What the hell's going on in the Thai drug war?

I’d like answers, particularly from any Thai Dopers, but this in GD partly because I expect some speculation and partly because I expect some debate about whether what’s going on is justifiable.

The Thai PM announced that he would get rid of the country’s drug problem “once and for all” within three months. Three weeks in, 350 supposed drug dealers are dead. Police say that they have been responsible for about 15 deaths, and the others are “bandits killing bandits” presumably to protect themselves. But there have been no murder arrests. Hmmm.

“I think human rights activists shouldn’t worry too much about these traffickers’ lives,” said the interior minister, Wan Noor Muhammad Noor Matha.

Is this what it sounds like - a concerted, government-approved programme of extra-judicial killings?

Is this what winning the “war on drugs” would take? What does the apparent acquiesence of the Thai public (and the fact that this doesn’t seem to be a big story, at least yet) mean?

Some links: NYTimes (free regn required) Reuters StuffNZ GoogleNews search for Thai* drug



  1. It’s all over GoogleNews, but…

  2. It’s not a big American story yet because it hasn’t hit the American mainstream media. When it hits CNN, look for the human rights handwringing to begin. But until then, don’t expect Joe Public to go looking around on GoogleNews for obscure Reuters links.

  3. They’re calling it a drug “war”. So people get killed in wars. So maybe they’re using the term to mean “the kind of drug war where people get killed”, as opposed to the U.S. meaning of the term, which is “a propaganda war with occasional arrests”, basically.

The “apparent acquiescence of the Thai public” could be due to them simply not being willing to put up with a U.S.-style [air quotes] “drug war”.

Just FTR, I agree that it would be better for the Thai government to go through channels and give all those drug dealers a fair trial.

They’re unwilling to put up with a propaganda war, but they don’t mind summary executions?

I’m not from T’land but my wife is. The big deal right now is “Yaa Baa” or “crazy medicine,” some kind of hellishly addictive smokable meth. The Thais think it comes in from Burma but I can’t say yes or no about that one.

Anyway, many many families have lost a member to yaa baa, either outright dead or just turned into a stranger that will steal anything he/she can get their hands on to buy another hit.

The Thais are some of the most friendly and decent people I know but I don’t expect to see anyone in T’land getting upset if someone dealing this crap gets killed. I don’t mind most drugs but, speaking as someone who has lost a family member to this crap, the Thais can kill every damn one of them and I’ll pay for the bullets.


What’s going on (I believe) is that this isn’t just a war on drugs.

Back in the bad old days there was a communist insurgency in Burma just like everywhere else. Most of the communists were centered amongst an “ethnic/tribal” group known as the Wa. When communism went out of style the Wa continued to rebel, they just changed their name from the Communist Party to the United Wa State Army. This was in the late 80s.

Remember that Burma underwent a rather serious democratic uprising in about 1988 (unfortunately unsuccessful). Well, after putting down that uprising the army was worn out. So they arranged a cease fire with the Wa which has resulted in the Wa having pretty much their own independent state since then (though obviously not officially recognized by anybody). The Wa used to finance their revolution and now finance their “state” by drug trafficking (though of course they deny this), Wa territory is the heart of the “Golden Triangle.”

Recently the Wa have been encroaching big time on Thai territory and it has the Thais worried…

But the Thais have to be careful about how they react because the Wa still enjoy a lot of support from China as a holdover from the old communist days.

So it looks like the Thais are trying to put economic pressure on the Wa by shutting down the drug trade. Or in other words, this is not a “real” war, but it’s more than just a “drug war.”

MR2001, I meant that maybe they’re unwilling to put up with a propaganda war that drags on, literally, for decades, and makes no headway whatsoever. Maybe to them, in comparison, summary executions look good. I’m not Thai, I have no Thai relatives or friends or neighbors, I have no particular insight into the Thai mindset, I’m just speculating here.

I posted that first reply from work. Now that I’m home I checked with the Thai wife about Taksin the PM of T’land. (It always sounds like Toxin ro me.) She hates the guy but will vote for him next time if he gets rid of the meth dealers. She has absolutely zero scruples about how he does it.
She had a normal, happy, fifteen year-old niece absolutely go to hell over that stuff and has no mercy for those that sold it to her. I think my wife’s attitude is pretty typical of those in T’land.



Thanks for your local knowledge Testy and zigaretten. The Burma angle is interesting.

I appreciate, Testy, that people are pretty unhappy about dealers. I’m even prepared to imagine that they might be happy to see them all killed (unless it turns out to one of their relatives, when extenuating circumstances will be found). But I somehow doubt that’s what’s going on. In that kind of atmosphere it would be pretty easy to dub anyone you dislike “a drug dealer” and pretty easy for anyone who had power over the hit squads to extort protection money.

According to CNN the death toll is now 600.


I’m sorry to keep dragging this thread up, but this is quite a story, in my view.

Is this a matter of the world being preoccupied with other issues, or is it a symptom of an emerging breakdown of the rule of law amongst democratic countries as a result of events over the last couple of years?

I rather think that Thailand’s actions are a direct result of the incalculable exasperation she has with the incredibly insidious nature of amphetamine abuse. Indeed, I rather think that there’s a tacit acknowledgement by every goverment around the globe - “At last, someone who’s prepared to try what we’ve always WANTED to try all these years… let’s just see how it turns out shall we? Mum’s the word for now…”
I recall hearing a BBC Radio documentary during the week on the Thai drug crackdown. The report lasted for about 30 minutes and was very thorough in it’s coverage. One startling statistic… it’s estimated that fully 3 million Thai citizens have become amphetamine addicts in the last 5 years - not opium or heroin, but speed addicts. By any yardstick, given the inherently peaceful and tranquil nature of Thai society - at least in the traditional sense - such a problem must really be ripping the heart and soul out of Thailand’s culture.

Personally, in this instance, given that Thailand is a soveriegn nation which is bordered by some very dubious drug producing regions, I rather think the Thai’s have the right to try such a tactic. If it fails, it fails. If it works, even better. 3 million speed freaks can’t be a good thing - anyway you look at it. I will happily concede that there will be some frightful human rights abuses - granted - but I choose to believe that the Police Forces are targeting the main culprits regardless.

One thing’s for sure… if there’s a weakness which exists within the human psyche which allows all of us to kill ourselves through misadventure, our innate ability to have a love affair with drugs seems to be that weakness. It’s amazing to me, after all this time, that people the world over keep having problems with drugs - I mean to say, it’s not as though the dangers of drugs aren’t being taught in school, huh? It’s gotta be a DNA flaw - I’m sure of it.

Hawthorne: I agree that it’s quite a story, too, but I’d have to say that it’s just a matter of the mainstream American media being concerned with other issues, such as the Columbia, Iraq, whether North Korea has nukes, and nightclub fires. CNN.com only has two mentions of the Thai Drug War since it began at the beginning of February, and that’s it.


Sad but true–it doesn’t directly concern Americans, so the American media isn’t interested.

By comparison, look at all these stories in the BBC online, starting way back on February 4.




So they’re going to “review” it, and maybe they’ll slack off. I notice that the BBC articles mention that Thai human rights groups have been protesting, too, so it’s not like the whole society has declared war on drug dealers. I’d be real interested to see the methodology behind that “90% of Thais support the crackdown” poll.

[slight hijack here]

Very good point Duck Duck.

Indeed, there’s a perception of the USA from outside the USA, which I hasten to add is merely a dreadful generalisation and is far from true, but nonetheless, that perception is this - if you’re a typical American living in the wheat belt for example, unless you saw it on TV, it never happened - which by extension means it CAN’T be important.

Now I personally don’t subscribe to that perception - but certainly, there’s merit in the assertion that the TV news within the USA is extraordinarily insular.

I would add, however, that such an observation doesn’t apply to quality broadsheet newspapers as an example of “quality in depth news coverage” but TV news is a different kettle of fish. It is as much to do with ratings as anything else, and “home stories” simply get better ratings than “overseas stories which I can’t relate to…”

Moreover, Duck Duck, your observation inherently demonstrates the odd paradox regarding US Television News at the moment - that is, it’s abundantly more OUTPUT than it is INPUT in terms of where the stories generally emanate from. On average, the rest of the world gets at least 25% of their daily news (I would estimate) emanating FROM the USA. As an outsider looking in, I would say that the majority of the world knows demonstrably more about what’s happening WITHIN the United States at any given time, than the citizens of the United States know about the rest of the world.

I hasten to add that this does not apply to the incredibly well read and worldly US members of the Straight Dope Message Board obviously.

But my point is a salient one - it’s a point which explains why so many societies around the world are somewhat “sick and tired” of the USA’s perceptions of self-importance. I would add that I don’t agree with such reactions, but the reality is that such reactions ARE taking place on a daily basis aound the world.

There are many editorials in major national newspapers around the globe which reflect an amazing degree of exasperation with the “self absorption of the United States”. But here’s the thing… I don’t feel that way at all, and here’s why…

I simply don’t watch much television. I get far more knowledge of world events from reading this Message Board than I do from pretty well anywhere else if truth be known. And here, on the Straight Dope Message Board, I constantly derive limitless pleasure from the extraordinary knowledge and understanding which is constantly displayed by Americans regarding the rest of the world.

If truth be known, I rather think that US Commercial Television is arguably the worst ambassador Americans could ask for actually. By and large, it projects a thoroughly improper picture of how worldly and understanding you Americans truly are.

[end of slight hijack]