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Part 1 The Cold War Era (1945–89), 21 The Vietnamese Intervention in Cambodia—1978

Gregory H Fox

From: The Use of Force in International Law: A Case-Based Approach

Edited By: Tom Ruys, Olivier Corten, Alexandra Hofer

From: Oxford Public International Law (http://opil.ouplaw.com). (c) Oxford University Press, 2023. All Rights Reserved.date: 20 May 2024

Self-defence — Aggression — Humanitarian intervention — Armed attack

This chapter discusses Vietnam’s 1978 invasion of Cambodia. It begins with a history of the antagonism between the two countries, then reviews the Cambodian border incursions that ultimately prompted the invasion and then describes the invasion itself. Drawing on the extensive debate over the intervention in the United Nations Security Council and General Assembly, the chapter then reviews three legal justifications offered at the time by the two countries and third parties: (i) a self-defense claim that Vietnam properly responded to a Cambodian armed attack, (ii) humanitarian intervention to stop the horrific abuses of the Khmer Rouge regime, and (iii) an invitation by an anti-Khmer Rouge faction of Cambodians. The chapter concludes that while the Vietnamese action is most frequently cited as an example of humanitarian intervention, few states (including Vietnam) made that claim at the time. The self-defense argument is more plausible while the invitation claim does not appear consistent with known facts.

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