Post-Cold War defense policy still overly concentrated on Army, Peninsular Malaysia

Speech by DAP National Political Education Director and MP for Kluang Liew Chin Tong while debating the Defense Ministry’s budget at the Committee stage in Parliament

Issued on 19th November 2014

It’s time for Malaysia’s Defense Policy to leave the Cold War mould and base itself on new realities in order to face the new threats, risks and challenges that are imminent.

The Defense Ministry revealed a small part of its policy in an open document in 2010 which should have been updated and reviewed but has since been left hanging. I call on the Ministry to involve MPs in re-formulating Malaysia’s Defense Policy.

The threats during the Cold War were mainly from the Communists, land-based, and predominantly in Peninsular Malaysia. The threats in the second decade of the 21st century come from the seas, in particular the South China Sea and beyond.

Yet, three out of the four Army divisions are in the Peninsular and we have no Air Force Combat Aircraft Squadron permanently based in Sabah and Sarawak. The fact that during the Lahad Datu incident members of the armed forces had to be deployed hastily from the Peninsula is a clear reminder that the Cold War deployment strategy no longer works.

Deployment must be based on assessment of threats, risks and challenges, and not due to obsolete legacy and historical reasons.

The Defence Ministry must implement a 50:50 deployment ratio between the Peninsula and Sabah/Sarawak; and a 35:35:30 split in resources among the Army, the Navy and the Air Force.

Currently too much resources are concentrated on the Army yet the real challenges come from the seas if not air. We need to beef up our Navy and Air Force.

The Government must also learn the lesson of failure in gathering intelligence on Lahad Datu. Sufficient evidence points to the fact that the Sulu threat against Lahad Datu was first known to the Malaysian government in 2008 but no coherent response was formulated.

The intelligence unit in the Defense Ministry must not focus on domestic politics but on real military threats and challenges.

It’s also time for the Government to reconstitute a Select Committee to review the 10-year old National Service Programme. There was a Select Committee for such purpose in the 2004 term but it did not complete its task before the end of that particular parliamentary term. No review by public involvement via Parliamentary Select Committee has since been called for that purpose.

Defense is a dynamic policy area that requires constant rethinking. Failure to act is a recipe for disaster, such as in the case of Lahad Datu.

Liew Chin Tong

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