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Title: British policies towards Thailand, 1929-42
Author: Aldrich, Richard James
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 1990
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This study suggests that independent Thailand's important and paradoxical place at the centre of Anglo-American controversies concerning the future of European Empires in Asia from 1942, can only be properly understood in the wider context of earlier British policies towards Thailand. Therefore, two central themes dominate a study focusing upon Thailand´┐Ż s place in British official thinking prior to the outbreak of the Pacific War. i Thai 'independence' and British 'dominance' Wartime British plans for territorial expansion at the expense of Thailand and hopes of informal British hegemony in Bangkok, which greatly alarmed the United States, were not new ideas. Instead they represented a desire to rev! ve and reinforce an historic pattern. Not only had Burma and Malaya expanded at Thailand's cost during the past two centuries but, more importantly, prior to 1932, Britain's political and economic influence had been such that Thailand came close to constituting an informal component of the British Empire. Consequently, wartime British plans for post war Thailand sought to recover a lost pre-eminence, albeit an informal position that had ebbed gradually during the 1920s and early 1930s, rather than one which had been ended dramatically with the invasion of Japan in December 1941. ii The Xultiplicity of British Policies Towards Thailand Wartime efforts to re-shape British policies in the image of the 1920s were reinforced by the fragmented nature of the British policy-making community. During the period 1932-41 British diplomats had been reconciled to declining informal supremacy and merely sought Thai co-operation in the defence of Singapore. However, after Thailand's cap! tulation to Japan in 1942, British policy-makers outside the Foreign Office judged this sympathetic diplomatic approach to have failed. Speaking of 'betrayal' by Thailand they looked backward to the 1920s, focusing instead upon an earlier and somewhat idealised model of informal British dominance as the pattern for future Anglo-Thai relations. In outlining the objectives of this study it would perhaps be more useful ta state what they are not, rather than what they are. This is not intended ta constitute an examination of Angla-Thai relations, Thai foreign policy or Thai politics. Instead the focus of this study is strictly upon British policies and, ta a lesser extent, the related policies of Britain's allies, the United States and France. There are several reasons far adopting this anglacentric approach. Most importantly, much of the significant Thai documentation far the post revolutionary period < 1932 - ) remains closed to public inspection in the National Archives in Bangkok. In consequence the analysis of Thai foreign policy during the period in question remains fraught with complex difficulties that are well beyond the scape of this study. While impressive accounts of Thai foreign policy after 1932 have been undertaken, the extent ta which they depend on British and American documentation, or upon secondary sources, only serves ta underline the attendant methodological problems. In this study primary attention is given to the different schools of thought that eval ved within British departments of state with regard to Thailand. These divergent official attitudes were less the product of reactions to specific events in Thailand but more a reflection of the divergent concerns of the nearby British colonial territories, Malaya, Burma and India, and the attempts ta accommodate the polices of Britain's allies. In this sense British 'Thai policies' were often a summation of attitudes towards many larger questions and, accordingly, their central concerns were not dominated by the- narrow requirements of Anglo-Thai relations, but by a plethora of wider regional issues. The identification of bureaucratic competition within the British policy-making community over Thailand has played a part in shaping the objectives of this study. Instead of merely examining the substance of British policies as recorded by the many Foreign Office minutes and memoranda, some attention has been given to military and economic departments and the attendant range of internal bureaucratic pressures that helped to shape these policies. Some regard is also given to the structure and process of British policy making with regard to Southeast Asia, as well as the policies that were produced. At the centre of this study is Britain's attempt to maintain her dominant position in Sout.heast Asia during a period of grave strategic over-extension. As a consequence, during the 1930s, support from the United States was increasingly idenitfied by officials as one of the few long-term answers to Britain's Asian predicament. Consequently, much attention has been paid to the United States as a significant 'absentee-arbiter' of Britain's position in Asia. For while the American State Department gave little attention to Thailand before 1940, making it difficult to talk in a coherent sense of a United States policy towards Thai land, nevertheless, American pronouncements strongly influenced the degree of support that Britain was prepared to offer to Thai land against Japan. Such American influence upon British policy is readily visible in the attention and importance accorded by British officials to discussions with their American counterparts. Perhaps less obvious from the extant documentation, but equally significant, was the manner in which British officials would sometimes rej act courses of action because of expected American disapproval, even before Anglo-American consultation had taken place. Therefore, while it is not the central aim of this study to provide a detailed picture of American policy, the United States must nevertheless figure considerably as a major influence upon British policy. To a lesser extent, attention must also be devoted to Britain's French ally and subsequent Vichy enemy and its activities in the neighbouring colony of French Indochina. While the focus of this study remains firmly upon British policies, and to a lesser extent those of her allies, the impression must be avoided that such policies were formulated in vacuuo without Thai influence. Thailand was surprisingly influential, exploiting the value of her strategic position at the crossroads of Southeast Asia and her precarious neutrality, to shape the policies of the Powers. At certain critical moments ~he impact of Thailand upon Western policies was quite out of proportion to its weight. No attempt has been made to employ the general theories and predictive formulae developed by some social scientists over the last thirty years. Faced with the infinite variables generated by complex governmental communities of individual decison makers, few general theories seem capable of rising above the level of truisms, hopelessly general and inapplicable to particular situations. The major weaknesses of such theoretical approaches have been pointed to elsewhere. Their limitations seem to be most evident when seeking to explain developing trends or slowly shifting policies, rather than immediate 'crisis-management' patterns of decision making. There is much to suggest that important changes in British policy towards Southeast Asia during the 1930s and 1940s consisted of just such an incremental process. Therefore the approach employed in this study remains that of international history, seeking to examine the roles and responsibilities of particular institutions in world events and the justifications advanced for those actions. It searches for the causal links between those events over a period of time. It is inescapably an empirical study. While general and thematic explanations are not rejected. it is important that they should be permitted to arise out of the empirical material that represents real events with all their incongruities and anomalies. Indeed, inconsistencies in the policy-making process often prove ta be mast revealing, and these are the very phenomena that the general theoretical approach seems determined ta iron out.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Political science