Dr John Chipman, fellow plenary speakers, distinguished colleagues and friends, it is an honour to be able to address you today
The present security landscape and challenges
We live in an age of uncertainty, one where multi-fold shifts in technology and societal behaviours, have created an increasingly unpredictable threat environment, globally. Day by day, the nature of security threats (both traditional and non-traditional) evolve rapidly, and often, these outpace our abilities to search for suitable solutions.
The pace of globalization continues and indeed, we celebrate the multifaceted transformations it brings—whether economic or social but we now find ourselves in a paradox of feeling insecure, trapped yet exposed in this borderless “global village”. A global village which presents limitless opportunities but is also punishingly complex. We are liberated and yet live in fear of the unknown.
The lifting of borders and the opening of the skies for the flow of people, goods and capital and the rapid development in technology and communication brings with it new threats to security and defence. These threats come in many forms, from religious extremists to cyber terrorists, and they come at a turning point in our history where knowledge information and news, truths, half-truths and outright lies, digitized, networked and automated, pervasive and instantaneous: have become a very important component in shaping our political, economic, cultural and security concerns. Local and international events are inevitably linked in complex and unpredictable ways. This is a reality that I am not sure we have even begun to fully appreciate.
The new dynamics in the global security landscape, especially by non-state actors, have posed a serious threat to how the fundamental ethos by which nation states defence communities operate. These new dynamics and threats demand that we think outside the box, testing “blue ocean” strategies, primarily in the interest of peace and stability of our nation states.
Although, advancing military to military cooperation should be our common priority in the defence community, it is imperative that this goal be delicately balanced with competing domestic needs, especially at the economic and socio-political dimensions. We must always remember—stable geopolitics is also driven by the stability of each nation state in and around the region.
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
Southeast Asia rising to the new challenges
Much has been said about Southeast Asia – pinned by its regional stability and economic promise - a population of 600 million people and a combined GDP of US$ 2.3 trillion — being one of the key drivers in realizing an Asian Century.
As we usher the age of greater cooperation in strategic sectors, we once again find ourselves courting the attention of major global powers. This is not altogether an unfamiliar situation for us in ASEAN. As we have a collective history of being pursued by colonial powers since the 15th century. Like it or not, this will continue to be the case for as long we choose to pursue greater stability in our region. However, if we can point to one lesson from the annals of history is that there is greater benefit for all, if we stand solidly together.
This strikes a personal chord with me, having experienced it recently in dealing with the unprecedented search for the missing MH370. As you are aware, in the early phase of the search, 26 nations were involved, with ASEAN nations among the first to assist in the early hours of the tragic incident. As we move to a new phase of the search, Malaysia is working closely together with Australia and China, establishing a joint tripartite effort which is unprecedented on so many fronts, not just in aviation history but also the global defence and security history. Malaysia, a small but proud nation has pioneered the way, showing the world that working together- be it in small groups or larger group have its benefits. Indeed, incidents like MH370 remind us about the fragility of life, and to value the ties that bind us. In tragedy we forget our differences, and in our common grief we strengthen our bonds. Through our anguish, one thing is clear: the world is a community, and we are its citizens. Through this ordeal, the mechanisms of bilateralism were tested and have not been found wanting. Therefore, we feel the need for increased strategic inter-government collaboration has never been more pressing in today's global, hyper-connected security landscape.
Advancing Military to Military Cooperation: Moving Forward
Malaysia has always been consistent in championing the idea that a strong and successful ASEAN is not only an economic necessity, but also a strategic imperative. Since its inception, Malaysia has never been involved in any major conflict with any of the ASEAN members and cooperation remains strong with several value added subsidiary forums such as the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), ADMM and ADMM Plus, and ASEAN plus Three, to address regional security issues.
Malaysia believes that a strong ASEAN is a stabilizing influence in the region. Indeed, many nations have now come to realize the importance of ASEAN and have moved to engage it.
Like many South East Asians, I am increasingly concerned about South China Sea. However, inflamed rhetoric and mutual recrimination will not do any country any good. This issue requires a solution driven by mutual respect and trust. It will take time but I am confident with patience, collective wisdom and a lot of courage, we will find a way forward.
We do not need to adopt one size fit all defence policy for ASEAN, but we should and we can work together towards establishing a common policy position on important issues such as maritime security, and our relations with major powers. Major powers must sincerely understand us. We must prioritize the security of the region in entirety, and not just thinking along sovereign lines. ASEAN must stand united together on several key defence issues, and not be pulled in different directions. On that note, there is a pressing need for us therefore to establish clear communication channels and intensify policy making as a group.
As the balance of the world's strategic and economic weight shifts towards Asia, a robust regional security architecture that can accommodate all stakeholders and rising aspirations is vital. Relationships marked by strategic rivalry and uncertainty increase the risks of friction and conflict, which could have devastating consequences on the global economy given Asia's increasing influence.
Given the transnational nature of these emerging security threats, only unity and cooperation can help nations rise to meet them. Asian defence establishments and extra-regional partners who have a stake in Asia's continued prosperity must therefore engage and cooperate as we navigate these difficult waters.
ASEAN nations have always subscribed to what we now call the “ASEAN way” which is the principle of consultation and consensus; with confidence building and preventive diplomacy; to contain conflict in the region. These guiding principles have very often avoided unwarranted tension and contributed to our continued peace and stability.
We in ASEAN must rise and fall together. I for one, am confident that we can rise and must rise together, taking ownership of our joint-destiny, with our eyes fixed firmly on a better future for all.