Today, our society has undergone significant changes and faces various threats from different dimensions, attacking us almost from all directions, especially in terms of cyber threats, such as human trafficking hidden within criminal syndicates and drug issues leading to individuals turning into criminals, causing our society to be unsafe. All of these constitute the Non- Traditional Security –(NTS) challenges that no longer solely involve the military, wars, or traditional security. The new form of security threats directly attacks communities and citizens, impacting people’s existence. It is a rapidly spreading and endless danger without boundaries.

The NTS threats increases in number, traditional approaches involving police and military are no longer sufficient. We need new methods to address these issues, as relying solely on the military and law enforcement agencies is no longer effective. Therefore, it is essential to explore new approaches to cope with the NTS, such as strengthening communities and building security by the people, for the people and from the people.

When the NTS targets ‘the people,’ they must become resilient and actively address these threats. Creating the “Strong cross- border communities” is crucial to closing the channels for new pattern threats, often originating at the border areas, which serve as the front door of a nation. Strengthening communities at the border ensures that no threats can easily penetrate. This strength and security must be developed simultaneously with neighboring communities and border areas. The concept of “Building Strong Cross-Border Communities” is the main approach that NTS-Mekong Watch project by the NTS-Mekong Watch  Coordination Center (NTS-MWCC) is implementing.

Introducing the “Pong Namron Model”

The team at NTS- MWCC had the privilege of receiving insights from Dr. Radthawit Tangkiayphachara, President of the Thai-Cambodian Border Trade and Tourism Association , who is known for his philosophy of  “Building Strong  Cross – Border Communities”  . He shared his thoughts and philosophy, providing an opportunity for the team to discuss and strategize the NTS-Mekong Watch project. Dr. Radthawit is a key figure in efficiently managing the border areas for both Thai and Cambodian citizens, creating a harmonious and happy coexistence. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, the cross-border trade in this area surged to 39,000 million Baht.

Additionally, this area serves as a model for managing international labor, especially Cambodian workers legally employed in Thailand. These foreign workers play a crucial role in the economic development of Thailand in agriculture, trade, and services. Thailand requires a significant labor force from neighboring countries, and these neighboring countries also need opportunities to work in Thailand for income to support their families. This situation creates a win-win scenario where everyone benefits from managing border areas with the ‘Pong Namron Model,’ even during the COVID-19 pandemic, ensuring legal importation of labor for seasonal agricultural work. This has positively impacted the local economies of Pong Nam Ron District and Soi- Dao District, Chantaburi.

Dr. Radthawit explains that the success behind the management of the ‘Pong Namron Model at the border is the utilization of the philosophy of ”Building Strong  Cross – Border Communities” This philosophy serves as a solution to various issues in the border areas. If the border areas of both countries are strong and growing together, developing jointly, not only will Thailand thrive, but Cambodia will also experience growth. It is crucial to take care of Thai people, but it is equally important to take care of Cambodian people. Building strong cross – border communities help in joint development and problem-solving, addressing various issues such as transnational crimes, drug trafficking, and threats to all systems. If we can achieve this, we will be able to prevent various problems, especially transnational criminal activities that often occur in border areas. Therefore, the “Building Strong Cross-Border Communities” is like a good detergent that prevents any stains from sticking to different surfaces.

Three Principles for Creating the “Building Strong Cross-Border Communities” ” 

Dr. Radthawit  further explained that creating ‘Building strong  cross – border communities” is not difficult, and it can be achieved by following three principles:

  1. Legal Literacy: Both sides of the border must familiarize themselves with laws to prevent unintentional criminal activities.
  2. Leadership Integrity: Leaders should prioritize integrity, humanity, and morality, fostering a peaceful life within the border area.
  3. Impartial Law Enforcement: Strict and unbiased law enforcement ensures decisive action against all crimes, regardless of nationality.

Dr. Radthawit explains the approach to building strong cross-border communities to better understand. For example, if someone comes to rent a sales room, we give Thai people the opportunity to rent for 5,000 baht, so we must also allow Cambodian people to rent at the same price. Therefore, for Cambodians residing on the Thai side, both Thai and Cambodian individuals would be penalized similarly for any violations within the shared system or regulations.

In terms of coordinating with neighboring countries’ authorities, Dr.Radthawit states that it is not difficult because the Cambodian government has a policy for provincial governors and their respective agencies to meet with their Thai counterparts. This includes coordination between Cambodian agencies and Thai border officials to foster collaboration and build strong communities across borders. The emphasis is on the principles of “Relations and Trade” leading the way, with “Security” as a foundation.

Dr. Radthawit emphasizes the significance of establishing robust cross-border communities, proposing that it should be a model for border areas nationwide. He believes that the current hindrances to cross-border community development result from prioritizing security, which, in turn, can impede progress. Instead, he advocates placing ‘Relations and Trade’ at the forefront to address poverty, ensure happiness, and establish a stable foundation. By doing so, he argues that the resilient community built will naturally defend against various threats, and ‘Security’ will manifest itself by default.

Regarding the goal of fostering cooperation among citizens to address the NTS, Dr.Radthawit points out that it depends on the relationships between countries and at the border. He expresses concern about whether the Ministry of Interior has instructed provincial governors or officials monitoring the border to engage in collaborative meetings. The private sector is worried because establishing mechanisms for local leaders to meet independently is challenging, requiring collaboration between the government and the private sector.

He stresses the need for collaboration, expressing concerns about potential conditions related to “security.” He advocates for government agencies to engage in joint discussions and involve local leaders in border areas. The key is open communication, and he emphasizes the importance of understanding the context, strong leadership, and considering the overall benefits and the ministry of Defense and Ministry of Interior must be united in the same direction and collaboration with private sector which will allow all stakeholders have more open communication.

Dr.Radthawit, expressed that his motivation for this initiative stems from personal experiences of growing up in the border area, facing numerous challenges  especially  war along border Thai – Cambodia, individuals from the border area were often looked down upon. These factors inspired him to fully comprehend the context of the border area, and he is committed to developing all aspects of the border region. He is hands-on, creating models and manuals himself. In the “Pong Namron Model”, local leaders collaborate effectively. In case of major issues, such as the crossing of criminals, coordination allows for resolution without formal processes. If Cambodians face problems on the Thai side, they are promptly assisted without official channels which is make it faster and more effective.

Overall, this represents the concept of “building strong cross-border communities,” providing insight into the comprehensive management of the border area. It encompasses both the economic development and security dimensions, fostering a close and positive relationship between the neighboring areas. This approach aims to address various challenges promptly, ensuring the well-being of people in the border region under normal circumstances.