Thai military at Chang Phueak Gate in Chiang Mai last week. Image: Wikimedia Commons
The Canadian government approved the shipping of millions of dollars worth of weapons to Thailand in recent years, according to government documents. Considering Thailand is just two weeks out from a military coup, the data shines fresh light on Canada's growing role in international arms deals.
According to the latest released Foreign Affairs report on the lawful export of Canadian military goods, shipments to Thailand between 2010-2011 amounted to over $2.2 million worth of weaponry. Everything from automatic rifles, biological and chemical agents, and unmanned aerial vehicles were potentially sold.
Among those exports was ammunition and “smooth-bore weapons with a caliber of less than 20 mm” along with “other arms and automatic weapons,” amounting to over $400,000 total across both years.
In 2010—the same year anti-dictatorship protests broke out in Bangkok—the Thai government bought $1.4 million worth of “bombs, torpedoes, rockets, missiles, other explosive devices and charges” that were “specially designed for military use” from an unnamed Canadian company.
Now, it's not likely Thai officials bought torpedoes and rockets to manage protests. But in addition to small arms purchases, a series of crowd-busting “chemical or biological toxic agents” and “riot control agents” worth $87,145 were purchased in 2010 with a smaller purchase coming in 2011.
Surveillance drones were likely among the purchases. Drones were listed in the purchase descriptions with over $235,000 worth of “aircraft, lighter-than-air vehicles” and “unmanned airborne vehicles” exported to Thailand in 2010 and 2011 under classification “2-10.” Though unconfirmed, a smaller UAV purchase matches the description and dollar figures provided in the report.
While the report provides weapons classifications under code numbers like “2-1” for smooth-bore weapons and“2-7” for chemical or biological agents, it does not provide specific descriptions of what weapons were exported to Thailand or any other countries listed. Knowing exactly what kind of weapon was sold is a guessing game from the given descriptions.
It’s also unclear what companies sold the weapons. Based on openly sourced government data, Rheinmetall Canada, a company producing various weapons systems for the Canadian, French, and Belgian army, has “export experience” with Thailand. But it's unlikely Rheinmetell is the only seller that provided equipment to Thailand.
In any case, it's no secret Canadian military exports are on the rise. Just last week CANSEC, Canada’s premier defence industry trade show, broke its own records for attendees and exhibitors. At the event, National Defence Minister Rob Nicholson championed rising Canadian industry exports and encouraged the increase. The figures match the talk: The latest available numbers say defense sales jumped more than 50 percent from 2010 to 2011, with later years reportedly expected to spike when final reports are made available.
Meanwhile, in 2013 Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird was steadfast Canada wouldn’t sign the UN Arms Trade Treaty (even after the US signed on) until he made sure the treaty wouldn’t violate the rights of recreational gun companies in Canada.
At the moment, Canadian exports are regulated by the Export and Import Permits Act and the Automatic Firearms Country Control List, with controlled items exported to approved nations. Along with Thailand, the list of past buyers contains some controversial names: China, Russia, Egypt, Uzbekistan, and even Ukraine under the Yanukovych regime.
I asked DFAIT about Canadian weapons sales to Thailand and its effect on the coup. In an emailed response spokesperson Adam Hodge said Canada had some of the strongest weapons export controls in the world and conveyed that the government is "profoundly concerned" by events in Thailand.
"Canada rigorously assesses all exports of military goods and technology on a case by case basis… In light of the recent coup d'état, Canada is reviewing the scope of its bilateral relations with Thailand during the period of military rule," Hodge said.
What that review will entail is still unclear. Other than Baird condemning the coup in May, the Canadian government has yet to issue any sanctions on the ruling junta. It's worth noting that since the coup in Thailand, the US government and other nations froze aid money and cancelled joint military exercises.