|06BANGKOK2643||2006-05-04 10:01:00||CONFIDENTIAL||Embassy Bangkok|
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 05 BANGKOK 002643
1. (C) Summary. Fox, I'm looking forward to your visit and
hope to host you and Mary for lunch while you are here.
While things have settled down for the moment on the domestic
political front, a great deal of uncertainty remains over who
the next Prime Minister will be and the makeup of the new
Parliament. Nonetheless, we have a number of key initiatives
in the works that further our strategic interests in
Thailand. As you know, Cobra Gold will be underway when you
visit. We are pleased that the exercise this year includes
the active participation of Japan, Singapore and Indonesia.
We are working closely with your staff to make Cobra Gold a
signature event for the Global Peace Operations Initiative in
2007. Gary Roughead and Jonathan Greenert have briefed me on
the Navy's plans to become more active in our area -- plans
that mesh well with our overall maritime security and counter
terrorism efforts. Related to this, we have put forward an
ambitious proposal to enhance maritime security in the
Andaman Sea/Strait of Malacca. Also of note, drawing on our
military programs, we are working with U.S. law enforcement
agencies to help the Thai better address separatists in the
Malay majority South. The Thai will appreciate any
information you can provide on our long-range military plans
for Thailand and the region. END SUMMARY.
THE BILATERAL RELATIONSHIP
2. (C) Bilateral relations with Thailand remain very good.
Throughout the political crisis, we maintained close links
with the Government and with the opposition. Major points of
friction remain over human rights and Thailand's policy
towards Burma. Regularly in meetings with Thai military
officials we emphasize the importance of respecting
international human rights norms and not to resort to
extrajudicial killings during activities in the South.
Thailand's policy of "constructive engagement" with the
military junta in Burma and provision of economic assistance
to Rangoon is a source of continuing frustration for us. The
Thai government supports democracy in Burma but maintains,
not altogether convincingly, that engagement with the SPDC is
the only realistic approach it has to make progress on the
major cross-border flows of refugees, illegal economic
migrants, and methamphetamines it faces from Burma.
THE OVERALL SECURITY RELATIONSHIP
3. (C) The U.S.-Thai security relationship is based on over
50 years of close cooperation. Thai soldiers, sailors and
airmen participated in the Korean and Vietnamese conflicts
and Thai peacekeepers served in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Thailand is the fourth largest participant in the U.S.
International Military Education and Training (IMET) program.
Thailand's willingness to allow the United States to use
Utapao Naval Air Station as the hub for our regional tsunami
assistance program was key to making Operation Unified
Assistance a success. Utapao remains vital to our interests
in the region. In your meetings with Thai officials, you will
want to note the overall strength of the relationship --
highlighting our history and underscoring the importance of
our tsunami cooperation, exercise program, increased tempo of
USN ship visits (most recently, the USS Abraham Lincoln
Carrier Strike Group), and cooperation in the War on
THE POLITICAL SITUATION
4. (SBU) As we discussed recently, the Thai political
system is working through its biggest crisis since 1992.
After tens of thousands of Thais participated in peaceful
rallies protesting government corruption and PM Thaksin's
recent tax-free sale of Shin Corp to Singapore. Thaksin
dissolved parliament and called snap elections. The
opposition boycotted the poll, and called on the voters to
abstain. Many small parties, dredged up by the government to
run "opposition" candidates, were disqualified for fraud and
though Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai (TRT) political party won a
majority of votes nationwide on April 2, the massive number
of protest abstentions tainted his "victory." Thaksin, who
is currently caretaker Prime Minister, may not seek to head
the next government, although his plans are not clear.
5. (C) On April 25, the King made public statements highly
critical of undemocratic aspects of the elections, and
instructed the relevant judicial bodies to propose a solution
to the impasse caused by the boycott of opposition parties
and the large number of abstentions. The courts'
recommendations are expected soon, and could include
annulling the vote and scheduling new elections later this
year. Despite being out of the PM's office, most observers
expect that Thaksin will still be the "puppetmaster"
directing his party from the background. The situation
COUNTERTERRORISM AND SOUTHERN THAILAND
6. (C) Press reports indicate that over 1,000 persons have
been killed either by militants or by security forces since
January 2004. Local Muslim separatist militants have attacked
symbols of Thai and Buddhist authority, civilians, and local
citizens suspected of collaborating with the Government.
Southern separatists direct their anger at the government in
Bangkok, not at the United States. Since a U.S. presence or
perception of U.S. involvement in the South could redirect
that anger towards us and link it to the international
jihadist movement -- a link that is currently absent -- we
ensure that any offers of assistance or training pass the
"location and label" test. Put simply, we keep U.S. military
personnel away from the far South and we make sure that we do
not label any assistance or training as directly linked to
the southern situation. Likewise, we work to avoid feeding
rampant, outlandish speculation that we are somehow fomenting
the violence in the South in order to justify building
permanent bases -- a very sensitive issue in Thailand. We do
not want to jeopardize our access to key military facilities
in Thailand like Utapao Naval Air Station.
7. (C) Working closely with Washington and PACOM, the
Embassy has a three-pronged focus to improve our military
cooperation in order to address the violence in the South:
--1) Using our exercise and training program to improve the
professional and operational skills of the Royal Thai Armed
Forces, especially the Thai Army;
--2) Help the Thai break down stovepipes between the Thai
military, police forces, and civilian agencies;
--3) Do everything we can to ensure the Thai respect
international human rights norms as they counter the violence.
Key military programs assisting the Thai include:
--JCETs programs focused on enhancing general CT
capabilities, counter-insurgency operations, civil affairs
and psychological operations, and information warfare. Since
FY04 over 2500 Thai soldiers from 50 different units have
been trained in counter-insurgency by U.S. Special Forces.
--Building a National Training Facility (NTF). We have
worked with the Thai for over a year to develop an NTF that
can serve as a world-class training facility. Such a site
could not only help hone CT skills and provide human rights
training, but be a key tool to improve peace keeping skills
for soldiers in the region under the Global Peace Operations
Initiative (GPOI). We have been cobbling funds together to
make the NTF a Center of Excellence and could use more.
--PSYOPS. We presently support a U.S. Military Information
Support Team (MIST) unit from Ft. Bragg attached to
JUSMAGTHAI. This team will likely be augmented by an
experienced Civil Affairs planner within the next month who
will assist with campaign planning and product support to
counter ideological support to terrorism.
At the same time, we are working with Thai and U.S. law
enforcement agencies to improve the professionalization of
various Thai police entitites.
REGIONAL MARITIME SECURITY
8. (C) A key U.S. objective in the region is to improve
Maritime Security. We are working closely with PACOM to
encourage Thailand and others to support the Regional
Maritime Security Initiative (RMSI). We recently proposed to
the Royal Thai Supreme Command and the Royal Thai Navy the
Andaman Sea Maritime Security Initiative. This project is a
layered approached to assist the Thai military secure
territorial waters while also providing coverage of the
northern shipping lanes feeding into the Strait of Malacca.
It would combine a High Frequency Radar capable of reaching
Sumatra, with a constellation of overlapping x-band radars to
provide radar coverage of the waters off the west coast of
Thailand. The initiative would also improve the Royal Thai
Navy's interdiction capabilities and has the potential to be
linked to other facilities in the region.
9. (C) Perhaps due to their lack of a colonial heritage, Thai
leaders are far more willing to host multilateral exercises
than are others countries in Asia. Unlike Japan, which only
hosts annual bilateral exercises due to legal prohibitions
over collective security, or Australia, which avoids
multilateral exercises so as not to "dumb down" its own
training opportunities, the Royal Thai Government supports
multilateral exercises as a way to show regional leadership.
So long as our concepts are properly sold to Thai military
and political leaders, we should be able to continue to
modify exercises to meet our regional security objectives --
including an ability to establish a near-continuous presence
in the region.
10. (C) Cobra Gold 2006 will include almost 7,000 U.S.
troops working together with Thai counterparts in field
training exercises ranging from Military Operations in Urban
Terrain and Air Assault Operations to Naval Special Forces
protecting offshore natural gas platforms. The Command Post
Exercise at Cobra Gold will include participation by U.S.,
Thai, Japanese, Singaporean and Indonesian forces and will
focus on peace keeping operations. Cobra Gold in the coming
years will be a centerpiece of our GPOI, designed to train
15,000 regional peacekeepers by 2010. As mentioned, Utapao,
the Thai Navy Air Base used as the primary staging area for
U.S. disaster relief efforts in the region following the
December 2004 tsunami, has long been a critical support hub
for U.S. aircraft transiting the region. Over 420 DOD
aircraft use it each year. Our largest air exercise, Cope
Tiger, involves Thailand, the United States and Singapore.
We have also been working closely with PACFLT to give our
major naval exercise, CARAT, a more regional flavor in the
THE ROLE OF CHINA AND INDIA IN THE REGION
11. (C) Southeast Asia continues to feel the rising influence
of China and India. While emphasizing the vital role of the
U.S. in the region -- and Thailand's desire to intensify U.S.
engagement -- Thai leaders also focus on developing stronger
relations with the two regional powers. Bangkok views both
countries as sources of unlimited consumer demand and hope to
conclude Free Trade Agreements with both nations. The Thai
military has a number of Chinese weapons systems in its
arsenal. While Thai military links with the United States are
deeper and far more apparent than Sino-Thai links, China's
growing influence in Thailand and Southeast Asia is evident
in business, the arts, the media and the military. The PLA
Navy has close links with the RTN and recently conducted a
major ship visit to Phuket. After jointly holding a limited
naval exercise in the Andaman Sea last fall, Thailand and
China are exploring conducting joint SAR exercises. The RTN
has acquired several ships from China over the past decade.
China is refurbishing tanks and air defense equipment
provided to Thailand in the late 1980's. Thailand is also
trying to negotiate a barter deal trading Chinese armored
vehicles for Thai fruit. Mil-to-mil exchanges between China
and Thailand have expanded in recent years as has the number
of bilateral military VIP visits.
THAI MILITARY STRUCTURE
12. (C) The relative power and influence of the Royal Thai
Army (RTA) dwarfs the other services. As such, the Royal Thai
Army Commander traditionally wields more real power than the
Supreme Commander. Thailand's armed forces, which had a
history of interfering in the country's politics, have not
done so since 1992 and appear to be fully reconciled to
constitutional roles of defense and security. Their exposure
to U.S. civil-military values through their extensive
participation in IMET training deserves some credit for this
transformation of their attitude towards democracy.
THE ROLE OF THE ARMY
13. (C) The Royal Thai Army (RTA) is a legacy force faced
with serious modernization issues. Although 30 years have
passed, the RTA is still primarily designed to defeat the
large conventional threat that Vietnam represented in the
mid-1980's. On paper, the RTA would seem to possess the
capability to defeat a large conventional attack -- however,
it is plagued by an almost universally low Operational
Readiness (OR) rate. This problem is a systemic weakness
based on insufficient sustainment of equipment as well as
budget shortages in place since the 1997 financial crisis.
This problem remains a key focus.
14. (C) Much of this decline in effectiveness is due to the
budget constraints that were imposed from 1997-2001 after the
Asian Financial Crisis. Since that time, budgets have
increased slightly, but not to pre-1997 levels. Accordingly,
the RTA must selectively choose how to modernize. Serious
corruption in the procurement process is still widespread --
and acknowledged by many Thai officers. The RTA relies on
JUSMAGTHAI and the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) system for
many of their high-profile procurement programs.
15. (C) The RTA's transformation vision, unpublished and
informal as it is, is to become lighter and more mobile with
upgraded C4I systems that will make it more agile
operationally. On the C4I front, much work remains. The RTA
HQ and subordinate commands use commercial dial-up Internet
services and email accounts, if they use email at all.
However, they do have VTC capability and use it frequently.
16. (C) The RTG's CT effort in the South has been plagued by
repeated changes of government policies and lead agencies.
Shortly after taking power, Thaksin decided to dissolve the
joint civilian-police-military Task Force which since the
1980s had successfully contained the separatist-related
violence. The loss of that coordinating body increased the
natural propensity of the Thai bureaucracy to stovepipe
information and not cooperate operationally. The problems
caused by this lack of coordination have been compounded by
the constant shifting of both the civilian and military
leadership responsible for the South. In addition, Thaksin
often set unrealistic deadlines for his deputies to "solve"
the southern problem and has been inconsistent in his policy
statements, creating a situation where the operational
leadership has a weak mandate and lack of strategic focus.
Last year, Thaksin settled on Army CINC GEN Sonthi
Boonyaratklin (who is a Muslim with a Special Forces
Background) as his chief military representative. Sonthi
recently assured me that the Army was rebuilding its
intelligence and political network in the South, which is a
good sign. Nonetheless, there is little guarantee that the
Government won't switch course again in response to an actual
or perceived setback.
17. (C) While the RTA has a long history working with the
U.S. Army, recently we have also been working with MARFORPAC
and III MEF to improve links between the U.S Marine Corps and
the RTA. In many ways, our Marines are perfect training
partners for the RTA and field exercises in Thailand afford
our Marines many opportunities they don't have elsewhere in
Asia. We will host the USS Essex Amphibious Assault Ship
during Cobra Gold and are looking for other training
opportunities in the coming months.
THE NAVAL RELATIONSHIP
18. (C) While our overall relationship with the Thai military
is good, our links with the Royal Thai Navy (RTN) are not as
strong as those with the Royal Thai Army or Air Force. The
RTN is smaller than the other services and tends to be less
willing to be open with U.S. counterparts. This has not been
the case historically, and we are working to reverse the
trend through potential projects like the Andaman Sea
Maritime Security Initiative. We've also been working with
PACFLT and Seventh Fleet to increase the tempo of U.S. Navy
ship visits. The April 19-24 visit of the USS Abraham
Lincoln Carrier Strike Group was well received by the RTN,
received front page and prime time media coverage, and was a
successful opportunity to demonstrate the benefits of the
U.S.-Thai security relationship. Recently, the Chinese have
improved their ties to the RTN as evidenced by the ship visit
to Phuket mentioned above, a joint SAR exercise in the
Andaman Sea, and sales to Thailand of Chinese equipment.
Likewise, the RTN has been developing a closer relationship
with the Indian Navy and has conducted some exercises with
19. (C) In addition to supporting our annual Cooperation
Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) exercise with Thailand,
JUSMAGTHAI has worked closely with RTN Special Warfare units
to increase their capacity. USN SEALS have helped to provide
their Thai counterparts with some impressive capabilities.
For instance, Thai SEALS regularly conduct exercises aimed at
protecting oil and gas platforms in the Gulf of Thailand.
This NSW relationship was graphically demonstrated during the
tsunami response when USN and RTN SEALS rapidly deployed to
Phuket to assist in the recovery efforts. The Prime Minister
was photographed in a recovery boat manned by the SEALS.
Despite their improved professionalism, the Thai SEALS are
not well-supported by senior RTN officials.
THE AIR FORCE RELATIONSHIP
20. (C) Our premier air force exercise with Thailand is Cope
Tiger. Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) officials have disagreed
with our suggestions to combine Cope Tiger with Cobra Gold --
and in fact have told us that they will not agree to move
Cope Tiger and will plan to hold the exercise bilaterally
with Singapore, or even invite a third country, if we insist
on moving it. We are working closely with PACAF, MARFORPAC
and PACFLT to develop a way to support the exercise.
21. (C) Although Utapao is an RTN facility, PACAF has been
designated PACOM's executive agent in assessing what upgrades
are needed there. Thai officers and U.S. officials in
country agree that Utapao needs some safety enhancements in
order to continue to be safe for us to use. In September, a
PACAF assessment team visited Utapao to determine what
systems need enhancement or upgrading, the Thai eagerly await
the results of the PACAF assessment.
22. (C) Last year, Thailand announced its plans to replace
aging F-5s in the RTAF fleet. Secretary Rumsfeld, Secretary
Rice and the President all urged Thailand to either use its
defense budget to perform mid-life upgrades (MLU) on its
existing F-16s or to buy F-16 Block 52s. A vast majority of
senior RTAF officers favor the F-16 over SU-30. However,
Russian officials and Israeli contractors have reportedly
offered inducements to senior RTAF officers to buy Russian
planes and PM Thaksin has reportedly promised President Putin
that he would look favorably on Sukhoi's bid. We are urging
the Thai to proceed with the MLU purchase but not to procure
any Russian planes for interoperability reasons, the impact
such a move could have on technology releases in the future,
and the effect such a procurement might have on Thailand's
ability to eventually purchase the Joint Strike Fighter.
WE LOOK FORWARD TO YOUR VISIT
23. (U) I look forward to hosting you and Mary for lunch
when you come to Bangkok and to sharing views on how best to
promote our strategic interests in Thailand.