Courtesy Reuters

Untying Thailand

The implications of an uncertain ceasefire in Indochina and the possible beginning of separate political dialogues in Laos and Cambodia have again focused attention on Washington's alliance with Thailand, the only nation on the mainland of Southeast Asia which the United States is bound by treaty to defend. Significantly too, Thailand faces an increasingly serious, if not yet critical, insurgency. No matter how the situation in each of the three Indochina states is finally resolved, President Nixon's decisions on Thailand in the next year will largely determine the future course of American policy and involvement in Southeast Asia during the decade ahead.

Since the end of World War II, a series of American administrations has operated on the principle that an anti-Communist Thailand, friendly to Washington, was an asset, if not a necessity, to the strategic and economic interests of the United States in Asia. This principle was converted into a mutual defense treaty in the SEATO pact of 1954, and in 1962, as a result of the Laotian crisis of that year, this commitment was enlarged by interpretation in the Rusk-Thanat accord, so that the United States agreed to defend Thailand unilaterally if SEATO collectively should fail to heed a Thai call for assistance.

During the last eight years, the commitment has been most visibly expressed by the use of Thailand, with willing Thai acquiescence, as the great rear area for the United States in its prosecution of the Indochina War. Thailand has served not only as the staging area for the majority of air strikes against North Vietnam and Laos, but as the logistics and headquarters base for the semi-covert war in Laos and, to a lesser extent, in Cambodia. The massiveness of the American air war would have been extremely difficult and far more costly to mount, and the land war in Laos an impossibility, if it had not been for the Thai sanctuary. And during the last 18 months the need for the Thai bases became crucial as the military

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