Thai Cabinet Approves Defense Equipment Buys
By WENDELL MINNICK
TAIPEI — Thailand’s Cabinet has approved a $242 million arms purchase that includes Israeli small arms, Ukrainian armored personnel vehicles and Chinese missiles.
The shopping list includes:
15,000 rifles, $34 million.
992 submachine guns, $9.3 million.
96 BTR-3E1 armored personnel vehicles built by state-owned Kharkiv Morozov Machine Building Design Bureau, $141 million.
An unspecified number of an unspecified model of ground-to-ground missiles, $58 million.
In 1990, Thailand bought 50 Chinese C-801 cruise missiles to arm four 1,600-ton Chinese-built Jianghu III (Project 053) frigates. There has been concern in U.S. government circles over China’s aggressive offers of $40 million in military aid to Bangkok after the coup in September 2006. The U.S. canceled $24 million in military programs to pressure the regime to return to democratic rule. Thailand and China concluded a joint military exercise in China in July, and military exchange programs are being expanded.
Allen Hicken, co-author of “Thailand’s New Politics,” said the new arms are for the volatile situation in the south.
“My understanding is that the demand for these purchases is the result of the unrest of the south and the need to re-equip and arm Thailand’s soldiers in the south,” Hicken said. “A particular concern is insufficient armored vehicles. The ongoing U.S. arms embargo means that Thailand has to look elsewhere for this equipment. The U.S. embargo will probably be lifted after the elections, but I think the feeling is that they can’t wait that long.”
Thai Defense Minister Boonrawd Somtas said in August the military needed new tanks, ships, fighter aircraft and helicopters. The budget, which had been capped at $2.9 billion annually since the 1997 Asian financial crisis, will increase to $5.1 billion next year.
A Thai government official said the arms purchase is business as usual, with the normal allotment of gratuities being spread around.
“The purchase is a regular investment in hardware by the military,” the official said. “The cost is not that large for the economy to absorb. The brass should be happy; a corollary to this is that the arms sellers would do their usual turn of giving commissions to the purchase approvers. You may view it as detrimental behavior by the purchasers or normal transaction fallout.
“The bad angle to this is that the commissions should have been returned to the Budget Bureau or the national treasury, rather than to purchase approvers, who exercised power but paid none of the money used to buy the arms. The [Thai] world is still imperfect,” he said.
The military-backed government is preparing for elections in December. The new elections are expected to lead to a renewal of U.S. military aid, and some hope it will force out what many believe are corrupt military officials.
“The coup is coming to a close. The population is displeased that driving out Prime Minister Thaksin only brought in other power-hungry groups. The population now wants Prime Minister Surayut Chulanon and his Cabinet to quickly exit the stage; the ministers did practically no worthwhile work so far while in office; decisive meaningful decisions were aborted one after another,” the Thai government official said.
“So, the election should be held as soon as possible, and this prime minister and his conceited group should go away as soon as possible. We are now waiting for the final three laws concerning election procedures to be enacted, and then it is countdown to election day."