158. Memorandum From Michael Armacost of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Aaron)1


  • Thai Political Situation

You asked for comments on this report on the Thai political situation.2

—Obviously, the suggestion that military action might be taken between September 7–14 was not a particularly prescient guess.

—Coup rumors are not all that unusual in Bangkok, particularly in the August-September period when the annual promotion and reassignment list for the Army is being drawn up.

—It is clear that the Army has become increasingly unhappy with Prime Minister Thanin. His Cabinet has proven less malleable and less compatible than the military leadership anticipated. Thanin’s inflexibility and his doctrinaire anti-communism have caused increasing friction with his more pragmatic colleagues in both the military and civilian [Page 568] bureaucracy. Diplomats are uneasy about the way he has slowed progress toward normal diplomatic relations with Hanoi while irritating Peking through visible dealings with the Taiwanese Government. There is also growing concern that Thanin is excessively intolerant of criticism and that the controls on the press, labor, and the universities are too severe.

—The aggressive and outspoken Minister of Interior, Samak Sundarawej, has emerged as a special anathema to the military. Yet all efforts to persuade Thanin to jettison Samak—or for that matter any member of his Cabinet—have failed.

—Though pressure from the Army to remove Thanin has been building for some months, several factors have combined to protect him. First, there appears to be no readily available civilian candidate who is willing to serve and is acceptable to both parties. Both Admiral Sa-ngat3 and General Kriangsak have indicated their availability, but there is no firm evidence that the military has coalesced behind either one. Second, the Army remains loathe to return to military rule fearing it would strain relations with the United States and alienate the Thai public. Third, there is no national crisis at present that might be used to publicly justify the abrupt removal of the Prime Minister. Fourth, the King still appears reluctant to abandon Thanin, though doubts within the Royal Family about Thanin’s effectiveness have increased.

—The flurry of coup rumors were essentially generated by Kriangsak’s belief that he and General Yot4 might be dropped from the active duty role in the October change-of-command list. The current tension may well subside when the new military chain of command is established. I suspect that Kriangsak will be promoted to Supreme Commander of Thai Armed Forces, and Yot will move up to Deputy Commander of the Royal Thai Army.

—Over the longer run, however, Thanin’s chances for survival are increasingly fragile. His base of support in the Military Council has been eroded, and it appears the military lacks only a consensus on his successor to seriously demand his removal.

Kriangsak has emerged as the most likely successor. He clearly is the most capable in the military hierarchy. But whether he can put it all together remains uncertain.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Far East, Armacost Chron Files, Box 4, 9/15–23/77. Secret; Sensitive. Sent for information. Both Aaron and Dodson initialed the top right-hand corner of the page.
  2. Reference is to a September 1 paper produced in the Central Intelligence Agency on the Thai political situation, which documented rumors of a coup in early to mid-September. (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 74, Thailand, 1/77–12/79)
  3. Admiral Sa-Ngat Chalyou, a member of the National Policy Council, led the October 1976 coup.
  4. Lieutenant General Yot Thephasadin Na Ayutthaya, Deputy Commander of the Royal Thai Army and a member of the National Policy Council.