BANGKOK, Thailand -- After the U.S. sold weapons to Thailand worth $1
billion during the past decade, this year's $261 million in U.S. arms
deals will strengthen the current coup-installed military government
against political opponents and Islamist separatists, symbolizing
President Trump's unconcern for human rights, according to analysts
and dissidents.
   "Please understand, the government does not throw state money into
just buying military hardware and weapons as some people claim," coup
leader Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said on July 11 defending the
armed forces' expansion and increased spending.
   Buddhist-majority Thailand purchased weapons from the U.S., China,
South Korea, Russia Ukraine, Israel, Sweden, Italy and elsewhere
during the past 10 years under military and civilian governments.
   Purchases include tanks, helicopters, armored vehicles, patrol
vessels, submarines, combat aircraft and other armaments.
   "Thailand has no real national security enemies. Internal security
is important to Thailand in terms of an [Islamist] insurgency in the
country's Deep South," said Paul Chambers, an American lecturer and
advisor for international affairs at Thailand's Naresuan University.
   Nearly 5,000 people on all sides have died in Thailand's four
southernmost provinces since 2004 where minority ethnic Malay-Thai
Muslims are fighting for autonomy or independence.
   "Also, the junta would like to obtain weapons which might be used
against potential opponents of its continued authoritarian rule," Mr.
Chambers, 50, said in an interview.
   "The problem is that Washington's defense sales to the Thai junta
can actually work to prop up military tyranny and prevent the return
to democracy. Does Washington really want to see U.S weapons and
supplies used by the junta to mow down those protesting in favor of
democracy in Thailand?
   "With more weapons, it will become ever more difficult for any
pro-democracy group to dislodge the military from power," Mr. Chambers
   "In the military sense, the biggest threat for junta is the
people...that there will always be someone who wants to overthrow
them," said Than Rittiphan, 25, a student member of the dissident New
Democracy Movement.
   "The U.S. also needs to contain China's influence over the region.
That means the U.S. has no choice but to try to improve its
relationship with Thailand as a geopolitically important strategic
ally," Mr. Than said in an interview.
   The latest deals "will make the junta appear to have U.S.
recognition" and be "legitimate to stay in power," Mr. Than said.
   After seizing power in a bloodless 2006 coup, the military ruled
this Southeast Asian nation for 16 months before allowing an interlude
of fragile civilian governments.
   That ended after a much more extensive putsch in 2014.
   Coup leader Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha has since retired as army chief
and become prime minister.
   International human rights organizations have criticized his
junta's military trials and "attitude adjustment" re-education
detention for dissidents, a ban on political activity and free speech,
immunity from prosecution for regime officials and security forces,
and other policies.
   President Trump recently invited Mr. Prayuth to the White House. No
date has been confirmed, but the prime minister is expected to enjoy a
boost by  meeting Mr. Trump inside the Oval Office.
   U.S. Ambassador to Thailand Glyn Davies described Washington's
weapons sales as evidence of long-standing support.
   "We have sold almost $1 billion worth of arms to Thailand just over
the last 10 years," Ambassador Davies said in a Bangkok Post interview
published on July 1.
   "The Thai government bought Black Hawk and Lakota helicopters from
the U.S. after the [2014] coup.  And the U.S. also sold missile
systems and naval equipment to Thailand," the ambassador said.
   He was apparently referring to Raytheon's Evolved SeaSparrow
Missiles (ESSM) which the Massachusetts-based company describes on its
website as NATO's "guided missile" that "provides self-defense battle
space and firepower against high-speed, highly maneuverable anti-ship
missiles in the naval environment."
   Thailand is a major non-NATO U.S. treaty ally.
   The ESSM could be expanded "from sea-based to a ground-based air
defense arena. In a ground-based application, the ESSM missile will
build on the proven capabilities of the ship-based application by
providing the same air defense capability against the full threat
spectrum, including enemy aircraft and missiles," Raytheon said.
   "In 2017 alone, $261 million worth of military deals are in the
works," Ambassador Davies said without elaborating.
   "People have a bit of a misconception about our relationship. They
think the relationship ended after the [2014] coup, that we stopped
working together. That's not true," Mr. Davies said.
   "Thai people hate his guts, I have to calm them down," Prime
Minister Prayuth said in May 2016 describing Mr. Davies after the
envoy publicly criticized the junta's human rights policies, according
to The Nation Weekly's report on Mr. Prayuth "Facing Up To The U.S.
   "We can only clarify our position. If he [Davies] does not get it,
that can't be helped," Mr. Prayuth said at the time.
   "The U.S. has a trade deficit with Thailand, and selling weapons to
a military government is one 'natural' way to lessen it," said
Benjamin Zawacki, American author of the forthcoming book, "Thailand:
Shifting Ground Between the U.S. and a Rising China."
   One reason for buying more U.S. weapons now is because "Thailand
sees an opportunity...perhaps unlikely to last long, to ingratiate
itself to a U.S. administration plainly unconcerned with how an
erstwhile ally is governed," Bangkok-based Mr. Zawacki said in an
   "Inasmuch as the Thai military can effectively make the claim to
[Thailand's] civilian leadership and the public that these sales mean
'U.S. support' -- however defined or not defined -- their hold on
power is strengthened," Mr. Zawacki said.
   Mr. Prayuth repeatedly postpones holding elections but may stage
polls in 2018 now that his junta's new constitution has diminished
politicians' powers and entrenched the military in any next
   "Right now, others around the world may not take an issue with how
this administration came to be, because there has been some
understanding," Mr. Prayuth said on July 7 in his weekly nationwide
televised broadcast.
   "What they care more about is peacefulness and orderliness. This is
because if there is no stability, then trade, investment and economic
activity will halt."