While the Thai junta insists their primary mission is to reform the country, a year has lapsed since the National Reform Council (NRC) presented 505 reform proposals to the National Reform Steering Assembly (NRSA). Yet, the hundreds of submitted proposals have neglected to touch upon military reform, a highly crucial area given the Thai military is ranked in the top 20 out of 126 countries for military strength globally in 2015 (rankings are based upon size, personnel, and military firepower, according to research from Global Firepower (GFP)
Additionally, in 2011, the Office of Policy and Planning at the Ministry of Defense began to draft their “Modernization Plan: Vision 2020” which defined the demands of the development plan and their goal to find munitions sources for the Ministry of Defense. The plan had 332 high-demand projects attached to a budget of 1,307,731.413 million baht, and 301 low-demand projects with a budget of 770,392.413 million baht. Undeniably, this tremendous scale of resources and money devoted to the Modernization Plan clearly singles out the military as one of the most central and largest institutions in Thai society.
As we reach the one-year anniversary of the proposed reforms, Prachatai is presenting ten of the proposed military reforms by academics and activists below.
1. Restoring civil rule in a democratic system
Proposal from Pakavadi Veerapaspong, a pro-democracy activist and independent writer, was distributed on 26 May 2015 in her article “If I were a democratic government, I would revolutionize the military”. Pakavadi emphasized that the military under civilian authority should not be viewed as a loss of honor. On the contrary, civil rule would create and foment mutual trust and understanding. If the people believe the military is against them, how can they trust the weapon-wielding soldiers? The mentality of the military deeply affects the nation’s progress when they look down upon civilians as “not truly understanding military affairs.” A civilian government allows for citizen input and inclusion in determining the course of the country. The military should be able to maintain its role as an expert on issues of defense and warfare, and citizens will continue to respect the military for their honorable contributions to the country. The military should respect the citizens it protects in matters of administration of the nation.
Nidhi Eoseewong, a well-known academic, also conceded with this point, who said that it vital for military reforms to place the highest power in the hands of civilians. The gravity of civil rule precedes that of dissolving the Supreme Command Headquarters, abolishing the mandatory draft, promoting officers up the ranks and more. While these issues are important they are not the crux of the matter at hand.
2. Decreasing the number of undeployed troops, shifting the size of the military to a country not currently at war
Kanda Naknoi’s article “The General at Leisure”, released on 19 October 2014, proposed for the military to decrease its number of generals and troops, making the military size proportionate to the population size. As the region continues to develop, Thailand should focus on economic competition and keeping pace with the ASEAN community. It was high time, the political scientist said, for undeployed generals to be discharged so the resources they are using could be reappropriated. These resources included free handouts such as provisionary cars for officers according to rank, gas, plane tickets and more. These resources should be used instead towards research and development as Thailand enters the ASEAN economic community.
In 2014, Kanda tallied the Thai Military at 1,400 generals, while the United States, a world military power that is strategically positioned all over the world, clocked in less than 1,000 generals. At that time, the U.S. had just two-thirds the number of generals that Thailand had, while having three times the number of troops Thailand had. The U.S. population is five times the size of Thailand’s population, yet troop-to-civilian ratio in Thailand is significantly much higher.
3. Abolishing of the mandatory conscription in favor of voluntary service
In a forum “Economizing military land, giving land back to the citizens” on 4 September 2011, Jittra Cotchadet proposed the abolition of the mandatory conscription of all Thai males at 21 years old in favor of voluntary service.
Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal, a student activist, expressed his views on how antiquated the practice is and that many countries around the world have already abolished or shifted to a voluntary service system. The results of voluntary service, he said, produced soldiers who were more effective than those who are conscripted mandatorily.
4. Decreasing the military budget in favor of funding “national stability,” such as welfare
On 28 September 2008, the Student Federation of Thailand and the Confederation of Industrial Labor of Thailand and the Prakai Fai theatre troupe held a press conference on their proposal for a new political system , including reforms for the military. One of those reforms was decreasing the size of the military, given Thailand is not engaged in war, a large munitions budget was unnecessary.
5. Relocating the military camps from Bangkok and the surrounding metropolitan area to the borders
That same press conference also proposed relocating the military camps from Bangkok and the surrounding metropolitan areas, to repurpose those areas to serve the public, such as for vocational training for the poor.
6. Opening up the military’s golf courses and horse racing tracks for public use
In her article “Thai Military Budget, Part III: Military Land,” Kanda Naknoi published on 1 June 2015, she proposed that the military’s golf courses and horse racing tracks should be transferred to public ownership for public use, such as public parks. Land development is not under Military’s purview, their role is to protect the country.
Additionally, in this era, horses are no longer used in warfare. Military advancement in tanks and armored vehicles have exceeded the need for horses. Therefore, the military has no need for horse racing tracks.
7. Reforming the process of buying munitions, so purchase choices are backed up by military strategy
Surachat Bamrungsuk, a political scientist from Chulalongkorn University, proposed in his article, “On military reform: issues on acquiring munitions” that purchase choices should be backed up by tactical military strategy. Purchase choices should also arise from real needs of military strategy and to secure national security in the future, not to service the purse of someone in the present.
8. Decreasing the amount of tasks assigned to military that overlap with other officials
In 2011, the Office of Policy and Planning in the Ministry of Defense began the drafting their 2011-2020 development plans . These plans included duties for disaster relief and teaching farmers how to farm, which overlap with those of the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation under the Ministry of the Interior. Overlapping duties waste both resources and manpower.
9. Refraining from politics
After 2006 coup, there are discussions on how to prevent the military from interfering in politics. A concept of ‘career soldiers,’ by Samuel Phillips Huntington, prominent American political science academic, was raised. In his book, The Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations, published in 1957 by the Harvard University Press, Phillips proposed that being a career soldier will prevent their political intervention, since modern military men are experts at handling and administering the state’s violence. This is unlike military men 200 years ago, when soldiers were mercenaries or part of the king’s guard. Pitch Pongsawat, a political scientist from Chulalongkorn University, howevers, disagreed with Huntington’s observations, saying that “Huntington’s way of thinking is based on the belief that there is only one type of ‘career soldier,’ or the type that does not touch politics at all or acts as a middle-way between the military and politicians. In actuality, however, career soldiers are the ones who push the military into intervening into politics, because they believe that they, as public servants, have a sovereignty that is greater than the ruling government’s.” (For further reading, please refer to “9 Trip-ups of the Yingluck Government, Part II: Relationship with the Military”.)
10. Dissolving the Supreme Command Headquarters
On 15 February 2015, ex-Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya  proposed military reform by dissolving the Supreme Command Headquarters and the Vanguard Unit. According to Kasit, these two institutions were unnecessary and if combined, should not be larger than the three armed forces.
More information about these ten suggestions for reform of the Thai military can be found in the footnotes below. Although these proposals have been readily dispersed, the NRC has presented no military-related reforms whatsoever. iLaw, a Thai human rights NGO, has also noted this discrepancy in acknowledging any possibility of military reform, despite the issue of military reform being raised in the now-defunct Reform Committee under Anand Panyarachun (the PM from 1991-1992). They proposed three ways to reform the military which were never met:
- The military must defer the ultimate authority to determine national policy to the elected, democratic ruling government.
- Eliminate duties that are not directly the military’s, especially those involving politics.
- Decrease the amount of superfluous military ranks and munitions, and instead divert these resources towards the military’s main goals.