Dec 2 marks the 1st year anniversary of the first Malaysian Defence White Paper. A year on, it’s important to remember that defence reforms will take time and that it is important to get the basic, first principles correct.
The Defence White Paper will help us figure out how to meet those challenges. It provides us with an understanding of our surroundings and threats, and the means and ways to deal with them.
Malaysia has known 30 years of relative peace since 1989. However, this does not mean the threat of conflict has completely gone away.
At sea, we are increasingly worried about intrusions into our maritime zone by both our neighbours and Great Powers. At our land borders, illegal cross border traffic and smuggling pose security risks to our citizens. And sometimes, they transcend the physical world, such as the cyber domain.
So, how should we think about these problems?
Geography is one of the major factors of consideration in this. Malaysia is a maritime nation with continental roots, and its position between East (Indian Ocean region) and West (Asia-Pacific region) makes it a bridging linchpin between the two.
Given our circumstances, the Defence White Paper outlines three important pillars to our national defence strategy.
The first pillar is the idea of Concentric Deterrence. Malaysia is divided into two theaters. Each theater in turn forms three layers that need to be defended: the core, the extended, and the forward layers. Because each theater has interests on land, at sea, in the air, and in cyberspace, the Malaysian Armed Forces must not only be able to operate in both theaters simultaneously, but also across each layer and domain. Malaysia’s future force must therefore adopt a joint combatant command structure to facilitate multi-domain operations.
The second pillar is the idea of building Credible Partnerships around the world. In line with our role as “a bridging linchpin” between the great powers and our neighbours, Malaysia’s defence diplomacy is an equally crucial element of the national defence strategy.
The third pillar of the strategy is called Comprehensive Defence. Every layer of Malaysian society has a role to play in strengthening Malaysia’s national defence. Defence guaranties peace; peace enables prosperity; prosperity provides for defence.
In addition to being a major milestone for defence reform, the Defence White Paper (DWP) is also a milestone of democratic maturity for Malaysia. It was debated in Parliament and was accepted with a bipartisan mandate.Defence Minister, YB Dato’ Sri Ismail Sabri Yaacob has publicly confirmed that the DWP will continue to be the Defence Ministry’s main guide in the planning and implementing of short, medium and long-term plans (read here: https://tinyurl.com/yxqqh27a).
The COVID-19 pandemic has, if anything, reinforced the need to put these reforms into effect. Although the virus has been a clear and present danger, other threats persist and must be dealt with.
Where does that leave us when it comes to Defense Reform? Malaysians need to look out for three different documents the government has to produce by 2022, namely the National Defence Investment Plan (Pelan Pelaburan Pertahanan Negara), Defence Industry Policy (Dasar Industri Pertahanan Negara) and Defence Capacity Blueprint (Rangka Tindakan Kapasiti Pertahanan).
Our responsibility as Malaysian citizens is to hold our government accountable and make sure they follow through with these plans. The first thing we need to do is to show interest in the subject and keep the conversation going.
Secondly, we need to ensure that our Members of Parliament are informed about our defence concerns and get them to debate these plans in Parliament to create a robust and realistic discourse. By doing so, we will ensure that the government takes our defence concerns seriously and will follow through on the promises and commitments they’ve made with this DWP
Ultimately, with the realisation of the DWP aspirations and goals we will create a safer Malaysia for us and our children while also making sure our Armed Forces are trained and equipped for the right missions at the right place, at the right time.