04/21/2013 (press release: JaturontThan) // Royal Thai armed forces
The Thai Military has long been an integral part in the growth and maintenance of both our national safety and identity as a whole. This reputation solidified over the course of time between 1932 and 1987, when a series of coups and counter-coups left the military as the people’s only image of a steady governmental body.
By 1987, leadership in the 273,000-strong armed forces realized that the strain of coequal military and political control was no longer necessary nor tenable, and began instituting wide reform to both modernize those forces as a pure military force and return political power to the civilian parliament.
Some of that modernization dealt with an improvement in structure of their officer corps. the three branches– the Royal Thai Army (RTA), the Royal Thai Navy (RTN), and the Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF), are composed of both recruited conscription and professional cover soldiers. While students are allowed deferrments until after graduation, all other males are required to serve two years’ military service from the ages of twenty to twenty-two.
While the structure of the Royal Thai military has been heavily influenced by the American military since our shared involvement in World War II, it has become even more so in recent years, especially in the structure of its high command.
All national security policy is formulated by the King as Commander-in chief and the parliament, whereas the National Security Council, made up of a handful of ministers, is in charge of that policy’s execution. That is, the king is the official commander in chief, and this even by constitutional decree– all fifteen of them. the truth is that the King’s power is primarily ceremonial and symbolic.
The effective head of the Royal Thai armed forces is its Supreme Commander. As the constitutional monarchy has developed over the last seventy years, this position has often been considered to often be a precursor to the prime minister’s office, even though that’s not necessarily a prerequisite for the position. On the other hand, considering that the country’s not-too distant past has been subject to military coups d’etat, the supreme commander’s office is often watched quite closely. In fact, considering the notably consolidation of the Prime Minister’s powers under the Thanarat and Kittikachorn governments in the 1950s
and ‘60’s, some circles consider that as the most effective form of succession in our country.
While this sort of transition has happened on a semi-regular basis (barring coups d’etat,) the transition from being the supreme commander of the armed forces to Thai prime minister is not necessarily guaranteed. The Military service Act of 1954 sets the mandatory retirement age at sixty, which means that anyone who wants the office after having reached that age would be ineligible for both positions. Such was the case for general Kriangsak, who was 59 when he
rose to the prime minister’s office in 1976. When he turned 60 the following year, he complied with military regulations and resigned that post while retaining the Prime Minister’s office.
Since the military has been such an integral part of political operations for so long, the authority relegated to the prime minister is, in many ways, at the pleasure of the Army Commander, whose control of the ground forces secures the Prime Minister’s safety and allows him to consolidate political power. Few people were as good at this as Prime Minister Kriangsak, who appointed the commander of the second army, Gen. Prem Tinsulanonda to his vacated post in 1978. In June ‘79, the Prime Minister appointed Prem Minister of Defense. This appointment groomed Prem to succeed Kriangsak in 1980. Pre commander-iin-chiefm then appointed Army General Arhit Kamlangek to the dual role of Supreme commander of the armed forces, consolidating his power and establishing a rite of succession. This appointment, however, only lasted 6 years: due to Arhit’s outspoken criticism of Prime Minister Prem’s policies, he was stripped of the army commander title and had power extremely limited until his forced retirement in 1986.
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