In this webinar, Dr Paul Chambers scrutinizes the evolution of khaki capital over time in Thailand. How has Thai khaki capital progressed, where does it stand today, and what is its likely future?
THAILAND STUDIES PROGRAMME WEBINAR
12 May 2021, Wednesday — Dr Paul Chambers — ISEAS Thailand Studies Programme Visiting Fellow and Lecturer, Naresuan University, Phitsanulok, Thailand — addressed the history and current position of, as well as the prospects for, “khaki capital” in Thailand. Dr Chambers defined khaki capital as the ability of a military to shape government budgets, to obtain and direct financial resources, and to open up money-making opportunities for itself as an institution, for its units, or for individual officers. He stressed that khaki capital could be both formal and informal. Further, he argued that the fortunes of khaki capital in Thailand depended on the Thai military’s prominent position in the country’s political order.
Taking an historical institutionalist approach to the history of khaki capital in Thailand, Dr Chambers noted the importance of historical and cultural legacies, path dependence, critical junctures, environmental conditions (especially the role of the military in confronting national emergencies), and military cohesion in accounting for the persistence of khaki capital as a feature of the country’s political economy.
While khaki capital has been a defining feature of that political economy since the years immediately following the end of Siam’s absolute monarchy in 1932, Dr Chambers also emphasized the long-term partnership of the military and the monarchy and its importance to the persistent importance of khaki capital. Opportunities for change in the form of potential critical junctures immediately following the Pacific War and in the aftermath of the “Black May” events of 1992 ultimately went unrealized. Thailand has, then, never experienced the sort of critical juncture that would interrupt military pre-eminence in the political and hence economic order.
At the same time, the Thai military’s counter-insurgency efforts against the Communist Party of Thailand, its role in protecting the monarchy, and its involvement in development work — including through participation in royal projects — each afforded it opportunities to expand its economic footprint.
Dr Chambers analyzed that footprint through an examination of military budgets, landholdings, shareholdings in Thai firms, and sinecures such as seats on boards for officers and retired officers. Among these four areas of economic involvement, land remains the Thai military’s most important extra-budgetary income earner, while its holdings of shares in various enterprises have shrunk relative to decades past. The counter-insurgency era in particular gave the Thai military the chance to seize large tracts of land, over which it retains control.
Noting that the military’s economic influence often operates through what are effectively proxies, Dr Chambers argued that khaki capital remained a significant feature of Thailand’s political economy today and that there were few indications that it would fade from importance in the foreseeable future. He noted that one would do well to understand the post-2014 Bangkok government’s Eastern Economic Corridor undertaking as well as proposed plans for the Isthmus of Kra as contemporary examples of that significance.
Questions for Dr Chambers touched on the presence or absence of democratic elements in the Thai military, the need for potential foreign investors in Thailand to take account of the role of khaki capital, and linkages between the Thai military and foreign counterparts. They also concerned the impact of the current crisis in Myanmar on Thailand’s khaki capital, the role of military factionalism in the history of khaki capital in Thailand, the overlap between khaki capital and the holdings of the Crown Property Bureau, and the level of the Thai military’s attention to socio-political issues and to Thailand’s relations with China, among other matters.