Pavin Chachavalpongpun from Kyoto University has produced an NBR Analysis Brief, “The Dilemma Confronting the U.S.-Thailand Relationship.”It is free to download.
NBR Briefs are short papers that provide “commentary on the Asia‑Pacific from leading scholars and experts.” The The National Bureau of Asian Research adds that the “views expressed are those of the author.”
Since the coup, people’s liberties have been successively stripped, political parties have ceased to function, and the media has faced intense censorship. The “roadmap to democracy” introduced by the military appears to be just rhetoric; the junta seems more interested in preserving its political interests than enacting reforms.
Under these circumstances, the United States faces a dilemma. In the Cold War era, it worked intimately with the Thai military and monarchy in transforming Thailand into a pro-U.S. and anti-Communist state. These actions, however, enabled a series of largely authoritarian regimes. The United States has continued to follow these previous paradigms for engagement, despite Thailand’s significantly changed political landscape, and its close relations with the elites who still wield power have not positively contributed toward greater democratization.
Later Pavin states:
A key question here is what long-term goal the United States should set for its relationship with Thailand. If the U.S. government wishes to maintain lasting influence in the region in the face of a rising China, it is critical that Washington encourage democratic reforms in Thailand, even if this policy means that Thailand under the junta grows closer to China in the short term. Allowing an authoritarian regime to take root in Thailand opens the door for a possible coalition of anti-democratic regimes in the region to challenge good governance, which in turn would jeopardize U.S. interests. Ultimately, the United States needs Thailand as a partner in tackling a range of important issues, from combatting terrorism to ensuring freedom of navigation in Southeast Asian waters.
Later in the paper, Pavin has some suggestions for how the US can advance such an agenda. Interested readers can follow up.
We guess that those opposing Pavin, including the military junta and the yellowish conspiracy theorists, will simply write this paper off as an example of how the US is infiltrated by Thaksinites. Yet the paper is speaking to US policymakers, and that’s where there may be impact.
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