Martin, Special Assistant to the Secretary for Mutual
Security Affairs, to John H. Ohly,
Assistant Director for Program, Office of the Director of Mutual
My Dear Mr. Ohly: Reference is made to your memorandum of August 12 addressed to Mr. Frank Nash, Department of Defense, and me, regarding military assistance for Thailand. The questions raised in your memorandum have been carefully studied and the views of the Departments of Defense and State, together with the views of their respective representatives in Bangkok, are coordinated in the following observations:
Your memorandum questions the objectives of the military assistance program for Thailand and the wisdom of maintaining a program at “such high levels”. The memorandum also cites two unconfirmed reports: (1) that arms are being delivered from Thailand to the Karens in exchange for wolfram; (2) that certain Thai military authorities have been in touch with Chinese Communists in Hong Kong, and also comments that the Thai military have recurrently participated over the past two years in coups d’état, implying that United States military aid has made such coups possible.
Recurrent Participation of the Thai Military in Political Coups d’état
I will discuss these subjects in inverse sequence. As a matter of fact, the Thai military have been participating in coups d’état in the modern period since 1932, not merely during the past two years. Although Thailand has all of the machinery necessary for democratic government the Thai people have not learned how and perhaps do not have the inclination to use it to the exclusion of other methods. In their history they have been accustomed to absolute monarchy and the replacement of one regime by another by means of force or a show of force. Since 1932 this authoritarian form of administration has been democratized to the extent of distributing the power among a small powerful group rather than leaving it in the hands of a single monarch. The various coups, therefore, represent regroupings within the dominant group or efforts by political “outs” to displace those in power. Since 1932 Thailand has had something like a two-party system in that until 1947 two political aggregates competed for domination of the nation. The aggregate led by the present Prime Minister, Phibun Songkram, has had remarkable longevity in that it has maintained its [Page 651] political control without interruption since 1947, although various attempts have been made by opposing elements to overthrow it. At present the Phibun political organization is in unquestioned domination and so far as can be seen there is no possibility of any opposing political aggregate overthrowing the present regime. However, there is constant competition within the Phibun-led group for authority and status, so that there is always a possibility that some elements within the party, perhaps by a show of military force, will attempt to secure a higher position in the Government, perhaps even seeking to displace Marshal Phibun. Even if such a development should occur, essentially the same group will be in control of the Government, which is friendly to the United States.
Incidentally, the individual who is most likely to lead a coup d’état at this time in order to displace Marshal Phibun is General Phao, who is at the head of the Police Force and whose Service is receiving no American military aid.
In view of the foregoing, it is believed that United States military aid has not inspired political change by coup and in fact has not been an important factor in any coup as no coup has been successful since the beginning of U.S. military aid. Therefore, the participation of the Thai military in internal politics should not be regarded as an important factor in reaching a decision regarding United States military assistance for Thailand.
Report that Thai Military Authorities Have Been in Touch with Chinese Communists in Hong Kong.
Bangkok’s telegram no. 2501 of May 24, Control no. 11414,1 stated that a usually reliable Thai source reported that General Phao and an unidentified associate sent one army officer and possibly one police officer via Hong Kong to Peiping in March; that these officers were believed to have made contact with high Communist authorities seeking a compromise arrangement for future protection. The Bangkok Post of May 15 carried a front page article entitled “Phao Agents Back, Report on Red China”. The Embassy’s despatch no. 60 of July 231 stated that it had been reliably reported that General Phao had held secret meetings with the well-known Communist Ari Liwira who is currently living incognito with a police official in Kanburi. It may be significant that it was General Phao of the Police who is in change of Thailand’s intelligence operations whose agents have reportedly made these contacts. There is no certainty that such contacts were actually made and the reports may have emanated from his political enemies.… Furthermore, it should be remembered that the [Page 652] United States Government is not the only government which has a vital concern with current happenings in China. Thailand, itself, in its own behalf, is vitally concerned with this subject and it would be reasonable to expect that the Thai Government by some guile would attempt to send its intelligence agents into China in order to secure a fresh report on China’s internal affairs from the point of view of Thai intelligence interests.
However, assuming the most cynical motives for General Phao’s alleged action in sending his agents into China with the view of making compromise arrangements for his own future political longevity, the United States Government should, even so, not condemn the total position of the Thai Government, which is openly giving every evidence of friendly cooperation with the United States, because of the actions for personal advantage of one individual of that Government.
The Report that Arms Are Being Delivered from Thailand to the Karens in Exchange for Wolfram.
An AP despatch filed in Singapore April 10 by a Mr. Goodyear, whose information derived from a visit in northern Thailand in December 1951, stated that the Karens had seized a 600-ton wolfram stockpile at the Mawchi Mines, half of which had already been disposed of to private interests. The assumption was made that as the current price in the United States for wolfram was $4,000 a ton, the Karens should have a considerable amount of foreign exchange. An additional assumption was made, because of their current needs, that they would use this foreign exchange to purchase arms. It was further assumed that as the wolfram was passing out of Karenni through Thailand the Karens were securing arms from the Thai military.… Just how much confidence should be put in a report of this nature which appeared in a Burmese newspaper is uncertain. And furthermore, the equipment described was not American but British in type. I have no doubt that what wolfram the Karens have sold has passed through Thailand. I would not question the idea that if Karens are selling wolfram some elements in the Thai Police or Military are making personal profit at the expense of the Karens, giving as little as possible in return for the wolfram. Even supposing that some elements of the Thai Military are engaged in such traffic it could hardly be very extensive because of the problem of transporting heavy ore either on the backs of human carriers or by pony. I do not feel that the Thai Government, as a government, should be judged and evaluated for the behavior or misbehavior of minor elements in its employ who are led on by personal cupidity.[Page 653]
The Precise Objectives of U.S. Military Assistance for Thailand.
Since the beginning of U.S. military assistance our precise objectives have been (1) to encourage Thailand to continue on its present political course of alignment with the Free World and to remain a stable force in southeast Asia; (2) to assist the Thai Armed Forces in improving internal security and, by increased defense strength, deterring external aggression; (3) to bolster internal political stability and to help check Communism by strengthening the Thai Government. It is believed that these objectives are being achieved and that any move to discontinue U.S. military assistance to Thailand would threaten the very substantial progress which has been made.
In connection with objective (1), Thailand has openly opposed the actions of the Chinese Communist regime, has refused to recognize it politically, continues to recognize the Chinese Nationalist Government at Formosa, is fighting with the UN forces in Korea, is sympathetic with and has given political recognition to the Associated States of Indochina, and is cooperating in every respect in the UN and in all of its subsidiary organizations, most of which have their Far Eastern headquarters at Bangkok. Further, under objective (1), Thailand is the most stable force on the southeast Asian mainland and is a haven of peace in the midst of troubled nations round about her. We should not feel discouraged at the success of United States aid programs in view of these achievements.
Although military aid to Thailand would not enable the country to withstand open Chinese invasion, it will contribute to the overall strength of non-Communist forces in southeast Asia.
Thai forces are being welded into a small but efficient force capable of coping with internal uprisings, guerrilla attacks, or carrying out delaying action in the event of Chinese Communist attacks in force. The Military Assistance Advisory Group has assisted the Thai Army in establishing various training courses in small unit tactics, infantry weapons, and automotive driving. Infantry and artillery officer courses have also been organized and—probably more important—various automotive maintenance courses have been established.
The Navy program has included two patrol craft, two frigates and six Coast Guard Utility Boats as well as spare parts and miscellaneous equipment for installation in Thai Navy vessels. Training has been conducted for a limited number of officers in electronic maintenance, sonar and radar operations thus increasing the ASW and minesweeping efficiency of its vessels. Psychologically the program, although modest, has assisted the forces in gaining a greater confidence. The morale of naval personnel has improved [Page 654] and the efficiency of the individual units has increased through combat experience with United Nations’ forces in Korea.
The air program has converted a heterogeneous assortment of obsolete and worthless aircraft into a RTAF with an assembly of first line piston fighters and trainers. The flying training establishment has been reorganized and patterned after the USAF Training Command. Monthly flying time has increased slightly over 1000% since pre-MDAP conditions existed. The Air University and its technical schools have been reorganized, their courses revised and teaching methods modernized. The maintenance, supply, communications and ordnance sections of the RTAF have been, or are being reorganized. The Air Installations Program has accounted for the completion of four new hangars at RTAF bases, control towers, parachute drying towers, and ramp facilities under construction. Contracts have been let for resurfacing airfields at Tac Lee, Koke, Kathieni and Korat.
There might be very serious effects upon Thailand’s political alignment and upon the usefulness of the present American Ambassador and his staff at Bangkok if the military assistance program were to be diminished or brought to a full stop at this time. It is not difficult to visualize the effect on Thai troops in Korea if the United States Government suddenly discontinued its military program in Thailand.
In regard to objective (3) it seems clear, because of the longevity of the Phibun regime, that the country is more politically stable than at any time since World War II, regardless of the constant rumors and attempts at political coups which have been discussed previously. It is further clear that there is no strong Communist movement among the Thai and that any Communist threat within Thailand stems from the Chinese community. Repeated reports indicate that the Thai Government is completely confident in its abilities to control the Chinese community and there has been no evidence to indicate their inability up to the present in this respect.
The military programs for Thailand should continue at the presently planned levels. A balance has been achieved between the amount of equipment and services furnished and the ability of the Thai forces to absorb it, hence any augmentation of the present levels would constitute a wastage. On the other hand, the programs should not be reduced since any reduction would promote a reaction in Thailand favorable to Communist propaganda, and perhaps create the impression throughout southeast Asia that the United States was abandoning support of an Asian country which, at the [Page 655] risk of its sovereignty, has actively supported Western ideologies and United Nations operations in Korea.