Malaysia Dateline

Honesty Is The Best Policy In Defense

To those who argued that the Minister of Defense, or, in Malay abbreviation, “Menhan,” cannot be open and honest about the quality of Malaysia’s defense assets, the response is: nonsense.

Only Saddam Hussein, having mistakenly led Iraq into a war against Kuwait in 1989, leading to Baghdad’s complete defeat in 1990 due to the attack of the US led Operation Desert Storm, would have had no choice but to lie. Why ? Precisely because Iraq wants the pretense of being strong, when in fact it was not. Thus, Iraq lied time and again about having the “weapons of mass destruction”; when in fact it had none.

When such pretence was over done, the US and certain members of international community, started believing that Iraq was a threat—-leading to another war to contain Iraq. Saddam Hussein was dethroned, and the whole Middle East is still rolling in instability since 2003.

Of course, no weapons of mass destructions were ever found in Iraq. But this lesson shows the importance of telling the truth, without which constant lying about one’s defense assets can lead to serious and unintended consequences.

Besides, why should Minister of Defense Mohammad Sabu be criticised for being honest in the parliament ? The legislature is the place where the Minister of Defense is held accountable for the manner by which he answers the questions of the opposition.

In the previous administration, lies after lies were told of 1MDB, even the importance of Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), when the very integrity and transparency of BRI were not even clear. What has since happened ?

Minister of Finance Lim Guan Eng, who is seateted right next to Mat Sabu in parliament, has found various scams of money laundering under BRI, which Malaysia and Ministry of Finance are now obliged to explain to China, complicating the geo-economic dynamics of Malaysia and China completely.

Instead of focusing on China as “the market which a trading nation like Malaysia cannot ignore,” according to Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohammad, Malaysia and China have to jointly disentangle the money laundering schemes which perhaps President Xi Jin Ping and Vice President Wang Qi Shan did not even know, that Chinese corruption had been ‘exported’ to Malaysia under the guise of BRI.

Besides, those who criticised Mat Sabu ignored one fact: Malaysian government, since the mid 1990s, had agreed on producing an annual defense white paper to explain its defense doctrine, invariably, to other member states of ASEAN. By extension of this very comittment, Malaysia further agreed to participate in the UN Arms Register. What does this mean ?

The answer is simple: Malaysia, under the Ministry of Defense, is suppose to be candid and transparent about its defense policy and assets, so that other smaller member states in ASEAN, do not see Malaysia as a constant threat. If they did, their defense budgets would be constantly going up, leading Malaysia to do the same non-stop, producing what all political scientists called the “security dilemma.”

In a “security dilemma,” what ever a neighbor were to acquire, which on surface may seem better and stronger than Malaysian defense assets, the Ministry of Defense was obliged to keep up with the military procurement and acquisition abroad. Yet, it has never been the philosophy of Tun Dr Mahathir and Malaysia since the days of Tunku Abdul Rahman to be caught in a perpetual cycle of non stop defense purchases.

What Sabu was saying in parliament was none other than the simple fact that our defense assets like Sukhoi fighter jets had degraded with time. Out of 28 of them, 4 of them are completely battle ready, while 24 of them are under repair. This implies his predecessor Datuk Seri Hishamuddin Hussin, perhaps going as far back as Datuk Seri Zahid Hamid and Datuk Seri Najib Razak himself, had never truly helped the Malaysian Air Force to keep up with the basic maintenance of such an expensive and sophisticated equipment.

In fact, Indian air force uses Sukhoi too. The Malaysian Air Force could have had more training and exercises with India. Since their officers and trainers can communicate well in English, the pilots from Malaysia who undertake their refresher military training in India would not have posed a major difficulty at all.

Indeed, those who criticised Mat Sabu appear to want him to be sly and stealthy with Malaysia’s defense assets and policy. But a Defense Minister who cannot be honest would be one who cannot be trusted on national interest too. Unlike Israel, which practises the policy of “strategic ambiguity,” to keep all its neighbors guessing—-on what Israel truly possesses—–the arms race in the Middle East has shot up non stop since 1948, leading to endless cycles of wars. Malaysia does not have to adopt a policy of “strategic ambiguity” especially when Malaysia has always considered ASEAN to be the anchor of its defense diplomacy. To those who who criticised Mat Sabu blindly, they should go back to their books, or, stop being arm chair defense analysts completely. ASEAN has come a long way to have the ASEAN Regional Forum, and ASEAN Defense Ministers Plus Meeting. Not unless Malaysia wants to play coy, like North Korea, where none of their weapons and nuclear capabilities can be verified, honesty of the current Minister of Defense is the best national and regional policy.