Thai and U.S. military officials meet for planning session

3Military officials from the United States and Thailand met in Bangkok last week to plan joint activities and overall cooperation for the year ahead and beyond. The two sides have scheduled 26 joint activities for this year including training exercises and an exchange of logistics experts.

The Cobra Gold joint military exercise would still be held annually and preparations for next year’s Cobra Gold are proceeding as usual, General Sermsak Niyamosot, deputy chief of staff for the Royal Thai Army, said last Tuesday. At the same time, Thailand has sent a military delegation on a study tour to Texas and Washington.

Thailand is the oldest treaty ally of the United States in Asia, with the first bilateral treaty (Treaty of Amity and Commerce) signed in 1833. Since the mid-20th century, the Kingdom has also been an important ally for the U.S. in Asia in terms of regional security. Thailand sided with the U.S. during the Cold War, sent troops to fight alongside Americans in the Korean and Vietnam wars as well as cooperated with the U.S. military in terms of base access, equipment and intelligence.

Thailand has also been cooperating closely with the U.S. on counter terrorism activities, combating narcotics trafficking, wildlife and human trafficking and transnational crime syndicates.

Military assistance was not discussed. By law, the United States was required to stop assistance because of the military’s takeover last year. All other assistance has continued as usual. Lt General Todd McCaffrey, who led the U.S. delegation, informed his Thai counterparts that full military assistance and cooperation would be restored when Thailand holds an election under the reform roadmap laid out by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha. Elections are expected to be held in the latter half of 2016.

“In the midst of the rebalance to the Asia-Pacific – a strategy that hinges on a strong network of bilateral partnership – the U.S. benefits strategically by maintaining, and strengthening, its alliance with Thailand,’’ retired U.S. Army Colonel Desmond Walton, a former Defense Attaché to Thailand, in last week’s Wall Street Journal.

“Bangkok is the unquestioned regional leader in facilitating the growth of multilateral security cooperation. It also plays a leading role in countless initiatives designed to build trust and interoperability among the armed forces of Southeast Asia and the Asia-Pacific,’’ he wrote.

Walton criticized current U.S. policy towards Thailand, saying the U.S. has turned a “cold shoulder” to the Kingdom because of the military’s intervention last year.

Calling the Obama Administration’s posture towards Thailand a mistake, Walton wrote that deteriorating relations “not only jeopardizes recent gains made in modernizing the security relationship. It also threatens to undermine one of the Obama administration’s signature foreign-policy initiatives, the rebalance to the Asia-Pacific.

“Security cooperation with Thailand has weakened, and economic and trade cooperation has stagnated. It’s time for the administration to re-evaluate its approach,’’ Walton wrote.


Thailand Focus July 28, 2015
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