MALAYSIA’S defence and security strategy in practice since independence has arguably never been driven and guided by a specific blueprint.
The country’s defence planning was mainly based on immediate and short-term needs, reactive in nature and ad hoc in implementation.
Non-security (and sometimes irrelevant and self-serving) considerations tended to be the dominating factors in the shaping of the country’s defence capability development, thus derailing any efforts to have a coherent and sustainable development programme for the armed forces.
The last attempt at a Defence White Paper was published in 2007 and it a was broad expression of our security perception and of the role of the armed forces in dealing with these perceived situations.
It appears that it was prepared with limited input and policy coordination from stakeholders such as the Foreign Affairs Ministry, the Home Ministry and the National Security Council.
With this historical track record and background, it is important that the new Defence White Paper be developed with the following parameters in mind.
Firstly, it must be focused and yet flexible. Based on the assessment of the nation’s defence and security scenario, the White Paper must identify the specific roles and tasks of the armed forces in the perceived scenarios.
Clear distinctions must be made between its primary and secondary functions. Priority should be given to ensure that its capability in performing its primary function is not compromised and that its ability to perform secondary functions stays credible.
Secondly, defence and security policies are intertwined and should be the basis for the broader national foreign policy. It must be noted that military power is an instrument of foreign policy and its application invariably needs to be coordinated with the employment of other foreign policy instruments such as diplomacy and economy.
The development of Malaysia’s defence policy must therefore be deliberately planned and synchronised with its foreign policy. In the area of internal security and other aspects of non-traditional security, a similar approach must be taken in dealing with the Home Ministry and other related government agencies.
Thirdly, taking into consideration the current and future security scenario, the need to progress from where we are now to where we want to be and against the background of the current state of our armed forces and the national financial position, the stated objectives in the proposed White Paper must be realistically attainable and must allow for gradual development and continuity.
It must not be overly ambitious lest it ends up being an unattainable and an unfulfilled wish list.
The White Paper should comprehensively cover the following key topics which are the evaluation of security scenarios.
The current global, regional and domestic security scenarios must include the projection of future scenarios spanning the period of at least the next 10 years and consider how these would impact the defence and security of Malaysia.
Based on these established scenarios, Malaysia should determine its defence priority and work out the relevant strategies.
For defence relations and diplomacy, there must be an evaluation of all Malaysian defence relations with global and regional powers, relations with other Asean countries and its involvement in United Nations peacekeeping operations.
To be effective, Malaysia’s defence diplomacy must be credibly backed by defence capability. As a small nation, Malaysia needs to have good defence relations with credible and reliable global and regional military powers as backup to its own military might.
Human resource training should be forward looking in nature, taking into consideration the nature of war in the 21st century.
In addition to traditional military training, cyber-centric training is necessary as cyber technology continues to be the core technology that controls almost every aspect of modern-day environments.
Apart from technical competency, the personnel should also be indoctrinated with cyber defence and cyber security awareness.
In acknowledging that cyber space is the fifth dimension in warfare, Malaysia also needs to develop a cyber offensive strategy as part of its military strategy. This strategy should be incorporated into its land, sea, air, and joint warfare doctrine.
Future procurement and development programmes must also be planned to break away from past practices that have resulted in our armed forces being equipped with motley sets of weapons and equipment which at times lack working compatibility, create logistical problems and are strategically inefficient.
The way forward is to work out a strategy to acquire new weapons and equipment that truly fit our strategic needs while at the same time making the best use of the present resources until they are phased out and replaced.
In terms of defence technology and self-sufficiency, a clear policy must be established to determine areas which need to be fully self-sufficient, partly self-sufficient and which, due to constraints, to be fully reliant on imported technology.
The new Defence White Paper should form the basis for the future development of the armed forces.
It should be set in a new paradigm that is practical and focused on the true defence and security needs of the country.