Trouble with submarines

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

 The military junta has decided to buy some very expensive “toys for the boys” in the shape of 3 Chinese submarines, costing 3.6 billion baht. This comes from a junta whose supporters complained about “high government spending” by the democratically elected Yingluk government. Of course the decision to spend such sums of money on the military has not been opposed by the junta’s pet appointed parliament or by any judges.

At the same time Generalissimo Prayut has been whining about the “high cost” of the Taksin-inspired free universal health care scheme, which gave all citizens the right to access medical treatment.

A group of independent artists, calling themselves “The Whalewatchers”, has calculated that the amount of money spent on 3 submarines would be enough to build 324 new schools, or buy 2.1 million iPADs to distribute to school students, or pay for 900 million free school meals, or subsidise 2.4 million tons of rice to help farmers. Yet the reactionaries would deem such socially beneficial spending as just “populism”.

The junta have easily brushed aside and ignored the incoherent ramblings by the aged King Pumipon, which criticised the proposal to buy submarines by the post-2006 military junta back in 2007. Pumipon claimed that submarines would only “get stuck in the mud in the Gulf of Thailand”. So much for Pumipon’s power and wisdom.

So what is the reason behind the military’s keenness to buy submarines?

Generalissimo Prayut stated recently that they were not being bought in order to have a war with anyone, but just to show Thailand’s military power in order to protect shipping lanes and the fishing industry.

We need to take a look at what is going on in the region to understand this.

In the past, the might of British imperialism depended on a powerful navy in order to protect British trade routes and in order to act as a “mobile military bases with big guns”. This was used in order to bully and invade other countries. In the run up to the First World War, Germany and the United States started to build up their navies in competition with Britain and this kind of imperialist rivalry led to the two world wars.

After the Second World War, the United States became the top world naval power in competition with Russia. But after the end of the Cold War, the United States was the undisputed naval power of the world.

However, today, with the rapid expansion of the East Asian economies, especially China, which is the world’s biggest producer of industrial goods, the balance of power is changing. China is building up its navy in order to protect its shipping lanes in the Asia Pacific region which supply China with raw materials from Africa and Latin America.

China’s build-up of naval power has led to tensions with the United States in the region and conflicts with Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam over various groups of islands in the South China and East China Seas. There is a military and naval arms race breaking out in East Asia and the Thai rulers do not want to be left behind.

However, we must be clear. Increased military spending by the Thai government will never be in the interests of the majority of the population. It will not lead to a better standard of living and higher quality of life for citizens. The purchase of submarines is a total waste of money with the aim of imperial rivalry. Purchases of ground weapons for the army are also a waste of money and end up being used against the population to suppress democracy and line the pockets of the generals through various corrupt “kick-backs”.