ASEAN Defense: Thailand & China forges ties in the use of “Brute Force”

By Stingray, Thai Intel’s national security journalist

Thailand and China has forged a close relationship in the use of deadly forces in a joint anti-terrorism skill exchange program.

To Thai Intel readers who may get confused about the picture below-they are from the actual joint exercise and not from the streets of Bangkok in the recent crack-down on the Red Shirt protesters.

The Wall Street Journals has a great article from a security firm based here in Bangkok that says perhaps it is time for everyone involved in Thailand-to stop being addicted to “Brute Power” in solving Thailand’s problems.

The Wall Street Journal mentioned the “Drug War” and the “War on Democracy” as examples of how Thai people often sees “Brute Force” as the solution to crisis.

Thai Intel totally agrees with the article.

However, Thai Intel wishes to add-with some law and order situations-such as with a major narcotics crisis-where a political solution does not exists-perhaps “Brute Force” is needed. Thai Intel remembers, watching TV, and practically every-day, there is news about a drug addict, holding a hostage. Thai Intel would like to ask the the security unit quoted in the Wall Street Journal-what would a peaceful solution be-when it is the mafia that is involved.

This off course, does not mean if violations of human rights are committed during that Drug War-those abuses should be allowed.

But in the struggle between Democracy and the royalist elite rule of Thailand-obviously a political solution does exists. The same can be said about the terrorism crisis in the Thai Deep South.

The Red Shirts are simply asking for democracy-and they were slaughtered by royalist elite rule of Thailand. The Deep South crisis is more complex-but also, political solutions have been offered-and the latest is the National Security laws would be extended.

In both these crisis, the royalist elite rule of Thailand opted for “Brute Force” when there are and were alternatives.

It also should be noted, that the leaders of Thailand during the Drug War, were far removed from the actual operations-than in both the other two situations.

For example, there is no tape floating about of the order saying, “Kill them all” like there is with the order to kill the Red Shirt protesters. Furthermore, the command structure of the Thai police that was involved in the “War on Drugs” is nothing close to the strong command and control links of the Thai military as in the “War on Democracy.”

The following is from the People’s Daily:

Chinese and Thai special forces launched a 15-day joint anti-terrorism drill named “Strike-2010” from Oct. 6 to Oct. 20 in the city of Guilin, in south China’s Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region.

Each country has sent 60 members to the exercise that includes three phases: showcasing, collective training and comprehensive exercises and covers 8 items such as shooting, climbing and tactical countermeasure, etc.(Chinanews Photo/Du Yang)

The following is from the Wall Street Journal

Thailand’s policy makers like to talk to foreign audiences about the country’s eventual transition back to full democracy. But how will the country’s leaders do that while simultaneously accommodating a more politically active military?

It’s a question that Thai policy makers haven’t faced until recently. The last army chief, General Anupong Paochinda, spent much of his time avoiding public exposure or committing himself to any particular actions, points of view or political alliances. His operational mantra was to remind the public the army would not be used for political purposes.

New army chief General Prayuth Chanocha and his senior command represent an entirely different approach. Upon taking command earlier this month, the 56-year-old announced he would visit the families of fallen red-shirt protesters at their homes in northeast Thailand. Hailed by the media as a “green olive branch,” the idea was a stroke of political genius and eclipsed the reconciliation efforts of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his civilian cohorts, who remain afraid to venture out of Bangkok to rural areas.

The general is also extending his physical reach. Last week, in response to a bombing in a Bangkok suburb, he deployed several thousand military troops to all 50 districts of the city, as well as over 1,800 local communities in the metro area. He ordered the formation of quick reaction teams to respond to bombings or other acts of political violence. Interestingly, he also tasked his troops to engage in “civil action,” intelligence collection and a campaign to turn the public into “the eyes and ears” of the military.

And it’s not just General Prayuth who is more publicly visible. Last Wednesday the Second Army Commander, General Thawatchai Samutsakhon, publicly criticized the head of the Department of Special Investigation for claiming red-shirt leaders had received military training in Cambodia.

In the short term, the military’s influence on civilian governance could be positive and stabilizing. Prime Minister Abhisit has so far proven a lame-duck leader. He took office only after his political opponents were disqualified from running, and he does not enjoy the support of a majority of citizens, especially in the north and northeastern provinces.

This governance vacuum worries many Thais, who see an unstable global economic recovery and a strengthening baht. Political instability is also a concern, given that red-shirt demonstrations in Bangkok have restarted, and former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has announced that he will manage the opposition Puea Thai Party’s campaign in the next election.

That makes General Prayuth’s recent statement that he would not hesitate to use force to “protect the monarchy” or “to ensure order” more than just a statement of military intent. For many Thais, “order” is what they are longing for.

Thais have backed strong military action before. In 2003, the Thaksin administration launched a “war on drugs” that saw the security forces kill more than 2,000 people, many in extrajudicial police shootings. The international media, the United Nations and foreign governments severely criticized the campaign. However, polls showed that 90% of Thais, weary of a tsunami of illegal drugs from Burma, were heartily supportive. The crackdown worked: Thailand saw an unprecedented drop in narcotics trafficking for a considerable period of time and permanently dismantled several longstanding narcotics trafficking networks.

That may be the kind of leadership that General Prayuth aims to provide, although his personal political views are unclear. He has not discussed elections or the government’s plans for political “reconciliation” with disaffected pro-democracy supporters. But if Thai history teaches one thing, it’s that Thais should be wary of anyone who promises to restore order. Democratic reform, governance transparency and public accountability could be the casualties.

Mr. Quaglia is the CEO of PSA Asia, a security consulting firm based in Bangkok.