U.S. and Thai military leaders reaffirmed the strong military-to-military relationship between the two countries in a series of meetings here.
Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, met with his Thai counterpart, Army Gen. Tarnchaiyan Srisuwan, as well as Defense Minister Prawit Wongsuwan and Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha.
He said the meetings were constructive and the leaders are planning for decades of cooperation between the two nations.
Dunford is the first chairman to visit the kingdom since 2012. A military coup in 2014 canceled any high-level contacts between the two militaries. The Thai regime has promised a return to civilian control after elections later this year.
The visit is proof of the chairman’s commitment to the military-to-military relationship between U.S. and Thailand. Dunford noted that the contacts between the two countries is far broader than a simple security relationship. “Our relationship … is about security, but it is also about our economic interests. It’s about our cultural linkages, our social linkages, our educational linkages, our commitment to health in the region, so we have a very rich relationship with Thailand and I am looking forward to, in some small way, advancing that relationship,” he said in a short press conference following his meeting with the Thai defense minister.
Forging Personal Relationships
He also wanted to meet with the Thai defense leaders. “I came to forge a personal relationship with my counterpart and also with the minister of defense,” Dunford said. “We’ve had good discussions about how we will move the relationship forward and what opportunities exist for us to deepen our military-to-military relationship.”
Thailand and the United States first forged contacts in 1818, and the Southeast Asian nation is a treaty ally of the United States -- one of five in the Indo-Pacific region. Thailand is a prime example of the benefits of the rules-based international order in place since the end of World War II. Thailand was the first nation in the region to develop and maintain a middle class.
The peace and stability maintained by the rules-based international system allowed Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and the other nations in the region to develop. “In my view, the most important thing about our relationship has been that together, we have contributed to a rules-based international order for more than 70 years,” Dunford said. “So when I think about our relationship, I don’t think about it in two-year, or three-year, or five-year increments, I think about our relationship in terms of decades.”
The chairman said his discussions with Thai leaders centered on ways the alliance can contribute to that rules-based international order in the future.
The military relationship has changed and will continue to change, if only because conditions change. “We want to make sure we have a 21st century relationship,” the chairman said. “We want to make sure that our training, our professional military education, our equipping is all going to allow us to be relevant in face of the challenges we will face tomorrow.”
The chairman spoke of “deepening” exercises and expanding educational opportunities in the future. Thailand’s annual Cobra Gold exercise will begin next week and U.S. embassy officials said around 6,800 American service members will take part.
The general also said he was “very encouraged by the Thai leadership's commitment to return to a democratic government.”
This, he added, “would allow us to deepen our relationship in the years ahead."
Watch Gen. Dunford's press conference in Bangkok: