James McConville, Chief of Staff for the US Army, recently met with Prayuth Chan-o-cha, the Prime Minister of Thailand, to sign a new “Strategic Vision” pact. The pact outlines mutual goals of securing Thailand's modernization and military training, as well as reassuring US commitment in the region.
This marked the first visit to Thailand from any foreign delegation since the COVID-19 pandemic limited international travel. The meeting also included General Apirat Kongsompong, Commander in Chief of the Royal Thai Army, and US Ambassador to Thailand Michael George DeSombre. While the exact text has not been released, an official statement from the US embassy mentioned that the group discussed “modernization, interoperability, joint training, and doctrine.”
The pact has helped secure Thailand’s status as Washington’s longest ally in Asia. The two nations have had a broad, multi-faceted partnership, cemented through a series of pacts such as the 1954 Manila Pact of the former Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO), the 1962 Thanat-Rusk communiqué, and the 2012 Joint Vision Statement for the Thai-U.S. Defense Alliance. In 2003, the United States also officially designated Thailand to be a major non-NATO ally. After a period of uncertainty between the two that was ended by the general election in Thailand last year that restored civilian rule, the United States sought to reassert its commitment to the relationship. This led to the Joint Vision statement signed between Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Prayuth in November 2019, followed soon after by the Strategic Vision pact.
Along with a laid-out vision for security alliances, the pact also created a new vision for cooperation moving forward to combat COVID-19, in the form of $2 million in aid to help Thailand cope, as well as revised military training scenarios to ensure the utmost caution in regard to the pandemic.
Tenzin Chomphel is a participant in the East-West Center Washington’s Young Professionals Program. He is also a graduate student studying international economics at UC San Diego’s School of Global Policy and Strategy, specializing in the China-Pacific region.