Cohen Stresses Need for Multinational Exercises
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
BANGKOK, Sep. 19, 2000 In what is becoming a theme of his trip to Asia, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen spoke with Thai officials Sept. 19 about the need for multilateral peacekeeping exercises.
Cohen's meeting with Thai Prime Minister Likphai Chuan continued the line of similar discussions he's had on the trip with officials in the Philippines and Singapore. He has said any multilateral exercise in the area would concentrate on peacekeeping and humanitarian relief operations.
"If there is one word that describes the security relationship between Thailand and the United States, that word is 'partnership,'" Cohen said during a press conference. "Thai and U.S. soldiers have fought together in war and now they are working together in peace."
Cohen said he and the prime minister, who's also the defense minister, discussed the most recent Cobra Gold exercise. Cobra Gold, hosted by Thailand, is the largest military exercise in the Pacific. Cobra Gold 2000 featured 22,500 U.S., Thai and Singaporean service members and focused on peacekeeping and humanitarian missions.
"This type of demanding training increases the ability of troops from (regional) countries to deal with real world challenges," he said.
Cohen said Thailand already is participating in peacekeeping operations in East Timor. The commander of the U.N. effort in the country is a Thai general trained at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, N.Y.
The secretary said the need for multilateral exercises in no way diminishes U.S. commitments to bilateral relationships. "It is important we have the experience of training together, exercising together, sharing information, sharing techniques," he said. "I think that is something (regional) governments will welcome in the future."
Other officials in the region agreed with the need to maintain strong bilateral relations. But U.S. officials hope that in time the countries can expand them to a multilateral basis in the fields of peacekeeping and humanitarian disaster relief.
Cohen said any multilateral exercise would welcome Chinese participation. "These are in no way designed to isolate China," he said "We want China to be a participant in this Asia-Pacific Regional Initiative."
Cohen also discussed Thailand's counternarcotics initiatives. He said Adm. Dennis Blair, commander in chief of U.S. Pacific Command, will visit Thailand to see what the United States can do to help -- the United States and Thailand have worked closely together to combat drugs for 30 years.
Thailand has virtually eliminated opium poppy cultivation in its area of the so-called Golden Triangle (the northwestern area of the country), Cohen said. Now, they face a flood of methamphetamines from Burma. He suggested U.S. forces may be able to help train the Thai military to combat drugs.
Cohen also briefed the prime minister on the message he delivered earlier on the trip to Indonesia's leaders -- that the United States expects them to control their military and to "disband and disarm" the militias terrorizing the island of Timor.
The secretary is on a six-nation, nine-day mission in Asia. He flew to South Korea Sept. 19 to attend a Defense Consultative Meeting and Military Consultative Meetings, and to visit some of the 36,000 U.S. service members based in the country. His last scheduled stop will be in Japan on Sept. 21.