484. Staff Study Prepared by an Interdepartmental Working Group for the Operations Coordinating Board1


I. Nature of the Security Threat

1. Thailand lies athwart the route of further Communist movement southward. The primary external threat to Thailand’s security is the subversive and aggressive forces of Communist China and North Viet-Nam. Only the relatively weak nations of Burma and Laos separate Thailand from Communist countries.

2. The Thai Government is an authoritarian oligarchy superimposed upon a constitutional monarchy, and changes in leadership occur almost always by coups d’état. The current primary threat to internal stability arises from the weakening effects of internal power struggles rather than from Communist subversion. The Communist Party and Communist activity are outlawed in Thailand, but four distinct Communist organizations continue to exist underground. There is no evidence of coordination among them.

3. The strength of the Thai Communist Party (CPT) is estimated as low as 50 to 100, and its leaders remain unidentified. It is probably weakest in the Bangkok area but still may exert some influence in the relatively under-developed northeastern border area. It is organized [Page 846] around a small core of Westernized intellectuals, several of whom have fled to Communist China. CPT targets are Thailand’s small professional class, university students, Buddhist clergy, lower echelon government workers, and journalists. It has attained some influence within each group, but the party’s progress as a whole cannot be said to have been successful. It has been hampered by the political apathy of the Thai peasantry, comparative prosperity, the lack of a colonial issue to exploit, and the repressive measures of the Thai police.

4. The Chinese Communist Party (CCPT) is estimated at about 5,000 members. It is disproportionately strong because of its influence among Thailand’s 3 million Chinese (15% of the population), who dominate the Thai economy. The CCPT concentrates its operations on Chinese schools, labor organizations, and business and regional associations. It is believed to control important segments of Thai labor forces. In addition, it controls several regional associations, the most important of which is the SWATOW Association. It has infiltrated the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, which serves as the unofficial Chinese Communist legation in Thailand. It is considered that the CCPT is subordinate to Peiping. It is probably financially self-sufficient and may, in fact, contribute funds to Communist China. The CCPT is strongest in Bangkok and southern Thailand. It is hampered, however, by the traditional Thai dislike for and distrust of the Chinese, which severely hamper infiltration of the Thai Government and participation in local politics.

5. The Viet Minh is very strong among the approximately 50,000 Vietnamese refugees in northeastern Thailand. The Overseas Vietnamese Mutual Assistance Association of Thailand (OVMAAT) is the principal Viet Minh-controlled organization in Thailand. Its actual strength of hardcore agents is unknown. The activities of OVMAAT are restricted solely to Vietnamese, and it is believed that some logistic support is provided in the form of money, rice, a few small arms, and recruits to Viet Minh guerrilla formations in Laos and Cambodia. The OVMAAT is firmly controlled by the Viet Minh High Command in Viet-Nam but appears to receive no material external support at this time.

6. The Malayan Races Liberation Army (MRLA), the direction of which comes from the Malayan Communist Party (MCP), has approximately 200 Chinese Communist terrorists from Malaya present in the extreme southern part of Thailand. This area, however, is used mainly as a relatively secure base for training, rest, and logistic support for Communist forces operating on the Malayan side of the border.

7. The Chinese Communists possess a potential asset for political warfare in the person of former Thai Prime Minister Pridi Phanamyong [Page 847] who retains a certain popular following of unknown, but presumably small, strength in northeastern Thailand as well as among dissatisfied elements in other areas. Among his followers, Pridi is not regarded as a Communist but as a patriot who is temporarily exiled in Red China.

8. Other factors contributing to the subversive threat in Thailand are:

Thai National Autonomous Area, founded in 1953 in Southern Yunnan Province, China.
Thai-Meo Autonomous Zone, founded by North Viet-Nam in its northwestern provinces.
Anti-Thai Government propaganda being broadcast from Radio Hanoi under the name of Tiang Sirikhan, dissident Thai leader.
Min Yuen, a Chinese Communist guerrilla support organization in the southern provinces of Thailand for the MRLA referred to in paragraph 6.
Pan-Muslim propaganda in Southern Thailand.

II. Existing Internal Security Forces and National Military Forces

[Here follows a five-page analysis of Thai internal security and military forces.]

III. Evaluation of the Internal Security Situation

16. The ruling coup group does not at this time face any significant internal challenge to its authority by Communists or other opposition elements. The potential threat of Communist subversion is recognized by Thai leaders and they are taking active counter measures.

17. The Thai legal system provides adequate means for the arrest and prosecution of subversives. The weaknesses lie in the inefficiency and venality of officials and cumbersome trial procedures. The top Thai military-political leaders, however, have always found means to deal with persons they consider a threat.

18. The Thai Police are reasonably capable of detecting subversives; they are fully capable of apprehending and detaining those so identified. They can handle riots and localized disturbances, and are reasonably capable of preventing border infiltrations. The Police would require assistance from the Army to suppress widespread guerrilla activity, which is unlikely at this time. Under present circumstances, the effort required to bring about an armed uprising or widespread paramilitary activity could not take place without detection by the Police, who could then undertake preventive action.

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19. VDC units can furnish information on subversive activity in their home districts and they can perform routine guard functions, but at this time they have little potential for undertaking punitive action against any marauding Communist paramilitary forces.

20. The Thai Armed Forces are currently armed, organized, and deployed primarily to maintain in power the coup group now ruling Thailand. Their capabilities to conduct combat operations are being steadily improved, and emphasis is now being placed in the U.S. training program for the Thai Army on jungle and counter-guerrilla operations. However, additional training and organizational improvements in Army–Air Force–Police cooperation are required before Thailand could cope with large, well organized guerrilla forces infiltrated from neighboring states and supported by the Communists. In the unlikely event of widespread guerrilla activity the armed forces would be required to supplement police action. Under foreseeable circumstances the requirement for such forces would not exceed:

  • Army: 5 RCT’s and necessary supporting and service elements;
  • Navy: 9 patrols and 5 amphibious vessels (3 SC, 6 CGC, 1 LST, 2 LSM, and 2 LSIL);
  • Air Force: 1 fighter-bomber squadron, 1 mosquito squadron, 1 transport squadron of 15–20 twin-engine aircraft.

IV. Inventory of Existing U.S. Assistance Programs Bearing on Internal Security

A. Economic and Technical Assistance

21. The technical cooperation program is directed toward the improvement of government services and the strengthening of public administration, with special emphasis on fiscal management. Other projects include university contracts in the fields of agriculture, teacher training, and engineering. For defense support and economic development, the United States provides assistance to improve highways, railways, airfields and other basic facilities.

22. To strengthen regional cooperation, technical exchanges have been arranged between Thailand and Laos and Cambodia. Certain projects in the fields of public health and agriculture are being undertaken on a regional basis and multi-national consideration of transportation and telecommunications projects is being encouraged. A cooperative survey of the development potentialities of the Mekong River is being sponsored, with U.S. assistance, by Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Viet-Nam.

23. Economic and technical assistance during FY 1955 amounted to $30.4 million, exclusive of items for direct consumption by the Armed Forces and budgetary support for the military establishment. Similar activities in FY 1956 are estimated at about $30.5 million.

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24. In FY 1955 $7.9 million was provided for supplies and facilities for exclusive military use and $8.4 million for budgetary support for the military establishment. It is estimated that direct forces support during FY 1956 will amount to approximately $8.2 million, and budgetary support for the military establishment to $6.8 million.

B. Military Assistance

25. Activities of JUSMAG Thailand stress the training and development of Thai junior and non-commissioned officers and the improvement of technical skills for maintenance and effective use of equipment. Varied and obsolete arms and equipment have been replaced by modem and generally standardized equipment. With intensive training of pilots and support personnel, the Air Force is becoming increasingly proficient in the maintenance and use of aircraft. The Navy has been provided with a limited number of small craft and equipment for modernization of existing vessels. Inadequate training has been a major limiting factor and the U.S. is currently assisting in the development of a new training program for Naval personnel. The FY 1950–54 MDA programs for Thailand totalled $187.2 million of which $135 million had been delivered as of 31 March 1955. The 1955 program tentatively calls for $28.2 million in military aid, while only funds for training and maintenance of equipment are projected for FY 1956.

C. Information and Educational Exchange Programs

26. The USIA program emphasizes comprehensive anti-Communist indoctrination throughout Thailand. Working downward from 28 top leaders who received intensive indoctrination courses, the program has been extended systematically through the government hierarchy to the rural areas. Priority has been given to the sensitive border areas. The Army is currently the focus of attention. Centers are maintained at Bangkok, Chiengmai, Songkla, Ubon, Udorn, Korat.

27. The cost of the information program in Thailand during FY 1955 was about $1,263,000. It is planned to expand the program during FY 1956 to approximately $1,415,900.

28. The educational exchange program provided grants to 38 Thai during FY 1955, while 12 Americans visited Thailand, at a total cost of approximately $324,000. In FY 1956 it is planned to expand the program to include 55 Thai and 15 Americans, at a total cost of approximately $480,000.

D. Assistance to VDC

29. The U.S. provides equipment and general guidance for the organization and training of the VDC. The total cost of equipment is [Page 850] not expected to exceed $5,000,000, of which approximately $400,000 was expended in CY 1954 and approximately $2,000,000 in CY 1955.

V. Political Factors Bearing on Internal Programs and Feasibility of U.S. Assistance

30. Thailand’s foreign policy in the past has been based squarely on the realities of international power in Asia and has been changed without hesitation to conform with shifts of power balance. Thailand’s international orientation, therefore, has been affected primarily by outside events and conditions rather than by internal situations or by abstract principles of behaviour.

31. Despite growing Communist power in Asia, Thailand remains strongly oriented toward the Free World. It welcomed U.S. assistance and advice, and has taken the lead in participating in collective defense efforts. Nevertheless, Thailand might revert to her historic position of international accommodation should the Free World position in Asia appear substantially to weaken. Additionally, any U.S. action which might be interpreted by the Thai as an indication of decreased interest by the U.S. in Thailand will increase the risk of a shift by the Thai toward neutralism.

32. The Thai are controlled by an oligarchy dominated by Prime Minister Phibun, Director General of Police Phao, and Commander-in-Chief of the Army Sarit. Despite evidence of recurring frictions and rivalries among these men and their followers they have thus far accommodated themselves to a continuation of the present arrangement. Phibun has no further ambition except eventually to insure a peaceful accession, presumably by Phao, to the Prime Ministership, permitting Phibun to retire as an elder statesman. Phao realizes that he probably will become the next Prime Minister and, while he may desire to hasten the event, it is doubtful that he will attempt to assume this position by force. Sarit enjoys his command of the Army and his ambition apparently is limited to preserving the prerogatives of that office.

33. Sarit’s incompetency and other personal inadequacies have antagonized many Thai and he has caused Thailand to lose face with foreign observers. Although Phibun recognizes Sarit’s inadequacies he appears reluctant to remove him since he is a counterweight to Phao. It is expected that Phao will seek removal of Sarit but probably will not accomplish this without becoming Prime Minister.

34. Political awareness is severely limited to a few educated individuals living in the larger cities. The people in general do not concern themselves with politics and are indifferent to and ignorant of such matters. Under these circumstances the stability within Thailand depends mainly upon inter-relationships within the ruling oligarchy. [Page 851] Whatever the outcome of any political conflicts, Thailand’s orientation would probably be unaffected since all possible winners seem equally committed to close ties to the U.S.

35. The Thai have extravagant ambitions for the continuing expansion of their military and internal security forces, largely at U.S. expense. Present U.S. programs do not provide for these increases but rather a change from the supply of new equipment to the maintenance of equipment now programmed. When the Thai come to realize that this will result in a diminution of U.S. aid, they may well interpret this as evidence of a decrease in U.S. interest in Thailand and its safety. The apparent changes in U.S. policy, coupled with Thai realization that the Manila Pact provides them little real security, may well move Thailand in the direction of neutralism.

VI. Recommendations

Basis for Recommendations:
In consonance with the objectives and limitations of this study, the nature of the threat to Thailand has been evaluated against the capabilities of its internal security forces. On this basis it is concluded that in numbers and character these forces exceed the norms for effective maintenance of internal security against current and foreseeable requirements. (Approximately one out of every 96 Thais is a member of the internal security forces.)
Thailand’s armed forces, as distinct from the police, exceed strength requirements for their internal security role by more than fifty per cent; in addition, they possess heavy equipment, such as tanks, aircraft, and sea-going vessels, in quantities excess to the exclusive mission of internal security.
Predicated on traditional principles concerning the respective missions, organizational procedures and equippage of military and police-type forces, it is evident that some elements of the Thai police system have assumed certain characteristics of a military force. Such overlapping generates expenses which the country can ill afford and results in ineffective use of resources available for internal security. Specifically, the Thai police includes an armored car regiment with an airborne battalion which duplicates Army capabilities, and a Water Police which to some extent overlaps the capabilities of the Navy.
Owing to the extent of U.S. financial support of Thailand’s internal security forces, including the military, it is apparent that, on this basis alone, the development of these forces beyond reasonable requirements to maintain internal security is contrary to the economic interests of the U.S. The consideration of other bases for justification of forces in excess of those needed for internal security, e.g., to deter or retard external aggression, to contribute to collective regional security, or for covert, psychological or political reasons, is beyond the purview of this report.
Any proposals or plans to reduce current or projected U.S. programs in support of internal security forces in Thailand should be [Page 852] carefully weighed. The U.S. aided in the development of these forces at a time when there appeared to be a greater threat than can be discerned at present. Accordingly, the reduction of Thai forces to the estimated level adequate solely to maintain internal security would lead to serious misinterpretations not only in Thailand but throughout Southeast Asia and would possibly stimulate Communist activities in that region. In view of the current “peaceful coexistence” climate such major revision of U.S. programs might be interpreted as a softening of U.S. attitude toward Communist China, thereby providing an additional inducement toward neutralism which already has strong appeal throughout Southeast Asia.

Internal Security Forces—General.

It is recommended that the U.S. review its current and projected programs in Thailand in light of this appraisal of forces required to maintain internal security, defining clearly the justification for supporting forces in excess of this requirement and considering carefully the possible disadvantages which might outweigh any economy realized by the reduction of such forces.

  • Responsible Agencies: Defense and State in consultation with … and ICA.
  • Cost: None
  • Timing: Immediate

Police-type Forces: Although certain police missions and capabilities overlap those of the military, due consideration should be given to special circumstances in Thailand, particularly (1) the effectiveness of U.S. controls over these elements, which would be jeopardized if transferred to the military, and (2) the political and psychological implications. Accordingly, it is recommended that the status quo be maintained in general but the U.S. urge and employ its aid so as to bring about:
establishment of an overt U.S. police advisory and training program, placing stress on police organization, administration, counter-intelligence and counter-subversion operations;
reduction of the three Armored Car Battalions and the relocation of surplus personnel from Bangkok to rural areas;
reassignment of responsibilities as between the Army and the police, so that the Army will provide the necessary armed support for the police in the border areas, subject to renegotiation of present treaties and revision of local laws which preclude military forces from being within 25 kilometers of the border except when threatened by invasion;
reassignment of certain Water Police responsibilities in the light of the capability of the Navy to conduct coastal patrols;
re-examination of the functions, composition and ultimate size of the VDC in the light of increased capabilities of the Police and Army resulting from their redeployment and from the establishment of a properly integrated relationship between these principal internal security forces. [Page 853]
  • Responsible Agencies: State, Defense, ICA .…
  • Cost: (sub-paragraph a) $75,000 for additional personnel, $1 million for equipment in FY 56, funds not presently programmed.
  • Timing: Immediate
Military Forces. In conformance with the above, it is recommended that the following courses of action be undertaken to adjust the Armed Forces of Thailand better to serve U.S. objectives:
revision of present MDA programs to reflect redefinition of support as between forces required for internal security and those identified with other objectives;
redirection of U.S. training of forces required for internal security to place major emphasis on the internal security functions appropriate to armed forces, such as support of police action, pacification and anti-guerrilla operations;
continue U.S. assistance and advice to the Thailand Government for special anti-Communist indoctrination of the Thailand Armed Forces; support any Thailand efforts to make this program a permanent part of training to armed forces.
redeployment of armed forces assigned to internal security mission in order better to accomplish this function, including, as feasible, reduction of the disproportionate strength in Bangkok and the reassignment of surplus forces to the more remote, lightly garrisoned areas, particularly near the northern frontiers;
withdrawal of U.S. support and training assistance for Army airborne units on the basis that the police airborne battalion is adequate for internal security requirements and development of a duplicate force in the Army for this mission is unwarranted unless, in the judgment of the Defense Department, additional parachute units are required for purposes other than internal security.
  • Responsible Agencies: Defense, State and USIA
  • Cost: Included in present programs
  • Timing: Immediately
  1. Source: Department of State, OCB Files: Lot 62 D 430, Thailand. Top Secret. The working group which prepared the study included representatives of the Departments of State and Defense, the International Cooperation Administration, and the U.S. Information Agency.
  2. For background on the 1290–d exercise by the OCB, see footnote 2, Document 471. On September 14, the OCB considered the study completed by the interdepartmental working group on Thailand and noted it pending the completion of the remainder of the country reports to be included in the final report to the NSC. (Department of State, OCB Files: Lot 62 D 430, Preliminary Notes on OCB Meetings) On November 23, the OCB completed a full “Report to the National Security Council Pursuant to NSC Action 1290–d.” The NSC considered the report at its 269th meeting on December 8 and the President directed the programs outlined in the report be implemented. (NSC Action No. 1486; Ibid.,S/SNSC (Miscellaneous) Files: Lot 66 D 95, Records of Action by the National Security Council, 1955) On January 4, 1956, the OCB reconsidered the country study on Thailand, in light of the NSC decision of December 8, and directed the implementation of the recommendations outlined in the study under the overall direction of the ICA. (Covering note by the OCB staff, January 5, attached to the study) On January 13, Under Secretary of State Hoover wrote to the new Ambassador in Thailand, Max W. Bishop, and instructed him to oversee the implementation of the program in Thailand. (Ibid., Central Files, 792.5/1–1356)