Thailand's 2043 security outlook

Thailand's 2043 security outlook

Job Fair 2024. (Photos: Varuth Hirunyatheb)
Job Fair 2024. (Photos: Varuth Hirunyatheb)

Under an increasingly polarised world underlined by the strategic competition between global superpowers -- along with their friends and alliances, it is not surprising that Thailand views the global security landscape with trepidation. Such a trend is a litmus test for middle and smaller power nations to navigate their security policies and engagements. They do not have many choices; nevertheless, these small and medium-sized countries can either align themselves with the most prominent powers or lesser ones that can protect their national interests, or they can get together and use their combined strength to deter the hegemonic ambition of outside powers. Staying alone and pursuing one's pathway without supporting partners is not an option.

These perspectives are described in the special report titled Structure of Global Power in 2043, prepared by the Center of Future Studies, Thai National Intelligence Agency (NIA), which analysed the structure of the multipolar world over the next two decades. It must be said that the report is a rare revelation from the country's top intelligence agency. But given the recent developments in the global strategic landscape, including the post-Covid-19 world, the Russia-Ukraine war, and the Israel-Hamas conflict, the Thai public's interest in foreign affairs has been boosted dramatically due to their impacts on the country's economic, security and social conditions.

In the report, the NIA envisages three scenarios that Thailand will encounter. The first is a familiar one-world with two systems -- one led by the US and the other by China. Their rivalries will continue to reign as before. The US-led liberal-democratic world will link with like-minded countries in the form of mini-lateral or ad hoc groupings to mitigate China's growing influence. As trusted US partners, the European Union, UK, Australia, Japan, and South Korea will further strengthen their alliance through multilateral groupings.

On the other hand, China continues to be a rising power. It will envelop alliances with opposite political and economic systems, such as Russia, Iran, and North Korea, which have contentious relations with the US. Their relations would be expedient as well due to their commonly perceived adversary.

The next scenario would be a fragmented world comprising issues-based groupings bounded by shared interests -- these countries do not have to be ideologically aligned. As such, they can cooperate and compete at the same time. Their relationship would be flexible and defined by each of national interests. The key of the issue-based group is non-alignment with any prominent power. Great powers such as the US, China, and Russia could not impose or direct ideas or diplomatic directions on this emerging new world order group.

The final one has been described as "the condominium of power", where major key state and non-state players jostle for power and influence with other players, which now include big corporations and hi-tech companies. Under these circumstances, no single group will have overwhelming power over other groups. Therefore, the balance of power and brinkmanship would be the norm for international players. Meanwhile, international organisations, while not playing leading roles or as strong as before, remain pivotal, serving as platforms for consultation on common global issues with more participation from non-state players.

Beyond these scenarios, the NIA has also made one important observation: the Thai public must have a better awareness and knowledge of foreign powers' influence impacting their domestic economic, security, and social conditions. Each region of Thailand has different strategic assets.

In the country's northern region, the superpowers' rivalries could play out domestically, especially in terms of security and economic imperatives due to its strategic location. The report stressed one caveat as the weakest link -- possible future engagement and influence with external powers at the district and provincial levels. When it comes to the Northeast region, the US-China strategic competition has manifested itself through the Mekong River-related activities and programmes. Washington is keen to focus on the role of security and civic engagement, while Beijing is zeroing in on economic-oriented issues and cooperation.

For the Central Plains, the superpowers' conflict has taken a toll on the Thai populace via the political divide -- democracy vis-à-vis non-democracy.

All other temporary trends involving geopolitics also play out in the capital of the Land of Smiles. Moving to the South, the delineation is clearer -- there are two sections: the South in general and the so-called deep South of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat -- three restive southern border areas. In southern Thailand, the whole area has a combined potential for tourism and mega-infrastructure project investment and development. On the side of the Andaman Sea, there is a need to improve and upgrade the overall standard of fishing fleets.

In the deep South, NIA's report projects the emerging role of non-government organisations supported by Western countries that have granted support to community-based groups in these three provinces. But foreign support in the deep South has not come from the West.

Middle Eastern countries -- which share religious beliefs with predominantly Islamic-Thai villagers in Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat will even pay more attention and support to nourish and cement the already strong and deep bondage with Ismanic-Thai communities in these three provinces.

The valid question is -- What should Thailand do? The answer is quite simple -- Thailand must adopt a pro-active strategic equilibrium without choosing the side of any dominant power. However, the Thai approach must be rules-based with the preservation of national interest in mind. Thailand must also clearly manifest its position on key global issues if necessary.

Furthermore, it is imperative to strengthen internal resilience as well as increase the Thai people's awareness and knowledge of foreign countries' ever-present influence over the multiple aspects that contribute to social cohesion and their general welfare.

Thailand can build on its middle power's status and assume a leading role in Southeast Asia through effective Asean-led mechanisms. In addition, to further reduce the country's security risk, Thailand must diversify its external relations more than before. In a similar vein, lessening dependency on either superpower would increase Thailand's ability to face future uncertainty and fragmented world more effectively.

Kavi Chongkittavorn

A veteran journalist on regional affairs

Kavi Chongkittavorn is a veteran journalist on regional affairs

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