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Dictatorial Unitary Republic Beats Dictatorial Thailand to UN Security Council Seat Despite Deployment of PSE

Thailand, a dictatorship with fading human rights, lost the June 28, 2016 UN Security Council vote for a temporary seat to Kazakhstan, a corrupt, authoritarian, single-party post-Soviet hellhole for human rights where electoral pluralism is practically unknown. ‘Team Thailand’ failed to leverage either its Chairmanship of the G77 or the Philosophy of Sufficiency Economy to provide a workable vision for sustainable development and global North-South co-operation. Read why.

 

Team Thailand – Mission Impossible

Dr Surin Pitsuwan, a key player in Team Thailand's seven-year battle (compared to two for Kazakhstan) for the UN Security Council (UNSC) seat, has provided a reasonable post mortem of Team Thailand’s bid for the seat, in the Bangkok Post of July 4, available here. Surin blames Thailand’s politicking and partisanship, exemplified in having had to deal with five different prime ministers during the span of the campaign. However, Thailand’s parochialism also comes in for attack, with words like ‘exceptionalism’ and ‘complacent’ being used:

“The decision to continue with the UNSC candidacy and the ensuing campaign could be seen as a catalyst for that necessary shift in the cozy national mindset and to break that cocoon of comfort in a world of reality and fierce competition. For this is the most damaging psychological trap that will undermine the country's urgent need for reform in all other areas. Thai exceptionalism must be put to rest once and for all. The people must "feel" the shocking reality of competition, already warned in many surveys by many institutions.”

However, Dr Surin’s speech in no way mentioned one of the ways sought to sell Thailand to the UN – the Philosophy of Sufficiency Economy (PSE). This despite the PSE being the showcase exhibit for the campaign, as shown, for example in this The Nation article from June 25, as well as being the centrepiece of a major G77 forum on June 1-2, 2016, complete with an entire section on its website covering ‘The King’s Philosophy’.

 

Figure: Thai Sustainable Development Foundation’s Website for June 1-2 G77 Forum on the Sufficiency Economy Philosophy

 

On this website, the PSE was packaged ‘Sufficiency for Sustainability’, or S4S. It is an excellent idea to apply the PSE to the Sustainable Development Goals, but our consistent criticism of this approach is that the PSE must be applied in a concrete, holistic, global way, one which admits the need for honest, constructive feedback, to issues which concern G77 countries, especially energy and abrupt climate change. Only when applied pragmatically and fully integrated into the Sustainable Development Goals’ targets can the PSE be taken seriously internationally, something your author has strongly argued for. Instead, the PSE section of the website appeared to be an add-on, as it does, though to a lesser extent, in the National Economic and Social Development Board’s five year plans.

 

Figure: The Branding of ‘Sufficiency for Sustainability’ or S4S on the TSDF G77 Forum Website

 

So, what went wrong?

Understanding how Team Thailand failed is complicated by the fact that the vote was secret. However, Thitinan Pongsudhirak points out in his analysis of the failed bid that while the US, the UK, and France seem to have supported the Thai bid, both Russia and China appear to have backed Kazakhstan. This is somewhat galling for Thailand given its recent purchase of 30 Chinese Main Battle Tanks (it now wants dozens more) and its interest in Russian helicopters and potentially fission reactors. Thitinan also correctly notes some states would have voted for Kazakhstan simply because it had not yet won a UNSC seat, while Thailand was on the UNSC in the 1980’s.

For the undecided states, this is a list of generally agreed upon reasons why states vote for or against potential UN Security Council temporary members:

Positive Factors:

- troop contributions to UN peacekeeping operations, peacekeeping experience and record [Kazakhstan 6 compared to Thailand’s 33]

- representation of a significant demographic group [11,253,000 Kazakhs vs. 20 million Central Thais]

- experience in international leadership [Kazakhstan 2010 Chair of Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Thailand 2016 Chair of G77 (134 Global South and Middle East countries, plus India and China]

- financial contributions to the UN budget [?]

Negative Factors:

- domestic insecurity [Kazakhstan one president since 1991, Thailand many five prime ministers in last seven years]

- a current campaign for other offices or seats [None]

Ultimately, this competition likely boiled down to experience in international leadership and domestic insecurity, including the human rights record. To begin with, your author was not confident about Thailand attaining the UN Security Council seat, as made clear in this The Nation column titled ‘Saving Thailand’s UN Security Council Seat” from May 25. This column pointed out Thailand’s increasingly abysmal human rights record, while Kazakhstan’s own abysmal human rights record, actually far worse than Thailand’s, is, nonetheless, seen to be gradually improving. In the same column, it is pointed out the PSE could indeed help secure Thailand’s seat:

“The use of lese-majeste law by the junta is particularly tragic if we bear in mind that it is a gift of the monarchy which has the greatest chance of achieving the diplomatic push necessary for obtaining the seat. That gift is the Philosophy of Sufficiency Economy (PSE), a form of Buddhist economics adopted in principle by Thailand since 1999. Last year, every single month was the hottest globally on record, and Asean has already suffered approximately US$10 billion in damages from this year's drought. By 2060, it is predicted that there will be one billion climate refugees, including millions fleeing Bangkok's rising sea levels. If ever the world needed a holistic philosophy emphasising resilience, moderation, sustainability and a healthy respect for the environment, it is now.”

Two specific recommendations were made for the application of the PSE taking into account the interrelationship of power, energy, the environment, and the climate, especially given the opportunity to build on the Paris Agreement on Climate Change:

  1. A coordinated North-South solar road map involving the accelerated development, transfer, and installation of ever-cheaper community and mega-project photo-voltaic plants, with subsidies for electricity storage and electric vehicles.

  2. The G77 investigating alternative, low-end commercial routes towards nuclear fusion, given the emerging consensus that this may now only be a decade away and Malaysian moves in this direction last year via its sovereign wealth fund.

Your author commented that the PSE could be deployed to investigate and understand the paradigm shifts required to embrace these paths, as well as the technology transfer implied transfer implied. To date, Thailand has failed to lead the G77 in either of these two areas. However, Kazakhstan has acted internationally, attempting to involve itself in efforts to broker peace between Russia and the Ukraine and to facilitate the human rights situation in Kyrgyzstan, where native Uzbeks are being targeted.

Other than this failure to apply the PSE to issues of core interest to the G77, there are other reasons for the collapse of the Thai campaign, such as Thailand’s plummeting human rights record. While freedom of religion is a problem in Kazakhstan, the country does advertise itself as multicultural, multi-religious, and multi-ethnic. For example, it has two official languages and recognizes all its major ethnicities. However, Thailand has no stated language policy and does not recognize the Khon Meuang of the North, the Thai Lao of the Northeast, or the Thai Malay of the Deep South. This difference in term of human rights trends, cultural rights, and policy of ethnic pluralism likely meant Thailand picked up few votes among the European Union countries, where such rights are promoted.

Also, the lack of recognition of Thai Malays and position to not allow any involvement by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), a bloc with 57 member states, many of them rich and influential, in brokering any type of the deal in the Deep South insurgency may have lost Thailand the support of OIC members. In addition, Thailand’s treatment of Muslim migrants from Myanmar, including pushing them back out to sea with starvation rations, may have had a similar effect. Kazakhstan, on the other hand, is an OIC member.

 

Conclusion

That Thailand was beaten to a UN Security Council seat by a land-locked Central Asian country with a barely functioning authoritarian government while Thailand was Chair of the G77 and had the guaranteed support of other ASEAN countries is one of the worst defeats encountered by a serious UN Security Council campaign for an Asian seat. That Thailand failed where the much smaller Malaysia triumphed in 2014 is embarrassing for Dr Surin Pitsuwan and the entire ‘Team Thailand’ staff at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, though they did a reasonable job given the special circumstances.

Yet, Malaysia and Thailand are very different countries. This can especially be seen regarding their R&D budgets, where Thailand’s is 0.4% and Malaysia’s is 1.1%. Simply put, Malaysia is more innovative and – as pointed out by Dr Surin - competitive. In fact, it has already pumped 27 million USD into investigating commercial fusion.

Thus, the way forward is clear. In the few months in which Thailand is still Chair of the G77, the PSE should be deployed to understand and make progress on what most of the G77 countries are most concerned about: the cost of energy, energy security, and the interrelationship between energy and the environment due to climate change. That means a Global Solar Roadmap and a Global Fusion Roadmap, especially advanced, alternative, low-end commercial fusion, as argued for in this Bangkok Post column. Then, Thailand may stand a chance of election to the UNSC in 2018.

 

Table: Comparison of the Kingdom to Thailand and Kazakhstan

Country

Thailand

Kazakhstan

Location

South-East Asia

Central Asia

Population

17,693,500

67,959,000

Main Religions

Buddhism (95%), Islam (5%)

Islam (70%), Christianity (26%)

U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom

-

Tier 2 Country (Watchlist)

National Languages

Thai

Official Bilingualism (Kazakh + Russian)

Officially Recognized Ethnicities

One major ethnicity and mountain peoples (by cabinet resolution) from 70+ total - c.50% of population

All major ethnicities (17 in 2014 census) from 131 total – 99% of population

Transparency International

(Corruption Perception Index)

38/100 (Ranked 76th  least corrupt)

28/100 (Ranked 123rd least corrupt)

GDP Total (nominal)

US$409,724 billion

US$225,619 billion

GDP Per Capita (nominal)

US$5,938

US$12,950

Human Development Index

0.726 (High)

0.788 (High)

Government

(Democracy Index)

Dictatorship & Constitutional Monarchy

(Hybrid Regime) 5.09/10

Unitary Republic (Authoritarian) 3.06/10

Electoral progress and Pluralism (DI)

4.50/10

0.50/10

Functioning of Government (DI)

3.93/10

2.14/10

Political Participation (DI)

5.56/10

4.44/10

Political Culture (DI)

5.00/10

4.38/10

Civil Liberties (DI)

6.47/10

3.82/10

Income Inequality (Gini)

39.4 (Medium)

26.4 (Low)

Freedom in the World (Freedom House 2016)

Not Free

Not Free

2016 Index of Economic Freedom

Moderately Free

Moderately Free

2016 Press Freedom Index

Difficult Situation

Difficult Situation

Main Arguments for UN Seat

Thailand

1) Showcase Philosophy of Sufficiency Economy (PSE) philosophy of economic policy (glocal sustainable development plan)

2) Mature, independent diplomacy (never colonized)

3) Not aligned to a major power, leader of G77

4) Nice UN ambassador

5) Endorsed by ASEAN

6) Inter-faith country of harmony, unity and diversity

7) Active UN Peacekeeper

8) Emphasizes women peacekeepers (promotes gender equality)

9) Bridge between developing and developed countries at UN

10) Nuclear Non-proliferation Stance (Southeast Asian Nuclear Weapons Free Zone)

11) Strong anti-AIDS success

References

1) Nuclear Non-proliferation Stance

2) Efforts to broker peace globally (Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan)

3) Position as bridge between West and Asia (Europe, Russia, China)

3) Multi-ethnic, multicultural, and multi-religious harmony

4) Showcase "Nurly Zhol" (Bright Path) philosophy of economic policy (glocal sustainable development path)

References

Alliances and Membership

1) Chair of G77

2) Member of ASEAN

3) Non-NATO Treaty Ally?

1) Member of Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe

2) Member of Organization of Islamic Cooperation

3) Commonwealth of Independent States
4) Shanghai Cooperation Organisation

5) Non-NATO Treaty Ally (Individual Partnership Action Plan)