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Old Alliance for the New Century: Reinvigorating the U.S.-Thailand Alliance

Catharin Dalpino

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

This report examines U.S. and Thai perspectives on the U.S.-Thailand alliance with a view to reinvigorating the alliance and, in doing so, strengthening cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region and around the world.

Main Argument

Although the U.S.-Thailand alliance made a successful transition out of the Cold War framework of the Vietnam War era to a more flexible arrangement, it has stagnated in recent years. This has been caused by domestic distractions on both sides, differences in threat perceptions, and the expansion of both countries’ political, economic, and security relations in the region.

Changes in the alliance, however, offer opportunities for new forms of cooperation. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have expanded U.S.-Thailand security cooperation beyond the Asia-Pacific region, while the proliferation of nontraditional security threats after the Cold War—including terrorism—has broadened the base of the alliance. Moreover, the expansion of Asian regional frameworks, most of them based on ASEAN structures, has given the U.S.-Thailand alliance a more regional orientation. Seizing these opportunities to strengthen relations will require more frequent dialogue between the U.S. and Thailand.

Policy Implications

The report recommends six policy initiatives to revitalize the U.S.-Thailand alliance:

  • Raise the profile of U.S.-Thai relations with frequent visits from senior leaders of both governments
  • Establish a bilateral dialogue on China and the impact of rising powers in the Asia-Pacific region
  • Support Thailand’s objective to reclaim a regional role in ASEAN
  • Develop a regional hub for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief at the Thai military base in Utapao
  • Expand, where appropriate, regional membership in Cobra Gold while maintaining a strong bilateral base in the exercise
  • Identify mechanisms to expand and liberalize both bilateral and regional trade