'Under-strength' military expecting funds
The Royal Armed Forces is expecting an increase in the annual defence budget under the Surayud Chulanont government as Thailand's military strength is now the lowest in the region, Defence Ministry permanent secretary General Winai Phatthiyakul said yesterday.
Winai did not suggest the planned build-up was an arms race, but said that 10 years ago Thailand's military strength was the strongest in the region, while presently it was the weakest.
He attributed the drop in military strength to nearly a decade of budget cutbacks.
Winai said the defence budget was 16 per cent of the annual budget in 1997 of around Bt400 billion, before the economic crisis. The portion back then was around 2.2 per cent of the entire Bt400 trillion in gross domestic product (GDP).
The defence budget in 2006 was only six per cent of the annual budget of nearly Bt1.4 trillion, or 1.09 per cent of the current GDP worth more than Bt7 trillion, he said.
"The military strength of the Armed Forces is now at such a low level I feel embarrassed about it," he added.
He said the low military strength could ultimately lead to an unsafe level of national security - at a time of regional insecurity. "Other countries now can estimate our lack of strength," he added.
The build-up of the military will be worked out over a five-year term once a spending plan by the Defence Ministry was approved by the prime minister, he said.
However, the defence budget plan would not involve a package of projects of
military equipment purchases worth around Bt500 billion, that were brought up and discussed during the first term of the ousted Thaksin government.