Thai American Diplomacy History

History of Diplomatic relations between the Kingdom of Thailand (Siam) and United States of America

American merchant ships are reported to have docked in Siam (up until 1939, Thailand was Siam–see Thailand history) since the early 19th century, selling and trading arms, fabrics, and other goods, though Christian Missionaries were among the first Americans to propagate and settle the Southeast Asian-Indochinese peninsula.

The start of official diplomacy between the United States of America and the Kingdom of Siam is marked by the signing of the Treaty of Amity and Commerce, which was finalized on Marcy 20, 1833 C.E. (2376 B.E.) between Siam’s Ministers of State, under his majesty Kim Rama III, Nangklao and American envoy, Edmund Roberts, whom was sent by President Andrew Jackson to negotiate the first treaty with an Asian nation.

Siam had previously established diplomatic and trade relations with several European nations–namely Portugal, France, and Great Britain, but Edmund Roberts negations marked the first time that Siam recognized USA as an equal trading partner with the ranks of its European counterparts. And so Thailand became the first Asian nation that USA entered into treaty relations with, even before Japan or China.

The next significant treaty between Siam and the USA was signed on May 1, 1856. The new Treaty of Amity, Commerce, and Navigation was negotiated between representatives of his majesty the King Rama IV, Mongkut and American businessman-envoy, Townsend Harris, a representative of president, Franklin Pierce, granted Americans extraterritorial rights. As a result of the treaty, an American missionary, Stephen Matoon was appointed the first US Consul to Bangkok.

His Majesty, King Rama IV was an educated scientist who was fascinated with Western culture, and particularly keen on maintaining correspondence with other world leaders. During the American Civil War, King Monkut composed a letter to President Abraham Lincoln offering Siam’s generosity to contribute elephants for combat. The American president had a kind reply sent turning down the offer, reasoning that such animals wouldn’t be ideal for the climate.

However, a pact of mutuality and alliance would resonate throughout the decades.

Siam became an ally in the First World War, signing the Treaty of Versailles and becoming a Charter Member in the League of Nations in 1919. The following year, a new United States – Siam treaty, negotiated between the King of Siam, Rama VI, Vajiravudh and his American counterpart, President Woodrow Wilson, came to the table. The treaty was signed by acting Secretary of State, Norman Davis on December 18, 1920 and represented the fairest of all treaties up to date, sparking a period of treaty revisions between Siam and all its trade partners.

In 1932, Siam drafted its first constitution, becoming a Constitutional Monarchy. In 1936, the government opened up negations with its trading partners, particularly with the United States, of which a new Treaty of Friendship, Commerce, and Navigation was signed on November 13, 1937.

Though Siam, soon to officially become Thailand, was initially neutral in the Second World War, situation and circumstance coerced Thailand’s stance to sway under Japanese influence, interests, and demands. Japan forced Thailand to declare war on the USA.

However, in Washington, the Free Thai movement saw that the declaration of war against the United States never delivered, as Thai and US diplomats worked closely to liberate Thai sovereignty from the Japanese.

After the War ended, Thailand and USA continued to strengthen their ties. The current Monarch, King Rama IX, Bhumibol Adulyadej (born in Massachusetts, USA) ascended the throne of Thailand at the age of 18 in 1946. Soon after, Thailand was admitted as the 55th member of the United Nations. Thailand would be one of the first countries to send troops to assist in the American-North Korean conflict.

Thailand would go on to sign various military and security related treaties with the United States including the Thanat-Rusk Communique of 1962 and the Special Logistics Agreement Thailand (SLAT) of 1963.

As an ally, Thailand became the United States prime base of operations for supply channels, mission launches, and other covert operations in the Vietnam War. Thailand also became a prime R&R hub for American G.I.’s in the late 60’s and early 70s.

Up into recent times, USA and Thailand have continued to thrive, driven by mutual trade and security interests, continuing to embroider a fine pact of friendship and alliance bonded by similarities and attracted as opposites.