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size=5>CHAPTER 3

size=5>Contingency Planning

The Plan for


The Government of Thailand hosted the

majority of American troops (35,000) in Southeast Asia after the last military

unit left South Vietnam on 29 March 1973.1 Accordingly, events in Thailand had a

significant impact on American military contingencies in Southeast Asia,

especially in Cambodia, its neighbor to the east. Considering the magnitude of

the effect social and political factors had on military decisions in Southeast

Asia, Thailand in 1973 demands examination.

In November 1971, a group of military

and civilian leaders, headed by Premier Thanom Kittikachorn* and Interior

Minister General Praphas Charusathien, effected a bloodless coup promising 'not

to change any existing institutions 'beyond necessity.' ' By June of 1973, the

council had abolished the constitution drawn up in 1968, dissolved parliament,

disbanded the cabinet, and established martial law. In addition, it pledged to

continue Thailand's anti-Communist and pro-American foreign policy.2

Students dissatisfied by this turn of

events protested, staging numerous demonstrations in Bangkok. The student

leaders demanded a new constitution and immediate replacement of the military

dictatorship with a duly elected democratic government. The critics of the new

regime contended that the dictatorship had created more problems than it had

solved, and in particular pointed to the state of the economy. The validity of

this charge was readily apparent; the economy had worsened and many of

Thailand's problems stemmed from its economic woes, especially its high

unemployment.3 The students attributed the extensive joblessncss to the

government's inefficency and corruption. Still, despite the overwhelming

argument against the government, the students and protesters lacked a dramatic

issue to catalyze their movement. Events outside Thailand seemed to answer that

need when American military operations and Thai politics collided over the use

of force in Cambodia.

The issue of whether the United States

military should be allowed to use Royal Thai bases to support the besieged

government in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, quickly became the hottest topic in Thai

political circles. U.S. air operations from bases in Thailand against the Khmer

Communist offensive began at the end of March 1973 and by June the students had

organized substantial public support against the American military involvement

in Cambodia. On 20 June they held a massive protest rally in Bangkok. This

upheaval in Thailand coincided with the U.S. Congress' passage of the

Case-Church amendment cutting off all funding for combat operations in Southeast

Asia effective 45 days after the start of the new fiscal year. As a result the

U.S. Air Force and Marine Corps ceased bombing on 15 August and returned the

Royal Thai Air Force Base at Nam Phong to the Thai government on 21 September,

and then stood by and watched the students overthrow the military dictatorship

on 14 October 1973. King Phumiphol Aduldet immediately appointed Sanya Thammasak

as Kittikachorn's successor, the first civilian premier since 195 3.4

The overthrow of the military

government precipitated an immediate but previously scheduled withdrawal of

major U.S. elements from Thailand and a reduction in military assistance funds.

It also finalized a reorganization of forces in Southeast Asia, begun with the

signing of the Paris Peace Accords and consummated by a U.S.-Thai Accord in

August of 1973. The joint U.S.-Thai agreement was negotiated as a result of the

recently displayed Thai nationalism and a growing need to realign Thailand's

diplomatic affairs to adjust to the reduced American military presence

confronting the Communist governments in Southeast Asia. Nearly surrounded by

Communist governments and faced with an inevitable regional realignment,

Thailand had to display an awareness of its changing security needs and a

sensitivity to North Vietnam's interests. Thailand's new military arrangement

with the United States sent a message to its neighbors that it controlled its

own destiny and although its intentions were peaceful it would not

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