RTAF needs to slim down
The Royal Thai Armed Forces' (RTAF) decision to cut back on the number of generals in its ranks is a good move that will make it more efficient. However, no matter how good a plan is, it won't succeed without serious execution.
They agreed to postpone the establishment of high-level units which need to be commanded by a two-star general.
Another key change, he said, involves reducing the number of "experts", "specialists" and "special experts" appointed as generals. When such experts retire, they won't be replaced.
The exact number of generals in the Thai armed forces isn't disclosed, but it has been estimated to be between 1,500-1,700. Some critics have said the number of generals in Thailand's armed forces is the highest in Asia or even the world. Such estimates, even without confirmation, are highly likely.
One of the root causes which drives up the number of generals in the military is the nation's patronage system.
It is considered tradition within the RTAF that retiring senior officers, especially those who graduated from the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School and other higher military academies, are promoted as generals as a reward for their long service, without taking into consideration their actual performance.
These generals won't be assigned commanding duties. Instead, they are given advisory roles within the forces as "experts", roles that are inactive and typically redundant.
In some cases, promotions and roles as expert advisers are offered as consolation prizes to senior officers who missed out on key, commanding positions.
In fact, a foreign observer has estimated that only 150-200 four-star generals are in actual commanding positions.
Thailand's military has about 330,000 troops. At the end of last year, the United States, which has about 1.3 million military personnel, has only 434 two- to four-star generals.
In light of such comparisons, some Thai generals have argued the military structure of the two countries is different and should not be compared, but the starkly different figures reflect some serious flaws on Thailand's side.
The move represented a much-needed revamp of Thailand's armed forces, but such proposals are not new. In 2008, the Defence Council launched a 20-year plan to drastically cut the number of generals by 50%.
At that time, the armed forces had 768 generals in "expert" roles -- the plan was to cut it to 384 by 2028.
The plan, however, was never implemented. According to the Royal Gazette, 238 officers were promoted as major generals in 2008.
Over the past five years, promotions to two-star generals have remained high -- 374 officers were promoted last year, 384 officers in 2019, 442 officers in 2018, 531 officers in 2017 and 420 officers in 2016.
These numbers prove the armed forces have no will to streamline their operation, with a view to efficiency and competency.
If the armed forces are serious, they must set a definite timeline to put the plan into action and allow the public to follow up on its progress.
A plan without action is just a dream, and in this case, a dream that could waste public funds.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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