The early call for Thailand to prepare for new hearings on the Preah Vihear temple is shrewd. Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul, army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha and other senior officials are rational about the issue. In about 100 days, Cambodia and Thailand will make legal submissions to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the disputed area around the temple. Thailand is sensibly hoping for the best, while preparing for the worst.
Mr Surapong, with the strong support of Gen Prayuth, said Thailand must respect the ICJ, which also is known as the World Court. They are correct. The ICJ is the body which decided in 1962 that the temple _ known in Thailand as Khao Phra Viharn _ belonged to Cambodia. That was a controversial decision. Few if any Thais even saw the logic in that ICJ ruling. But the fact then, and now, is that there are two choices. Thailand can support, defend and respect the rule of law _ or there will be war.
The government and the military are rightly concerned that extreme nationalists would rather force the country to fight. And this year, the extremists are adding fuel to their anti-ICJ rhetoric. Thaksin Shinawatra supposedly has secretly arranged a deal with Cambodia. The Phnom Penh government will give Thaksin and friends access to oil-rich areas, or allow them to run tourist resorts. In return, Thaksin has agreed to hand over control of the contested 4.6 sq km of "sacred Thai soil" around Preah Vihear.
Is it possible that Thaksin cronies such as the Foreign Ministry, the Royal Thai Army and the government are secretly engineering an oil or tourism deal with Cambodia by giving them Thai territory? In some people's minds this is possible. Is it likely? No right-minded person could truly believe it. Such a conspiracy would require a plot against the country involving politicians, the very top ranks of the military and the senior officials of the most respected and professional ministry.
There are groups who have declared that their leaders are more patriotic than their fellow Thais. These extremist groups have consistently denounced Cambodia, attacked international law and called for war on the border.
Last week, remaining leaders of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) called the government a "traitor" for supporting international law. Such small but noisy groups have a dark and inglorious history.
They were on the streets in 1962, as the government of Sarit Thanarat called on the country to accept the verdict of the ICJ. Just two years ago, the coordinator of the self-styled Thai Patriots Network and his secretary were arrested and imprisoned in Phnom Penh for flaunting both Thai and Cambodian law. In the perverse logic of the self-described nationalists, Veera Somkwamkid and his secretary Ratree Pipattanapaiboon are suffering in prison because the Thai government has not freed them.
The foreign minister and army chief are right, and the so-called "patriots" are wrong. Thailand must support and respect the rule of law, including international law _ and including possibly negative rulings by the ICJ. Their statements last week were not only sensible, they were common sense.
The government has the responsibility to prepare the ICJ submissions at the highest professional level. The land around Preah Vihear is only accessible from Thailand. The Foreign Ministry's lawyers must point out to the world court judges how unfair and illogical it would be to favour Cambodian claims. After that, justice must take its course _ and all Thais must respect the verdict.