Puangthong Pawakapan

May 2, 2022

Infiltrating Society

The Thai Military’s Internal Security Affairs

ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute 2021

Why is the Thai military so deeply embedded in socio-economic development projects, longer after the end of the Cold War? How come serving generals continue to exercise considerable authority over a range of areas that should normally be the domain of civilian governments? What role does the Royal Thai Army play in promoting a range of social organisations that support royalist, conservative political ideologies, while countering progressive and critical voices? And why does this all matter so much for the future of Thai democracy?

The Thai military are armed bureaucrats who do not fight wars. In this important book, Puangthong Pawakapan demonstrates just how deeply the Royal Thai Army is engaged in socio-economic and political activities aimed at mobilizing and manipulating Thai citizens, while subordinating civilian actors and agencies to military control. In recent years, the Cold War-era Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) has re-emerged as a powerful force, exerting an extraordinary degree of authority and initiating an alarming range of troubling schemes. Infiltrating Society: The Thai Military’s Internal Security Affairs (ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, 2021) is essential reading for anyone who needs to understand some of the darker realities of today’s Thailand.

Author Puangthong Pawakapan, associate professor of international relations at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, discusses her book with Thai politics specialist Duncan McCargo, director of the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies. 

Praise for Infiltrating Society:

"Thai politics is driven by actors and actions of paradox such as anti-election movements for accountability or independent, partisan organizations. This lucidly written book uncovers the 'military-led civil affairs' that earn the armed forces the omnipotent role in Thai society. It enriches our understanding of the Thai military in both empirical and theoretical ways. Empirically, the book illuminates how the soldiers have been intensively involved in supposedly civic activities ranging from forest land management to poverty reduction. Such long-lasting and extensive involvement means the military could mobilize the organized mass of over 500,000 strong when necessary. Theoretically, readers will learn how an ideological discourse ('threats to national security') has been continuously redefined to serve the military’s evolving political and rent-seeking missions from the Cold War era to the twenty-first century. It also traces the persistence and mutation of this highly adaptable organization, the one that knows when to roar and when to camouflage. Still waters run deep; Thai military operations run deeper and wider."

Veerayooth Kanchoochat, National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS), Tokyo


“A truly monumental work about Thailand’s military from the 1960s until today, this solid study focuses upon the armed forces’ internal security role across Thai society, how the military has succeeded in legitimizing itself and boosting its power as a counterinsurgency force, guardian of monarchy and engine of development. The book also valuably looks at the military’s establishment of mass organizations beginning during the Cold War and mobilization of royalists since 2006. The book thus illustrates how the military has been able to enhance and sustain its overwhelming influence and is thus a valuable study for anyone wanting to understand key power-brokers in Thailand.”

Paul Chambers, Naresuan University, Thailand

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Duncan McCargo

Duncan McCargo is an eclectic, internationalist political scientist, and literature buff: his day job is directing the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies, at the University of Copenhagen.

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