Making sense of the Cambodian peace process is like counting the spokes of a spinning wheel. Nevertheless, after the first week of the ministerial conference in Paris, at least three major changes are evident.
First, the focus of the peace process has shifted from outside nations to a phase in which the actions and responsibility essentially return to Cambodia itself.For nearly a decade, outsiders were the major obstacle to peace. There was Vietnam with its 1979 invasion of Cambodia. But there was also the lack of true commitment by the states on the front line, China and the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and by the Soviet Union and United States.
All this has changed. By the end of September, Vietnam will have repatriated its troops and relaxed its control over the Cambodian government.
Moscow and Washington both want to see the conflict end. The question mark is China, and whether events surrounding the Tiananmen Square massacre have altered its foreign policy.
The second change is a recognition that what is required in Cambodia now has less to do with competing ideaologies than with ending anarchy.
Cambodia needs a new governing structure acceptable to all its contending factions.
Presumably, this will entail a coalition government, which we know from experience elsewhere is always a fragile flower.
The state of Cambodia, newly disigned by Hun Sen and party chief Heng Samrin, is moving back toward the Khmer political center and away from strict Leninism.
Thus, the problem of establishing a coalition government is reduced from ideaological matters to the more manageable task of allocating political power among contending Khmer factions.
The great danger that Cambodia now faces is a de facto partition into two, three or more enclaves, each with its own private army, each with its outside backers. This would make warfare permanent.
A major part of the second change has been the redefinition of the problem presented by the Khmer Rouge, under whose rule from 1975 to 1978 more than 1 million Cambodians are said to have died.
Whatever they are, or whoever they were, the Khmer Rouge today are not the Khmer Rouge of the 1970s.
The average age of today's approximately 25,000 Khmer Rouge followers is 22, meaning their average age was 9 when the Khmer Rouge took power and began its killing fields.
Accordingly, Cambodia is not threatened so much by the return of the Khmer Rouge, although they will continue to represent a potential threat to peace and stability.
The greater threat is the rise of a condition of anarchy that could throw up new Pol Pots, the Khmer Rouge commander. This can and will be prevented by adequate government, not one controlled by the Khmer Rouge but one acceptable to it.
The third change is a clarification of what is going to be required in the months ahead. The major policy guidance here is to refrain from rushing to a solution.
We must avoid forcing a shotgun wedding between Hun Sen and Prince Sihanouk, to the exclusion of the powerful Khmer Rouge; that would invite civil war.
Above all, we must avoid the seductive lure of the quick fix-the splashy international conference that sweeps all problems under the rug, announces peace, congratulates itself and goes home, when all it has done is to plant the seeds of the next war.