease, and execution, the CPK began to purge its own ranks in 1977; “had the Vietnamese not reached Phnom Penh in January 1979, there is no evidence to suggest that the DK’s purges would have stopped.” As a result of these factors, the liberation was seen as creating a better state than without the intervention, which the principle of right intention clarifies.
According to jus in bello, it is wrong to attack or kill non-combatants because, unlike the combatants, they are innocent. This principle is not only a moral tradition but is also clarified in modern international law. During Vietnam’s invasion, non-combatants were free to move to their home villages under the protection of Vietnamese soldiers. Moreover, these soldiers did not harm Cambodian civilians and also welcomed DK combatants to return home and live with their families. Additionally, soon after the liberation, a new regime was installed to reconstruct the country and open schools, markets, hospitals, and places of worship, which had been completely closed down during DK.
In addition to the just war theory, the responsibility to protect allows military intervention for the purposes of human protection. It is like the just cause threshold for military intervention. The responsibility to protect considers the following kinds of actions, among which military intervention is an exceptional and extraordinary measure:
- “Large-scale loss of life, actual or apprehended, with genocidal intent or not, which is the product either of deliberate state action, or state neglect or inability to act, or a failed state situation; or
- Large-scale “ethnic cleansing,” actual or apprehended, whether carried out by killing, forced expulsion, acts of terror or rape.”
These sentences imply that it is morally just for the rest of the world to go to war on behalf of those who faced genocide or gross human rights abuses at the hands of their own government. As noted earlier, it is commonly known that Democratic Kampuchea committed gross violations of human rights. Nearly two million people died from starvation, disease, overwork or execution; moreover, people were forcibly evacuated from the cities, schools and monasteries were closed, and families were separated under a regime that killed over a quarter of its population. Thus, its liberation is seen as acceptable under both the just war theory and the principle of the responsibility to protect.
The liberation was seen as permissible in terms of saving the lives of millions of Cambodians under Democratic Kampuchea. It is understood that the aggression of DK provided a legitimate purpose for liberation. If DK had not provoked Vietnam, the war might never have happened, as at the time, Vietnam was still reeling from decades of war with the United States and China, and needed time to recover. Although Cambodians were saved from the killing fields, the consequences of the liberation still impact their daily lives. During the ensuing ten years of the civil war, Cambodia was isolated from the world and still has not recovered economically. This experience holds lessons for the United Nations and the international community, who did not take any action to intervene while the CPK ruled Cambodia, and even supported the Khmer Rouge as they were continuing to fight for their interests on the world stage.
By: Sreng Phanna
 Unless otherwise noted, much of the discussion in this section derives from Regan, Richard J. Just War: Principles and Cases. Washington: The Catholic University of America Press, 1996, pp 14-18.
 Maiese, Michelle. “Jus in Bellum.” Beyond Intractability, Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess, eds. Conflict Research Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Posted: June 2003.
 Unless otherwise noted, much of the discussion in this section derives from Smith, Huston. The World’s Religions: Our Great Wisdom Traditions. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1991, p. 230.
 Cited in Sajid, Abdul Jalil. Islam Preparing for War and Peace, The Westmoreland General Meeting “Preparing for Peace” initiative, 18 May 2002.
 Cited in Kelsay, John and James Turner Johnson (eds). Just War and Jihad: Historical and Theoretical Perspectives on War and Peace in Western and Islamic Traditions. New York: Green Wood Press, 1991, p. 203.
 Smith, Huston, op. cit., p. 255.
 Neel, Alexandra David. Buddhism: Its Doctrines and Its Methods. London: Unwin Paperbacks, 1939, pp. 171-190.
 Cheesman, Nick. “A ‘Just war’ is Incompatible with Buddhism.” Asian Human Rights Commission, Vol. 5, No. 7, Feb. 2003.
 Kraft, Kenneth. “New Voices in Engaged Buddhist Studies,” Journal of Buddhist Ethics, No. 7, 2000.
 Chappell, David W., ed. Buddhist Peace Work: Creating Cultures of Peace. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1999, p. 39.
 Unless otherwise noted, much of the discussion in this section derives from David P. Chandler. Brother Number One: A Political Biography of Pol Pot. San Francisco: West View Press, 1992, and A History of Cambodia. West View Press, 1996.
 For further details of the Kampuchean Front for National Salvation please see a documentary Film on Samdach Hun Sen by Commission of History and Research and Press and Quick Reaction Unit of the Office of the Council of Ministers, Matching towards National Salvation.
 Gottesman, Evan. Cambodia after the Khmer Rouge: Inside the Politics of Nation Building. New Haven: Yale University Pres, 2003, p. 43.
 Chandler, David P. Brother Number One, op. cit., p. 167.
 Gottesman, Evan, op. cit., p. 43.
 Ibid., p. 44.
 Coates, A.J. The Ethics of War. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1997, p. 6.
 Maiese, Michelle, op. cit.
 See Footnote 12.
 Morris, Stephen J. Why Vietnam Invaded Cambodia: Political Culture and the Cause of War. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999, p. 103.
 Cited in Barnett, Anthony and John Pilger. Aftermath: The Struggle of Cambodia & Vietnam. London: New Statesman, 1992), p. 85.
 Cited in Chandler, David P. The Tragedy of Cambodian History: Politics, War, and Revolution Since 1945. New York: Yale University, 1991, p. 298.
 Yoder, John Howard. When was it Unjust: Being Honest in Just War Thinking. New York: Maryknoll, 1996, p. 152.
 Norman, Richard. Ethics, Killing and War. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995, pp. 159-60.
 Gottesman, Evan, op. cit., p. 225.
 Cited in The Responsibility to Protect, Report of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty. Ottawa: International Development Research Centre, December 2001, p. XII.