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A Public Forum on Democratic Control of the Military: Thailand in Comparative Perspective

 A Public Forum on

“Democratic Control of the Military:

Thailand in Comparative Perspective”


Thursday, 9 May 2013 at 08.30 – 11.30 a.m.

The Chumbhot-Pantip Conference Room, 4th Floor Prajadhipok-Rambhaibarni Building

Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University


08.30 – 09.00 a.m.        Registration and Coffee

09.00 – 09.10 a.m.        Welcome Remarks

                                       Prof. Dr. Supachai Yavaprabhas

                                       Dean, Faculty of Political Science

                                       Chulalongkorn University


09.10 – 09.40 a.m.        “Democratization and Civilian Control in Asia”


                                       Professor Dr. Aurel Croissant

                                       Institute of Political Science, Heidelberg University, Germany


09.40 – 11.30 a.m.         Panel discussion and Q&A


                                       Assoc. Prof. Dr. Panitan Wattanayagorn

                                       Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University


                                       Col. Dr. Teeranan Nandhakwang

                                       Deputy Director of Strategic and Security Affairs Division

                                       National Defence College



                                       Assoc. Prof. Dr. Thitinan Pongsudhirak

                                       Director of ISIS Thailand

                                       Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University



Video:  Democratic Control of the Military:  Thailand in Comparative Perspective

Democratic Control of the Military:  Thailand in Comparative Perspective 

Part 1/3 : 

Democratic Control of the Military:  Thailand in Comparative Perspective 

Part 2/3 :

Democratic Control of the Military:  Thailand in Comparative Perspective 

Part 3/3 :



Welcome Remarks

Professor Dr.Suphachai gave welcome remarks to the participants. He expressed his gratitude to FES for continual support and hoped that the discussion would encourage more studies in this area.



In his introductory remarks, Professor Dr.Croissant highlighted the main idea of the book which discusses the issue of civilian control of the Thai military and the ploblems and prospect. There is analysis of civilian control over the military in selected Asian countries. In summary, he noted that democratic control over the military was the key.

The contents in his book were based on a 4 year collaborative research project in so called ‘emerging democracy’ countries including Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan, Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand.

In his findings, many new democracies are poorly prepared for a double challenge after their transformation. First, like other new democracies worldwide, they are not able to adequately develop strong internal mechanism to control the military. Second, they have to turn their armed forces into protectors of their citizens. The role of these armed forces is to provide security domestically. The military has to therefore be effective and efficient. Civilians should not micro-manage military affairs. Sometimes there is tension and negative consequences if there is over-control (i.e. the US army in Vietnam).

Asia is a natural laboratory for civilian control studies. The diversity in these countries provides an opportunity to study them internally. The researched countries went through both social and political transition. The dissimilarity between the cases allows the results to be generalized and, therefore, increases the robustness of the results.

In the previous research studies, the focus was on a single case in an individual region which impedes the generalizations. For example, in the case of Latin American countries which have shared the same language, culture, social and historical structure, the validity of a case cannot be used to generalize in terms of the rest of the world. Moreover, most of the studies provide stories and anecdotes of the countries. Thus, the comparison between cases in various countries in this book will increase the readers’ understanding from both empirical and analytical aspects throughout the chapters.

There are 4 research questions in this study as follows;

  • How to conceptualize civilian control? ;
  • What is the state of civilian control in Asia’s emerging democracies? ;
  • Why do democracies fail or succeed in achieving control over their militaries? ;
  • What are the policy-implications? 

In answer to the first question, Dr.Croissant defined the meaning of civilian control as many of the transition processes in the 3rd wave have reached a standstill in the early 21st century, thus, only partial democracies emerged. The new democracies are greatly influenced by militaries. From global perspective, military inspired of coups are declining and the number of direct military intervention is decreasing (except in Thailand). However, these countries suffered from other forms of military activism instead.

Therefore, Dr.Croissant defined civilian control as the distribution of decision-making power in which civilians have exclusive authority to decide on national politics and their implementation. The 5 initial conditions used to defined civilian control in Dr.Croissant’s research were leadership selection, public policy, internal security, external defense, and military organization. The intensity of these conditions varied due to different starting conditions in each country. In the pre-democratic period, Taiwan had a single party regime while Thailand had military regime. Also, military control during the democratic transition in Taiwan was less influential than in South Korea which had a strong military influence before the establishment of democracy. In addition, the military also played a prominent role in the society and economy. As a consequence, the domestics and international environments were different in the selected countries.

During 1992-1993, there was no civilian control in Thailand as well as in South Korea and in Indonesia. Although the initial conditions for civilian control were the same, the outcomes were different among these countries. Thailand failed to institutionalize its social structure. It can be concluded that initial conditions matter but the different results cannot be explained by them only.

The success or failures of civil-military relations depend mainly on power. Before undertaking a process of reform, one must be sure that the necessary prerequisites are in place in order to proceed. These prerequisites are:

  • A consensus between democratic forces that must translate into maximum support from the legislature for the changes planned.
  • An agreement between political parties that they will not seek the armed forces support for their respective stances

According to the case of Thailand, the country ranked 5th in the most coups in the world with 18 coups since 1932, Dr.Croissant differentiated 4 political periods; 1992-2000, 2001-2006, 2006-2007, and 2010. The quantity and the degree of civilian control varied over time. The civilian control in 2010 was found weaker than in prior 1992 period. Successful institutionalization of civilian control in Thailand ultimately depends on domestic governments, institutions and civilian actors. Thailand is a high risk coup-prone country with several factors determining the risk. However, there were a few countries that could escape the coup-trap including Argentina, Syria and South Korea. Thus, in the case of Thailand, Dr.Croissant suggested that civilian agency was the key factor in strengthening the positive civil-military relationship as well as to block the formation of a coup coalition. Also, problems of inequality should be addressed and a “democratic” coup-proofing process should be established (i.e. bringing civil society and think tanks into the process of reform civil-militarian relations and form strong links with civilians). However, it must be recognized that military reform is dependent on the growth of democracy, the economic and social climate, as well as regional and international conditions.

In Dr.Panitan’s discussion, he mentioned several key points about the book and civilian control in Thailand. He took the opportunity to commend the book noting that it was a great start to systematically capture and measure civilian control in quantitative and qualitative terms. However, he emphasized that when applying these tools to a case of any country, particularly Thailand, it is complicated unless one closely monitor the changing environment. The research has ignored some major internal threats especially in political pressure against the elite. They are fighting over the control and power from not only on the part of the military, the monarchy and the bureaucracy but also from the business sectors and the NGOs.

Dr.Panitan also suggested that domestic violence in Thai politics required the military to step in sometimes. The policemen themselves cannot control the situation under traditional threats. Moreover, the rise of new major powers such as China and Japan as well as the return of the US power will contribute to the sustainability of military control and military power. He noted that democratic control of the military has rarely been realized in Thailand. But under certain governments headed by civilians, including Anand Panyarachun and Chuan Leekpai, efforts were made to gain more control over the military.

In order to increase civilian control, there should be a gradual progress in development of civil society and in parliamentary oversight. What can be effective in Thailand as to the role of the civilian leadership is to press for more control. Since internet connectivity is pervasive, people will be able to receive and process the information with a greater speed.

Civilian control could occur, and is occurring in Thailand, but it is happening at a very slow pace. Internal organization could be more effective as well as political leadership. So, Thailand should reassess how it could manage problems. Then, they should respond to the domestic threats. Although ISA is responsible for the “mini-homeland” security, there still is a need for a joint civilian-military organization which will be responsible for the overall homeland security.

Dr. Teeranan began his speech by showing a statistic table of Thailand’s Coup D’états, which noted a lot of coups since the Revolution in 1930s. He understood that Thai Armed Force might be viewed as the ‘bad guy’. However, he proposed identifying the Military’s duty to be written in the Thai Constitution, Section 77 which covers in 4 main subjects: defend the country, defend the Monarchy, develop the nation, and play a support role in alleviating country crises such as earthquakes, epidemics, floods, etc. He then divided Thailand’s threats with 2 different types which are traditional threats and non-traditional threats. Traditional ones involved political conflicts and power struggles among states while non-traditional ones are caused by natural disasters such as floods, epidemics, earthquakes, storms, and tsunamis. The problems caused by both types of threats are often solved in the same way, by using national security sector – Armed Forces. So, although the Thai Military is often seen as a bad character compares with other Thai Institutions. Nevertheless, it is still their job to solve threats. Dr. Teeranan tried to explain that the military sector always goes by rules and follows orders (referring to the Armed Force responsibilities written in the Constitution). The Armed Forces are not necessarily always the bad guy, sometimes it’s all about interpretation.