Sink the sub proposal
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Sink the sub proposal

The Royal Thai Navy is once again pressing to buy three submarines from China. The defence minister, not at all surprisingly, supports this new military upgrade. It would be a terrible mistake and misuse of 36 billion baht, or possibly more, of the public's money. Realistically, the only thing preventing an almost instant purchase is Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. He has put off this scheme before, and should do so again, but more forcefully.

The problem with submarines is that, like aircraft carriers, they are unnecessary to the defence of the nation. Indeed, the purchase of HTMS Chakri Naruebet 25 years ago gives a solid basis to the present-day controversy. The aircraft carrier was purchased from Spain at the height of Thailand's marvellous economic growth spurt.

By contrast, the country's economy is now sputtering. Times are harder, money is tighter and 36 billion baht is a significant chunk of change to throw at such a questionable military resource. For example, the Finance Ministry is desperately pushing a plan right now to take back old-age support from qualifying citizens. Deputy Finance Minister Wisudhi Srisuphan says the state desperately needs the 10 billion baht this heartless money grab would save. The submarines -- boats, training, maintenance, upkeep, upgrades, weapons purchases and crew pay and benefits -- will cost many times more.

Former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, despite her penchant for pushing forward military requests, said "no" to the submarines in 2011. Gen Prayut wavered a year ago, but finally ordered the RTN to wait and see. However, navy commander Adm Na Areenij has kept pushing for the procurement of the boats. It is currently a line item in the fiscal-year 2017 budget.

Arguments for and against the submarines are fairly well known. The one with the most clout is Adm Na's claim that subs are necessary -- but after that strong statement, the RTN chief becomes somewhat vague. For example, there is his explanation that neighbouring countries have subs and Thailand has to keep up. This questionable claim -- some countries have subs, some do not -- is not fitting. Each country has unique characteristics. The claim about the subs is the same as the one about the aircraft carrier -- the navy flagship that is docked and not contributing to defence about 99% of the time.

Right now, any scenario that involves Thailand going to war is extremely far-fetched. It should be considered an excellent and praiseworthy fact that no current scenario includes foreign military attacks on Thailand, or Thai attacks on a foreign country. In the past couple of decades, Thai forces have been involved in small border disputes, where submarines would have been useless, and in United Nations peacekeeping missions, where Thai navy submarines would have been useless.

And apparently, everyone now agrees that subs would also be useless in the Gulf of Thailand, both to Thai forces and a theoretical attacker. If anything, Thailand needs improved anti-submarine potential. Patrols guard some Indian Ocean approaches. It could be possible that the navy needs more and better ships and aircraft for that duty. But Adm Na and Gen Prawit Wongsuwon, Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister, have not requested those items.

The public never has favoured the purchase of submarines and opposition has only grown. Even when money appeared to be no object, the aircraft carrier was always seen as a case of "toys for boys" -- a public attitude that reduces respect for the armed forces.

It would be good for the public's morale, and for his own image as leader, if Gen Prayut ended the suspense and called off this unnecessary purchase.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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