Note: General Jerdwut Kraprayoon, the Advisor to the Senate Committee on Military and National Security gave a lecture on the topic  ‘Dynamics of the Threats: New Security Issues in Greater Mekong Subregion’ on Workshop on Enhancing Mekong Linkage Connectivity Nations, Linking People (Lao PDR – Thailand)  For the Enhancing People-to-People Connectivity to Address Non-traditional Security Challenges in the Mekong Region (NTS-Mekong Watch project)  on July 17, 2023, at Panlan Boutique Resort, Mueang District, Nong Khai Province. The NTS-Mekong Watch was supported by Mekong- RoK Cooperation Fund (MKCF).

Exploring Various Dimensions of Security

The present global situation has changed rapidly. It is not only the fact that the world has entered globalisation era in the 1990s in which velocity, intensity and extensity of the interactions among state and non-state actors are witnessed. However, the world has also had to face with the crisis of COVID 19 and entered the era of New Normal in the early 2020s. The strategic planning at the national and global level has to be rethought as the world is in the era of uncertainties. The security concept that predated the 1990s might be irrelevant to the current situation in the 2020s.

General Jerdwut Kraprayoon’s talk can be outlined as follow. He first discussed the importance of hybrid threats. Then, the topic of comprehensive security (STEEPM – Societal, Technology, Economic, Environment, Political and Military Security ) followed. Third, he raised the issue of the importance of the Mekong Subregion. Fourth, the critical issues involving the Mekong Subregion affecting Thailand provinces were discussed. Final, he proposed what has to be done to tackle the non-traditional security issues along the Mekong border provinces of Thailand.

The first topic by General Jerdwut Kraprayoon is about the hybrid threat which involves traditional police, military forces and special military forces. Paramilitary forces and the support of the people in the area must also be mentioned. This threat further includes the news warfare, propaganda, diplomacy, cyber-attack and economic war.

The next topic is the national comprehensive security and threats in a number of dimensions were explained in the talk. They are societal security which comprise ethnicity and culture, religions and beliefs, disunity of ideas, lack of social cohesion, inclusiveness, good governance. The issues of social equality, human rights of ethnic minority, migration problems, alien labourers, human trafficking and transnational crimes were mentioned in the panel.

After that, the speaker talked about technology security which covered emerging technology and cyber security/resilience. He also talked about the information war which covered the issues of different parties using faked news to create misunderstanding in society.  The issues of comprehensive security and intelligence gathering which is under the supervision of National Cyber Security Agency (NCSA) was mentioned. It is the state apparatus responsible in collaborating with the private sectors in handling both normal and threatening situations. Legally speaking, it is to watch over different types of threats with the concerns on energy, transport, economic, environmental, political and military security. The goal is to protect the basic infrastructure of the state.

The issue of economic security , covers the concerns on economic inequality, poverty, illicit trades, organised crime network, drug/human trafficking and smuggling. These could lead to a system of corruption and the law enforcement is ineffective. To take care of the well-being of the people and to defend the security of the Thai state, it is necessary to collaborate with other nation-states to watch over the potential threats closely. Moreover, to strengthen the foundation of economic security, the Thai state has the policy of Bio Circular and Green Policy (BCG) and sufficiency economy so that the development of the area is sustainable and sufficiently thorough.

The third topic is about environmental security, which includes climate change, the effects of the higher average temperature, the higher sea level, and severe weather that results in natural disasters such as flood, thunderstorm. The speaker proposed the methods of handling these threats that include the policy of renewable energy and limiting the use of carbon. Moreover, deforestation affects biodiversity. Natural habitat is damaged by pollution from carbon dioxide. General Jerdwut Kraprayoon proposed that reforestation and forestry preservation are employed to tackle this threat. Water management is the key in maintaining the quality of water. If this management is poor, it could result in the situation of water shortage and polluted water. There will be water conflict among the states. Therefore, the National Water resource Committee (NWRC) has been established. In conclusion, non-traditional threats include the problems of environment degradation and shortage of natural resources because it could lead to political tension. The society should be aware of the importance of environment protection, sustainable development and resource based economic development.

Fourthly, political security is worth mentioning. A state with political security, according to the speaker, must have good governance and the rule of law that will pave the way towards political stability. Deliberative democracy and political inclusiveness are important because citizens must have a chance to express their voice in the policy making process. Without this, there will be political polarisation and political unrests. Therefore, there should be a political reform with effective political institution and accountability. Free and fair election is regularly held to solve the problems when the situation of political cul de sac occurs.

Despite a number of issues on non-traditional threats, the traditional ones are not ignored by the speaker. He mentioned military security and insisted that military capabilities are very important. What should regularly be monitored is the regional defence dynamics and regional territorial disputes. Still, new security challenges are brought into the table of discussion although it is not totally new. They are international terrorism, weaponised social media, information warfare, cyber warfare, space warfare. The methods of responding to these threats is the establishment of military cooperation such as General Border Committee and Township Border Committee.

Non Traditional Security (NTS) in the Mekong Subregion

Afterwards, General Jerdwut Kraprayoon brought in the issue of Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) and its significance to the presentation. He reported that the Mekong has its origin from the melted snow from Tibet Plateau and Qinghai Province in People’s Republic of China. The Mekong comes from the same origin as the two others: the Yangtze and the Salween. Parts of the Mekong that flows through the Chinese territory of Yunnan Province is called Lan Cang Jiang. Then it flows through Lao PDR, Myanmar and Thailand in the area of Golden Triangle.

Nevertheless, General Jerdwut Kraprayoon explained that the Mekong has a bad reputation because of its inability to police transnational smuggling networks. Transnational human, drugs and wildlife trafficking in this area are notorious. The Thai state is the origin, shelter and destination of these illegal activities.  The porosity of the Thai-Lao border makes it almost difficult for policy implementation of border blockade. The law promulgated from the centre of the state is uneven and ineffective when it is enforced along the border. Illegal product smuggling occurs every day and with state-centric point of view, this leads to insurgency along the border.

On the issue of water management, General Jerdwut Kraprayoon said that the Mekong is an important water resource. It is important for both irrigation and transport. Therefore, the everyday lives of millions of people have to rely on this river. Yet, the water management of the Mekong has to face with many challenges such as the rise of the population, the expansion of the city and economic competition in the areas. Dam construction in People’s Democratic Republic of China has brought about concerns over the volume of water that could decrease for the nation-states that are located downstream of the river. As People’s Democratic Republic of China has partially obstructed the flow of the Mekong with its dams, this affects the system of biodiversity and the everyday lives of the peoples along the Mekong. They have to face with these risks in their agricultural activities. The irrigation system is ineffective that could result in their economic loss too.

Public Participation: A Key to Solving Border Problems

Therefore, the trace of traditional concept of security still prevails in the rhetoric of General Jerdwut Kraprayoon, given that he is a military officer. However, there have been attempts to speak for the voice of the people along the border in tandem with the state officers such as the mechanism of regional military cooperation and General Border Committee and Township Border Committee. There have also been attempts to raise the topics on the worries of natural degradation which is considered one of the non-traditional threats. The Mekong is an international river which is natural terrain. When there is a problem, it does not stop at one particular state. The speaker illustrated the issue of environmental degradation and the importance of water management which significantly affect not only Thailand and Lao PDR but also other nation-states in the Mekong Subregion. The main reason is deforestation and agricultural encroachment of the conserved forest. Damages in basic infrastructure and climate destroy the forest ecosystem that results in the loss of biodiversity and causes water pollution. This has a direct effect on the Thai-Lao border. It is vulnerable to natural disasters such as drought, flood, lower quality of water and less agricultural areas. Eventually, the agricultural industry and fisheries will be affected, that results in the loss of economy and social damage. People will migrate to other areas with better economic opportunities.

Other concerns are environmental degradation and water management that are of the non-traditional threats that pose chllanges to the agricultural industries along the Mekong. However, the fact that transnational good smuggling activities have been narrated that it defames the Mekong region is still very much state-centric.  Yet, such state centrism is mixed with the attempts to listen to the voices of the local peoples along the border. Communication between the state officers and the border communities is important. Illegal activities as defined by the central government might be legitimate and commonly practised in the border communities.

For the issue of environmental threat, General Jerdwut Kraprayoon proposed that the state officers along the Thai-Lao border take part in the natural preservation. For example, they can take part in the integration project with the Thai and Lao communities. They can promote the ideas of sustainable development, reforestation, conservation of biodiversity hotspots and sustainable agriculture to prevent the environmental damage in the protected areas from happening. These campaigns will benefit the border communities by promoting them as eco-tourist spots. The communities will be able to make money from tourism and at the same time environment can be preserved at both local and international level.

The speaker concluded his talk by discussing the major challenges to the Mekong Subregion, which comprises the lack of resources, the complexity of the problems, and the limited abilities of the local organisation. The bureaucratic system has too many chains of command which is time-consuming and will become the obstacle to deal with the non-traditional threats.  Collaboration among the state officers and stakeholders is very important. So is the promotion of the participation among the border communities in major decision-making process so that it is in accordance with unique characteristics and limitations of each border area.