The United States has two overriding objectives in Cambodia. One is to secure the withdrawal of Vietnam, thereby permitting the Cambodian people to determine their own destiny and reducing the Vietnamese threat to Thailand. The other is to prevent the return of the Khmer Rouge, thereby saving the Cambodian people from the murderous rule of Pol Pot.

Both of these objectives require a stronger noncommunist resistance movement. The continued presence of 50,000 Vietnamese troops in Laos, despite the absence of any genuine resistance movement in that country, makes it clear that the 170,000 Vietnamese troops in Cambodia will leave only if significant political and military pressure is mounted against them. And if Vietnam does withdraw from Cambodia, a militarily viable noncommunist resistance will be essential to prevent Pol Pot from returning to power.

For these reasons, the House Foreign Affairs Committee, with overwhelming bipartisan support, recently voted to provide $5 million in military assistance to the two noncommunist resistance forces in Cambodia.

Opponents of this initiative contend that the Cambodians will never be able to drive the Vietnamese out, and that our aid will only increase the suffering of the Cambodian people. There is, to be sure, no way the resistance movement can force the more powerful Vietnamese out of Cambodia. But the resistance movement could make the Vietnamese occupation so costly that Hanoi would be willing to withdraw its troops as part of a political settlement. In the past few years, the noncommunist resistance forces have increased from several hundred to more than 20,000 armed men, and as William Branigin pointed out recently in The Post, Cambodia is becoming Vietnam's "Vietnam."

With additional supplies and support, the noncommunist forces could substantially increase the number of their men under arms and thus intensify the pressure on Vietnam to negotiate a settlement. For America to refrain from assisting the forces of freedom in Cambodia would not end the resistance, but only diminish its prospects for success. It is not up to us to decide whether the Cambodian people will carry on their struggle for freedom and independence. The only question we face is whether to aid them in that effort.

Some have argued against American assistance on the grounds that U.S. aid might end up in the hands of Pol Pot and his murderous forces. It would, indeed, be unthinkable for any American assistance to go to the Khmer Rouge. Yet with three separate resistance movements operating in three different areas, procedures can surely be adopted to prevent the diversion of our assistance.

Others have expressed the concern that U.S. aid would eventually lead to the reintroduction of American combat forces into Southeast Asia. Yet it is precisely because of our previous involvement in Indochina that there is no possibility limited amounts of U.S. aid would lead to the re-involvement of American troops.

Critics have also contended that $5 million would not make a difference in Cambodia. Yet $5 million represents roughtly 30 percent of what would be required for a signficant and feasible expansion of the democratic resistance over the next year. An American contribution in this amount would demonstrate our commitment to Cambodia's freedom while ensuring that the countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations continue to play the primary role in this effort. It would also heighten the morale of the democratic resistance in the wake of the recent Vietnamese offensive and encourage the ASEAN countries to continue their support.

American aid for Cambodia's democratic resistance would not justify, as some fear, a resumption of our assistance to the contras in Nicaragua. There are significant differences between these two conflicts. In Cambodia, as in Afghanistan, an indigenous resistance movement is fighting to achieve the withdrawal of a foreign army of occupation, and virtually all of our friends in the region have welcomed the possibility of U.S. assistance to the noncommunist forces. In Nicaragua, the contras are attempting to overthrow an internationally recognized government, and most countries in the region are opposed to U.S. involvement in what is essentially a civil war.

What is at stake in Cambodia is the fate not just of a country but of a civilization. The Vietnamese are already colonizing Cambodia with hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese "settlers." They have begun to "Vietnamize" not just the countryside but the culture of Cambodia.

So long as the Cambodian people themselves are willing to resist, we have a political and moral interest in helping them. By refusing to aid those courageous Cambodians who are fighting for democracy and self-determination, we would be legitimizing the Vietnamese occupation at best and facilitating the return of the Khmer Rouge at worst. Surely the Cambodian people deserve beter than that.