Featured Primer Series

One-Oh-One: Defence vs Security

Defence and Security. What do these words mean? Are they not the same thing? And why should it matter to the average Malaysian?

Let’s start with the concept of security. The simplest internet definition of security is to be free from danger or threats. In other words, it is an outcome; a person feels secure from poverty if they have a good job. They feel secure from the natural elements if they have shelter. They feel secure from hunger when they have food. These are all end states that are conditional on a process or action.

Contrast this to the simplest internet definition of defence, which means the act of resisting an attack.

Where security is an outcome, defence is a process.

And like being able to produce consumer goods through labour, building a shelter, and farming for food, defending oneself provides them with security against another aggressive human.

The relationship between the two concepts is clear; defence against an aggressor provides security. It is very easy to confuse the two concepts, and indeed, they are often used interchangeably in the literature, but there is a clear hierarchy between them. Namely, national security is an overall national policy outcome where citizens of a country are free from threats and dangers of any kind. Various public policy spaces, such as national defence, economic policy, foreign policy, emergency preparedness, and food security, just to name a few, all function to provide this outcome.

A non-exhaustive list of common policy fields that enhance our national security.

So why should Malaysians care?

Security against foreign aggressors has always been a fundamental part of successful civilizations. It is difficult to engage in productive economic, social, and political activity when one’s country is being invaded or otherwise harassed by hostile forces.

One need not look any further than in Malaysia’s immediate history to find examples of this. The Sipadan kidnappings in 2000 targeted Malaysian tourism workers and foreign tourists, causing untold grief to the families and friends of the victims, while also damaging Malaysia’s reputation as a safe tourist destination. The incursion into Lahad Datu by the militants of Jamalul Kiram III in 2013 has necessitated the need for the government to consider Eastern Sabah as a security area with increased military and police presence. And even more recently, the actions of Great Powers in the South China Sea has made it difficult for Petronas maintain the position of its drilling rig West Capella in Malaysia’s exclusive 200 nautical mile maritime zone.


Mechanized Infantry from the Royal Malay Regiment on patrol during the Lahad Datu encounter in 2013. Picture from Malaysian Ministry of Defence.
USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS-10), a US Navy Littoral Combat Ship, in the immediate vicinity of West Capella, a drilling rig contracted by Petronas. Photo by US Navy.

Defence policy will dictate whether or not the Malaysian Armed Forces is correctly configured to face these threats. Having the correct combination of forces, equipped and trained for the right kinds of tasks, and mutually complementing other public policy spaces, will ensure that the national defence component of national security produces the relevant results in defeating and deterring foreign threats.

But what is the correct combination? How do we know what tasks and missions are the relevant ones for our Armed Forces? And by extension, what kind of equipment and training would they need to undertake those relevant tasks and missions? And how do we make sure the Armed Forces complements and is complemented by other agencies?

We’ll be covering that in our next article, Grand Strategy. Stay tuned!

1 comment on “One-Oh-One: Defence vs Security

  1. Pingback: One-Oh-One: Grand Strategy – Projek Pertiwi

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