Leadership: No, You Can't Have That


December 14,2008: Cambodia has been forced to back plans to increase its military budget from $160 million to nearly $500 million. This is because about half the government budget comes from foreign aid, and the donors were not willing to see their contributions diverted to military use. The reason for the initial boost in the defense budget was a recent border dispute with Thailand. This border confrontation is still going on, and Cambodia feels vulnerable.

Thailand has 300,000 troops in its armed forces, Cambodia only 100,000. The confrontation on the border made it clear to the Cambodians that they would likely lose any war with Thailand. Increasing the defense budget won't change that, and peace talks to settle the matter continue. Even if Cambodia increased its annual military budget to $500 million, Thailand spends more than six times that, and has done so for decades.

Foreign donors are also unhappy with money, donated to demobilize troops, being stolen by corrupt officials. The demobilized troops are supposed to be given retraining and severance pay, but instead got tossed off the military payroll and left to fend for themselves. Government officials are also accused of stealing foreign aid by taking money that is supposed to go to soldiers that don't exist ("ghost soldiers," an ancient technique for stealing defense funds.)

The poorly trained, paid, equipped and led Cambodian military is not good for much beyond acting as a police reserve. Meanwhile, the global depression has led foreign donors to contribute less money to Cambodia next year, and cut that even more if officials don't cut back on the stealing.



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