Identifying Malaysia’s Enemies & Appropriate Weaponry 

So, exactly how are decisions made in the ministry of defence to purchase the submarines, the corvettes, the frigates (costing billions) instead of more effective patrol boats to guard our coastlines? 

Dr Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser

As the Global Day of Action on Military Spending, GDAMS 3.0 (15 April 2013) approaches, it is time for Malaysians to ask: Who are Malaysia’s enemies and what appropriate weaponry do we need? One would think this is the first question the Ministry of Defence should ask in the multi-billion decisions to procure armaments now that the arms merchants are here again for LIMA 2013. Yet our National Defence Policy has never even been properly debated in parliament.

Just a few months ago, the defence ministry would not have said that Malaysia’s enemies were among the Suluks who have been coming back and forth between southern Philippines and Sabah all these years. After all, hadn’t we helped to train MNLF fighters there against Marcos in the seventies? Wasn’t this the reason why the Home Minister Hishamuddin said that the invaders at Lahad Datu were “neither militants nor terrorists” during the two or three weeks that they were already there?

And haven’t we got a “Rapid Deployment Force” (10 Paratrooper Brigade) ready to be dispatched to any flashpoint? One wonders what flashpoint scenarios they are trained for? Are they ready to be deployed only when there are secessionists fighting to take East Malaysia out of the federation? They certainly hadn’t been prepared for the Sulu sultan’s army to “turn”. 

Don’t be surprised if the “defence analysts” in the ministry have now shredded all their previous analyses about Malaysia’s perceived “enemies”. With the new-found enemies of the Malaysian state, the arms lobby has at last found a raison detre for their fabulous arms procurements. Heck, didn’t we finally get the chance to use our F18 fighter bombers and Hawk 208 fighter jets against this so-called “rag-tag army”?  Wouldn’t armoured cars and tanks and mortars have sufficed in that four square kilometer area of land against that motley crew? In the end, were Malaysians given a clear picture of the efficacy of those fighter jet sorties?

Whatever the reasons for sending in the fighter bombers and jets, the international arms merchants have now come to town to peddle their wares. The French have started advertising their ‘Rafale’ fighter jets in our mainstream newspapers, alongside bargains by ‘Giant’ and ‘Tesco’ for the attention of Malaysians. BAE are also desperately trying to flog their ‘Typhoon’ jet fighters in a RM10 billion deal they hope to clinch with a “Buy 1 – Get 1 free” gambit. They lost out recently to the French when the Indian government opted to buy 126 Rafale fighter jets instead, and are still fuming.

But do we need any fighter jets at all, considering their cost is spiraling way out of control and they so quickly become obsolete? They will be even more obsolete when future air wars are fought using drones (Unarmed Aerial Vehicles)! Malaysians should be aware that the latest (US) F35 fighter jets cost at least half a billion ringgit a piece? Can we keep up with the race? What race? Who are we racing against? Who are our enemies?


The appropriate vessels for RMN

When the bombardment finally began at Lahad Datu, it was mentioned that the navy had formed a cordon to prevent the intruders from getting away. It became clear that there has never been a cordon to prevent any intruders from getting INTO Sabah all these years. Looking at the geography of the area, it is evident that our two submarines (costing more than RM7 billion) sitting pretty in Sepanggar Bay and our six New Generation Patrol Vessels (costing RM9 billion) were not the most suitable vessels in such circumstances. This mismatch raises the question of the need for our navy to prioritise the deployment of appropriate alternative vessels.

As part of the RM5 billion arms deal signed between Dr Mahathir and Margaret Thatcher in 1989, we procured two corvettes built by the Yarrow shipbuilders costing RM2.2 billion. (NST, 11.11.91) At the time, the Royal Malaysian Navy said they required sixteen offshore patrol vessels but due to financial constraints, the RMN could only afford four or five of these locally-built OPVs. Mindef had budgeted RM85 million per OPV. (NST, 25.11.91) Now, in the light of the latest incident at Lahad Datu, Malaysians will be in a better position to see the appropriate vessels that would be more suitable to secure the Sabah coastline.

Before the Lahad Datu incident, the main “enemies” testing the capacity of our armed forces were the pirates in the South China Sea and the Straits of Malacca. There were no bigger “enemies” than those seafaring marauders. Are state-of-the-art fighter jets and submarines the appropriate defence equipmenty against pirates? These would likewise be inappropriate if “international terrorists” and suicide bombers choose to target Malaysia.

So, exactly how are decisions made in the ministry of defence to purchase the submarines, the corvettes, the frigates (costing billions) instead of more effective patrol boats to guard our coastlines?


ASEAN needs to take ZOPFAN more seriously

There is no end if we choose to embark on an arms race with our neighbouring countries. We simply cannot afford such an arms race and it is time ASEAN countries seriously talk about disarmament and joint defence agreements instead of an arms race within ASEAN. Our economic priorities need to be diverted away from military production toward production for human needs, and public expenditure diverted to more and better social services throughout ASEAN. Any disputes over territories should be settled through international arbitration as was done over Pulau Batu Putih with Singapore. The dispute of the Spratly Islands should be resolved the same way.


The Malaysian People are NOT the Enemy

The Lahad Datu incident should act as a wake-up call for the Malaysian government that seems pre-occupied with treating its own people as the enemy. When we bear in mind that throughout the career of the Internal security Act since 1960, more than 10,000 people have been incarcerated for being “threats to national security”. But hardly any have been charged for any crimes involving violence against the state. Then again, there have been at least two cases of Malaysians who have been killed in neighbouring countries for alleged terrorist activities. Yet, none of them were ever arrested under the ISA!

This goes to show that our intelligence service has been focusing on the wrong suspects. As a former ISA detainee who was incarcerated for being a “threat to national security”, I can vouch for the wanton wastage of security personnel on Malaysians who are simply not “enemies of the state”. When I think of the number of state operatives who had been spying on me, arresting me, guarding me, interrogating me, accompanying me on family and hospital visits, I immediately wonder how they could be better deployed to prevent crimes being committed and watching out for the real enemies of the state. And when we multiply the cost 10,000 times since 1960, we will realize the enormous waste of human resources that could be better put to use!

It was recently reported in the New York Times (13.3.2013) that Malaysia is among 25 countries using off-the-shelf spyware to keep tabs on citizens by secretly grabbing images off computer screens, recording video chats, turning on cameras and microphones, and logging keystrokes:

“Rather than catching kidnappers and drug dealers, it looks more likely that it is being used for politically motivated surveillance,” security researcher Morgan Marquis-Boire was quoted by NYT as saying.

This is what I mean when I say our intelligence service is not focused on the job but wasting valuable resources spying on and apprehending the good guys! Indeed, if the Malaysian state had only focused on the job of catching the real criminals, Malaysia would be a much safer place instead of being the “nation of guarded communities” it has become today.


Militarism serves the ruling class

Apart from the huge commissions that can be creamed from multi-billion arms contracts, the ruling class requires militarism to contain the oppressed and disgruntled sections of the population. A strong military is necessary to prop up the ruling class. At the same time, the military-industrial complex promotes the development of a specially favoured group of companies engaged in the manufacture and sale of munitions and military equipment for personal gain and profit. These armaments companies have a direct interest in the maximum expansion of military production.


Arms production is a green issue

Military spending and arms production are very much green issues. The military- industrial complex not only produces toxic products, they produce weapons that kill indiscriminately. LIMA and other defence fairs are certainly not congruent with Malaysian leaders’ stated commitment to peace and spiritual values.

The green movement has a responsibility to work toward an end to the culture of war. This involves re-ordering our financial priorities away from wasteful and destructive arms production and procurement to the social well-being of the people. Ultimately, working towards a culture of peace is a vision that is only attainable in a society that respects human dignity, social justice, democracy and human rights.