There are people in both Thailand and Cambodia who want their soldiers to go all the way. The problem is, even though this might bring the territorial dispute to a conclusion, it would only be for the short term. In 10 or even five years, when one side gets weaker or stronger, the conflict will flare up once again. That is absolutely certain, if force is used to settle this conflict.
Diplomacy can be painstakingly protracted or fruitlessly repetitive and its results can be unpredictable. One can also argue that years of negotiations, the setting up of committees or commissions and other diplomatic efforts have failed to prevent the ongoing confrontation. Obviously, the “let’s get this over with” mentality is thriving among many on either side of the border.
The question that nationalistic extremists in both countries, be they politicians, activists or just the man on the street, have to ask themselves is: Are “real” people better off now that tanks, artillery and rockets are reinforcing territorial claims? Politicians and activists advocating war should be able to at least point to a group or community and say: “There, those people feel happier at the moment, so the fight should go on.”
War only fulfils the purposes of a few, but makes life miserable for countless others. Preah Vihear, proclaimed to be priceless, is nothing if villages around it are left in smouldering ashes. It’s pointless for both countries to get the temple and destroy everything else ― things such as 81 billion baht ($2.63 billion) worth of yearly bilateral trade, Thailand’s status as the third-largest foreign investor in Cambodia, the smiles at the border, the security that schoolchildren on both sides of the border had until recently.
Can diplomacy really draw a border? From dinosaurs to cavemen to ancient tribes to imperial rulers, boundaries have been marked through killings and intimidation. Preah Vihear, on the one hand, is just a place around which “real life” continues. On the other hand, it stands as one of the biggest challenges for both Thailand and Cambodia ― daring them to break free from a glorious past so a new future can be built for people who really matter.