Thailand deploys peacekeeping forces

Thailand deploys peacekeeping forces

A Question & Answer with Royal Thai Armed forces Rear Adm. Nuttapong ketsumboon

He serves as director of the Peace Operations Center (POC) for the Royal Thai Armed Forces (RTARF). He spoke with FORUM about Thailand’s commitment to international peacekeeping following the multinational military exercise Cobra Gold 2018, which Thailand and the United States co-hosted.

Thailand has contributed troops to United Nations peacekeeping efforts in places such as Darfur, Haiti and Timor-Leste. Can you describe the POC’s role in preparing troops for these deployments?

Uniquely established, the Peace Operations Center is the only organization within the Royal Thai Armed Forces (RTARF) mandated to be fully responsible for the pursuit of peace operations in a holistic manner. Its roles span working levels, ranging from representing the Armed Forces in the Cabinet decision-making process for Thailand’s contribution of peacekeeping forces at the interministerial level down to formulating peacekeeping strategies and policies at the Ministry of Defense level. The center implements peacekeeping capability buildup plans, coordinates and manages the deployment of Thai peacekeeping contingents and develops and executes predeployment training courses.

When preparing troops for deployment, the center ensures that troops deployed to U.N. peacekeeping operations are selected, generated, equipped and trained according to U.N. standards. 

For individual deployment, the center’s role is to implement a preparation system called the “On-Call List.” The process is designed to manage the selection and preparation of RTARF officers to become professional peacekeepers and employ them for U.N. peacekeeping operations according to their areas of specialization. 

For collective or contingent deployment, the center complies with the U.N. Peacekeeping Capability Readiness System [PCRS]. According to Thailand’s commitment made by Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-o-cha at a U.N. peacekeeping summit in 2015, three RTARF military units — a horizontal military engineer company, a level II hospital and a well-drilling unit — are now registered into PCRS level II with the goal of achieving deployments to U.N. missions.

Under the PCRS system, the center has played a key role in two phases. At the preauthorized phase in which the deployment of a contingent has not been confirmed, the center ensures that units registered in the PCRS system are generated and sustained to operation readiness and timely deployment. For overseas operations, the center in conjunction with military headquarters is authorized to call for the Army, Navy and Air Force to supply personnel for the generation of peacekeeping task forces. The sustainment of unit readiness involves periodical predeployment and rehearsal training. Currently, there are two units— a level II hospital and a well-drilling unit — being prepared.

At the deployment phase, the center liaises with the U.N. and other organizations for arrangements that include leading the Thai reconnaissance team to mission areas, producing and submitting cargo and passenger load lists and manifests for clearance and transportation arrangement, coordinating strategic air and sea lifts as well as establishing a line of national logistic support in forwarding supplies to units operating in the area of responsibility.

Please describe your responsibilities as director of RTARF POC.

The responsibilities of a commanding officer or director are primarily defined by the mandates of the organization that he/she commands. Similarly, it is important to understand the missions/mandates of the center first. The RTARF POC is given mandates to perform four distinctive roles:

As a peacekeeping staff element, the center formulates peacekeeping strategies and directives. It also makes recommendations for the proper contribution of Thai peacekeeping forces to U.N. missions. The POC plans, manages, directs and controls all activities associated with the employment of peacekeeping forces in terms of generating task forces, equipping deployed units, ensuring they are trained to U.N. standards, conducting predeployment reconnaissance, executing the predeployment inspection and coordinating the arrangement of U.N.-provided strategic lifts. The POC also plans and executes national logistic support operations and sustains operational readiness of individual peacekeepers and contingents registered to PCRS.

Lt. Dr. Vittaya Jiraanankul of the Royal Thai Armed Forces examines a sick child in western Darfur during a United Nations peacekeeping mission. AFP/GETTY IMAGES

As a national peacekeeping training center, the POC formulates peacekeeping training directives for predeployment training activities for units and individual peacekeepers. It also develops and delivers the national predeployment training curriculum. The POC also conducts training courses for individual deployment and organizes peacekeeping symposiums.

As a national command element, the center monitors Thai peacekeeping contingents operating in a mission area. It also exercises command and control over contingents operating on the ground.

As a center of excellence, the POC engages with regional and global peacekeeping communities to exchange experiences and best practices. The center develops and publishes national peacekeeping doctrine and training materials, and it also does academic research.

Given that, my responsibility is primarily to direct the center in performing these duties and ensuring that resources are used effectively.

Most importantly, through two deputy directors, I must exercise disciplinary and commanding authority over four subordinate units — the plan and policy division, operation division, training and education division, and an administrative and support section.

Provide a broad overview of what United Nations peacekeeping operations (UNPKO) training involves.

RTARF POC realizes that before being engaged in peacekeeping operations, Soldiers and units must go through appropriate preparation for modern peacekeeping missions. Given that, predeployment training plays a significant role in ensuring that Soldiers as well as contingent units are equipped with the knowledge, skills and attitude to meet the evolving challenges of peacekeeping operations and to perform their specialist functions effectively. RTARF POC, acting as a national peacekeeping institute, has a primary responsibility to adopt national peacekeeping predeployment training curriculums and deliver them to Soldiers committed to peacekeeping missions.

RTARF peacekeeping training is tailored for certain types of deployment and contingent units. Its curriculum is developed in accordance with U.N. training standards while accounting for national doctrines and military practices. (See chart for training details on page 41.)

Who receives training at the center? Is it available for foreign troops as well as Thai forces?

Peacekeeping training conducted by the RTARF POC targets different audiences. I categorize them in four main groups:

Individually deployed peacekeepers: The center conducts two training courses, namely the U.N. Staff Officer Course (UNSOC) and the U.N. Military Experts on Mission annually. The courses target 40 to 45 officers at the rank of captain to lieutenant colonel who are qualified and selected to be prelisted for deployments within one year.

A Thai peacekeeper passes through a market in Buru, Darfur, where the United Nations conducted a health clinic. AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Contingent units: The center conducts a peacekeeping predeployment training for a contingent course annually. The course is attended by 40 key officers, and the center produces trainers to spread the course information to the three units in PCRS.

National instructors: The center produces a cadre of 40 military instructors to teach predeployment courses on peacekeeping to all target troops. The trainers are nominated by the Army, Navy, Air Force, units in PCRS and the POC instructor.

International trainees: In partnership with peacekeeping training centers in member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), RTARF sponsors nine officers from nine ASEAN member states to take up the UNSOC each year. The center is considering nominating the course for U.N. accreditation by 2020. Once achieved, the course will be opened to countries beyond ASEAN. In addition to the UNSOC, the center, together with the Australia Armed Force Peacekeeping Training Center, co-hosts the regional peacekeeping exercise PIRAP-JABIRU biennially. The exercise offers opportunities for up to 50 foreign officers from more than 22 counties in the Indo-Pacific region to participate.

Please describe the importance of cultural training that teaches troops to respect the customs and values of local cultures in peacekeeping operations.

RTARF POC places great importance on respecting diversity. The center acknowledges that peacekeeping operations involve peacekeepers from many backgrounds working in a mixed institution, both culturally and institutionally. Its success requires respect for the local population, which will have its own cultural norms and traditions. The mission’s success depends on each peacekeeper’s ability to maintain respectful relationships, which will build trust and confidence in the peacekeeping mission and contribute to the safety and stability within areas of operation. Respecting diversity and local culture is instilled in all peacekeeping personnel deployed by the center. Respect for diversity is one of three core U.N. values. The other two are integrity and professionalism. Failing to maintain these values will jeopardize the mission. I am very proud to say that, throughout 60 years of its contribution to UNPKO, not a single case of a Thai peacekeeper committing misconduct or mistreating the local population has been reported. I am convinced that diversity training has played a key role in maintaining the integrity of Thai peacekeepers. Some evidence of success was shown by the expression of appreciation from the then-U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who said in an official letter to Thailand in 2012, “The Thai battalion has performed commendably and has made an extremely positive impact in West Darfur. In addition to their strong military performance, the men and women of the Royal Thai Armed Forces have worked determinedly to foster positive relations with the people of Darfur. The battalion’s initiatives to support the local community, in particular with agricultural projects, are highly appreciated by the population.”

Respecting local culture is even more important to Thai contingents operating in the Indo-Pacific region. Thailand believes there is an intertwined relationship among peace, security and development. Peace cannot be solely achieved without security. In addition, security and stability will not be present if communities remain poorly developed. Peace, security and development must be addressed in complement to one another. As such, Thailand, when contributing forces to UNPKO, always brings across the King Rama IX’s initiative of sustainable development to assist the local population in improving quality of lives and enabling self-reliant communities. Success of the Thai contingents has been obvious in many peacekeeping missions, Timor-Leste and Darfur, for example, where agricultural projects introduced to communities by the Thai contingents have laid down foundations for local populations to be competent in earning a living, develop their economies and become self-reliant. These successes cannot be possible without cultural training.

International Force East Timor Commander Maj. Gen. Peter Cosgrove, right, salutes Thai Soldiers when he arrives in the town of Baucau on a U.N. peacekeeping mission in February 2000. REUTERS

Culturally speaking, how important is it to train male and females for peacekeeping operations?

Sincerely speaking, Thailand has long had a culture of a male-led society. From the ancient time until today, males play a leading role in almost every society. There is no difference in the peacekeeping community in which the majority of peacekeepers around the globe are males. However, Thailand realizes that conflict affects women differently than men. Women often have fewer resources to protect themselves and, with children, frequently make up the majority of displaced and refugee populations. War tactics such as sexual violence specifically target them. Women and girls are often abducted and raped and used as sexual slaves. Women and girls who are abducted may be rejected by their families and might find it difficult to find partners after the conflict has ended. In these situations, the need to establish rapport with the local population is vital — not only for intelligence gathering but also to implement early warning systems, conduct capacity building and build trust. However, because women and children are the main victims of violence in such conflicts, particularly sexual violence, it is often difficult for male Soldiers to cross social and cultural boundaries to build this trust. This is where female peacekeepers can fill a gap by providing women and children with a greater sense of security and by being able to foster their trust and gather valuable information for the mission. In preparing for contributions to a UNPKO, RTARF POC acknowledges essential roles of female peacekeepers and incorporates gender perspectives in every effort. In supporting the U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325(2000), RTARF stresses the importance of increasing participation of individually deployed female peacekeepers to reach up to 15 percent of the deployed peacekeeping force. The Armed Forces are also actively engaging with international communities to voice support for global efforts in this agenda. In November 2017, the deputy chief of staff of the RTARF representing the minister of defense led a Thai delegation to attend a U.N. peacekeeping meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia, where he addressed the Armed Forces’ agenda to increase the participation of Thai female officers in UNPKOs. In January 2018, he held a dialogue with Canadian Sen. Marilou McPhedran in Bangkok reiterating the RTARF strategy empowering female peacekeepers. In addition to the empowerment of female peacekeepers, the POC is committed to ensuring that its predeployment training delivered to both male and female troops addresses gender perspectives and conflict-related sexual violence, sex exploitation and abuse. The training further addresses the essential role of women peacekeepers as mentioned previously.

How does participating in peacekeeping operations affect Thailand’s overall military capacity and operational effectiveness?

To answer this question, I would like, at the outset, to clarify that Thailand is a medium-size, peace-loving country. The highest agenda of its Armed Forces is to defend the country and safeguard its sovereignty, territory, integrity and national interest from internal and external threats, so preparation and sustainment of combat-credible military forces is essential. But when it comes to the issue of conflict, we believe in the peaceful settlement of disputes in which political settlement must lead the effort while military solution should be the last resort. In the context of global peace, the Armed Forces believe in a collective approach for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace and to bring about by peaceful means and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes. That approach must be taken by the organization whose authority is generally respected, the U.N., in particular. Thailand is aware that conflict arising in one region is no longer easily confined. Its adverse impacts will unavoidably spill across to other regions or continents. Conflicts in Syria and Libya are good examples. Thailand further believes that making the world peaceful is the best solution in defending the kingdom.

In addition, Thailand, as a member of the United Nations, is determined to support the U.N. in the maintenance of international peace and security.

As such, the RTARF considers its contributions of military service to UNPKO as an intrinsic agenda of its military strategy in deterring threats to the kingdom. Therefore, the Armed Forces builds up, trains and sustains its peacekeeping capabilities in accordance with its military strategy. Its contributions have been made in correspondence to its military capabilities. This means Thailand’s participation in UNPKO will have no adverse effects on overall military capacity. In case of crisis in which a higher level of force is required, RTARF also has an effective system to mobilize and train reserve forces.

RTARF remains actively committed to supporting the United Nations in the maintenance of international peace. From the past to present day, RTARF, in service of peace, has contributed its military contingents, resources and services to more than 20 peacekeeping missions worldwide with four out of these 20 missions remaining active. Those are the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Mission in Darfur, the U.N. Mission in South Sudan and the U.N. Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan. In addition, the Armed Forces are in the process of contributing a horizontal military engineer company at the strength of 273 troops to South Sudan, with the deployment scheduled in July 2018.

The RTARF is determined to intensify its efforts in supporting the U.N. in the maintenance of international peace to make the world safer and more peaceful.  

Peacekeeping Training at A Glance

  • Phase 1: Training to reinforce individual skills. This includes basic first aid, communication in mission language, skills at arms, negotiation, map reading and navigation.
  • Phase 2: U.N. peacekeeping training. This involves didactic lessons adapted from the U.N. Core Predeployment Training Materials (CPTM) covering fundamentals and principles of U.N. peacekeeping operations, as well as the values, behaviors and conduct needed to accomplish the mission.
  • Phase 3: Technical skill training and field exercise. This phase is tailored to equip trainees with skills to perform their specific duties. For a staff officer, the training covers the functioning of staff elements within the U.N. field headquarters, the practice of analysis of operational environment and the practice of military decision-making and component planning. It culminates with a table-top exercise with a focus on staff response to issues such as protection of civilians. For military experts on mission, the training covers skills such as patrolling, monitoring and supervising agreements, negotiating and manning observation posts.

Application of predeployment training for contingent units normally involves:

  • Phase 1 starts with U.N. peacekeeping training. This course is for contingent units and consists of CPTM, specialized training materials and reinforcement training courses. The CPTM is the basic course for training all peacekeepers while the specialized training materials will be specific to the role played by each contingent. An infantry contingent, for example, requires specialized training for protecting civilians and dealing with conflict-related sexual violence.
    The reinforcement training emphasizes certain aspects that are vital to success.
  • Phase 2 training involves technical and professional training. The training is related to the specific tasks expected of a contingent. It may be patrolling or convoy protection for an infantry contingent or the construction of a road for an engineering and construction contingent.
  • Phase 3 targets mission-specific training. It normally commences once a contingent is aware of the mission and the sector where it likely will be deployed. The training is based on the assessment of the operational environment from reconnaissance. The training may cover country study, mission background, mission leadership and mission mandates.
  • Phase 4 is collective and integrated training. This step is the culmination of all types of training carried out beforehand and involves a mix of command post exercises and field training exercises for all personnel under deployment. The exercise simulates the unit operating within a deployment location.
  • Phase 5 can be any type of training that would enhance the capability of a deployed contingent. It may repeat training to sustain a unit’s operational readiness if a deployment is pending or postponed.