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Making the Most of the U.S.傍hailand Alliance

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Unread 10.24.11, 08:10 PM
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Making the Most of the U.S.傍hailand Alliance

On 10.24.11 01:30 PM posted by Robert Warshaw

Last week, The Heritage Foundation hosted a very timely discussion on the future of the U.S.傍hailand Alliance featuring well-known Southeast Asia experts Catharin Dalpino of Simmons College, Kelley Currie from the Project 2049 Institute, and Walter Lohman, director of Heritage痴 Asian Studies Center.

Since the end of the Cold War, the U.S.傍hailand Alliance, despite ample cooperation across several critical areas, has drifted, victim to the changing strategic environment in Asia, the political instability in Thailand, and the divided attention of U.S. policymakers. As Lohman highlighted in his opening remarks, 殿t the strategic level, we could not be in more different places as allieswhile at the operational level, things are quite robust.

In a recent paper entitled Reinvigorating the U.S.-Thailand Alliance, Lohman sought to redefine the debate on the strategic outlook for the alliance, arguing that both sides should embrace the alliance for what it is, capitalize on the myriad benefits provided by the alliance, and call off the search for a shared strategic vision.

As for doing more with the relationship amidst continued political uncertainty in Thailand, Dalpino pinpointed a key dynamic: 展e are overstating the impact of the political situation. [The] reflexive response on the part of U.S. policymakers that we cannot take things to the next level until the political situation is resolvedis becoming a bit of a smokescreen and clich. The alliance, Dalpino said, enjoys broad support among both major political factions in Thailand. 展e would be at this point anyway regardless of the political situation, she said, 澱ecause we do not know what we want, and neither do the Thais.

Regarding diplomatic engagement with Thailand, there was consensus that the U.S. is not paying enough attention to Thailand at the highest levels. The panel highlighted that President Obama has not yet visited either of our Southeast Asian treaty allies, the Philippines and Thailand, with Dalpino saying that 妬f he travels to the region next year, he will have to go to Thailand, the Philippines and/or Vietnam[as] these visits are very important and send very strong signals. She also noted that there is 都ome imbalance diplomatically in the U.S. approach to the region.

Referring to the traditional system of security through bilateral alliances楊nown as the hub-and-spokes system優alpino also argued that 努e are the one dismantling the hub and spokes in Southeast Asia with this broader spectrum of security relations with non-treaty allies.

Lohman agreed and noted that the U.S. should not forget its treaty allies, as an alliance is a testament to how far a relationship can go. As he put it, 都igning your name on the dotted line matters.

Dalpino concluded by expressing that 登ur goals for having more of a U.S. presence in regional security and Thailand痴 goals for becoming more of a regional actor could easily and nicely converge in the 21st century, calling the alliance a challenge but also an opportunity.

Currie highlighted that 登ngoing political instability in Thailand, despite the recent overwhelming victory of the Pheu Thai party, could destabilize the alliance. To her, the unstable political climate in Thailand following the 2006 coup could exacerbate alliance-threatening scenarios, such as another coup or a resurgence of street violence. In addition, 鍍he political instability has caused Thailand to lose standing as a regional leader, and so that has affected its relations with the U.S.

Currie expressed that the U.S. should want Thailand more involved in regional affairs and should 田ontinue to re-engage bilaterally at multiple levels, push for a renewal in free trade agreement discussions, encourage Thai participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and 都trengthen the embassy痴 presence, calling it a focal point for U.S. approach to the region..

No discussion touching on Thai politics can be complete without mentioning the institution of the Thai monarchy, which, upon the eventual succession from King Bhumibol to Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, will face tough questions about its role and authority in a democratic system. Currie stated that 菟olitical instability is now coming from a traditional source of stability葉he Thai monarchy. Right now, the monarchy is one of the underlying weaknesses of the political system and is contributing to the retardation of democratic institutions in Thailand.

An audience member further raised the prospect of uncertainty after the king痴 death, and Lohman expressed a widely held sense of frustration that, due to Thailand痴 draconian l鑚e majest laws謡hich severely punish any perceived criticism of the monarchy裕hais are unable to have a serious discussion on the issue. He stated that 妬t痴 ridiculous that you cannot talk about the thing that may be the biggest crisis on the horizon. You can稚 have an honest conversation about what the recourse would be.

The primary takeaway from this event is that the U.S. needs to be more opportunistic in its alliance with Thailand, as the Thais have historically promoted a greater U.S. role in the region. Indeed, all panelists agreed that the alliance can serve a number of vital functions and that, despite the numerous challenges facing it, there still remains a powerful institutional and historical foundation that makes the alliance mutually beneficial.

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