In This Review

Infiltrating Society: The Thai Military’s Internal Security Affairs
Infiltrating Society: The Thai Military’s Internal Security Affairs
By Puangthong Pawakapan
ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute, 2021, 182 pp.

It takes not just skill but also courage for a Thailand-based scholar to explain so clearly how the military has penetrated society in an effort to foster support for its conservative, royalist policies. Pawakapan traces the military’s “civil affairs projects” back to its counterinsurgency campaigns of the 1950s and 1960s against the Communist Party of Thailand. With the support of the revered king, Bhumibol Adulyadej, these efforts expanded even after the communist insurgency faded, justified by the theory that social and economic development were part of the military’s security mission. Road, water, forestry, and electric power projects, as well as vocational programs, were linked with military-sponsored mass organizations that carried out political surveillance, security patrols, royalist indoctrination, and occasional vigilante operations. Around the turn of the century, the palace and the army faced new threats—the rise of a populist movement that put Thaksin Shinawatra into office as prime minister in 2001 and the impending accession to the throne of the widely disliked crown prince, Maha Vajiralongkorn. (The army evicted Thaksin from office in a 2006 coup, and Vajiralongkorn became king in 2016.) The army reinvigorated its efforts to control Thai society through its associated mass organizations in a bid to protect the status quo. But Pawakapan doubts the military has actually succeeded in generating much popular support for a corrupt and inequitable system.