After several years of COVID-19-related effects and strained relations following Thailand’s 2014 coup d’etat, officials from Thailand and the U.S. told reporters yesterday that Cobra Gold Exercise 2023 will be back at full strength this year, with 7,394 troops from 30 countries scheduled to participate as exercise partners or observers.
Between February 27 and March 10, the forthcoming exercise, the 42nd version of Cobra Gold to be staged since 1982, will be held in the Thai provinces of Lopburi, Chanthaburi, Sa Kaeo, and Rayong.
The Joint U.S. Military Advisory Group chief and U.S. defense attaché in Thailand, Col. Kurt Leffler, reportedly stated that more than 6,000 U.S. soldiers would be dispatched to participate in the event, calling it “the largest U.S. involvement in Cobra Gold in a decade.” Less than 3,500 people participated in the exercises from the previous year, including less than 1,300 Americans.
The exercises this year will include training in cyber warfare, humanitarian aid, disaster response, and – for the first time – space operations. They will also include a command post exercise and a field training exercise.
As usual, the primary military exercises will involve seven countries: Thailand, the U.S., Singapore, Japan, Indonesia, South Korea, and Malaysia, while humanitarian relief drills will involve three more: China, Australia, and India. The others will only watch and participate.
Cobra Gold Workout The year 2023 will be marked by growing geopolitical ambiguity as a result of the conflict in Russia and Ukraine and rising tensions between the United States and China, particularly in relation to the South China Sea and Taiwan.
Also, it falls on the 190th anniversary of diplomatic ties between the United States and Thailand, which show signs of improvement but remain substantially unchanged from other periods in history.
The recent downsizing of U.S. security links with Thailand as a result of the coup there was one of the factors that contributed to the recent decrease in the U.S. involvement at the annual Cobra Gold exercises. Compared to 2014, when 4,300 troops participated, the United States sent 3,600 troops to Cobra Gold 2015. Similar numbers showed up in 2016.
Ultimately, even though some resentments in the relationship still exist, the conduct of elections in 2019 that put an end to the period of open military rule (albeit strictly on the terms of the military) cleared the way for the resumption of U.S. security engagement with Thailand.
In terms of scale, Leffler stated yesterday, “We’ve definitely gone back to a ‘Cobra Gold of Old’.” This Cobra Gold will be “greater in scope, quantity, and complexity of exercise events than anything that has gone before.”
The increased American presence in Southeast Asia is part of a larger tightening of American security measures meant to oppose and deter Chinese influence.
The Philippines, Washington’s other treaty ally in Southeast Asia, and the United States conducted the largest-ever Balikatan military drills last year, involving roughly 9,000 military troops from the navy, marines, air force, and army, including 5,100 American soldiers.
Under President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who earlier this month increased U.S. access to military sites in the Philippines under the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, the security cooperation quickly advanced after that.
The expanded U.S. contingent indicates a relative improvement in the U.S.-Thai relationship after a trying decade, even though Thailand will not welcome the American military with such enthusiasm and doubts about Thailand’s commitment to the alliance remain in Washington given its close economic ties with China.