ASEAN Defense: Cracking the Myth if the Thai Defense Spending Down or Up?

By Stingray, this blog national security journalist

Thailand’s defense capabilities have never been lower, based on the past 25 years of military spending, that saw defense spending as a percent of GDP fallen from about 12% to current 3%.

While Taksin and Abhisit, both went criticizing the Thai military spending as too high and both, especially successive government by the Democrat’s Party, have kept military stable for the past 25 years, as Thailand’s GDP exploded to become the second largest economy in ASEAN, the basic simple fact is that Thailand have failed to keep up with the level of threat to its national security.

Countries in the region, have instead, as their economies improved and grown, see its defense spending as a percentage of GDP, fallen by only about 30%, while in Thailand’s case, it has fallen by about 200%-given that during the recent coup government in Thailand, the percent to GDP did increase to about 4% for 3 consecutive years.

Many of the Thai military big-ticket items have been canned by the government. These includes the plan to purchase 4 submarine, as other ASEAN are about to deploy their submarines next year. This included the Third Calvary army in E-Sarn, now confronting a volatile Cambodia. And it also includes long worried Singapore’s capabilities of having advance air to surface surveillance capabilities such as AWACs.

The list goes on, for example, Vietnam and Malaysia now deploy jet fighters that are about 20% more advance than the Thai F16s.

In all of these purchase attempts by the Thai military to keep up with its security challenges, including the Thai Calvary, the AWACs and submarines, successive governments have opted for the cheap alternative. For example, instead of submarines, the government told the military to improve its anti-submarine warfare capabilities. Instead of AWACs, the government told the military to purchase Lear jets that are packed with lesser capable technology.

And even that is not enough. The military, in responding to Calvary threats, when rejected to build a third Calvary army, opted for the Warthog “Tank Busting Aircraft” but again the government refused the budget request.

There is no doubt, Thailand is capable to defense its interest. However, the question is that its force projection capabilities is way down. And in military terms, without force projection capabilities, it is a sign of weakness, and it is a welcoming sign for Thailand’s competitors to be aggressive. Over more, this lack of force projection capabilities, have already weakened Thailand’s bargaining position on many issues of important to national security.

Today, Thailand is on the verge of becoming the biggest economy in ASEAN, yet its military capabilities, which is a must to ward off offensive moves by competitors, such as in the disputed area in the Gulf of Thailand, is not comparable to the economic might or Thailand’s security needs.

In summary, believe it or not, while war between Thailand and Malaysia is unlikely, Malaysia now has the most advance and mechanized ground army, and with its advance fighters, if war breaks, both Thai and Malaysia knows it very well that the Thai will lose that war in Southern Thailand, where terrorist are already active and rumored to be supported by Malaysian sympathizers.

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