Political – Security Cooperation
As the 20th century approached, Thailand and the United States found themselves in a critical need of political cooperation. During World War II, the Free Thai Movement (Seri Thai) was started by M.R. Seni Pramoj, the Ambassador of Thailand to the U.S., with the support of the U.S. Government. The movement quickly inspired similar activities in England and was supported by the growing anti-Japanese underground in Thailand. Toward the end of World War II, the partnership forged during the war became one of the reasons Thailand emerged from World War II with sovereignty and dignity. It also marked the beginning of a strengthened, multi-sector bilateral relationship, including political and military and economic cooperation between the two countries, which outlasted the Cold War.
During the Cold war, most of Thailand’s interactions with the U.S. were limited to mainly military and political. The guiding principle of this era was for Thailand to cooperate with the United States in combat against the spread of Communism, an ideology that the Thais see as contrary to their lifestyle and culture. For the U.S., Thailand served as a frontline state that was useful in halting the spread of Communism. The political and military relationship between the two nations expanded further during the Korean and Vietnam Wars.
Thailand is one of the five countries in the Asia – Pacific region, and one of the only two countries in Southeast Asia, that the United States has a bilateral security agreement with. A military assistance agreement was signed with the United States in 1950 following the end of the Korean War. In 1954, the Manila Pact was signed, which states that a threat to the security of Thailand constitutes a threat to the United States. This Pact was subsequently reinforced by the Thanat-Rusk Joint Communique of 1962.
In October2003, President Bush designated Thailand as a “major non-NATO ally”, a distinction which grants Thailand greater access to U.S. foreign aid and military assistance, including credit guarantees for major weapons purchases. As a “major non-NATO ally”, Thailand also qualifies for the Excess Defense Articles (EDA) program, which allows for the transfer of used U.S. naval ships and defense articles.
Recognizing Thailand’s important strategic role and the United States’ stabilizing influence in the region, the two governments agreed to enhance their strategic partnership to further promote peace, stability, and prosperity in the region.
The 4thThailand – U.S. Strategic Dialogue, held in June 2012, was led by Mr.Sihasak Phuangketkeow, Permanent Secretary for Foreign Affairs of Thailand, and Mr. Kurt Campbell, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs of the U.S. Department of State. The delegations discussed political, security, and economic cooperation and the two countries’ shared commitment to promote peace, security, and prosperity throughout the Asia-Pacific region.
Both delegations emphasized the importance of regional integration and the United States reaffirmed its support for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and its importance to the evolving architecture of the region. The two governments underscored their continued support to increase cooperation in other regional frameworks, including the Lower Mekong Initiative (LMI), the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting-Plus (ADMM+), the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum (APEC), and the East Asia Summit (EAS). During the Strategic Dialogue, the Thai delegation briefed the U.S. delegation on the ASEAN Connectivity initiative and key positive developments in the region, including progress in achieving the ASEAN Community by the year 2015. The United States emphasized its continued support for the ASEAN Community-building process.
The mutual security agreements remain strong today and the joint military exercises the two countries have held for decades are a testament to that. These military maneuvers, dubbed “Cobra Gold,” are the largest military exercises involving the United States foreign forces anywhere in Asia.
The Thai – U.S. Defense Talks serve as the premier forum for coordinating security policies and expanding consultation on a wide array of security issues. These discussions reflect the enduring American and Thai commitment to cooperation on security issues based on shared priorities and mutual respect. Both sides remain committed to strengthening the alliance as a true 21st century partnership that aims to promote a peaceful, secure, and prosperous region and contribute to global stability.
On October 18, 2012, a Defense Strategic Talk was led by Gen. Tanongsak Apirakyotin, Permanent Secretary of Defense and Mark Lippert, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs (APSA). Both sides underscored the importance of continuing the partnership on Regional and Global Security, including building upon successful cooperation in peacekeeping efforts, such as the Royal Thai Army’s successful mission in Darfur, as well as in anti-piracy operations, such as the Royal Thai Navy’s continuing leadership and deployments to the multinational Combined Task Force 151 in the Gulf of Aden. Building upon the legacy of U.S.-Thai cooperation in the wake of the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami and 2008 Cyclone Nargis, both sides pledged expanded collaboration on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts as well.
At present, the alliance between the two countries is a true 21st century partnership that addresses a range of challenges, including responding to natural and manmade disasters, confronting transnational threats, contributing to global peacekeeping, and addressing maritime security issues. Specifically, the partnership focuses on four areas: 1) Partnership for regional security in Southeast Asia; 2) Supporting stability in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond; 3) Bilateral and multilateral interoperability and readiness; and, 4) Relationship building, coordination, and collaboration at all levels. This is reflected in the2012 Joint Vision Statement for the Thai-U.S. Defense Alliance: A 21st Century Security Partnership which was signed by Air Chief Marshal Sukumpol Suanatat, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta on November 15, 2012.