Thailand-Australia Defence Relationship
Defence relations between the Kingdom of Thailand and the Commonwealth of Australia began in August 1945 when an Australian Defence Section was established at the Australian Legation in Bangkok. Their primary activity was to oversee the repatriation of surviving Australian prisoners-of-war, and the recovery and re-burial in the Commonwealth War Cemetery in Kanchanaburi of the remains of those who died on the wartime Siam-Burma Railway.
By the late 1940s the threat of growing communist insurgencies in the region saw a need to develop closer defence links between Thailand and Australia. Both countries sent contingents of troops to support United Nations (UN) military operations in South Korea during the period 1950-53. In 1954 the South East Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO) Headquarters was established in Bangkok and the Embassy-based Office of the Defence Attaché was supplemented by an Australian contingent at SEATO Headquarters.
In this period, Royal Australian Navy (RAN) warships commenced regular port visits to the Kingdom of Thailand, and reciprocal visits by Royal Thai Navy (RTN) warships were made to Australian ports. Today, such port visits continue as operational circumstances permit and allow the opportunity for personnel from both countries to enjoy the many recreational and cultural attractions that each country has to offer.
In 1958, Australian funding, equipment and personnel were used under the auspices of SEATO to establish a Vehicle Rebuild Workshop and a Military Technical Training School in Bangkok.
In 1959, a major in the Royal Thai Army (RTA) became the first of what has subsequently been many thousands of Royal Thai Armed Forces' personnel to be selected for various education and training programs coordinated by the Australian Defence Force.
From 1962 to 1968, a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Sabre jet fighter squadron was based at the Ubon Air Base in Northeastern Thailand, and between 1967-71 an Australian Task Force fought alongside members of the Thai Volunteer Force in South Vietnam - both activities being part of the regional defence against communist aggression.
In 1972 a formal Defence Cooperation Program (DCP) was initiated with emphasis on individual training and combined maritime, ground and air exercises. This aspect of the Defence relationship has continued to develop and is now characterised by regular senior officer visits; seminars and workshops; individual education and training courses for Royal Thai Armed Forces personnel at Australian Defence Force schools, colleges and national universities; the conduct of several annual combined exercises across all military disciplines; logistics systems and support; and science and technology cooperation, particularly in the area of research and development.
Defence policy talks have been held on an annual basis since 1990. The Australian Defence Force and the Royal Thai Armed Forces have used these talks to continually improve the bilateral defence relationship, and to promote mutual understanding and cooperation on regional security issues. There is also an annual bilateral dialogue on regional security issues, involving foreign affairs, defence and military officials.
Australian expenditure on the Defence Cooperation Program is approximately $A5.7million annually, with the Royal Thai Armed Forces also making substantial financial and personnel contributions to the many combined exercises and activities.
Since the early 1990s Royal Thai Armed Forces and Australian Defence Force personnel have served side-by-side in United Nations operations in Cambodia, Somalia and East Timor and, more recently, in coalition operations in Iraq.
It is a measure of the high degree of mutual respect between our military personnel that Thai troops served under an Australian military commander as part of the International Force in East Timor (INTERFET), and Australian troops served under the Thai military commander of the United Nations Transitional Authority in East Timor (UNTAET).