the national bureau

of

asian research
| october 2011

nbr special report #33

the united states– thailand alliance
Issues for a New Dialogue
By Catharin Dalpino

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She is currently the principal investigator for the National Bureau of Asian Research’s project on “The United States–Thailand Alliance: Reinvigorating the Partnership. From 2005 to 2010. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University.” She can be reached at <catharin. She has studied U.‑Thailand relations for 30 years and was the Asia Foundation Representative in Thailand in the late 1980s. Warburg Professor of International Relations at Simmons College and a Visiting Scholar in Southeast Asian Studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS).the national bureau nbr special report #33 of asian research | october 2011 The United States–Thailand Alliance: Issues for a New Dialogue Catharin Dalpino is the Joan M.S. Professor Dalpino was Director of Thai Studies at the Edmund A.dalpino@simmons.edu>. CATHARIN DALPINO 1 .

in Southeast Asia. compares it to other U. • Thailand’s role in the region. Clarity on this issue is important for public perception.S. raising key considerations for the U. security cooperation without alliance responsibilities. as it assesses its security posture in the region. Differences have emerged over whether the relationship is broad‑ based or primarily a security arrangement. and Thailand seek to move the alliance forward. Thailand has been a steady and enduring partner of the U.S. states in Southeast Asia increasingly integrate.S.S.S.S. suggest that Bangkok could play a larger role in the region. raising questions about the relevance of formal alliances today.‑Thailand alliance. call for a new dialogue that can propel the U. particularly in regard to nontraditional security threats.‑Thailand alliance into the 21st century. however. as the rationale for the alliance is less apparent now than during the Cold War. Despite a strong history.S. Changing regional dynamics and the absence of a Cold War–style threat environment have enabled Thailand to balance its relations with regional and global powers.S. and traditional Cold War threats recede.S. The advent of the Cold War and U.EXECUTIVE SUMMARY This essay assesses the history and evolution of the U. . the alliance is arguably in a state of drift as the security environment in Asia evolves. in Asia” by virtue of the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation signed in 1833.S. POLICY IMPLICATIONS As the U. a relationship that has served both countries well and continues today. a number of issues have emerged: • The nature of the alliance. in the 21st century. Non‑ally countries increasingly receive the benefits of U. • The changing regional threat environment. and explores the challenges they all face. China rises. security alliances in Asia. These factors. • The significance of a treaty alliance with the U. among others.S. engagement in the region brought security to the forefront of relations and cemented the two countries as formal allies. MAIN ARGUMENT Often hailed as the “oldest treaty ally of the U. The same geopolitical factors that make Thailand a desirable ally for the U.

Bangkok. The views expressed in this essay are those of the author and should not be attributed to any other individual or institution. officials and analysts have described the alliance—and the broader relationship—as being “adrift” because of Thailand’s protracted political crisis. A third and final phase of the project. Since the beginning of the crisis in 2006. security alliances in Asia more broadly and the challenges they face. have provided traction in Thailand’s troubled political dynamic.. the international and Asian regional security environments have been affected by a number of factors: China’s steady and continued rise as a global power. This second report incorporates the results of consultations over the past year in Washington. focuses more intensely on Thai assessments of the U.S. Thai.‑Thailand security relationship as well as on U. To the majority of Thailand’s international partners.‑Thailand alliance.‑Thailand alliance and on finding common ground among U.S. Without doubt. dueling popular movements have polarized Thai politics and at times brought the country to a violent brink.S. security policy with other Southeast Asian countries. An initial workshop report on views of the U. Since then. the National Bureau of Asian Research’s project on “The United States–Thailand Alliance: Reinvigorating the Partnership” examines perspectives on security cooperation in both Thailand and the United States and encourages dialogue on the expanding basket of bilateral and regional security issues. it also requires political will on both sides to find common ground in a new century. some U. THE UNITED STATES–THAILAND ALLIANCE u DALPINO 3 . 2011.S.S. commonly traced to the popular uprising against then prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra in 2006 and his subsequent overthrow by a military coup. Philippine. broader regional and global issues and trends underscore the need for re‑examining the relationship.S. The results of this dialogue will be disseminated in both Thailand and the United States.S. made possible with the generous support of the Henry R. regardless of the state of Thai politics. military leaders. Bangkok’s trade and security partners have often indicated that attempts to take their bilateral relations with Thailand to new levels have been hindered by the country’s internal turmoil.S. but it would be inaccurate to view political instability as the sole reason for possible drift in the U.‑Thailand alliance within the Washington policy community was released in June 2010. and Japanese foreign affairs officials. In private. Luce Foundation. Placing the alliance in the context of the changing Asian security environment requires grappling with a number of complex issues. and Thai policymakers and analysts. and scholars. with most dialogue activities to be held in Thailand.‑Thailand alliance. Although a significant portion of Thailand’s foreign relations and international trade has proceeded as usual in the past five years. Thailand’s political troubles have made dialogue with the United States and other partners more difficult. This perception that relations with Thailand are on hold extends to the U. These discussions focused on the U. developments in U. Manila. Honolulu. and the impact—globally and in Asia—of the 2008 financial crisis in the West.S.S. To support this process. any specific outcome of the elections is less important than the need to promote political stability through widespread acceptance of a certified result.P olicymakers and analysts on both sides of the Pacific are cautiously hopeful that the national elections in Thailand on July 3. analysts. and Tokyo with U. Instead. new initiatives in Asian regional architecture.

A joint integrated command was beyond reach. the Thai legation in Washington was under orders from Bangkok to declare war on the United States. also known as the Manila Pact of 1954. Malaysia. Like the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).‑Thailand security alliance. which tends to equate the word “ally” with security partner. and the United States—were bound collectively and bilaterally by the Manila Pact. opium. cooperation was focused not on security but on economic relations. In the mid‑nineteenth century. Following the Japanese surrender.‑Thailand security relationship was not established until the early years of the Cold War and was more finely tuned during the Vietnam War. Two agreements. From a modern perspective. However. and the signators promised to “build commercial intercourse in the parts of their respective nations as long as heaven and earth shall endure. The treaty established Thailand (then Siam) as the first formal diplomatic partner of the United States in Asia. the Philippines.-Thailand Alliance Thailand is often hailed as the oldest treaty ally of the United States in Asia by virtue of the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation signed in 1833. when Bangkok had the only airport in mainland Southeast Asia at which the United States had access equal to that of the European powers. Spain.S.S. and the United States recognized the legation as a government‑in‑exile and worked with Seni to establish the Free Thai Movement. However. the Netherlands. the United Kingdom. For its part. and similar Cold War–era structures. and even establishing a common security vision was NBR SPECIAL REPORT u OCTOBER 2011 4 . security did not figure prominently in U. The Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty. However. France. The agreement offered the ancient kingdom of Siam and the young United States specific advantages in a region increasingly dominated by Old World powers. SEATO was ill‑suited to replicate the tight security structures of NATO.S. and the more relationships they could forge with Western nations. and Cambodia. Thailand. Britain proposed a 21‑point plan for British control over Thai political. For the most part. the less likely that one would be able to dominate. However. SEATO was a manifestation of the Truman Doctrine. the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO). The U.The Foundations of the U. Washington declined Bangkok’s requests for support to ward off a Japanese attack. and rice (the latter was not considered to be an “article of commerce”). On mainland Southeast Asia. launched the modern day U. Seni Pramoj disregarded the order. and economic affairs. was partly a response to the Geneva Accords that partitioned Vietnam and to the perception that Southeast Asia was endangered by encroaching Communism (articulated by the Eisenhower administration as the “domino theory”). one both bilateral and multilateral and one bilateral. provided that structure. Pakistan.” Only three commodities were prohibited from being traded: munitions. legation head M. Still inclined toward isolationism when Japan began its domination of Southeast Asia.R. France. established in 1955.S.‑Thailand relations until World War II. veto of the British proposal helped to ensure Thai independence after the war and. which emphasized collective and bilateral defense treaties to block the spread of Communism in several regions. which formed the diplomatic foundation of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO). The signatories—Australia. 21 years ahead of Japan. This pattern would continue into the twentieth century. and Portugal. this statement is only partially true. the Siamese monarchs were intent on avoiding the colonization that was befalling the country’s neighbors in Burma. New Zealand. the structure of the current U. foreign. to many older‑generation Thais. Thailand could offer the United States the best access.S. With Thailand under Japanese control in 1941. however. the United States wanted access to markets and seaports in Asia but was hemmed in by the prior claims of Britain. Vietnam. Laos.

the signatories of the Manila Pact still generally consider the agreement to remain in effect on a bilateral basis. U. which rendered its provisions weaker than those of treaty obligations. they did not always agree with U.S.‑Thailand relations. http://history. suggest that Thanat had more complicated motivations for signing the communiqué. In 1950 the two countries signed an agreement for the United States to provide training and equipment to the Royal Thai Army. collective military intervention was clearly beyond SEATO’s capacity. 2000). 498–99.difficult. 1961–63.S. “Memorandum of Conversation with President Kennedy. By the early 1960s. officials on the best means for safeguarding the region from Communist takeover. such as in Vietnam. instead. Kennedy is quoted as saying that “the main reason we gave the commitment [Thanat‑Rusk communiqué] to the Thais…was to gain their help in connection with Laos.S. 1962.” 2 3 THE UNITED STATES–THAILAND ALLIANCE u DALPINO 5 . Laos.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1961‑ 63v24/d339. U.” Foreign Relations of the United States. SEATO lacked a clear provision for mutual self‑defense. The text of the Thanat‑Rusk communiqué can be found in “The Reality of Foreign Policy Remarks by Secretary Rusk. Thanat was particularly worried by U.. government documents reveal that one motivation for the Thanat‑Rusk communiqué was Washington’s desire to enlist Thailand’s cooperation in Laos.S. however.state. intervention in Southeast Asia. May 3. and Cambodia. Senate was not required to ratify the Manila Pact.S. from $4. As these agreements defined formal U. support for the 1962 Geneva Agreement on Laos. the signatories to the Manila Pact only agreed that an attack on one member would occasion consultation and action “according to each [member’s] constitutional processes. Secretary of State Dean Rusk in 1962 specified that “the United States regards the preservation of the independence and integrity of Thailand as vital to the national interests of the United States and to world peace.3 These same documents. However.S.S. Laos Crisis.S. Thanat refused to put his name to it and had his deputy sign in his stead.” See John Whiteclay Chambers. at worst. for example. XXIV. In 2001. troops in Thailand and the establishment of nine joint bases. Document 339. Department of State. the existence of SEATO and the Manila Pact was often cited as the basis for U. which helped to preserve Thai sovereignty in the alliance. Although there were joint exercises. While Thai policymakers considered U. then president of the Philippines Gloria Macapagal‑Arroyo cited the 1954 Manila Pact as the basis for the Philippines’ support of U. ed. which consented to a coalition government that shared power between royalist and Pathet Lao (Communist) factions. Thailand had emerged as a front‑line state in the Cold War’s hot war in Southeast Asia by virtue of its proximity to Indochina. Oxford Companion to American Military History (Oxford: Oxford University Press.S. Such assurances of Thai independence strengthened the alliance and paved the way for the permanent presence of U. military assistance grew tenfold in just three years.S. the entry for SEATO in the Oxford Companion to American Military History notes that “despite the purposefully vague wording of the SEATO charter the administration of President Lyndon B.S.1 Although SEATO was disbanded.” The U. whose political status the Kennedy administration considered critical to keeping Southeast Asia free of Communism. March 26. Although SEATO survived on paper until 1977. assistance to Thailand increased rapidly from the early 1950s until the late 1960s. support to be essential to maintaining Thai independence in the increasingly perilous security environment of mainland Southeast Asia.5 million in 1951 to $56 million in 1 For example. vol.” State Department Bulletin. 644. forces in South Vietnam. it was viewed as a failure.S. Johnson claimed in 1965 that SEATO allowed and even required the build‑up of U. U. The communiqué signed by Thanat and U. The Thai government and its assertive foreign minister Thanat Khoman were justified in believing that the Manila Pact would not adequately protect Thailand in the event of a Communist invasion.”2 An important tenet of the 1962 communiqué was the need for consultation and joint decisionmaking. at best it was regarded as insignificant. 1962.S. Although Thailand signed the agreement. See Office of the Historian. intervention in Afghanistan after September 11.

S.S. Washington laid the groundwork for a comprehensive assistance program that included transportation infrastructure. presence in Thailand.S. 5 6 7 8 6 NBR SPECIAL REPORT u OCTOBER 2011 . with U. and cultural exchange. the incremental withdrawal of the United States from Vietnam. Thailand was drawn into the wars of the region.S. Reynolds.S. During the same period. health. a decade that some Thai scholars refer to as “the American period. planes in Thailand at the time led some Thais to refer to their country as “the world’s largest stationary aircraft carrier.7 By the late 1960s. both the U.S. Ibid. which enabled the United States to withdraw its forces from Vietnam. 112.S. and Sukhon Polpatpicharn. Author’s interview with an official from the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 1982). Ibid. and implicitly from Southeast Asia. The Eagle and the Elephant. 112. Moreover. 91. in the eyes of the Bangkok political classes. which declared that in future Asian wars the United States would provide military and economic assistance but would not contribute troops. troops in the country for “rest and rehabilitation” from the Vietnam War.. Bruce Reynolds. 122. which enabled U. U. military presence in Thailand was at 45.S. The nine joint bases provided employment for an estimated 50. 92.. and Polpatpicharn. From the beginning of the Cold War. not including the tens of thousands of U. financial support. military assistance to Thailand averaged $75 million and nonmilitary assistance was $60 million. 4 Vimol Bhongbhibhat. security assistance was only one aspect of the growing U.000 soldiers and 20. This situation reached a boiling point in 1973. Bhongbhibhat.000 soldiers. The 1973 Paris Peace Accords. policymakers focused increasingly on the vulnerable northeast region of Thailand.351 casualties. The Eagle and the Elephant: 150 Years of Thai-American Relations (Bangkok: United Production. when a popular movement sparked by student protests overturned the military government. government and the Thai military suffered from “guilt by association” with each other.S. The growing anti‑war movement in Thailand converged with discontent over military rule in the Thai student population.4 However.000 Thais.1953.” annual U. forces. troops in Thailand. Because of linguistic and cultural similarities between Thailand and Laos. forces to launch or support operations in Vietnam. It contributed 4.S. from 1965 to 1968 the United States invested $370 million to upgrade Thai military bases for the temporary use of U. Laos.000 soldiers to Vietnam. however. Thais worked with U.S. agricultural development. Thailand sent 12. By 1968 the U. between 1965 and 1971 and suffered 1. military presence in Thailand. ed.S.S.000 tons of rice to the Korean War. education. as did the growing number of U.S. and later Cambodia.8 Cold War Denouement and Dislocation At the apex of the U. This countrywide approach defined the U.”6 By the late 1950s. which helped to consolidate the military’s role in government. Likewise. although no doubt a good deal of that focus was due to the northeast’s strategic location. Under this assistance.. operatives in the secret war in Laos between 1964 and 1972.5 The 600 U. alarmed Thai diplomats and military leaders. In need of strong and solid allies on mainland Southeast Asia and mindful that the Communist threat was political as well as military. the negative aspects and weaknesses in the alliance were becoming more apparent. The withdrawal began with the articulation of the Nixon Doctrine in 1969.‑Thailand alliance for the ordinary Thai. the Royal Thai Army tripled in size during the decade.

Rather. merchant ship Mayaguez.S. THE UNITED STATES–THAILAND ALLIANCE u DALPINO 7 . and Thai militaries. U. many Thais felt that the United States was violating the spirit of the alliance. including South Korea. the alliance with the United States remained the centerpiece of Thailand’s strategic calculation. troops in Thailand would antagonize Hanoi and make Thailand a target for perceived Vietnamese ambitions on mainland Southeast Asia.S. The maintenance of joint bases with the United States was a political liability for Thai leaders.‑Thailand relationship caused Thais to question the utility of the alliance.S.S.S. However. However.S. subsidies for its domestic rice sector—created sharp tensions. and the Thais feared Vietnamese aggression and the renewed relationship between Vietnam and the Soviet Union. sometimes in double digits. In response. Last. Thus. commerce.S. The United States opposed the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia and supported the policies of Thailand and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) toward Indochina in the 1980s. Although Thailand continued to be wary of Vietnam during this decade. For the United States’ part. Security cooperation through the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program as well as other forms of military assistance continued.‑Thailand security cooperation. Although many Thais were still inclined to view the alliance as encompassing the entire U. embassy in Saigon left Thailand vulnerable. in response to a foreign government that violates an international trade agreement or takes other action that burdens or restricts U. defining the alliance in this postwar period was difficult. The fraternal relationship between the U. Americans tended to disaggregate the relationship into its separate parts and saw the alliance as confined to the security relationship. Trade Act of 1974 authorizes the president to take appropriate action.‑Thailand relationship.9 This view was even more widely held in Thailand after the United States did not offer the country bilateral assistance in the immediate aftermath of the 1997 Asian financial crisis. as it had in the 1950s and 1960s. Bangkok was able to quash the threat of the Thai Communist Party through deals made with Beijing and various other measures. Yet these structural changes did not signal the end of U. the Thai economy began growing.S. When the Office of the U.S. Dynamics in the region were changing rapidly. allies in the region. troops were withdrawn from the joint bases in 1976.further disconcerted Thai policymakers and other U. Moreover. and this central role was reinforced when Vietnam invaded Cambodia in December 1978. the Thai government opened a diplomatic window to China. and Thailand underwent a peaceful transition from a military government to elected civilian rule in 1988.S. some aspects of trade—lapses in Thailand’s enforcement of U. problems in other aspects of the U. it had become obvious on both sides that the U. Nonetheless.” was dissipating.S.S. albeit at lower levels. with the Vietnam War behind it. or even whether such an alliance still existed. the rapid collapse of South Vietnam in 1975 and the hasty evacuation of personnel from the U. Thai leaders feared that the continued presence of U. particularly when Washington failed to consult Bangkok before using the Utapao naval airbase to launch a rescue effort in May 1975 after Cambodia seized the U. a mainstay during the “American period. In the late 1980s. The heavy focus on the United States in Thai foreign relations was beginning to change in favor of the traditional Thai preference for balancing relations among several powers. Washington had little interest in maintaining an extensive military presence in Thailand. Moreover. including the imposition of sanctions.S. the alliance became a more flexible arrangement. Trade Representative threatened “section 301” sanctions on Thailand for intellectual property violations. intellectual property rights and continued U. 9 Section 301 of the U.S.S.‑Thailand alliance required adjustments with the end of the Vietnam War. With this peace dividend.

the United States and Thailand conduct numerous bilateral exercises throughout the year.11 Even after certification. The U. the U.‑Thai security relationship was affected by the stronger U. still figures prominently in the security relationship. CRS Report for Congress. Relations.S. as have other aspects of Thai political development. 10–11. In addition. the largest multinational military exercises in the world. the United States suspended Thailand from the IMET program. posture on democracy promotion and the complexities of Thailand’s democratization process. “Thailand: Background and U.pdf.S. and South Africa. executive branch certifies to Congress that civilian control has been re‑established.th/eng_mod/index. By the 1980s. http://www.go. including China. Emma Chanlett‑Avery. security policy toward Southeast Asia. After the 2006 coup.org/sgp/crs/row/RL32593. U.html.mod.‑Thai cooperation made Thailand a linchpin in U. Italy.S. the country’s strategic position and the history of U. its role as a political instrument had detracted from its abilities as a professional military force. Foreign Assistance Act. The 1991 and 2006 military coups had an impact on U.When the Cold War ended. Malaysia. Russia. RL32593. The Utapao naval airbase. economic aid (which includes security assistance) must be withdrawn when an elected civilian government is overthrown and cannot be restored until the U. particularly the officer corps. Under the U. and Indonesia as partners.10 Although many observers agree that the Thai military has made concerted attempts to further professionalize. civil‑military relations have ebbed and flowed over the past two decades. Singapore. The Present State of the Alliance During the Vietnam War. and to modernize its units and weaponry. postponed joint exercises. 10 11 Ministry of Defence (Thailand) website. the Thai Ministry of Defence recounts one aspect of the military’s role in politics: The military’s reputation as the center of political power manifested itself in nearly a score of coups and countercoups between 1932 and 1987. Originally a bilateral series. Over the years. 8 NBR SPECIAL REPORT u OCTOBER 2011 .S. South Korea.S. the military had acted to increase the professionalism of its personnel. Doubts about the state of combat readiness had been expressed by some members of the Thai officer corps as well as by foreign military observers. In 2011 eighteen countries attended the exercises as observers. For a month.S.‑Thailand alliance is also the foundation for the annual Cobra Gold exercises.S. Cobra Gold has added Japan. the available pot of assistance funds had shrunk with the addition of fourteen new countries. 2011. On its website. and suspended $29 million in other forms of military assistance. troops returned to a Thai military base.S. in 2004 Thailand permitted the United States to use Utapao as a base for tsunami relief operations after airfields in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur were overwhelmed.S.S.” Congressional Research Service. for example. flyovers. presence in Afghanistan and Iraq through the use of Thai ports and other facilities for refueling and through Thai permission for U. which analysts consider to be the only airfield in Southeast Asia capable of supporting a major logistical operation.‑Thai security relations.fas. it took Thailand time to regain the country’s place in the IMET cycle. Indeed.S. February 8. when it did. Today the alliance supports the U. http://www. Cobra Gold has several components and often runs as long as six weeks.S.

Sweden. Although U.S. Even though the security relationship remains strong compared to other aspects of the bilateral relationship. One consequence of this broader security dynamic is the increasing diversity of the market for military weapons and equipment.S. Thailand was granted major non‑NATO ally (MNNA) status along with the Philippines. no longer selling only cut‑rate Cold War leftovers but instead offering higher quality weapons with attractive training and maintenance packages. Last.S. In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. One of the more volatile areas of the relationship has been on the economics and trade side.‑Thailand security relationship one of the stronger anchors in the bilateral relationship. law that would have a serious impact on the security relationship.S. However.S.‑Thai trade relations will go once the political situation has stabilized. no concrete decision in that regard has been made.Over the last decade. and the Ukraine. Bangkok has sought to resolve this dispute through bilateral negotiations and through ASEAN. a designation created by Congress in 1989 that grants recipients some exemptions from the Arms Export Control Act and conveys other minor benefits. although none has eclipsed the U. a leader of Jemaah Islamiyah. Bilateral intelligence cooperation led to the 2003 arrest of Riduan Isamuddin (also known as Hambali). that actions similar to those of 1991 and 2006 could automatically trigger provisions in U. Thailand has sent small contingents to Afghanistan and Iraq. Thailand imposed compulsory licensing requirements on some U. it has clearly eroded over time.S. it is expensive and often comes with various forms of conditionality. Thailand has purchased military equipment from China. Thai military leaders have publicly stated that they will honor the outcome of the recent election. equipment continues to be highly desirable. in part because of the Thai political situation but also because of growing public discontent in Thailand over provisions on pharmaceuticals.‑Thailand security relations. no matter how short‑lived any suspension might be. the challenges presented by al Qaeda and regional Asian extremist networks opened a new area of cooperation in U.S. including China. It is not clear which direction U. have grown stronger. Negotiations over a bilateral free trade agreement were suspended in 2006. That same year. pharmaceutical firms. among others. a border dispute with Cambodia has led to the episodic exchange of fire and more frequent sabre‑rattling.‑Thailand security relationship. These factors combine to make the U. given Thailand’s protracted political crisis. with two Thai soldiers being killed in the latter conflict.‑ Thailand security relationship. Over the past two decades. the United States has deemphasized bilateral free trade agreements and turned instead to the Trans‑Pacific Partnership (TPP) sponsored by the Asia‑ Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). however.S. Shortly thereafter. the U. Thailand has pursued a natural course of increasing diversity in its foreign relations. when the THE UNITED STATES–THAILAND ALLIANCE u DALPINO 9 . Security relations with other countries. Both sides are aware. As power dynamics in the Asia‑Pacific region have changed. To some extent. Bangkok discovered this during the 1997 economic crisis. Beyond changes in the regional security environment. in the past decade Thailand has faced some security challenges that are difficult to address through the U. particularly with the rise of China. which continues to cast a shadow over the relationship. further ratcheting up tensions. While Thai officials have said that they are considering application to the TPP.‑Thailand security relationship was further disrupted by the 2006 coup.S. when financial distress left it unable to follow through on a contract to purchase F‑16s from the United States. Since 2008. This has led some analysts to worry that the alliance has become overly securitized by default. this was inevitable. Russia is also moving quickly up the ladder of arms vendors.

“Thailand: Concern Over Joint U. and Cambodia. The lethal nature of these threats speaks to vital U.‑Cambodian Exercise. there are few mechanisms in the military‑to‑military relationship to help ameliorate the conflict. if not more. • The threat environment.‑Philippines alliance. As a claimant to some of the Spratly Islands. Comparative Perspectives Although Thailand has been a security ally of the United States for more than half a century—a long‑standing spoke in the U. along with ASEAN’s enlargement and increasing integration.S.S. bases in Northeast Asia.S. important for Southeast Asia was the normalization of relations with China. Moreover.‑Thailand security cooperation is based more on precedent and mutual understanding than on a structured agreement that governs military‑to‑military activities. in particular—dramatically reduced threat levels in the region. Laos. Manila and Washington have disagreed on whether this threat should be addressed by the U.‑Thailand alliance and protested the exercises. officials is that the conflict is local rather than being driven by regional or global extremist groups. They also tend to be more controversial. have brought an unprecedented level of peace to the region. Thailand apparently viewed this as undercutting the U. In contrast. NBR SPECIAL REPORT u OCTOBER 2011 .S. U. and the Philippines are made aware of alliance requirements through the renegotiations. warranted the retention of permanent U.S. The end of the Vietnam War and the normalization of relations within Southeast Asia—with Vietnam.S.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to help address the social and economic root causes of the conflict.” June 25.S. although Muslim extremism remains a primary concern. but the consensus among Thai and U. to date.‑Philippines alliance has addressed 12 10 Stratfor Global Intelligence. In addition. These two processes. This is in contrast to the status of forces agreements that the United States has with Japan and South Korea and the Visiting Forces Agreement with the Philippines. These agreements must be renewed at established intervals and therefore have built‑in requirements to examine the alliance. Manila has greater security tensions with China.S. in the past several years. the conflict in southern Thailand is considered to be more localized. hub‑and‑spoke configuration of alliances in Asia—it differs from other U. security interests and has. Equally. as noted above. The U.S. some extremist groups in the Philippines have had ties to regional or global terrorist networks— such as the relationship between al Qaeda and Abu Sayyaf—while. although the United States does provide some economic assistance through the U. South Korea. As a result. 2010. alliances with Thailand and the Philippines.12 A longer‑ term problem has been the communal conflict in Muslim‑majority provinces in Thailand’s deep south.S. While there are significant differences between the security environments in Northeast and Southeast Asia. which have only heightened the controversy. Japan and South Korea continue to face major threats originating from the Cold War. Casualties have exceeded five thousand since 2004. incidents involving U. since the domestic populations in Japan. and the issue is currently under review. allies in the region in several ways: • The structure of the alliance.S. military personnel and citizens of these three countries have created jurisdictional issues in the alliances.United States conducted joint exercises with Cambodia earlier this year.S. structural differences also exist between the U. In the past.

Laos. The country’s occasional conflicts with China over the South China Sea have provided considerable traction to the security relationship with the United States in recent months. This is even true of Australia.S. Each places the alliance at the center of its security policy but recognizes that in the past decade trade with China has grown at a faster pace than trade with the United States. was in the midst of a democratic transition. The U. The United States’ four Asian treaty allies do have similarities.S. Singapore declined the offer of MNNA status13—the bilateral security relationship is extensive. allies in Asia is the dilemma of democratic allies. Likewise. although U. they nonetheless exemplify the changes in U. Singapore. in 2008 a Thai court refused to extradite Jamshid Ghassemi. if the hub‑and‑spoke system is less coherent now than it was during the Cold War by virtue of the differences in the nature and the degree of threats present in Northeast and Southeast Asia. and the increasingly assertive Thai parliament took exception to Washington’s threat.S. with Vietnam receiving the most attention. security relations in Southeast Asia. and Indonesia) pass legislation to protect U. both sides of the alliance are often called on to deliver results. Washington has cautiously renewed its security ties with Indonesia. In the late 1980s. copyrights or risk sanctions. several members of parliament broke ranks to vote against the bill. treaty ally in the Asia‑Pacific. THE UNITED STATES–THAILAND ALLIANCE u DALPINO 11 . Because of the special relationship. Thailand would appear to have fewer security threats that can be addressed through its U. A second common factor among U. and Malaysia had authoritarian or semi‑authoritarian systems that made it possible for such legislation to be quickly approved. but domestic political dynamics make it increasingly difficult to do so. allies in the region could confront conflicts within their own foreign policies.‑Malaysia security relationship is also positive and has expanded in the past decade through cooperation on counterterrorism and other initiatives. At the time. These changes call into question what it 13 Author’s interview with an official from Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.S.S. Compared with other Asian allies of the United States. Malaysia. and Cambodia. Thailand.S. Although legislation on U. but they also fear too much Sino‑American comity. for example. the other U.S. alliance.problems in Mindanao through the annual Balikatan exercises. the United States required that its largest trading partners in Southeast Asia (Thailand. Finally. In addition. an Iranian national accused of smuggling missile parts into the United States. if trade trends continue (as they are likely to do). Although the United States and Singapore are not treaty allies—in fact. or publics. because it found that Ghassemi’s status as a military official exempted him from extradition. forces serve only as advisors. The closeness of the alliance relationship causes governments to make demands that do not always sit well with other countries’ legislatures. Although the U. Although all three relationships are constrained by the past and will progress only incrementally as a result.S. in recent years the United States has forged security relationships with Vietnam. Singapore. Because of this balancing act.S. U. it can also be argued that the United States is dismantling that structure in Southeast Asia by forging a more diverse set of security relationships. however. also aided by the demands of the post–September 11 security environment. causing the prime minister to dissolve parliament and thereby nullifying the legislation. export market is still of prime importance. In 2004 both Bangkok and Manila had to act against popular domestic opinion to accede to Washington’s request to send troops to Iraq. judiciaries. however. copyrights passed by a bare majority.S. smaller Southeast Asian countries with strong ties to both the United States and China fear conflict between the two powers. Indonesia. To Washington’s chagrin.

which faces a continuing security threat from North Korea.means to be a treaty ally of the United States in Southeast Asia in the 21st century. thereby ensuring that Thai officers could remain in the program. security relations and a diminished threat environment.S. Issues for Consideration Thai and U. U. which sectors deserve more attention? • What is the significance (and purpose) of a treaty alliance with the United States for a Southeast Asian nation in the 21st century? As the United States expands its security relationships with several countries in the region.S. This question has particular bearing on Thai public perceptions of the U. officials and analysts agree that if the U. For the time being. for example. and Myanmar). it is not clear what advantages an alliance offers over the proliferation of “strategic partnerships. They point. security analysts in both countries have raised the possibility of adjustments that would enable security cooperation to continue if such an event were to occur. This view suggests that the United States needs to consider its Southeast Asian alliance structures in a new light. is the least likely to be pulled into regional conflicts involving China.” Some Thai and Philippine analysts have argued that non‑ally countries already receive the benefit of U.S. • What is the significance of the U. Are there scenarios in Bangkok’s threat perception in which the security environment would change or the United States would take exception to Thailand’s quest for equilibrium in its foreign relations? These situations might include increased security relations 12 NBR SPECIAL REPORT u OCTOBER 2011 . • Can (and should) the U.‑Thailand alliance.S. with the U.-Thailand alliance the whole of the relationship or a subset? There is still considerable cognitive dissonance between the United States and Thailand on whether the alliance is a broad‑based relationship cutting across several sectors or a security relationship.S.S. for example. This situation contrasts.S. to the possibility of Thailand funding its own IMET participation. Bangkok is not sanguine about the impact of China’s rise on Thai interests in the region.” a vigorous dialogue on several levels and among multiple actors on the meaning of the relationship is required.S. Thailand arguably has the closest relationship with China and. They can be grouped into broad categories as follows: • Is the U. alliance with South Korea. but various issues have been raised for consideration on either or both sides. At the same time. With a wider spectrum of U.-Thai security relationship be insulated from the possibility of continued political instability in Thailand? Although there are no signs at present that another coup is likely. security cooperation without the same degree of pressure on certain policy issues. Each side has been willing to play the alliance card in pressing for specific results. treaty allies in the region do not always receive greater attention or enjoy closer cooperation with the United States than do countries with less formal military ties.S. A clear agenda for facilitating such dialogue has not yet emerged.‑Thailand alliance is to be more than a “legacy alliance. Laos.‑Thailand alliance for greater coherence. since the rationale for the alliance is now less apparent to the ordinary Thai citizen than it was during the Cold War. China is an increasingly dominant power in the poorer countries of mainland Southeast Asia (specifically Cambodia. Thailand seems comfortable having close relations with a number of regional and global powers. for example.-Thailand alliance in the context of changing power dynamics in Asia? Of the United States’ four Asian treaty allies.S.S. If it is advisable to forge stronger links among different sectors of the U. because of its geographical position.

defense officials have periodically raised the possibility of increased reliance on flexible basing in Asia.S. Thailand likewise serves as a natural base for regional disaster relief efforts. where South Korea and Japan share common security concerns over North Korea. such as China.‑Thailand alliance.-Thailand alliance figure into the United States’ future plans for its security posture in Asia? For the past decade. • How can the U. U. Thailand’s location in the region makes it the turnstile for a number of nontraditional security threats. but also positions it to address these regional threats. or conflicts with Thailand’s neighbors. A more formal arrangement for flexible basing would require schedules for rotating U.S. allies. alliance system in Asia? Could. THE UNITED STATES–THAILAND ALLIANCE u DALPINO 13 . Put another way. analysts and officials occasionally allude to the benefits of greater linkages among U.S.S. troops. its position as Myanmar’s neighbor inevitably raises several security concerns.with rising powers. such as the present border tensions with Cambodia.S. the U. This contrasts with Northeast Asia. prepositioning equipment.-Thailand alliance draw on (and possibly enhance) Thailand’s role in the region? The same geopolitical factors that make Thailand a desirable ally for the United States give it the potential to play a larger role in the region.S.S. It is not clear what the limits of such increased cooperation would be in the U. it is not clear if such triangulation would be a natural fit for Thailand or the Philippines or on what issues such a triangular agenda would be based. particularly if permanent bases in Northeast Asia are dismantled. but this access is on an ad hoc basis. Finally. and other measures. for example. ranging from border instability to nuclear proliferation. • How would the U. • Are there possibilities for greater coherence within the U. alliances with Thailand and the Philippines be triangulated? There appears to be little cooperation or consultation between Bangkok and Manila on security issues as a function of their common status as U.S.S. Although U.S. As noted above. allies in Southeast Asia. the United States enjoys considerable access to Thai facilities. ranging from human trafficking to epidemics.

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