Laos Defense and Foreign Policy

Foreign policy and defense

Laos is a nation in Southeastern Asia. Its capital city is Vientiane. Lao’s geographical location, sandwiched between more powerful countries with different political systems, has long characterized the foreign-political relations. However, the relaxation after the Cold War has meant that the country now has relatively good contacts with all neighboring states.

Laos Defense and Foreign Policy

Regional cooperation has become increasingly important for Laos. Since the mid-1990s, work has been underway to integrate the four countries around the Mekong River: Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. With expanded infrastructure and joint projects around the Mekong, the economies of the four countries will be linked.

In 1997, Laos became a member of the Southeast Asian cooperation organization Asean. Membership accelerates Lao’s integration with the economically more developed countries of the region.

Improved relations with Thailand

Relations with capitalist and US-friendly Thailand were long overdue. In 1984 and 1988, short-term fighting broke out at the border. The main problem was that the Lao guerrillas had bases in Thailand from where the attacked targets in the home country. From the early 1990s, relations improved since Thailand intervened several times to prevent guerrillas from making raids into Laos.

In 1991, the two countries agreed to allow the majority of about 60,000 Lao refugees in Thailand, most of whom are native to Hong Kong, to settle in the United States. As the refugee camps were emptied, support for the Laotian insurgency groups in Thailand decreased. Since then, the two neighboring countries have cooperated in bringing thousands of remaining Laotian refugees back to their homeland, usually against their will; There are reports that many of these refugees are having a hard time.

Across the border of the Mekong River, several bridges have been built between Thailand and Laos, the first in 1994. The first rail link between the countries was opened in 2009. Thailand also contributes to several projects in Laos. Among other things, the neighboring country is the main financier for the controversial Xayaburi dam that was inaugurated in 2019. Thailand buys almost all electricity generated there (see Natural Resources, Energy and the Environment).

Close ties to Vietnam and China

Communist Laos has had close relationships with communist Vietnam as well since the Indochina wars between the 1950s and 1970s (see Modern History). The relationship has been strengthened by the fact that over the past 30 years, countries have encountered similar problems during the transition from socialist planning economics to market-adapted economic conditions, without sacrificing the political dominance of the ruling Communist parties. Vietnam has made extensive investments in Laos since 1989.

Lao’s relations with China have been stable since the mid-1980s and can now be said to be as important as Lao’s relationship with Vietnam. The Chinese investment in Laos is greater than the Vietnamese and the Thai. However, the regime in Vientiane has been careful to try to balance the relationships without favoring anyone. Laos receives technical assistance and loans from China to expand the infrastructure, as well as buy Chinese-made weapons and other military equipment. Not least, China is financing several road construction projects in northern Laos. Moreover, the exchange consists of both trade and aid.

Japan, India and the United States

The Lao Government signed bilateral trade and cooperation agreements with Japan in 2000 and with India in 2002. With India, a broad financial and technical assistance program was signed in 2010 in a number of areas, including electric power projects. In 2011, India and Laos signed a free trade agreement. Japan has provided loans and assistance for infrastructure and bomb remediation in the 2000s and 2010s. Laos also has good relations with Myanmar and Cambodia.

Relations with the United States and other Western countries have improved since the end of the Cold War. Laos has helped the United States find the remains of Americans killed in the country during the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 1970s. They have also worked together to stop the opium cultivation in Laos and to destroy the bombs that the US dropped over the country during the Vietnam War.

1995 repealed the United States a 20-year aid embargo against Laos in 2004 resumed trade relations between the countries, and in 2012 visited Hillary Clinton Laos, the first US Secretary of State since 1955. The US has also been critical to the Lao government’s treatment of the Hmong population (see Population and language).

In September 2016, Laos was visited by Barack Obama, the first US President ever. Obama spoke to the Lao State leadership about the problem of the undetected US bombs in Laotian land, and about China’s growing influence in Southeast Asia. Obama pledged $ 90 million to bomb remediation, saying the United States has a “moral obligation” to help Laos heal the wounds after the war.


Lao’s defense is based on general military duty for at least 18 months. Alongside the regular military forces, there are semi-military associations in the form of “public security forces” for self-defense of rural villages and towns.


Army: 25 600 men (2017)

The air Force: 3,500 men (2017)

The fleet: 600 men (2015)

Military expenditure’s share of GDP: 0.2 percent (2013)

Military spending’s share of the state budget: 0.8 percent (2013)