Languages of Security in the Asia-Pacific

College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University

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Thai – Khwaam mankhong

May 27th, 2011 · No Comments · Security, Thai


Khwaam mankhong

Relates to security

Khwam mankhong is composed of two distinct and complementary words: man and khongMan means firm, constant, solid, steadfast; khong implies permanence and endurance. The compound mankhong refers to something which is strong and durable, unchangeable, and reliable.  All of these words have a long history in the Thai language but it was only with burgeoning international interest in Thai security during the twentieth century that the words developed a direct equivalence with the English concept of security. In fact the deeper sense of such “security” is that there should be no or little change in social and political life. It is tied, in many key linguistic sense, to the idea of “conservation” (kan raksa wai). The official interpretation of mankhong dictates popular attachment to what are defined as the three pillar institutions of Thai society: chart (nation), sasana (religion), and phramahakasat (monarchy). The state ideology requires loyalty to each component of this trinity, in an ideology which seeks to guarantee unity, peace and happiness for the people.

The proliferation of security discourse in Thailand is built, quite explicitly, on the history of anti-Communist warfare, fear of radical political forces and long-running border disputes with neighbours.  The mechanisms for providing the appropriate level of security are left to the discretion of the armed forces, the police and the wider bureaucracy, particularly the Interior Ministry. These organisations are tasked, collectively, with the management of “national security” (khwam mankhong khong chart). This is part of a simple binary with the term “national insecurity” (khwaam mai mankhong khong chart).  More specifically, “state security” (kwaam mankhong kong rat) is often used in official documents to clarify situations where extraordinary precautions or actions can be authorised.  National security powers are the preserve of the Prime Minister and his Cabinet.

Coups in Thailand are inevitably prefaced by declared national security considerations. The junta installed after the September 2006 coup is one example. It called itself the “Council for National Security” (sapha khaam mankhong haeng chat). Other official uses of the term include the National Security Council and the Internal Security Operations Command. All are key components of the structure that provides both internal and external security operations that stretch beyond the “ordinary” roles of the military or police. Government activities under the “umbrella” of security are considered exceptions to standard rules and procedures which can lead to impunity for particular state actors.

More broadly the idea of “safety” (khwaam plod pai) is often used in conjunction with security to help define the legitimate involvement of the government in a range of domestic and international matters. Such safety and security are under increasing pressure at a time when the parts of the bureaucracy entrusted with security matters are perceived to be divided themselves.





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