This article is part of Conceptualization of “Maritime Security” in Southeast Asia, a series of analyses produced by experts convened by the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.
“Maritime security” in Thailand’s national language
The word for “maritime security” in Thai is “ความมั่นคงทางทะเล” (kwarm-mun-kong-tarng-talay). The word “ความมั่นคง” (kwarm-mun-kong) generally means “stability” but when used in this context could be translated into “security”, while the word “ทางทะเล” (tarng-talay) means “related to the sea.”
Thailand’s definition of “maritime security”
The definition of maritime security can be ascertained from the National Maritime Security Plan (2015-2021), which is published by the Office of the National Security Council of Thailand. The National Maritime Security Plan defines national maritime security with text that translates to: “the country having maritime circumstances which are conducive toward the carrying out of activities at sea in a free, safe, and suitable manner such that its national interests are realized”.
Thailand’s key documents for defining and understanding maritime security
Two documents provide the key references for understanding the Thai government’s notion of maritime security. These are the National Policy and Plan on National Security (2019-2022) and the National Maritime Security Plan (2015-2021).
The National Policy and Plan on National Security (2019-2022) is Thailand’s highest level security document, setting the direction of how prevention, warning, or suppression of threats are to be carried out for the purpose of maintaining national security. This document is effective from November 23, 2019 to September 30, 2022. The National Policy and Plan on National Security (2019-2022) explains that National Purposes are accommodated by the National Security Policies which in turn are implemented by National Security Plans. One of the National Purposes is to “develop the governmental sector’s capacity and to strengthen and promote the role of all sectors in addressing all forms of threats to security.” National Security Policy to “defend and maintain national interests at sea” accommodates this National Purpose. To implement such National Security Policy, the document provides for a National Security Plan on “maintaining maritime security.” In sum, the document provides the strategic goal, indicator, and strategies in connection with the plan.
The National Maritime Security Plan (2015-2021) is also published by the National Security Council but is more tailored to national maritime security. This document provides guidelines for developing and utilizing all national powers, whether of a political, economic, military, social, psychological, or scientific nature, to sustainably uphold the national interests at sea. The document outlines the strategies directed to create and maintain maritime security. This document has a similar structure to the first document mentioned above in that it defines National Maritime Interests, National Maritime Purposes, and the National Maritime Security Strategies to accommodate the National Maritime Interests.
These two documents, read in conjunction, reveal that maritime interests and maritime security are intertwining concepts. These concepts are depicted in this figure.
Elements of Thailand’s approach to maritime security. Environmental protection, mariner safety, fisheries management, resource management (other than fisheries), counter-terrorism, law enforcement, naval operations, deterrence?
The National Maritime Security Plan (2015-2021) touches upon all of the above as elements of maritime security.
Evolution in Thailand’s usage of the term “maritime security”
Prior to the National Maritime Security Plan (2015-2021), there had been no specific plan for maritime security. The previous plans only pertained to national security in general. This seems to suggest an increasing awareness regarding the importance of maritime interests and growing recognition of maritime security as a distinct concern. This recognition can be attributed to the leadership of individuals, the importance of securing Thailand’s maritime domain, and the evolution of regional norms.
Prior to 2015, it could be said that the Thai government understood maritime security through a military lens, thereby focusing on the defense of maritime sovereignty.
For many years, piracy and armed robbery at sea have been among the high-profile tasks assigned to the Royal Thai Navy in accordance with their duties according to domestic and international law. The United Nations supported the Royal Thai Navy in patrolling waters and activities to suppress pirate attacks against boats carrying refugees from Indochinese countries in the 1970s. In 2015, Thailand joined the anti-piracy Strait of Malacca Patrols. Other areas prioritized by the Thai government, perhaps at a relatively lesser degree than the defense of maritime sovereignty, included the enforcement of customs laws, seizure of smuggled goods, and arrest of foreign fishing boats illegally fishing in Thai waters. Still, maritime concerns were generally afterthoughts in Thailand’s national security thinking
In 2015 Admiral Sopon Watanakiri served in the National Security Council and brought along the idea that the sea is worth an invaluable amount, whether as a route for shipping or as an important source of resources such as fish, oil, and gas. This proved a turning point toward maritime security receiving a more prominent role in national security priorities and greater analytical attention. The National Security Council therefore prepared and published the National Maritime Security Plan (2015-2021), specifically containing the word for “maritime security”, testifying to the increasing recognition of the importance and understanding of maritime security in a more broadened manner.
Regional developments also directly influenced Thailand’s maritime security discourse. In 2015, the ASEAN Community was established with a composition of three pillars: the ASEAN Political-Security Community (APSC), the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), and the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC). With respect to the Political-Security pillar, the APSC Blueprint (2009-2015) had already laid out the objective to promote ASEAN maritime cooperation, safety, and security. In addition, the APSC Plan of Action explicitly provided that promoting ASEAN maritime security cooperation is one of its areas of activities that shall be implemented. As such, Thailand, as a founding member of ASEAN, reacted to the establishment of the ASEAN Political-Security Community, its Blueprint, and its Plan of Action, by translating their objectives concerning maritime security into its national plans and policies.
In an even broader context, it could be argued that Thailand adopted the National Maritime Security Plan of 2015 partially in response to international pressures coming from beyond ASEAN. The 2014 US Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report downgraded Thailand to Tier 3 status created momentum for thinking driving development of the National Maritime Plan. The European Commission’s April 2015 issuance of a “yellow card” concerning IUU fishing was even more powerful given the economic value of Thailand’s fishing and fish processing sector.
The evolution of the Thai Maritime Enforcement Command Center (Thai-MECC) also reflects the gradual manner by which the Thai concept of maritime security has become more comprehensive and how increasing importance has been attached to maritime security issues over time. The Thai-MECC was originally established on 9 January 1988 by the National Maritime Interest Plan and Policy 1993-1999 and a resolution of the National Security Council as a coordinating center. It lacked the authority to provide unity of command. Instead, the Thai-MECC served as an information exchange platform for units operating under their respective agencies and laws. In 2019, the Thai-MECC was upgraded to be the overarching national maritime security authority. It pools the resources of the Royal Thai Navy, Marine Police, Marine Department, Fisheries Department, Department of Marine and Coastal Resources, and Customs Department. Prime Minister is the Director and Naval Commander-in-Chief is the Deputy Director, the Thai-MECC now provides unity of command. The Thai-MECC is now an independently funded agency tasked to protect national maritime interests which encompass all dimensions of maritime security. The Thai-MECC’s regional offices are headed by the corresponding Chief Naval Commander of each of the naval regions which have the same geographic area of operations.
Additional context for Thailand
Currently, issues concerning IUU fishing, illegal migrants, marine salvage (search and rescue), drug smuggling, and marine environmental protection and restoration are of particular importance to the Thai government.
 National Policy and Plan on National Security (2019-2022). November 22, 2019. http://www.nsc.go.th/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/ratchakitcha136-124.pdf
 There are nine National Purposes, 16 National Security Policies, and 19 National Security plans.
 Purpose 5.
 Policy 6.
 Plan 13.
 See Appendix.
 National Powers has been defined in the same document as the country’s competency of various natures, including but not limited to those of a political, economic, socio-psychological, scientific, technological, energy, and environmental nature, in order to carry out State policies to achieve national purposes.
 The document also mentions other crimes such as narcotics and human smuggling and trafficking, illegal immigrants, piracy and armed robbery at sea, and transnational crimes. Deterrence is mentioned particularly in “Section 5.1 Appropriate active, preventive, and deterrent actions.”
 He served the National Security Council in 1993 and had a position as Deputy Permanent Secretary for Defence in 1998.
 Research conducted by Prof. Dr. Padermsak Jariyapant among others and published by the Thai Research Fund in 2007 reveals that, with respect to the fishing industry, the sea is worth 12 billion Thai Baht (Approx US$370 million) per year.
 ASEAN Secretariat. “ASEAN Political-Security Community Blueprint.” June 2009. Accessed August 15, 2021. https://asean.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/APSC_BluePrint.pdf
 ASEAN Security Community Plan of Action, 4 (b). November 2004. http://arc-agreement.asean.org/file/doc/2015/02/asean-security-community-plan-of-action.pdf
 United States Department of State. “Trafficking in Persons Report.” June 20, 2014. 2021. https://2009-2017.state.gov/documents/organization/226849.pdf
 European Commission, “EU acts on illegal fishing: Yellow card issued to Thailand while South Korea & Philippines are cleared.” April 21, 2015. Accessed September 6, 2021. https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/IP_15_4806.
 Act on the Protection of National Maritime Interests 2019. http://www.ratchakitcha.soc.go.th/DATA/PDF/2562/A/030/T_0001.PDF