U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis traveled to Thailand recently to meet with General Prawit Wongsuwan, Thailand’s Minister of Defense. Secretary Mattis was there to discuss security in the Indo-Pacific, a subject he has spoken with to several of Thailand’s neighbors. This includes trips from January, like to Vietnam where he also discussed the POW recovery mission from the Vietnam war, and Indonesia where was met with a cinematic display by the country’s military. There is a large concern with the Chinese presence in the South China Sea as tensions there continue to rise, and bolstering relationships with the countries of the region is undoubtedly part of an effort to keep a strong, unified presence in China’s backyard.

Thailand and the United States have had a long, friendly relationship together — they have been American allies for 185 years, making them the U.S.’s longest Asian ally.

From a military perspective, they have often worked together to host training events like the massive Cobra Gold that has been held on and off since 1982. Cobra Gold was last conducted in 2017, a large-scale training event involving dozens of participating nations. Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III, former commander of Pacific Command, described Cobra Gold as the “Pacific’s signature exercise.” He would also mention that it was among the largest multinational training exercises in which the United States participates — 29 nations participated in the last Cobra Gold exercise, varying in all sorts of training platforms. These included coordinating and utilizing a myriad of air assets, EOD operations and amphibious training missions. They conducted live fires and also practiced large-scale humanitarian aid missions.

U.S. combat operations in Southeast Asia have been scant since the Vietnam war, but Cobra Gold has still proved its usefulness. There have been numerous humanitarian relief missions that have been carried out in the region more than once — fallout from the 2004 tsunami that hit multiple nations, relief efforts from the cyclone that devastated parts of southern Burma, or the cyclone that hit the Philippines, to name a few. It has also increased the military capability of the all the countries in the area, especially as China continues to push further into the South China Sea.