Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 08/2009

Diverging Roads: 21st-century U.S.-Thai Defense Relations.

Lewis M. Stern

June 2009

Academy of Political Science


The United States invested in the professionalization and modernization of Thailand’s armed forces through strategic military sales and the beginning of a generation of joint and combined training exercises that had as their centerpiece the annual Cobra Gold exercise that began in 1981. Washington became enmeshed in a series of strategic agreements intended to deepen American involvement in the defense of Thailand, including an agreement to create a War Reserve Stockpile, the first U.S. stockpile outside of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and South Korea.However, Thailand’s “frontline state” role in the effort to resist Vietnam’s continued occupation of Cambodia, and the prominent part played by the core members of the Association for Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in defining the basis for a peaceful resolution of the Cambodian conflict, plus China’s willingness to actively provide lethal assistance to the Khmer Rouge (KR) through Thailand, changed the shape of defense realities in the region and provided the basis for a Sino-Thai alliance.