Military


Ministry of Defense

The Thai military establishment historically has played an important role in the country's national life. Composed of heterogeneous elements of regular cadres and conscripts, the armed forces in mid-1987 had a total strength of approximately 273,000 officers and enlisted personnel on active duty. Component services included the Royal Thai Army of 190,000, the Royal Thai Navy of 40,000, and the Royal Thai Air Force of 43,000. The navy's personnel strength included 20,000 marines.

Thailand's military affairs came into existence at the same time when the kingdom of Thailand was established. They have subsequently developed from Sukhothai period through Rattanakosin era. In the reign of King Rama the fifth,our great beloved King systemized the thai military for the purposes of defending the country, maintaining Thailand's freedom, integrity and sovereignty and keeping abreast with civilized countries.

The King brought the army and the navy under the command of his royal highness prince (Mahavajirunahidh) the crown prince. On april 8,1887, the King issued a decree to establish the war department, during that period, the thai military affairs were extensively developed and modernized in pursuit of those of civilized countries. Later on, april 1, 1890, the war department was upgraded to the war ministry with the army and the navy under its command. In the reign of King Rama the sixth, the war ministry was changed into the ministry of defence. It's responsibility was only for the army as the navy was separated to become the navy ministry after world war I, the navy ministry was joined to the ministry of defence on november 8, 1931 and the air force was established on april 9, 1937. Since then there have been three armed services in the ministry of defence. Namely army, navy and air force.

The thai armed forces have been continuously developed to be as advanced as those in civilized countries. There are some major changes in organizational structures,education, training, operations and others in order to implement authority and responsibility as specified in the present constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand. Article 72 of the constitution states that the state is required to provide military forces in order to protect it's independence, stability, the monarchy, national interests, democracy with constitutional monarchy and to develop the country.

In 1960, the role and the duty of the ministry of defence were defined in article 4 of the ministry of defence act. The article states that the ministry of defence has authority and duty in defending and maintaining the stability of the Kingdom from external and internal threats. The military force is established to protect the monarchy, to fight the rebels and the riots, to develop the country and to protect the national interests as defined by law.

The military's reputation as the center of political power manifested itself in nearly a score of coups and countercoups between 1932 and 1987. Over the years, its role as a political instrument had detracted from its abilities as a professional military force. Doubts about the state of combat readiness had been expressed by some members of the Thai officer corps as well as by foreign military observers. By the 1980s, the military had acted to increase the professionalism of its personnel-- particularly the officer corps--and to modernize its units and weaponry.

The Thai Armed Forced are divided into three branches: the Royal Thai Army (RTA), Royal Thai Navy (RTN) and Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF). The Thai soldiers are composed of professional cover soldiers and those recruited by conscription. Every male aged twenty is subject to two years military service. Students are allowed deferments until they have graduated.

The King is Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Thai Armed Forced and the Cabinet is the instrument through which national security policy is formulated. A National Security Council, composed of a number of ministers, is charged with coordinating the maintenance of national security.

Largely because of the advice and military aid received from the United States in the decades since World War II, Thailand's military establishment reflected to some degree the influence of American defense practices. This was particularly apparent in the organizational structure of its high command.

Although the 1978 Constitution--like its predecessors--declares that the king is the head of the armed forces, his role is chiefly ceremonial. Until 1957 functional control was generally exercised by the prime minister through the minister of defense. Both positions were important in the national power structure, but they were usually held by political appointees who had little actual authority over the troops.

As the military establishment grew in size and proficiency, control over its operations became vested in the supreme commander of the armed forces. Over the years the influence inherent in the job marked it as a logical springboard to the prime minister's office. Even in periods dominated by military regimes, the various heads of government watched the activities of the supreme commander warily, realizing that their own positions of authority were subject in large measure to his concurrence. This pattern is exemplified by the military coup d'etat of September 1957 in which Sarit Thanarat took over the government. Assuming control of the military establishment as prime minister, Sarit further ensured his position of authority in April 1960 by securing a royal decree that designated him supreme commander as well. This title was similarly assumed by Field Marshal Thanom Kittikachorn, who succeeded Sarit as prime minister in 1963.

Despite past successes in using this seemingly traditional basis of influence, the supreme commander with political ambitions was still subject to the military retirement system. According to the Military Service Act of 1954, retirement at age sixty was mandatory for all military personnel. A year after General Kriangsak became prime minister in 1977 he had to relinquish his additional position as supreme commander of the armed forces because of the military retirement age.

Throughout the history of military governments in Thailand, the effective authority wielded by the prime minister depended, in large measure, on support from the real center of military power -- the army commander in chief, who controlled the field forces--and on the adroitness of the prime minister in garnering such support for himself. Prime Minister Kriangsak was successful in this regard in 1978 when he appointed the commander of the Second Army, General Prem Tinsulanonda -- a respected professional soldier -- commander in chief of the army. ln June 1979 Prem was given the additional position of minister of defense within the Council of Ministers. Prem went on from these posts to succeed Kriangsak as prime minister in 1980. General Arthit Kamlangek served as both army commander in chief and supreme commander of the armed forces until 1986, when he lost the former title as a result of his outspoken opposition to Prime Minister Prem. Arthit retired from active duty in 1986.

On national security matters that required coordinated cabinet action or presented a serious threat to the country's sovereignty, the prime minister was advised by the National Security Council. This body consisted of the prime minister as chairman; his deputies; the council's secretary general; the ministers of defense, foreign affairs, interior, communications, and finance; and the supreme commander of the armed forces. Traditionally the prime minister dominated the workings of the council.

Thammarak IsaranguraGeneral Thammarak Isarangura was Minister of Defence as of January 2004. General Prawit Wongsuwon was Minister of Defence as of 20 December 2008. Prawit Wongsuwon

The Defence Ministry coordinates administration of the armed forces. The expenditures of the Defense Ministry are among the greatest of any ministry, absorbing a large proportion of the total national budget. Thailand's fighting forces are governed by the Supreme Command Headquarters which is staffed by leaders of the Army, Navy and Air Force.

The Ministry of Defense supervises the operations and administration of the military establishment and coordinated military policies with those of other governmental agencies concerned with national security. The defense minister received advice on military matters--particularly those pertaining to draft laws, budget allocations, mobilization, training, and deployment of the armed forces in response to national need -- from the ministry's Defense Council. This body comprised the minister of defense as chairman; his two deputy ministers; the undersecretary of defense; the supreme commander of the armed forces; the chief of staff of the Supreme Command; the commanders in chief of the three services, their deputies, and chiefs of staff; and not more than three additional general officers selected for their outstanding ability.

In 1960, the role and the duty of the ministry of defence were defined in article 4 of the ministry of defence act. The article states that the ministry of defence has authority and duty in defending and maintaining the stability of the Kingdom from external and internal threats. The military force is established to protect the monarchy, to fight the rebels and the riots, to develop the country and to protect the national interests as defined by law.

The ministry of defence reorganized its structures in order to accomplish its mission according to the defence act. The ministry consists of four main units as follows:

  • Office of the secretary to the minister
  • Royal aide-de-camp department
  • Supreme command headquarters
  • Office of the permanent secretary

The office of the permanent secretary of defence is responsible for general duties in the ministry, and tasks that are not assigned to specific organisations. Its responsibilities include providing advice and assisting minister of defence in planning, supervising, ordering, following up, as well as implementing defence policies and coordinating the practice of all units in the ministry of defence which are the supreme command headquarters and the armed services with other government agencies,supporting the practice of supreme command headquarters and armed services defence policies regarding defence energies, defence industries, defence research and development and other assignments. As for the office of permanent secretary, there consists seven sub - units with their own responsibilities as follows:

  • Office of the permanent secretary headquarters
  • Office of policy and planning
  • Secretariat department
  • Judge advocate general's department
  • Finance department
  • Defence industry and energy center
  • Office of defence audit


The Office of the Secretary to the Minister of Defence is responsible for political issues of the minister. The office has two sections, political section and petition auditing section.

The Royal Aide-de-Camp Department is responsible for all duties concerning security of their majesties the king and queen, the crown prince and members of the royal family.

The Supreme Command Headquarters is the main operational component of the Ministry of Defence. It acts as the supreme command unit of the royal thai armed forces. Its missions are to prepare armed forces for combat readiness defend the kingdom. The headquarters headed by the supreme commander has the following sub - units: the Royal Thai Army, the Royal Thai Navy, the Royal Thai Air Force and Other Sub - Units as Stipulated in the Defence Act.

Each of the three armed services is headed by a commander in chief who was directly responsible to the supreme commander of the armed forces for the combat readiness and operation of his units. Although the three components were equal under the law, the army was in fact the dominant service. Key positions in both the armed forces high command structure and the cabinets of military regimes traditionally were held by senior army officers. In order to ensure support from the other services, however, senior officers from the navy, air force, and police occasionally were appointed to a few key ministries. In general the structural form of service units and the method of their employment were similar to those of comparable United States military components, although they differed in size and in the technological sophistication of their equipment.




NEWSLETTER
Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list