ASEAN Defense: How Professional Are Thai Soldiers? Soldiering or Politicking?

by Stingray, this blog national security journalist

My background is in military intelligence, with a classified unit. About 20 years ago, I officially visited Thailand’s special warfare center and observed the Americans training Thai special warfare forces.

At the shooting range, the American handed a group of Thai soldiers cutting edge machine guns, and several Thai soldiers dropped to the dusty dirty ground and lay shooting. Within minutes, they were in complete control of a gun they never handled before or will again.

The American was so impressed he said, “I have trained them all across the globe, but never had this dropping to the ground in an instance before and with such instantaneous accuracy; these Thais are the best.”

Fast forward that to a few years ago, and it is the opposite. The US now sends its best gungle fighters to train in Thailand by the Thais. The joke is, “Before I used to worry about snakes, but after my time with the Thais, when I see snake, I get hungry.”

The same thing goes across the entire spectrum of Thai military.

My best Thai friend is a tank group commander who went to the US for advance tank warfare training. As a military intelligent officer, he got me to go see him at the US fort. The US tank warfare head instructor, was a guy who loves Thai women very much and he struck up a long conversation and on tank warfare he said, “Rommel may have been good. Patton may have been great. But these Thai tank guys are freakingly dangerous.”

The list goes on, and on like that. In fact, Thai special forces such as SEAL are so reputed to be among the best, in many classified operations and in classified conflict, the US and even NATO calls on the Thai special forces to go in and work along side their special forces people. The Thai training ground for the SEAL as an example, is so full of “Real” blood, guts and tears, that is is said that most SEAL from other countries would fail it.

But all of that is slowly changing. For the past 10 years, the Thai military have gotten involved with Thai politics. While that is clearly wrong, from a democratic process point of view, that move have also impacted the level of professionalism in the Thai military as a whole.

Today, even to have a relative that is linked to the Red Shirt, will mean a termination of career. Even to attend a wedding of any other social event, that is remotely connected to the Red Shirt, will mean a termination of career. To put it bluntly, hunting for the Reds have become the obsession in the Thai military.

Before that, when the military class of graduates from the Thai military academy were in competition, it was the hunt for those close to this class or that class that was against the class in power.

All of this have meant that for the past 10 years, the level of professionalism had fallen, as promotion shifted away from ability to political and class allegiances. Like my friend the group tank commander, he is at the top of his class and hit one of the highest scores the US tank range has ever saw, but today he sits as an analyst.

His crime? His background is from the wrong crowd. “My future as a force commander is limited because of my background, and the best way for me to keep moving up is a desk job.”

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