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Showing posts for "Laos"

A Lack of Oversight—Dating Back Decades

by Joshua Kurlantzick
bin laden raid U.S. President Barack Obama (2nd L) and Vice President Joe Biden (L), along with members of the national security team, receive an update on the mission against Osama bin Laden in the Situation Room of the White House, May 1, 2011. (White House/Pete Souza/Reuters)

Between 1961 and 1973, in a civil war in the tiny Southeast Asian country of Laos, the Central Intelligence Agency oversaw a massive paramilitary operation. CIA operatives, working with the U.S. embassy, Thai commandos, U.S. military advisors, and others, helped build an army of tens of thousands of anticommunist Laotians, mostly from the Hmong ethnic group. Read more »

The Laos War and its Long-Term Impact on U.S. Relations with Southeast Asia

by Joshua Kurlantzick
obama-laos U.S. President Barack Obama delivers an address at the Lao National Cultural Hall, on the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit, in Vientiane, Laos on September 6, 2016. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

In my new book, A Great Place to Have a War: America in Laos and the Birth of a Military CIA, I examine how the covert war in Laos, during the 1960s and early 1970s, dramatically changed the Central Intelligence Agency. But the war also forever altered Laotian domestic politics, and Vientiane’s relationship with Washington. Within the country, the war’s effects continue to shape politics. After 1975, Laotian security forces usually viewed Hmong communities with suspicion, and harshly repressed all political activity, as the post-1975 Laotian government instituted one of the toughest authoritarian regimes in the world. Read more »

Podcast: A Great Place to Have a War

by Elizabeth C. Economy
A Buddhist monk poses next to unexploded bombs dropped by the U.S. Air Force planes during the Vietnam War, in Xieng Khouang in Laos September 3, 2016. REUTERS/Jorge Silva A Buddhist monk poses on September 3, 2016, next to unexploded bombs dropped by the U.S. Air Force planes during the Vietnam War in Xieng Khouang in Laos. The United States dropped more than two million tons of ordnance on Laos in the course of the war. (Jorge Silva/Reuters)

While Vietnam and Cambodia loom large in American memories of the Vietnam War, neighboring Laos recedes into the background. But during the 1960s and 1970s, the tiny, landlocked nation was the site of the CIA’s transformation from a loosely organized spy agency to a powerful paramilitary organization. Read more »

How the Laos War Transformed the CIA

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Book jacket photography by John Quintero/Getty Images.

From 1961 until the early 1970s, the Central Intelligence Agency undertook, in Laos, what remains the largest covert operation in the history of the United States. Tiny Laos, which had not even existed as a coherent entity twenty years earlier and which had a smaller population than Los Angeles, suddenly was propelled to the center of U.S. foreign policy universe, only to vanish completely from that radar fifteen years later. Read more »

The CIA Isn’t Necessarily Going to Lose Out in the New Administration

by Joshua Kurlantzick
trump-3 U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks during a visit to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in Langley, Virginia U.S. on January 21, 2017. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

During the transition period between November and January, President-elect Donald Trump developed perhaps the most publicly antagonistic relationship with U.S. intelligence agencies of any incoming president in at least decades. He compared the intelligence agencies to Nazis, repeatedly disdained their reports as fake, and dismissed their assessments of foreign interference in the 2016 election. In an interview published in the Wall Street Journal last Monday, outgoing CIA director John Brennan called Trump’s allegations “repugnant.” Other intelligence officials have reportedly expressed a sense of dread about what’s to come. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Five Stories From the Week of September 9, 2016

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
kim-jong-un-nuclear-test KRT bulletin shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in this still image taken from video on September 9, 2016. North Korea conducted its fifth and biggest nuclear test on Friday and said it had mastered the ability to mount a warhead on a ballistic missile, ratcheting up a threat that its rivals and the United Nations have been powerless to contain. (KRT via Reuters)

Rachel Brown, Sherry Cho, Theresa Lou, Gabriella Meltzer, and Gabriel Walker look at five stories from Asia this week.

1. North Korea conducts fifth nuclear test. Pyongyang celebrated the sixty-eighth anniversary of the country’s founding today by conducting its fifth and largest nuclear test. The Nuclear Weapons Institute of the DPRK claims that the nuclear warhead “has been standardized to be able to be mounted on strategic ballistic rockets,” and that the DPRK can now produce “a variety of smaller, lighter and diversified nuclear warheads of higher strike power.” Read more »

Obama’s Visit to Laos: Part 2—The Legacy of the War

by Joshua Kurlantzick
obama-laos-part 2 A fence made of collected American bomb shells is seen in a Hmong village near Phonsavan in Xieng Khouang province on October 29, 2007. (Tim Chong/Reuters)

In my previous blog post, I noted that the bilateral relationship between the United States and Laos remains limited, and will likely remain very limited for years to come. Sure, Laos is the chair of ASEAN this year, which gives the tiny country some influence, but Laos remains a minor destination for U.S. investment, and a country of more strategic relevance to China, Vietnam, and Thailand (among others) than to the United States. U.S. assistance to Laos is primarily focused on humanitarian areas. Read more »

Obama Makes the First U.S. Presidential Visit to Laos: Part 1

by Joshua Kurlantzick
obama-laos-part 1 U.S. President Barack Obama welcomes Laos President Choummaly Sayasone upon his arrival at Sunnylands for a 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Rancho Mirage, California on February 15, 2016. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Next week, President Obama will arrive in Laos for the first visit of a U.S. president to the country. He comes to Laos for the U.S.-Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit, for the East Asia Summit, and also for bilateral meetings with several of Laos’s leaders. The tiny communist country, the current chair of ASEAN, selected new leaders—in its typically opaque way—earlier this year. According to some reports, Laos’s new leaders are eager to move the country away from its growing dependence on China for trade and aid, and are seeking to shift Laos back toward its historically closer relations with Hanoi, which was the patron of Laos’s communist party during the Indochina wars. Read more »

Further Signs of Southeast Asia’s Political Regression

by Joshua Kurlantzick
prayuth-thailand Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha looks on before a weekly cabinet meeting at Government House in Bangkok, Thailand, on April 26, 2016. (Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters)

Three new annual reports, from the U.S. State Department, Freedom House, and Reporters without Borders, add further evidence to worries that much of Southeast Asia is experiencing an authoritarian revival. Released this week, Freedom House’s annual Freedom of the Press report (for which I served as a consultant for several Southeast Asia chapters) reveals that in nearly all the ten ASEAN nations, press freedom regressed significantly last year. Freedom House’s findings are similar those of Reporters Without Borders annual Press Freedom Index, which was released earlier this month. Read more »

Thanat Khoman and the Fraying of the U.S.-Thailand Alliance

by Joshua Kurlantzick
prayuth-obama-asean U.S. President Barack Obama welcomes Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-och upon his arrival at Sunnylands for a 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Rancho Mirage, California on February 15, 2016. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Last week, Thanat Khoman, the longtime politician and former foreign minister of Thailand, died of natural causes in Bangkok. He was 102, and one of the last surviving leaders who played a central role in the Indochina Wars of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. Thanat was foreign minister between 1959 and 1971, when the spread of communism through Indochina—communist forces had nearly encircled Luang Prabang during the First Indochina War, and communist forces obviously were making gains in Laos and South Vietnam during Thanat’s tenure—terrified the conservative Thai military regime. Read more »