Friday, 10 March 2017

Thailand and UK defence diplomacy sinking?

Khun Wassana Nanuam as always is a must-read on Thailand military and defence matters as in her latest article "Defence Diplomacy and China" in last week's Bangkok Post as well as editorial and letters on the perennial issue of Thailand's submarine purchases:

Now with 3 Chinese submarines planned, rather than 6 German used submarines, plus two or three new bases on the Andaman Sea and Gulf Of Thailand there is a wide-ranging debate that echoes here in UK too.

Is the cost justified? Are the enemies more real than imagined, and land-based rather than sea-based? And more worryingly for the Thai taxpayer is the Gulf of Thailand deep enough for the subs to be used.

Surely Thailand's Auld Enemy was Myanmar, just as England's was Scotland? Ships would be as irrelevant as elephants or walls for both nations except for ICBM missile attacks on cities.

And more widely within ASEAN, is there a naval and ICBM arms race brewing with Indian submarines, China's South China Sea bases and Hainan sub yard and North Korean missiles?

And perhaps Indonesia made the best of its maritime procurement in scooping up what was the East German navy for a song.

Clearly Thailand's defence is a matter for its citizen and taxpayers in scrutinising the military shopping list.

But the issue echoes here in UK with a political scandal around the renewal of the Trident nuclear missile and three or four new nuclear submarines. And a faulty nuclear test that, bizarrely, could have nuked Disneyland in Florida at the time of the parliamentary debate on Trident that was hushed up for six months.

A further political scandal is looming on the incompetence of the UK military-concerns over the generalship of the Iraq and Afghan wars as well as military kit problems: aircraft carriers without aircraft, refuelling aircraft that can't refuel and police guns that don't shoot straight.

And High Court CAAT cases over disarmament around arms exports for m UK - even Germany's Heckler and Koch machine guns refusing export orders due Germany's restrictions.

The value of the Royal Navy new base in Bahrain is under question too for cost as well as propping up an absolutist monarchy. While the closure of all the UK army bases in Germany finally marks the end of the Cold War albeit with NATO troop deployments in Poland and Baltic states over the Russian invasion of Ukraine and Crimea.

Maybe Bahrain is the fallback position for Scottish independence and the Clyde nukes lost? Or just tax-bloat inter-service rivalry.

If war is too important to be left to the generals according to Clemenceau, then on present form they certainly shouldn't be allowed near the UK government cheque book.

More generally, PM Prayut might recall, before hastening to float the Navy's boats, East Kent's Duke of Wellington a military man turned PM who expressed frustration with his political cabinet that, on being given their orders, insisted on sitting around and debating them.

Sometimes that's a wise course of action.

And surely PM Prayut as an uber-patriot safeguarding and modernising the nation and steering it back to democracy must be looking to the future? Whether that's his own political party or an ASEAN Elder role not dissimilar to Kofi Annan and the UN?

Few ASEAN generals except PM Prayut could cite success in building bridges within ASEAN and China and the West. And it would be achievement, with only three coups in 25 years, in reducing that in future.

Quite frankly though the Thai navy could give the NATO navies a few lessons given the fiasco of 4,000 refugee deaths in the Mediterranean each year. Or maritime cooperation with the 30 year anniversary of the Herald of Free Enterprise ferry sinking and 193 deaths in the English Channel. Or the RNLI and President Buchanan gold lifesaving medals a lost East Kent treasure.

But the only real military threat being North Korean missiles on Tokyo or Beijing or Guam as a precursor to Los Angeles.

Germany has cancelled its conscription programme on cost and effectiveness grounds, while Sweden with an Arctic Russian border have introduced conscription, albeit only 4,000 troops, and Norway is considering more submarines.

It's hard to see how the UK;'s 82,000 troops wouldn't be reduced to under 50,000 troops and rotation through UK and Europe and Africa. Certainly just 300 troops for UK peacekeeping in Sudan is 90% more feeble than it should be. And the Pandemics and Piracy of West Africa a military failure already even without reconstruction or nation-building.

With no naval actions since 1945 and only one submarine missile/torpedo fired in anger during the Falklands War in 1982, it's hard to justify the expense and waste of large navies against drones. 30 UK nuclear submarines - firing normal ICBM missiles rather than nuclear ones - are scrapped but still waiting to be decontaminated. And the savings from NATO-consistent kit are weak: the USA military having to ship the largest-ever containers of bullets from America.

Kent's Defence Minister Michael Fallon MP has rightly urged not just the German base closures but also UK military barracks reduced to just 5 super-bases and the army reduced to 82,000 troops.

Aside from a sneak attack from the General Kutzenov wheezing through the English Channel to Syria we're fortunate in East Kent, with Dover Europe's largest port, that we'd be reduced to radioactive ash in the first few hours if the Russian armies decided to be in London or Paris for supper and a show.

Kent's Winston Churchill often cited the sacrifices of the Russian armies in resisting Hitler - 500 Soviet divisions supported by just 2 British divisions. Stalin wryly agreeing that 502 divisions would be useful. East Kent's Margate and its 1970's Soviet-chic tower blocks still twinned with Sevastopol. And half the D-Day troops American, and the fortitude contribution of Kent's General Patton and the Marshall Plan, more realistically recalibrate the scales of European freedom beyond mere UK jingoism.

Although the USA lead in NATO under Trump and Mattis is contradictory - one moment urging 2% NATO budget for the Europeans to pay their way. Then announcing a massive 10% increase in USA military spend. And concerns with all 3 top USA Trump government roles run by generals it's starting to look like a 1970's Latin American junta.

If Kent built America through the Virginia Jamestown, then America certainly saved East Kent and the rest of Western Europe.

After Iraq2 dodgy dossiers and ShinerGate war crimes, and enhanced interrogation torture wordplay or Yemen cluster bombs and phosphorous, few UK troops will be willing to deploy overseas without a UN mandate.

And if UK military kit is largely junk it's unpleasant to see it being foisted on the nations through excessive arms shows and military attaches.

As Khun Wassana points out Chinese investment in the Thai military is sensible long-term procurement in training and spares and replacement.

Beer and bunfights in the barracks, or inter-service rugby and football and school-building, are preferable to a shooting war, but a waste of tax and military resource given the potential for vital UN peacekeeping and policing in the African Sahel.

Surely UK and Thailand as key NATO and ASEAN militaries need to unlock 21st century peace and prosperity from the baggage of Empire and Cold War?

Britain's last flakes of Empire in the Falklands and Gibraltar must surely be the basis of a Hong Kong-style handover and UN guarantees with democratic allies such as Argentina and Spain. Much as the Spratlys and Paracels are already under UNCLOS debate, or the Thai-Khmer peaceful resolution of Preah Vihar.

And if Russia joining the EU post-Putin may be a decade or two away, it's hardly beyond the capabilities of ASEAN for stronger support for peace and prosperity of Shan state or Mindanao or Papua New Guinea or abolition of the death penalty.

With the 60th anniversary of the EU and the 50th anniversary of ASEAN this year, surely UK and Thailand, as well as Commonwealth nations such as Malaysia and Singapore, even Myanmar, should be cooperating more closely beyond occasional Cobra Gold flag-waving?

Time for Change

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