By B. A. HAMZAH
May 27, 2019 @ 11:00pm
THE ongoing process of producing a defence White Paper that the Defence Ministry (Mindef) initiated since December should not be hampered by the current economic slowdown.
The White Paper is essentially a negotiating document primarily with the Finance Ministry which sets out the concepts and guiding principles for future defence planning for the next two planning cycles or more, from 2020 onwards.
The White Paper on defence is structurally different, from say, the recently published White Paper on the Federal Land Development Authority, which investigated the mismanagement of funds and other forms of misdeeds in the organisation. The core concern of the defence White Paper, apart from engaging the rakyat and other government agencies, is to justify a budget for the future development of the armed forces (MAF).
Concepts like pegging the defence spending as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) should find its way into the White Paper. Under this system, the defence budget is a function of economic performance. The more revenue the government has, the more money it will spend on national defence. This pegging principle will allow for greater certainty in policy planning.
Singapore pegs its defence expenditure at four to six per cent of GDP. I propose that spending for Malaysia be fixed at 3.0 per cent of GDP. This ratio is double the expenditure on defence in 2019. Since 1960, the government gave Mindef an average of 3.5 per cent of GDP. However, since 2015 the annual allocation for Mindef has been around 1.5 per cent, among the lowest in the region.
The second guiding principle is for the rakyat to understand that Malaysia has three theatres to defend: Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak. A large expanse of sea (718 nautical miles between Kuantan and Labuan) separates the peninsula from Sabah and Sarawak, part of which goes through foreign waters. Without friendly relations with immediate neighbours and adept diplomacy, reinforcing the troops in three operational theatres during a crisis can be nightmarish even with adequate naval and air power.
Hence the need to sharpen military-diplomacy skills among the officers and soldiers to deal with counterparts in the region. Such skills can complement the role of diplomats at Wisma Putra.
But the defence of the nation must not be left to the soldiers alone. National defence is the responsibility of every citizen. Call it comprehensive defence, the first seed of patriotism must be planted at home and reinforced in schools and the entire society must be mobilised to support the military.
The third principle is for Mindef to get used to operating in a more challenging cyber terrain. Cyberspace is the new frontier for security and geopolitics as some rogue states and non-state actors (including their proxies and false flags) have the means to quietly undermine the security of a nation without firing a shot.
The militarisation of cyber-space is here to stay. In 2007, for example, a series of cyber-attacks on the computer networks in Estonia crippled essential and critical services within hours. Since then, the world has witnessed similar cyber-attacks including the use of the malware, Stuxnet, to cripple the Iranian nuclear power enrichment facility in 2007.
Most countries, including Malaysia, store critical data in computers making it easy for determined hackers. Although Malaysia has identified 10 critical national information (CNI) infrastructure to be protected and preserved at all times, it calls for more investment, coordination, enforcement and an active response strategy across the board at the national, state, corporate and the community levels. There should be more clarity in terms of governance. The role of the MAF in CNI must be clearly defined.
Since cybersecurity threats are transnational in nature, managing the security challenges in the cyber domain requires regional and international cooperation. The fourth principle calls for greater cooperation among like-minded nations in the region. For instance, there should be greater effort in developing the rules and norms in cyberspace among Asean member states to strengthen regional cooperation and to avoid “reprisal” in cases of genuine mistakes.
Currently, the nation faces geopolitical uncertainties in the region which have a bearing on its defence posture. Besides managing these geopolitical uncertainties, from time to time the MAF is required to assist other agencies, for example, in dealing with calamities, refugees, illegal immigrants, violence at sea, including piracy and sea robbery, terrorism, illegal fishing and a host of other non-traditional military threats. Clearly, the MAF can do with more money to buy the relevant assets and to train the manpower to undertake these non-core tasks.
The military needs the right equipment and technology to be credible. Sadly, over the years, the budget to procure new equipment and for maintenance of existing technology has not kept pace with time and the new threats facing the nation. Without state-of-the-art technology, the Royal Malaysian Navy and Royal Malaysian Air Force, for example, will be severely handicapped in their task to protect the national interests from hostile forces.
The writer is a student of geopolitics and defence policy