I just finished listening to a very interesting podcast on the 01 Oct re-shuffle within the Thai military from Radio Australia's Connect Asia program. There is also a transcript of the podcast on the ABC's Radio Australia Connect Asia website. The person being interviewed is John Cole, a former US Army Foreign Area Officer who graduated from Thai Staff College. John Cole also wrote an article in Asia Times Online about the reshuffle. The podcast is very informative on the thinking behind the reshuffle, who links to who and also what the military structures mean. There were also the mandatory statement on what a return of Thaksin may mean:
I think if you were looking for the one back breaker that could break the deal that you opened this interview conversation with, the one deal that could break, the one deal breaker issue would be to have everybody wake up one sunny morning and find that Thaksin's already landed at Don Mueang and he's back and I think the military. While hearing from my friends and former associates and classmates in Thai staff colleges, that's the one thing that could set the whole thing on fire.
John Cole had an interesting assessment about how military information is being leaked from the military itself to a political party:
Yes sir, yes sir, that's the inference here and if that's the case, that's a serious problem. I mean that means you've got military people working in Armed Forces Security Forces Centre who can't be trusted, that was the inference. So Lieutenant General Chaowarit was sent back there to, if you will, clean this up. And he's a capable person. He's not one of these overly authoritarian types. He's very intelligent and he's had a history of working in difficult positions. So I think he was in terms of skill levels, he's probably the best choice. In other words, the person who took over didn't have to relearn the job, he's the one who helped invent the job or update it, so I see that as a strong move on the part of the military.
For me, what these moves mean is that the Army is more focused on politics than operations and its own professional development. There is the potential that operational decisions will be based more firmly on political considerations than operational needs. The south is still unsettled posing both an opportunity for people to stoke provocations and also as a challenge to a military preoccupied with politics.
While the focus on the Army is obvious, I think it is also interesting what the new Navy Chief had to say. History indicates that the Navy's professionalism increased when they turned their back on political intervention. They have been the least political active of the services over recent years. The Navy is still hoping to acquire some second hand submarines from Germany, a plan they need approved by the current government. The Navy acquired Southeast Asia's only aircraft carrier, the HTMS CHAKRI NARUEBET, after the 1992 upheavals when it remained outside of the convulsions and violence at that time. (The signing of the purchase and the actual commencement of work in Spain spanned the military backed government and the civilian government.) That neutrality seems to be what the new Navy chief is stating this time around:
He said on Monday that under his leadership he was confident the navy would not get involved in politics and its personnel would be career soldiers.