The establishment of UNTAC. Power or persuasion?

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The agreements on the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) were signed in October 1991 in Paris. UNTAC’s establishment was initiated by the UN Security Council’s Permanent Five (P-5) member states with Resolution 668 in September 1990, making it the first UN transitional authority. There were conflicting interests regarding intervention in Cambodia in the years after Vietnam’s invasion – however, none of the P-5 vetoed the resolutions leading up to UNTAC. The Soviet Union seemed to be the obstructing factor in the early 1980s; its changing position is surprising. It is also puzzling why the P-5 came up with a large-scale mandate, when theconflicting parties in Cambodia were already seeking reconciliation. The question that this thesis tries to answer is the following: ‘Why did the P-5 of the UN Security Council decide upon the establishment of the far-reaching United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC), despite their initial conflicting interests and the improving situation in Cambodia?’. A neorealist and constructivist approach are applied to this case in order to find out if either provides an adequate explanation of the change in international outcomes. Waltzian neorealism’s expectation of system change as the cause is refuted: empirically, the transformation of a bipolar into a unipolar balance of power cannot be confirmed. A constructivist framing analysis does provide some insight: the P-5 were able to use a ‘comprehensive political settlement frame’ in the discourse on the Cambodian situation from the late 1980s.
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