บทความผู้ที่ได้รับรางวัล Major Ken Webb Annual Writing Award พ.ต.อภิเษก และ พ.ต.สุริยา นทน.หลักสูตรหลักประจำ ชุดที่ 98
Major Kenneth Webb Writing Award Competition
Quo Vadis? Ways Forward for Thai-U.S. Relations
Major Apisake Monthienvichienchai
98th Class of the
Royal Thai Army Command and General Staff Course
About the Author
The author is currently an officer student in the 98th Class of the Royal Thai Army Command and General Staff Course. Prior to his enrollment, he was an Assistant Professor at the Department of History, Academic Division, Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy between 2014 and 2019 and was also a diplomat at the Department of International Organizations and the Department of European Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, between 2010 and 2014.
This essay has been written for the 2020 Major Kenneth Webb Writing Award Competition. The views expressed here are the author’s own, based on his own experiences in Thailand, Europe, the United States, and China, as well as information from open sources. These views are not necessarily reflective of the official views and policies of the Royal Thai Army Command and General Staff College, Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy, the Royal Thai Army, or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Quo Vadis? Ways Forward for Thai-U.S. Relations
Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States of America.
To His Majesty Somdetch Phra Paramendr Maha Mongkut,
King of Siam,
Great and Good Friend,
Preamble of President Lincoln’s letter to King Mongkut (Rama IV) of Siam,February 3, 1862 (American Battlefield Trust, n.d.)
The United States of America’s official relationship with the Kingdom of Thailand is its oldest with any nation in the Far East, commencing with the signing of the Treaty of Amity and Commerce in 1833 during the reign of King Nangklao (Rama III) of the Kingdom of Siam and the presidency of Martin Van Buren (Department of State, 2020, May 7). Throughout this centuries-old relationship, the dynamics between the two countries have ebbed and flowed. A notable incident that reflected the dynamics during this period was King Mongkut’s (Rama IV) offer of elephants to Abraham Lincoln to aid the Union’s war effort during the American Civil War. Although the offer was graciously declined, President Lincoln forever inscribed the monarch as his “Great and Good Friend” in the history of bilateral relations. In the absence of colonial designs and conflicting interests, relations continued on a friendly course, culminating in Siam’s entry into the First World War on the side of the Entente, following the U.S. commitment to the conflict. Subsequently, the U.S., through its legal advisors, led the successful effort to revise the unequal treaties that Siam had been subjected to during the colonial period.
These bonds frayed as Siam underwent constitutional changes in the 1930s, including the national name-change to Thailand, and forged an alliance with the rising Japanese Empire, eventually resulting in a declaration of war against the United States during the Second World War. Nevertheless, this official hostility did not prevent the U.S. from supporting the Seri Thai Movement’s clandestine resistance operations and to render its post-war support against the vengeful colonial powers in favor of a “free, independent Thailand, with sovereignty unimpaired, and ruled by a government of its own choosing” (Reynolds, 2004, 370).This protection, as well as the convergence of both nations’ interest to contain the spread of Communism, led to the second peak of Thai-U.S. relations. It was during this period that this bilateral relationship had the most influence on Thailand’s development, not only in terms of the effects of the massive financial aid that the U.S. Government rendered to the Royal Thai Government (Zawacki, 2017, Declining Aid, para. 1),but also Thailand’s international role through its involvement in the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the founding of regional organizations, such as SEATO and ASEAN, some of which continue to exert influence on regional politics.
Yet, as the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and the remaining communist nations scrambled to adapt to the market economy, relations between the two Great and Good Friends drifted apart, as the interests that had bound them together dwindled. From the 1990s onwards, the focus of successive U.S. governments became the Middle East, especially after the tragic events of 9/11. As the U.S. expended its blood and treasure in a futile attempt to remake the Middle East, the field in Asia was left open for China to reassert itself. Subsequently, Thailand and other countries in the region have been drawn closer into the Chinese political and economic orbit. This attraction was compounded by the U.S.’ failure to treat its close friend and treaty ally as such. The Clinton administration’s handling of the 1997 Tom Yum Kung Financial Crisis, which stood in stark contrast with the comprehensive assistance it rendered to Mexico earlier in 1994, highlighted this unwelcome development.
While the 2000s saw Thailand’s designation as a major non-NATO ally (Department of State, 2020, January 30) this was largely a symbolic gesture and did not halt the drift. The 2010s reads like a litany of diplomatic failures, characterized by the inability to comprehend the dynamics of the internal Thai political conflict, coupled with a rigid adherence to a shallow democratic dogma, where elections were seen to be the panacea to all of Thailand’s innumerable woes. In the face of this failure, China has moved in to fill the vacuum in force throughout the 2000s and 2010s, agreeing to strategic partnerships, ever closer economic ties, through a free trade agreement,new military cooperation projects, and establishing new regional architecture, such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the Belt and Road Initiative, that rival those founded by the U.S. and its allies during the Cold War.Subsequent U.S. efforts to redress the balance, such as the Pivot to Asia, was not only a tacit admission that they had been pivoting elsewhere prior to this policy, but many initiatives, in particular the Trans-Pacific Partnership, were seen as, at best, a failure to make use of regional opportunities (Green, 2016, September 3) and, at worst, abject failures.
The key question for Thai-U.S. relations, at the dawn of the 2020sthen, is: “Quo vadis?” – where are you going? This essay aims to provide some general suggestions in the political, security, as well as the economic and social dimensions, which may aid American readers to formulate more appropriate and advantageous policies. These suggestions do not occur in a vacuum and cannot be discussed without reference to the policies and impact of China’s return as a regional power. Implementing these suggestions may not necessarily lead to a third peak in Thai-U.S. relations, but may perhaps work to redress the increasing imbalance in Sino-Thai-U.S. relations, which would be in the long-term interest of both Thailand and the U.S.
While we value our long friendship with the Thai people, this act will have negative implications for the U.S.–Thai relationship, especially for our relationship with the Thai military.
Statement on 2014 Coup in Thailand by John Kerry, Secretary of State (Department of State, 2014, May 22)
The major roadblock to the progress of Thai-U.S. relations for more than a decade has been internal Thai politics and misperceptions of the U.S. role in this domestic conflict. Since 2006, Thailand has been stuck in a vicious cycle of elections, corruption, mass street protests, and coup d’états. Throughout this process, the U.S. government, through its embassy, has met with varying degrees of success but, more often than not, with failure. Notable incidents that have inflamed hostility include the embarrassing leak of private high-level conversations in the 2010Cablegate scandal, embassy visits to Red Shirt Villages (Front Page News Team, 2015, February 2), Ambassador Davies’s intervention with regard to the lèse-majesté law (AFP, 2015, November 26), and the complete lack of a resident ambassador for a considerable period of President Trump’s term. These incidents stand in stark contrast with the Chinese approach that has been much more circumspect, side-stepping unnecessary entanglements in Thai internal politics, and took advantage of the vacuum left in the wake of U.S. disengagement to further their concrete interests.
Many of these unfortunate incidents could have been avoided, had the American ambassadors been experts on Thailand or, in lieu of their expertise, supported by a staff with a good grasp of current dynamics. The last of this generation was Ambassador Boyce, who had more than a decade of experiences in Thailand and fluency in the Thai language and culture (Kanchanalak, 2015, April 15). Yet, the efficacy of Ambassador Boyce’s tenure was limited by his lack of influence in Washington in the face of the capital’s disinterest in Thai affairs. The reduction of the terms of State Department personnel from 4 or 5-year terms to 2 years have further eroded capabilities (Zawacki, 2017, Military-political complex, para. 9). Two years is hardly enough to build meaningful contacts, which are especially important in a society that operates, for better or worse, on the basis of social networks and personal relationships.It is expected that the American capability to conduct effective diplomacy in Thailand and elsewhere will continue to deteriorate as the State Department is systematically hollowed out (Corrigan, 2018, February 11).This deficiency may not matter so much in other times, but given the fierce competition for influence that Washington faces from Beijing, it may prove to be calamitous – for both Thai and American long-term interests. In contrast to American indifference, Beijing appears to have made its relations with Thailand a priority, routinely dispatching personnel with extensive training and experience in Thai language, culture, and affairs who can fluently and, oftentimes unobtrusively, move throughout Thai society.
While Beijing appears to be interested in almost all facets of the kingdom, one aspect to which it remains indifferent are the areas of democracy and human rights. If played right, these are areas where the U.S. can exercise considerable advantage. However, in the past, the U.S. has taken an overly ham-fisted and dogmatic approach, demanding elections at the expense of every other issue, when pragmatism may have better served long-term interests. This pragmatic approach is clearly an option, in spite of the U.S. Government’s stated policy to support human rights and democracy, as reflected in the U.S.’ continuing and close engagement with Saudi Arabia’s absolute monarchy (Wald, 2018,November 13) and Egypt’s military regime under General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, among others, whose democratic and human rights credentials are far more questionable than that of the recent Thai military regimes. Furthermore, this inflexible approach has been compounded by an unhealthy focus on personalities, be it on the government side or on the opposition, as exemplified by the overt presence of “observers” at the court procedures of opposition figures. This is not to say that foreign diplomats cannot or should not follow political developments in person, but there were arguably better and subtler ways of doing so than getting involved with photo opportunities that can be easily misconstrued, sometimes on purpose, for the benefit of one side or the other (Associated Press, 2019, April 11).No doubt other countries, notably China, are also keeping pace with these developments; but they have not done so in such an overt and provocative manner.
The way forward here, given the ephemeral nature of Thai political personalities, should be to turn the focus on strengthening the effectiveness of political institutions, particularly those that act as checks and balances. Arguably, the political crises that have afflicted Thailand for the last two decades could have been prevented by a more robust, efficient, and trustworthy system of checks, which would have kept the problems of civilian politicians within the system rather than allowing it to spill out chaotically onto the streets, thereby providing the standard pretext for a military takeover to “restore order”. The U.S., with its tradition of the separation of powers, is arguably one of the countries with the expertise in these checks and balances, and it was a pity that it was unable to exert some useful influence over the latest iteration of Thailand’s constitution due to the policy of disengagement. Nevertheless, there is still considerable room for the reform of existing mechanisms that will contribute more towards democratization in the long-term. If the U.S. is serious in promoting sustainable democracy, it should focus its efforts on facilitating the reform of these institutions and leave the daily political dramas to the Thais.
The Security Dimension
So let us work together for a peaceful, prosperous, and free Indo-Pacific. I am confident that, together, every problem we have spoken about today can be solved and every challenge we face can be overcome.
President Donald Trump, Da Nang, Vietnam (White House, 2017, November 10)
Even in the midst of political turmoil, Thai-U.S. security relations appear to have maintained some dynamism. Major exercises, such as Cobra Gold, continued during the period of military rule, albeit on a reduced scale, while, at present, other exercises, such as Lightning Forge, Hanuman Guardian, Balance Torch are proceeding apace. The Royal Thai Armed Forces are also sticking with the longstanding trend of being heavily inspired by American doctrine and armaments, as reflected in its acquisition of Stryker vehicles (Olson, 2019, September 13),which will be supported by a new brigade structure. At the same time, the Chinese are also making headway in this area with joint blue water and special forces exercises, increases in exchange programs for military personnel, as well as the procurement of military equipment. The issue for the U.S. in this area, therefore, is not so much how to revitalize relations, but how to maintain its leading influence.
A key area in the interest of both sides is the professionalization of the military. By professionalization, this means encouraging a non-political mindset among the existing and new generations of officers and also increasing the capabilities and effectiveness of the armed forces through training assistance and acquisition of modern equipment. A professional armed force would be far less willing to commit a coup d’état and be more capable of maintaining public trust through their proven capabilities. If these capabilities can also be demonstrated on visible missions, such as international peacekeeping or humanitarian assistance, the procurement of the appropriate modern equipment could also be more easily justified. Procurement of modern equipment would also contribute to addressing trade imbalances in Thai-U.S. trade relations and support interoperability. Thus, success in this area has the potential to synergize with efforts in the political, economic, and social dimensions that should ensure that Thailand can contribute to the relevant aspects of the U.S.’ Indo-Pacific Strategy.
In this regard, an area that the U.S. can expand its influence is the training of mid-level officers. It is undeniable that the past and present good relations between the U.S. and Royal Thai Armed Forces have been greatly facilitated by the common experiences of officers who served together during the Cold War. The oldest of this generation are fading out, while the youngest are on the verge of retirement. Their tragedy is that in the face of U.S. disengagement from the region, there is no new generation to continue the legacy that they have built. Although there are a significant number of Thai civilian graduates from the U.S., the majority do not choose the armed forces as a career. For overseas graduates that do, their profiles tend to be more multinational than previously, having graduated from both European and Far Eastern institutions. Many of them are also developing the capability of moving in western and eastern societies with equal alacrity. Aligning with the U.S. is no longer the default option.
In the absence of a far-reaching joint campaign along the lines of the Cold War, the situation as it stands indicate a continuing drift in relations. This drift can be mitigated to an extent through an expansion of exchange programs, particularly for mid-level Thai military officers to go to the U.S. These programs can be military or civilian in nature, but their aim should be to cultivate not only deeper professional knowledge in the subject matter, but also the sort of personal relations and goodwill that can facilitate understanding and cooperation as these officers progress in their careers. Throughout this progress, the U.S. could also learn from the Australian approach in maintaining contact with their military alumni through groups, as well as regular social events. Not only does this allow the embassy to maintain links and disseminate information and news, but it also promotes networking among different generations of Thai alumni, who can then use these connections to support projects of mutual interest.
Economic and Social Ties
My background has been helping American and Western companies expand and invest in Asia for the last 20 years. I plan on continuing to help American and Western companies expand into Thailand as United States’ Ambassador to Thailand.
H.E. Michael DeSombre, U.S. Ambassador to Thailand (Raksaseri, 2020 March, 12)
Unlike the bilateral security relations, there is no denying that the U.S. has fallen behind its competitors in the areas of economic and social relations. As of 2018, China has become the top destination for Thailand’s exports, as well as the top origin of imported goods (World Integrated Trade Solutions, n.d.). Previously, this position had been occupied by the United States or Japan. Simultaneously, Chinese cultural influence is also making some significant headway, with the opening of Confucius Institutes across the country and the increasing popularity of Chinese cultural offerings. Some of this popularity can be attributed to the longstanding presence of a significant Sino-Thai community, but arguably it is a consequence of the meteoric rise of China, its increasing regional influence, and the new economic opportunities it represents. In these areas, the U.S. is at an obvious geographical disadvantage, but it still holds some significant advantages that it can leverage to maintain its economic and cultural influence.
The first advantage that can be leveraged is the U.S.’ creative and innovative industries, particularly in the digital sector. Even prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Royal Thai Government had identified this sector as one that needed to be urgently developed under its 20-Year National Strategy and it is likely that this sector will continue to grow in importance as the government implements the strategy. In the wake of the pandemic, it is also likely that many companies and institutions will expand their digital platform operations. Therefore, any nation that can involve themselves in the infrastructure and systems of this emerging digital economy will have significant national influence in the future. The Chinese have clearly envisioned this development and are notably investing in5th generation mobile networks. Like elsewhere, Huawei is receiving active encouragement to engage in this area (Post Reporters, 2019, October 23). To compete, the U.S. will need to project the future, identify its niches in this projection, and provide competitive options in terms of pricing, quality, and innovation in these areas. The digital economy is only one of many sectors that have been designated as priorities; other areas that the U.S. can engage in, given its expertise, include standards, logistics, research and development, and energy. Examining and identifying synergies between U.S. expertise and Thai priorities should be a viable way to maintain and expand partnerships in a concrete manner for both sides’ mutual benefit.
Secondly, despite the growing popularity of Mandarin, English will remain as the most important international language, as it will continue to be the second or third language of the majority of the global population, including in China. There is an obvious opportunity to exploit here, but the U.S. in Thailand and elsewhere have failed to do so. This failure can be attributed in part to the fact that most U.S. embassies have retreated behind walls akin to fortresses since 9/11, curtailing much of its outreach abilities. This is not to say that the Chinese competitors have open embassies; far from it. However, the Chinese are still able to extend their outreach through the Confucius Institutes, which act effectively as the embassy’s accessible and active cultural arms across the country. In the past, the U.S. equivalent had been the American Corners and American Studies departments and clubs – these have since atrophied and are far too few in number to compete effectively with their expanding Chinese counterparts. The approach then, is to revive and expand the activities of these organizations so as to build awareness of what modern America has to offer. A potent boost to the revitalization would be to invite the symbolic involvement of an appropriate member of the Royal Family in the project, which will also serve to reinforce ties.
In doing so, the U.S. should eschew the approach taken by the European embassies in Thailand, where outreach is restricted to central organizations, such as the British Council, Alliance Française, and the Goethe Institute. While provisions at these institutions are impressive, they have limited reach and capacity, especially beyond the capital area. Therefore, the U.S. should build upon the Chinese approach and have substantive and proactive representative institutions or, at the very least, have concrete collaborative programs with Thailand’s higher education institutions. Alongside this revival should be the revitalization and expansion of organizations such as the Peace Corps and exchange programs to build lasting people-to-people friendship among the new generation that will reinforce bilateral ties in the years ahead.
American assistance is to enable the Thai to achieve their objectives through their own efforts. Indeed, there is a precept of the Lord Buddha which says: “Thou are thine own refuge”. We are grateful for American aid; but we intend one day to do without it.
His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej to the Joint Meeting of U.S. Congress, June 29, 1960 (U.S. Embassy Bangkok, 2016, November 3)
In conclusion, with the possible exception of their security ties, Thai-U.S. relations could be said to be at one of its lowest ebbs due mainly to neglect, a lack of understanding of fast-changing conditions on the ground, and the consequent inability to leverage the legacy of a longstanding and special relationship. Further exacerbating the situation is the rise of China as the U.S.’ strategic competitor. This is not to say that the relationship is beyond salvage. There are plenty of existing organizations and frameworks that can be easily revived and/or expanded, such as the Peace Corps, the Fulbright Scholarship Program, military exercises and training programs, as well as numerous bilateral projects, such as those with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. To do so does not require that much additional resources, but a more consistent focus on long-term goals, guided by experts on the ground with well-established experiences and contacts, as well as active support from Washington to do so.
Indeed, the regaining of this focus is in the interest of both Thailand and the United States. Throughout its history, Thailand’s times of greatest peril has always been when it relied on one partner, be it France in the 1680s, Britain in the 1890s, and Imperial Japan in the 1940s. It is, therefore, in Thailand’s interest to maintain a balanced relationship between China and the United States, even as its economic interests draw inexorably ever closer to the former. However, to be able to do so, it must have the choice in the first place – this is where the U.S. comes in. For the U.S., beyond the continued use of strategic military facilities, notably at U-Tapao, and the assurance that the Chinese will be unable to establish a physical military presence in the kingdom, there may be no immediate or urgent security interest to renew its focus on Thailand. Nevertheless, as China grapples with the implications of the Covid-19 pandemic on its image in the short term, as well as internal problems with Hong Kong, and renewed conflicts over territorial claims with its neighbors, the U.S. has a chance to retake the initiative in Thailand, as well as the region. If it fails to do so, it stands to lose a long-time ally not necessarily due to a divergence of interest or mutual hostility, but through sheer carelessness. In light of ruptures with other traditional allies in the region who are experiencing similar issues in balancing relations with the U.S. and China, notably the Philippines, the U.S. should take this loss seriously. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde: to lose one ally may be regarded as a misfortune, to lose two looks like carelessness.
In this renewal, the United States should adopt a more subtle and informed approach, with its eyes on long-term results rather than involvement in short-term political dramas. Short of an unforeseen and unlikely incident that results in a catastrophic breakdown in Sino-Thai relations, it will be impossible for Thailand to decouple from China, due to its economic and social links. As such, in pursuit of its interests, the U.S. should not think of Sino-Thai-U.S. relations as a zero sum game, but try to find ways to work around it – to “be like water”, as some opponents of Beijing have it. Similar to the pressure to accelerate democratization, insisting on Thailand’s decoupling from China, especially in public, would most likely lead to the opposite happening. The key, therefore, is meaningful engagement in the right focus areas to ensure that while Thailand may not be willing to risk getting involved overtly in a Sino-American conflict on America’s side, neither will it actively aid Chinese efforts from its strategic geopolitical position. The absence of such pressure will not only enable this policy, but it will also ensure the Royal Thai Government’s lack of rancor towards the U.S. and allow new options and avenues for the long-overdue meaningful re-engagement between the Great and Good Friends to flourish anew.
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Colonel L. Redmon
United States of America Defence Attache
United States of America Embassy
Withayu Road, Bangkok
Thank you very much for this opportunity to discuss the relationship between Thailand and United States of America (U.S.A.). I am aware that the relationship between our two countries has a long history and still remains important despite the global health pandemic of the COVID-19 crisis.
My name is Major Suriya Chariyapanich and I am a student officer of the Royal Thai Army Command and General Staff College, Command and General Staff Course, 98th Class. I intend to write this essay on the topic of the relationship between the United States of America and Thailand. Firstly, I have to admit, some of the contents I write about may not be relevant to the topic as given by YOURSELF. My essay is written under the topic “Thai Democracy and Peace in the World”. I would like to take this opportunity to convey the thoughts and experiences that I gained whilst studying in the German Federal Armed Forces for eight years. I completed officer course and studied civil subjects in Electrical Engineering, Power Engineering, Bachelor and a Masters Degree. As a Thai person who lived in Europe for eight years, I learned a lot of their culture and mentality. I saw the difference in ideologies and thoughts from successful democratic country like Germany, which is vastly different in many aspects compared to Thailand and Thai people.
I do not seek any compliments or rewards; I just want to write this essay to express my actual understanding and convey my own thoughts. If I only write about the relationship of both countries in the past, I will not provide a deep understanding of the topic. I’d like to convey my experiences and my own thoughts through this essay, which I derive from personal experience. Therefore I’d like to take this opportunity to share my point of view. I write this essay with sincerity and facts in accordance with my own understanding. This essay contains some examples and some critical thought for better understanding. However, the details in this essay still relate to the USA – Thailand Relationship. I do not write from a biased position on beliefs or ideologies and I sincerely hope, that my opinions will be used as a tool to enhance better understanding for both our countries. Finally this essay is not intended as criticism of either country.
Royal Thai Army Command and General Staff College
“Thai Democracy and Peace in the World”
The relationship between Thailand and the United States of America (U.S.A.) is over 200 years old and is born out of a mutual respect and reliance on both countries. Both countries have shared a long history of trade, political, military and economic interaction since as far back as the 18th century.
In a world of hybrid warfare, the USA relies on Thailand’s strategic location within South East Asia and Thailand relies on the USA for its support and sponsorship across many areas. Of particular note in the current day is the rising status of neighboring countries and how Thailand can continue its growth and competitiveness on the world stage. In this essay I will use historical examples from Thailand's and the U.S.A.'s past to explain the current relationship and the potential for the relationship into the future. I will discuss the following five points in my argument:
1. Brief Thai-U.S.A. Relationship
2. Personal opinion - failures in fighting against communism
3. Democracy Revolution in Thailand 1932 in comparison to the French Revolution
4. The FUTURE of Thai-U.S.A. Relationship
Brief Thai-US Relationship
When discussing the anniversary of Thai-U.S.A. relationship, there is often confusion as to why there are talks about the anniversary being both the 185th anniversary and the 200th anniversary.
Both the 185th and 200th anniversaries mark different occasions throughout Thailand and U.S.A.’s friendship. The U.S.A. celebrates 200 years since the first contact between Thailand and the U.S.A. However, Thailand, formerly Siam, celebrates 185 years since diplomatic relations between Thailand and the U.S.A officially began.
First contact between Thailand and the U.S.A. began during the reign of King Rama II. On June 24, 1818, Stephen Williams, an American ship captain, docked his ship in Bangkok in order to deliver a letter from Prayurawongse (Dit Bunnag) which addressed President James Monroe. This letter signified initial contact between Siam’s government and the U.S.A. Government. Therefore, the United States celebrates this first contact 200 years ago.
In the letter, Dit Bunnag suggested that American merchants, who wished to partake in commerce in Siam, bring muskets with them. This established trade for American muskets in exchange for Siamese sugar. Due to this trade, there were many American ships travelling to Bangkok from 1820-1829.
Trade between the two nations flourished, which led to the signing of the Treaty of Amity and Commerce on March 20, 1833. The Treaty of Amity and Commerce was signed during King Rama III’s reign in Siam and President Andrew Jackson’s presidency. The main purpose of the Treaty of Amity and Commerce was to manage tariffs on Siamese imports and exports for American merchants. The Treaty of Amity and Commerce marked the first time the U.S.A. signed a treaty with an Asian nation. Therefore, Thailand celebrates 185 years since Thai-U.S.A. diplomatic relations were officially established.
In my opinion the U.S.A. has always had good relations with Thailand and it never impinged upon Thailand’ sovereignty. If you look back at the colonial era, the U.K. and France signed a secret treaty between each other in 1909, the “Anglo-Siamese Treaty”. The brief contents in the treaty are about the dividing Siam in two parts using Chao Phraya River as the boundary. Northern Siam will be ruled by the French government and Southern Siam by the U.K. government. This is an example of the invasion into Thailand’s sovereignty by some of the European countries. Additionally, Asian countries such as Japan, entered into Thailand in World War II (W.W.II) and Thailand was forced, at that time, to surrender due to a lack of military strength equal to Japan. In fact, at the end of the W.W. II Thailand was considered as defeated country. The U.K. government, in turn, requested Thailand to be a colony of its own and called for Thailand to pay war reparations. But, with the support of the U.S.A. for Thailand’s secret organization “Free Thai Movement”, the first cooperation between Thailand and the U.S.A. in the form of special operation took place. The U.S.A. opposed the requests from the U.K. in support of Thailand’s Government. Resultingly, Thailand was not colonized by the U.K. and paid no war reparations.
At the end of the W.W. II, warfare changed from “Hot War” to “Cold War” between two powerful nations, the U.S.A. and the Soviet Union. The cold war between these two nations became hot war in lots of other countries. Thailand is one of the nations which was affected by this hot war due to broad expansion of communism in lots of nations in Asia. China, North Korea, North Vietnam were subjected to communism. Because of that, the “Domino Theory” emerged, which proposed, that Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia may be threatened by communism. But due to the “Containment Policy” of Mr. John Foster Dallas, former foreign minister of the U.S.A., that threat was contained. The U.S. A. pined Thailand as a front base to resist communism. At this time, Thailand was attacked by communist terrorists with Soviet Union and Chinese support. This incident shows that even China tried indirectly to invade Thailand’s sovereignty. It was fortunate for Thailand, that both states fell apart. Both the U.S.A. and Thailand wanted to promote relations with China, to offset the effect of Vietnam’s influence, which was considered fast and brutal with the Soviet Union pulling the strings. Due to this situation it was necessary for Thailand to cancel the military cooperation with the U.S.A. This is one of the conditions that China needed in order to cut the communication line with the communist party in Thailand. Because of that, Thailand successfully escaped from the threat of communism.
Fighting against communism in Thailand was supported by the U.S.A. in a lot of aspects which can be seen by establishing the U.S.A. military bases in the north-east of Thailand. Now I’m going to talk a little about my past experience. Before I came to CGSC 98, I was assigned in 4th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion, 2nd Anti-Aircraft Artillery Regiment. This battalion participated in fighting against communist party using the “M42-Duster”, which was given to the battalion by the U.S.A. His Majesty the King Rama IX gave the nickname “RAJHASRI Battalion” meaning The Lion King Battalion. This is the only battalion in Thailand which is allowed be called by this nickname. It is honor to serve in this battalion. All of this demonstrates the sincerity of the U.S.A. government to help Thailand coping with the expansion of communist influence.
Until now the U.S.A. government is still an important partner, which continues to support Thailand which can be seen from military scholarships and joint military exercises like Cobra Gold etc. Some people may oppose the U.S.A. in some aspects, but in my opinion, I admit that the U.S.A. has never trespassed Thailand’s sovereignty. Furthermore, the U.S.A. has given support in many ways, including military doctrine of The Royal Thai army being adapted from the USA doctrine. I appreciate the generosity and sincerity from the U.S.A.
Personal opinion - failures in fighting against communism
This subject may not directly concern the Thai-U.S.A. relationship, there may be some aspects concerning with Buddhism, which is the most practiced religion in Thailand. The following points are critical thoughts and analysis.
The fighting between North and South Vietnam, the U.S.A. gave support to South Vietnam during the reign of President John F Kennedy. South Vietnam uses democratic system and Mr. Ngo Dinh Diem was the first president of South Vietnam. His background was a Christian Vietnamese. The government under the leadership of Mr. Ngo Dinh Diem confronted disputes between democracy and communism in Vietnam. The communists infiltrated into South Vietnam but failed in the beginning due to good management from the South’s government.
The failures Mr. Ngo Dinh Diem’s Government made, in my opinion, are 1. corruption in the government and 2. The challenge of controlling two factions. The first enemy was communism. The second enemy was “anybody, who doesn’t practice Christian Roman Catholic”. Here I would like to emphasize only the second point. At that time, Buddhism was the most practiced religion in Vietnam. Every religion, except Christianity, was oppressed and discriminated by the government, especially Buddhism. This made lots of South Vietnamese people and monks demonstrate against the government in order to request justice. Eventually, a monk demonstrated by setting him alight. Because of this incident, lots of South Vietnamese people didn’t support the government. Worse than that, these Vietnamese people maintain resistance against the government.
The Failures made by the South Vietnamese led to a success of communism. Since the beginning, the communists had a secret organization, “The United Front”, which laid its foundation in 20th century Vietnam. This secret organization mobilized forces against the French. Then, they tried to rally support in the opposition by establishing a new form of communist party under the name “National Liberation Front (NLF)”. Anybody could join this party even if they didn’t support communism but so long as they resisted Mr. Dinh Diem’s government. Due to this, a lot of Buddhists decided to join this party, although they didn’t follow any political Ideology. It was just a hatred of the government. And this made a reflex communist alliance which was caused by South’s actions. The South’s failures became the North’s success.
Now I am going to analyze my opinion. The fighting between the North and the South was ideological fighting, not a full military conventional warfare. If I were the South Vietnamese government, I would have first considered the End State I needed: “Defeat communism and maintain a democratic system in South Vietnam”. Then I would consider the CoG: “Winning hearts and minds of the Vietnamese”. In order to achieve this CoG (Ways), I would use His Majesty the King Rama IX’s Royal Thought: “1.To understand, 2. To gain insight and access, and 3. To engage development”. Number 1 To understand: Is to actually understand the cultural and social circumstances of our target people. Number 2. To gain insight and access: is, that the government accepts and admits the religious differences and promotes interaction between people practicing other religions. Number 3. To engage development: is, that the government aims to develop people’s living quality without partiality and doesn’t do anything to make people feel oppressed or feel abandoned by the government. In the past the U.S.A. and South Vietnam used the strategy “Winning Hearts and Minds”. It failed because of a lack of “actual understanding” and the religious norm. That made people, mostly Buddhists, become estranged and resistant.
From the story above, if the South Vietnamese government could have won hearts and minds of the South Vietnamese people, the South Vietnamese government may have defeated communism. That may have affected the south-east Asia, including Thailand, in a better way. Because, if communism in Vietnam was contained, then it would not have been able to expand its influence into Thailand.
Another Story I’d like to talk about, concerns the corruption in China before the civil war between the Kuomintang Party and the Communist Party. The corruption within the Kuomintang Party is one of the factors, which led the Communist Party to victory. People under the rule of the Kuomintang Party felt oppressed and lived in poverty. Starvation was the most important problem at that time. This was another factor that contributed to the Communist Party under the leadership of Mr. Mao Zedong to win people’s heart. Combined with protracted war strategy, the Communist Party won the battle.
Democracy Revolution in Thailand 1932 in comparison to the French Revolution
Thailand underwent a change from a long history of Absolute Monarchy to that of a Constitutional Monarchy in 1932. This was carried out by the revolution of “Khana Ratsadon”, meaning “People’s Party”. This ended the role of the King as a country leader and, for the first time, Thailand was governed by democracy. Here I’d like to express my critical point of view about whether the revolution by the People’s Party in 1932 was proper. As one of the leading democracy countries in the world, I believe the U.S.A. are open to hearing the following points.
In my opinion, the revolution by the People’s Party in 1932 may not be the most appropriate change for Thailand at the time. The reason being Thailand was not yet ready for that kind of shift for the following reasons. The desire to make the sudden change of the country from being an absolute monarch to democracy was from a small group of people who had received education from abroad and were influenced by western ideas on governance. This group of people together created a plan to overturn the monarchy’s power in ruling the country and put democracy right in place.
Back in 1789, the French Revolution had its genesis in the true needs of the people who at the time had very difficult conditions of living and were outraged with the way they were ruled. The people lacked proper care from the government and the French monarchs. With King Louis XVI on the throne, France spent heavily on war and other extravagant measures. They imposed heavy taxes on the people and did not handle the financial crisis well. These factors led to a revolution, then the establishment of constitutional monarchy and abolition and execution of the French monarchy. Simply because the people could no longer put up with being taken advantage of nor being oppressed. The Revolution rooted from actual desire of the people.
Thai people in 1935 in general, however, did not have the knowledge nor the understanding of what democracy was. Furthermore, in 1905 Thai people mostly were not unhappy with the existing absolute monarchy. One of the successful, but seldom mentioned factors of the revolution, was a deceiving scheme to bring out a collection of innocent participants. In explanation, there was a military officer who was a member of the People’s Party who used his power to call a Cavalry Battalion to action by claiming there was a Chinese rebellion acting against the country. This officer was high ranking and a well-known person. Many people gave him their respect and trust. Moreover, he also called out cadets to action by stating that there was going to be a training session with the Cavalry Battalion. The execution was done with immaculate planning and perfect timing. When the Cavalry Battalion and the cadets gathered, people had doubts and panicked. All the military officers, cadets and people were confused until there was an announcement that the People’s Party has seized power from the king.
Following this incident, Thailand had democracy for the first time. In the beginning, the People’s Party seemed to have good ideas and intentions for the country, but that has not turned out to be the case. It seems that some things were done according to personal needs of some members, hence, this led to conflicts within the Party. Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkram, also known as Chompon Por, became the first Prime Minister of Thailand. He had been in the position for the longest period of about 14 years and was also known as a dictator. The underlying beneficial intention of the revolution and the following dictatorship has led to the slow development of democracy of the country from then until now.
The FUTURE of Thai-U.S.A. Relationship
As a Thai person, I would like to see Thailand as a developed country, which is acknowledged by other nations. I admit that at the international level, Thailand is not yet a fully democratic country. But I concede that the tendency of democratic system in Thailand will get better in the future, albeit slowly. Thanks to modern technologies, information exchange occurs very fast. People can easily get information. In the past, there was less transparency in the government. Nowadays, on the other hand, people are able to question and reveal any issues in an open forum. Due to this, it is necessary for the government to be more responsive to the people.
Now I am going to talk about democratic system. I admit that lots of democratic countries have achieved prosperity in many aspects. With regard to Thailand, I think the important things, which should be discussed, are starvation and poverty. Considering the Muslow’s Theory, normal situation without war, starvation and poverty are in accordance with the first tier of the theory. As we can see in the COVID-19 situation, the Thai government is paying compensation to affected people. However there are still many people that have problems with starvation and living in poverty. Another important thing is, that Thailand has a high crime rate. This is in accordance with the second tier of Muslow’s Theory, namely: Safety Needs. From my personal standpoint, these problems should have first priority to cope with Thailand’s context.
An election is one of many components in a democratic system, although some people still don’t truly appreciate the value of a democratic election. And worse than that, these people sell their votes. This slows the development of democracy in Thailand which is another problem yet to be resolved.
As a soldier, I would hope that the U.S.A. has confidence in this relationship between our countries. Thailand, without support from the U.S.A. may experience difficulty in its development especially in the military and economy areas. The U.S.A. is an important trading partner for Thailand whereas Thailand’s export to the USA is second only to China. This has the potential for a trade war particularly since China tried to expand its economic influence into the Asian region. Considering the location of Thailand, it is suitable to be a hub of trade and communication in the region. Our neighboring countries have developed high speed railways, which are supported by China, and these railways are ready to be linked with the high speed railways in Thailand. However, Thailand still has reservations about these rail links as China may be able to fully expand its economic power into the region. In the future, Thailand has the option to develop these links with neighboring countries in order to maintain competitiveness with other countries. I think it may be good if the U.S.A. or other European countries join this high-speed railway project or seek some trading cooperation with Thailand to counterbalance China. However, reasonable profits should be considered for every countries.
The next topic I’m going to discuss is the economy concerning “The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP)”. This treaty occurred in the reign of President Barack Obama. The objective of the treaty is to counterbalance economic power from China in Asia. But due to President Trump’s policy “America First”, the U.S.A. had to dissociate itself from the treaty. Thailand is not yet able to join the treaty because there are lots of aspects that must be carefully considered. For examples: UPOV1991, Madrid Protocal, Paris Convention, WIPO, WCT etc. Today, the most talked about issue is UPOV1991, which affects the status of Thailand’s farmers’ rights to seed possession. The diversity of plant species, especially rice strains, is essential for the agricultural society in Thailand. For e.g. lots of Thailand’s rice strains would be at risk if Thailand joined the treaty which may completely destroy the identity of Thailand.
On the subject of the military, I’d like the U.S.A. to maintain the current relationship. Our neighboring countries’ militaries are influenced by China, as can be witnessed from joint military exercises with our neighbours. It may be good if the U.S.A. supports R&D of our military equipment because Thailand is currently trying to develop its own military technologies. This form of cooperation could counter China’s military power.
In conclusion, I have written everything from my understanding and from what I experienced in my 8 years abroad. I saw the difference between the European and Thai mindset and mentality. I have explained about the historical examples in order to provide a better understanding in Thai perspective. And I have tried not to lay blame when mistakes were made. The question is, what we will do from what we have learned? I think, building a good relationship at the international level must begin with a good understanding of each nation’s interests. Foreign policy changes and leadership changes will always take place. In the reality, there are still some hidden agendas or aspects in all countries, which other countries may never quite understand. For this reason, it is necessary to have good understanding in the context and to maintain a good relationship between our countries.
I will always be Thai and will never forget my Thai background. Even though I lived for 8 years in Germany, I have to stay neutral. My duty now is to do whatever brings peace, good friendship and links the gap between our countries. I hope that my essay will contribute to promote a good understanding and relationship between our countries.