Dempsey: U.S.-Thailand Partnership Holds Growth Potential
By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
ABOARD A MILITARY AIRCRAFT, June 5, 2012 Geostrategic location and global commitment, paired with a maturing military and a growing economy, make longtime U.S. ally Thailand an attractive prospect for even greater bilateral cooperation, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said today.
Thailand's Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra meets with U.S. Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in Bangkok, June 5, 2012. DOD photo by D. Myles Cullen
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Dempsey left Thailand, the last stop on a weeklong Pacific visit, around midafternoon today local time, about a half-day ahead of the eastern United States. En route to Hawaii and then back to Washington, D.C., the chairman told American Forces Press Service the 179-year-plus U.S.-Thailand relationship is ripe for growth as the U.S. furthers its strategic rebalance in the Asia-Pacific region.
Thailand touches Burma, Laos, Cambodia and Malaysia, with Vietnam, India and China not much further away. It also has an eastern coastline on the Gulf of Thailand -- opening into the South China Sea -- and a west coast on the Andaman Sea, also known as the Burma Sea.
“They’re in an extraordinarily key location,” Dempsey said of Thailand. Thailand’s people have used their growing economic and military strength to expand beyond their borders as a contributor to global security efforts, he added.
“For example, just today while I was there, they had a company return from a peacekeeping mission in Sudan,” the chairman said.
With stops on his Thailand visit including meetings with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Defense Minister Sukamphon Suwannathat, Chief of Defense Forces Gen. Thanasak Patimaprakorn and the Royal Thai army, navy and air force chiefs, Dempsey said he gained a thorough sampling of how Thailand’s leaders view U.S. strategic goals.
“They’re a very credible, welcoming military partner,” he said, adding Thailand’s location and growing economy make it likely the Southeast Asian nation will “be able to, over time, do more.”
The chairman noted, “We’re always eager to partner with nations who have the potential to continue to do more.”
An area of potential growth for both Thailand and the United States is under discussion, Dempsey said. The two nation’s militaries, he said, are examining concepts for a center of excellence in Thailand devoted to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
The United States and Thailand co-host an annual military exercise, Cobra Gold, which began in 1980. The most recent of these exercises, held in January and February, drew Indonesian, Japanese, Malaysian, Singaporean and South Korean military participants.
The next Cobra Gold will serve as a proof of principle for the new center of excellence, Dempsey said. He acknowledged the two militaries haven’t agreed on a framework yet, but noted a center of excellence typically brings together experts and resources to focus intensively on a particular problem set to achieve the fastest possible progress.
“This started with a conversation between the two heads of state, our president and the Thai prime minister, that then was passed to the military to develop a concept,” the chairman explained. “So we’ve been talking conceptually. Cobra Gold will be a platform on which we can advance our thinking.”
The new center may begin as a bilateral U.S.-Thai effort, or it could involve additional nations from the beginning, he said.
“We have to talk about the location, we have to talk about the size -- and we’re not there yet, but that’s the objective,” the chairman added.
Dempsey noted severe weather and seismic events in the region have become increasingly common in recent years. He pointed out that the need to effectively anticipate and plan responses for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief needs “is one of those functions that nearly everyone can agree on.”
Thailand is “perfectly placed” for a center than can pursue that function, he said.
“We think that they would be very interested in that,” Dempsey said.
Beyond humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, the chairman said, Thailand’s officials share some common concerns with representatives he’s spoken with this week from Japan, Australia, South Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore.
In all those places, he said, “there’s a desire to improve on intelligence sharing, information sharing, maritime security, maritime awareness, counter-terror, counter-piracy, counter-narcotics and countering transnational organized crime.”
These common interests provide United States’ leaders opportunities to strengthen ties with nations and multinational organizations across the region, Dempsey said.
“As we rebalance ourselves, I think those interests in particular will provide the foundation on which we can build,” the chairman said.