Britain and Sihanouk's Cambodia

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By Nicholas Tarling

Diplomatic relations between Cambodia and Britain at the height of the Cold War provide unique insights into the overall foreign policies of both nations. King Norodom Sihanouk's strategy of preserving the independence and integrity of Cambodia through a policy of neutrality grew ever more challenging as the Cold War heated up in Indochina and conflict in Vietnam became a proxy war between the superpowers. Despite its alliance with the United States, Britain's diplomatic objectives in the region largely aligned with Cambodia’s, and British criticism of US policy towards Cambodia was a problem in the alliance.

British diplomatic records present a fascinating window into Cambodian decision-making, and the rationale behind Sihanouk's sometimes apparently irrational policies. The reports yield new insights into Sihanouk's efforts to sustain Cambodia’s integrity vis-à-vis its more powerful neighbours.

Equally, a fine-grained analysis of British-Cambodia relations reveals much about the dynamics of British foreign policy in the period. Britain's ultimate dependence on its powerful American ally limited its influence in the region. After 1967, indeed, it ceased to have a strategic role. Over the period, British frustrations grew, even as it remained consistent in its foreign policy objectives and approaches.

“Tarling presents what an attentive reader will recognize as an insightful, richly document and fair assessment of the mercurial Prince Norodom Sihanouk and his long effort, from 1954 into 1970, to preserve the independence and territorial integrity of his small and vulnerable nation.”
Brian Farrell

Nicholas Tarling (1931–2017) was Professor of History at the University of Auckland (1968–97) and a Fellow of its New Zealand Asia Institute. He was the editor of The Cambridge History of Southeast Asia and wrote nearly 50 books and a large number of articles on the region. His recent publications include Britain, Southeast Asia and the Impact of the Korean War, a cold war trilogy (The British and the Vietnam War: Their Way with LBJ, Britain and the Neutralisation of Laos, Britain and Sihanouk's Cambodia), and Orientalism and the Operatic World.

Publication Year: 2014
392 pages, 229mm x 152mm
ISBN: 978-9971-69-707-5, Paperback

NUS Press