NAKHON NAYOK – Cobra Gold 2015 the largest military exercise in the Asia-Pacific, commenced it’s opening ceremony at a military academy in Nakhon Nayok Province, east of Bangkok February 9, 2015.
Cobra Gold is billed as one of the largest multinational military exercises in the world. It has been jointly led by Thailand and the United States for more than three decades; this year’s version will feature about 13,000 troops from two dozen Pacific nations, including Japan, Indonesia and South Korea.
At the opening ceremony U.S. charge d’affaires Patrick Murphy said “We can’t deny that this period is a challenging one and has necessitated a modified Cobra Gold as Thailand manages its return to democracy.”
The U.S. values Thailand’s location and well-equipped bases as strategically critical, while Thailand values access to U.S. tactics and procedures.
This year’s exercise will feature less live-fire and more humanitarian operations, but that won’t bother most of the roughly two dozen participant and observer nations, who desire Cobra Gold largely for the relationships they can forge with each other.
The Obama administration suspended military aid and exchanges with Bangkok after the military siezed power in May 2014. Thailand is still under martial law and its military junta has shown little willingness to relinquish power, but the Obama administration has decided to temporarily set aside political objections to the coup and proceed with the annual exercise, dubbed Cobra Gold.
The Obama administration was reluctant to pull out, fearing it could jeopardize Washington’s long-standing military ties with Thailand, an ally for nearly two centuries. It also worried that a break with Bangkok would drive the Thai generals closer to China, which is jousting with the United States for influence in Southeast Asia.
At the same time, U.S. officials are wary of being seen as endorsing or cooperating with the Thai junta and its ruler, Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha. In contrast to prior years, the Pentagon has played down its involvement in this month’s Cobra Gold, which runs until Feb. 20.
Last week Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, a former army chief, said a general election would take place in 2016 but stopped short of giving a specific date. His military government has said martial law will remain in place indefinitely.