06BANGKOK2484 SCENESETTER FOR THE VISIT OF THE VICE CHAIRMAN OF THE JOINT CHIEFS, ADM GIAMBASTIANI
“This record is a partial extract of the original cable.
The full text of the original cable is not available.
280807Z Apr 06
“,”C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 07 BANGKOK 002484
JCS FOR THE VICE CHAIRMAN, ADM GIAMBASTIANI
E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/27/2016
TAGS: OVIP, PREL, PGOV, MARR, MASS, TH, Scenesetter
SUBJECT: SCENESETTER FOR THE VISIT OF THE VICE CHAIRMAN OF
THE JOINT CHIEFS, ADM GIAMBASTIANI
Classified By: Charge Alexander A. Arvizu. Reason 1.4 (a and d)
1. (C) Summary. Admiral Giambastiani, your trip to Bangkok
will take place as Thailand recovers from its most serious
political upheaval in over a decade. We are asking all U.S.
visitors meeting with Thai officials to encourage continued
respect for the democratic process. Your visit is also a
superb opportunity to review key security programs with
Senior Thai Military officials. Thailand affords the United
States a unique platform in Asia. Our largest exercise,
Cobra Gold, will be underway during your visit. Cobra Gold
is America\’s only annual joint/combined multilateral training
exercise in the Asia Pacific Region and now includes the
active participation of Japan, Singapore and Indonesia.
Thailand is an ally in the War on Terror. Thai troops
deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq and we are working closely
with the Thai to make them better able to address separatist
elements in the Muslim majority South. We are also working
with U.S. Embassies in the region to better address counter
terrorism throughout SE Asia. Our IMET program is a major
success — senior leaders in all the services are graduates.
In fact, your host, Royal Thai Supreme Command Chief of Staff
GEN Lertrat Ratanavanich, was an honors graduate from the
U.S. Command and General Staff College at Ft. Leavenworth.
You met GEN Lertrat in mid-March. END SUMMARY.
THE BILATERAL RELATIONSHIP
2. (C) Bilateral relations with Thailand are very good. The
goodwill generated by America\’s quick and massive response to
the December 26 2004 tsunami was palpable. Thailand is a
Treaty Ally and has been firmly supportive of the
International War on Terror and has participated in Operation
Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF).
American businesses have over $20 billion in direct
investment in Thailand. The United States is Thailand\’s
largest export market and its second-largest foreign investor.
3. (C) Nonetheless, there are points of friction. Human
rights remains a key concern. On October 25, 2004, poorly
trained Thai military and civilian security forces forced
nearly 1,300 Thai Muslim protesters into trucks to be
transported to a military base nearly three hours away. 78
protesters died en route. Our protests over Thai Police
involvement in approximately 1,300 extrajudicial killings
during the 2003 Thai \”war on drugs,\” rankles the Thai
Government. Likewise, 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
4. (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. In fact, PACOM recently designated
Utapao as the most important Cooperative Security Location
(CSL) in the Asia Pacific Region. While we avoid using the
term \”CSL\” with the Thai due to their sensitivities about
bases, 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 Terrorism.
THE POLITICAL SITUATION
5. (SBU) The Thai political system is presently working
through its biggest crisis since 1992. After tens of
thousands of Thais participated in peaceful rallies
protesting government corruption and PM Thaksin Shinawatra\’s
(Prime Minister TOCK-SIN) 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 subsequently announced that he was relinquishing his
duties as Prime Minister to his senior Deputy Prime Minister
and has left for a vacation abroad.
6. (C) Thaksin intends to formally step down as Prime
Minister following the convening of this Parliament. On
April 25, however, 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
7. (C) Until recently, Prime Minister Thaksin\’s biggest
domestic challenge was the unsettled security situation in
the far southern part of the country. Southern Thailand, in
particular the southernmost Muslim majority provinces of
Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat, has experienced episodic
violence since it was incorporated into the Siamese Kingdom
in 1902. However, since January 2004, we have witnessed a
dramatic increase in the level of violence. Press reports
indicate that over 1,000 persons have been killed either by
militants or by security forces during this period. Local
Muslim separatist militants have attacked symbols of Thai and
Buddhist authority, civilians, and local citizens suspected
of collaborating with the Government. There continue to be
daily incidents of violence. In March 2005, Thaksin appointed
a National Reconciliation Commission (NRC) headed by highly
respected former Prime Minister Anand Panyarachun to look for
alternative solutions to the long-running insurgency.
8. (C) 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.
9. (C) Working closely with Washington, 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
10. (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.
PROLIFERATION SECURITY INITIATIVE
11. (C) Despite our efforts since 2003, the RTG has not yet
formally endorsed the PSI Statement of Principles. Prime
Minister Thaksin has told senior USG officials that another
\”Muslim\” ASEAN nation (read Malaysia or Indonesia) should
endorse PSI first or concurrently with Thailand, so as to
avoid the appearance that Thailand is getting too far in
front of its neighbors and because of concern over how
endorsement might be perceived vis-a-vis the situation in the
South. It might be useful to remind your Thai interlocutors
that PSI is among the President\’s top non-proliferation
priorities. In June, Poland will host the first Senior Level
Political Meeting of the PSI, inviting all nations that have
endorsed the PSI interdiction Principles. More than 70
countries have indicated their support for the PSI.
12. (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.
13. (C) We conduct a wide range of major exercises and
training programs with Thailand each year, including Cobra
Gold. 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 Global Peace Operations
Initiative (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 coming years.
THE ROLE OF CHINA AND INDIA IN THE REGION
14. (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. It
surprises many visitors from Washington to learn that 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
15. (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
16. (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 — it seems
to possess an impressive number of main battle tanks, TOW
missiles, and helicopters. Digging deeper, however, one
quickly discovers real equipment problems. 80 of Thailand\’s
100 M60A3 main battle tanks are inoperable, TOW missiles are
past their useful life expectancy and, at any given time,
only 30 of the RTA\’s 96 UH-1 helicopters are operational.
17. (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. Consequently, the RTA
relies on JUSMAGTHAI and the Foreign Military Sales (FMS)
system for many of their high-profile procurement programs.
18. (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.
19. (C) The RTG\’s CT effort in the South has been plagued by
Thaksin repeatedly changing his 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
has 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.
Now, he finally appears settled on Army CINC GEN Sonthi
Boonyaratklin (who is a Muslim with a Special Forces
Background) as his chief military representative. Sonthi
recently assured the Ambassador 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.
20. (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
21. (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
22. (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
23. (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.
24. (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.
25. (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
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. It
would be helpful for you to reinforce these points.
WE LOOK FORWARD TO YOUR VISIT
26. (U) We are grateful that you have agreed to come to
Thailand and look forward to making your visit a success.