A History of Cambodia-Thailand Diplomatic Relations 1950-2020.

AuthorEar, Sophal

A History of Cambodia-Thailand Diplomatic Relations 1950-2020. By Sok Udom Deth. Glienicke, Germany: Galda Verlag, 2020. Softcover: 231pp.

Sok Udom Deth's book, drawn from the author's doctoral dissertation, is the third volume in the series on "Insights from Southeast Asia: Multiple Approaches towards the Region", and serves as an invaluable insight into the 70 years of diplomatic relations between Cambodia and Thailand. The book covers Cambodia's relations with Thailand through the Sangkum Reastr Niyum (1955-70), Khmer Republic (1970-55), Democratic Kampuchea (1975-79), People's Republic of Kampuchea (1979-91) and post-Cold War (1991-2020) periods, with occasional references to the situation before and after the Second World War. The case of the disputed Preah Vihear temple complex is a regular theme beginning with the first case brought before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 1959 to the more recent episode of conflict that culminated in the second ICJ case in 2011.

Deth intends for his book to "contribute to the fields of area studies (particularly Southeast Asian Studies) and international relations in two significant ways" (p. 10). First, it is the first major attempt to present a comprehensive empirical study of Cambodia-Thailand relations that goes beyond a narrow "focus on specific conflicts (e.g. the anti-Thai riots in 2003 or the Preah Vihear regime)" (p. 10). Second, it "offers an alternative and more useful theoretical framework for analyzing Cambodian-Thai relations" (p. 10).

These are important aims, and Deth successfully delivers. His core contention is that domestic politics in Cambodia and Thailand is the central driver of the bilateral relationship. Deth, borrowing from Lee Jones, defines "social conflict" analysis as "the way in which potential security issues are viewed by different societal forces operating upon and within the state and understand security policy as the outcome of power struggles between these forces. Different societal groups always evaluate potential security issues in relation to their own interests, ideologies, and strategies (Deth's emphasis)" (p. 11). This definition is thus key to understanding "the fluctuations in Cambodia-Thailand diplomatic relations during the past seven decades" (p. 13). It also means that the state is not "a single-unit actor" and is instead composed of "various power groups competing with one another" (p. 178). This domestic competition for power implies that...

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