The book flirts at times with the obvious, concluding that khaki capitalism represents a “venal objective” and “should be diminished to make way for the enhancement of state funding of more pro-people objectives like education and health”. Khaki Capital should also be read with the caveat that this is no Southeast Asian exception but part of a wider trend of military-linked mercantilism, as the sometimes murky nexus between western armed forces, their suppliers and governments shows.
But the phenomenon has particular importance in Southeast Asia, where power structures are in flux and fast-expanding economies are being fought over. Militaries have asserted themselves in business from contrasting starting points. Modern-day armed forces are the products of national liberation wars in Vietnam and Indonesia, post-imperial turbulence in the Philippines, and non-colonial evolution in Thailand. Generals have held power directly for years in Indonesia, Thailand and Myanmar, whereas Cambodia has become a tightly controlled quasi-democracy, and Vietnam and Laos remain one-party Communist states. [...]
Foreign companies have played a role. International businesses have worked directly or indirectly with Southeast Asian militaries to turf villagers off land in countries such as Cambodia and Laos. In Cambodia, the 3,000-strong army bodyguard unit of Hun Sen, the prime minister of 32 years, has been part-funded by a “military-commercial alliance” with a Chinese tycoon who has large tourism interests in the country.
Generals around the region have seemed open to learning lessons from each other when it comes to doing business. In Vietnam, some military institutions were converted into corporations under defence ministry supervision after 1989, allowing them to compete commercially.