Is arms acquisition between Singapore and Malaysia contributing to the destabilising factor of the 2 countries? Introduction After the post-Cold War era, there are quite clear observations that many countries, other than Singapore, in Southeast Asia are increasing their arm acquisitions in the stake of modernisation of each individual’s arm. For example, looking at the complexities of Spratly Islands dispute at South China Sea, countries like Vietnam and Philippines had made public announcement of the procurements of new naval assets like corvettes, submarines and frigates.
Not forgetting China, their recent media news on their first new air craft carrier. All these are news announced by the various arm forces in the light of bringing their military to another generation with better networked capability and also sustainability. In this essay, I will attempt to (1) define the definitions of Arms race with reference to Colin Grays and a simple deduction to determine whether, both Singapore and Malaysia, are in an arms race.
I also (2) outline the defence policy that both countries have adopted supported with some examples of the arm acquisition. (3) In modernization of arms forces in the recent years, I will outline the concept that both countries are embarking on. I will mention (4) some of the reasons for the arms acquisitions. Definition of Arms Race. Many scholars have attempted to define arms race. Among them, the widely accepted definition is by Colin Grays, who described arms race as having four basic conditions. 1. There must be two or more parties, conscious of their antagonism. 2.
They must structure their arms forces with attention to the probable effectiveness of the forces in combat with, or as a deterrent to, the other arms race participants. 3. They must compete in terms of quantity (men, weapons) and/ or quality (men, weapons, organisation, doctrine, deployment). 4. There must be rapid increases in quantity and/or improvements in quality. Under the above listed conditions, this cannot be classified as an arms race between Singapore and Malaysia. Loo mentioned in one of his commentary that “An arms race is almost universally regarded as a very rare phenomenon in international politics”.
The increase in the arms acquisition is not an arms race but is more for enhancing the security arm to ensure constant economic growth. Purpose of Arms Acquisitions by both Singapore and Malaysia. Primarily in arms acquisition, a state will look ahead by about ten to twenty years. Based on this, they will work out a defence master plan and from here; they will embark the journey to do acquisitions for the state. The defence master plan is assessed based on the different threats, both from internal and external, that is on-going.
Some examples are the “desire to combat piracy, smuggling and drug trafficking and the growing interest in monitoring and protecting EEZs and fishing areas” The arm acquisition by both Singapore and Malaysia are as such: (1) Singapore acquired arms or weapon systems mainly for sea lanes security, forward strategic depth against external threats; (2) Malaysia acquired arms or weapons systems mainly for protection of offshore resources and assets, enforcement of territorial claims, internal security and conventional warfare capabilities.
And the additional contribution to the arms acquisition is the presence of the non-conventional threats in the recent years. Common to both countries, in order to the maintenance of sea lines of communications (SLOC), acquisition of maritime capabilities provides ample justifications for the acquisition. The acquisition is to allow both Singapore’s and Malaysia’s armed forces to better enhance their defence to ensure the security of the SLOC either through individual effort or to joint forces concept.
The securities of the trading ships that are sailing through the waters are safe. This will thereafter ensure economic security and prosperity. Why Singapore may be noted as in the arms race? It is noted that Southeast Asia countries have gone on a “buying spree” of weapons. Based on the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), military or defence spending has increased by 50 percent in Southeast Asia since 1995 to 2011. Singapore from 1995 to 2011, known as a wealthy city-state, has undertaken a massive increase in spending in the recent.
Though without any dispute with China on the claims on South China Sea, like other Southeast Asia countries, we have been listed to the second largest arms importer in the world for 2009. Asian Financial Crisis (1997-98) One example will be during Asian Financial Crisis. Singapore’s military expenditure rose steadily since 1995 till now, even during the financial crisis, Singapore increased the defence budget by about 10%. As a small state who does not have her own resources for growth, it is important to maintain her as a competitive state to remain as a top investment choice.
Hence Singapore’s investment in the defence, which leads to increase of the defence budget, is to give assurance to the foreign investors that regardless of the financial crisis, Singapore is still a very safe place to invest. This move boasted up the confidence level of the foreign investors and allowing them still want to come to Singapore for investment. So this is actually, this is view that it is not a direct impact on the military growth to threaten the stability but is a move to aid the growth of the economic in.
Below listed (in figure 1) is a Military comparison between Singapore and Malaysia extracted from SIPRI Military Expenditure Database © SIPRI 2012. In the box, highlighted the increase of Singapore Defence spending during the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997, this has shown Singapore’s views on the importance of the defence and there is still a need to commit to grow the defence. Figure 1: Overview of the Military expenditure (US$ mil) of the 2 countries over the years. Singapore Our Approaches to Defence
Singapore approach to defence is based on two main pillars of deterrence and diplomacy. For deterrence, it is to develop a strong and capable Singapore Armed Forces (SAF). SAF is the Military Defence arm, which is one of five aspect of Total Defence of Singapore which was introduced in 1984. The other aspects are Civil Defence, Economic Defence, Social Defence and Psychological Defence. Being a small and young country, we adopted a conscript armed force concept, so that we can leverage the different strength and capabilities from our nation.
Diplomacy is understood to be building strong and friendly relationship through interactions and cooperation, with defence establishments and arm forces in the region and around the world d. For a small state survival, through these diplomacy actions, sovereignty will be respected by gaining from the world. Some examples of the cooperation and interactions that Singapore has with the regional neighbours or the world are, ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM) established in 2006, ADMM-Plus established in 2010. These platforms enhanced defence cooperation and engagement through sharing of experiences in visits, joint training and exercises..
Within MINDEF In terms of Military Defence of Singapore, Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) states the mission as “The mission of MINDEF and the Singapore Armed Forces is to enhance Singapore’s peace and security through deterrence and diplomacy, and should these fail, to secure a swift and decisive victory over the aggressor. ” As stated in the mission statement, the things and initiatives that the defence arm has done is very much aligned. Singapore does quite a number of bilateral exchanges and training exercises with the neighbouring countries and member from FPDA, ASEAN, etc.
MINDEF’s main aim is fundamentally ensure peace and secured through both deterrence and diplomacy. Malaysia’s Approach to Defence What is Malaysia Armed Forces (MAF) approach to defence? Syed Hamid Albar, then Minister of Defence (1997) mentioned that “We shall not and will not neglect economic growth in order to concentrate attention on defence; because we feel that economic growth is our first and foremost security line. ” Malaysia’s defence policy is guided with three principles: (1) Self Reliance, (2) Regional Cooperation and (3) External Assistance. Self Reliance
The MAF has always had experience in the internal security role for counter-insurgency and also has been regarded as the best of the kind in the world for their jungle warfare. She has also numerous developments on their capabilities in counter-insurgency due to the on-going disputes with the Philippines over Sabah. In terms of military strength, she also started to progressively upgrade their military strength to ensure that she was able to have an equal military stand with neighbours. One example is in 1983, Singapore’s declaration to purchase F16 jetfighter and followed suit by the Indonesia.
Malaysia reacted in purchasing on a mixed F18 Hornet and MiG-29 jetfighter in 1994. Regional Cooperation and External Assistance Malaysia also adopted two other principles on Defence Policy; Regional Cooperation and external assistance, through mainly (1) The Continued Reliance on Five Power Defence Arrangement (FPDA) and (2) Bilateral Ties. First Approach: Both Singapore and Malaysia are members of the FPDA. Under FPDA, Malaysia values the training and exercises with the five powers. This platform allows them to train with different types of equipment and through this training, allows Malaysia to gain experience.
FPDA also allows Malaysia to be linked to both Singapore and Australia. This allows Malaysia to be militarily connected together. Malaysia also sees FPDA more than a security arm, but also with economic value. With the close linkages, this is also treated as a reinforcing link to reinforce economic growth and political linkages between Malaysia and Singapore with Australia, New Zealand and United Kingdom. Second Approach: Alongside with FPDA, Malaysia also engages bilaterally with all her ASEAN neighbours in different levels. This will includes exchange programs, joint exercises, periodic meetings and joint seminars.
Through all the different avenues to link with ASEAN neighbours allow Malaysia to enhance indirectly on the confidence of defence. Referencing from the two countries defence policies, what are common to both are the both countries uses the platform of maintaining good ties with the neighbouring countries through exchange programs, bilateral exercises and talks. The armed forces are developed primarily to show deterrence effect. There is no sign of any of the four conditions stated by Colin Grays defining Arms Race in both the countries. Overview of the Military Upgrades
Singapore Being a small state that does not have our own natural resources, Singapore allocates an average of 6% of its GDP to defence expenditure since 1970s. With this allocation coupled with current security threats and a long term security plan ahead, it allows Singapore as a small state to build up and modernise her defence quite significantly. Quoting example would be: (1) the air force now has close to 200 modern aircraft which consists of two squadron of F-16s, three squadrons of F-5Es, three squadrons of upgraded A-4 Super Sky hawks, and eight maritime patrol aircraft. 2) The navy has three squadrons operating six missile corvettes, six missile gunboats, and six anti submarine capable patrol craft. The navy also has acquired four Type-A12 submarines from Sweden. SAF also noted the importance of technology and had entered into a new phase of military development which emphasises on information, sensing, precision strike, stealth and aerospace technologies. Malaysia From 1980s onwards, Malaysia orientated their force structure to a posture for maritime protection and territorial claims in South China Sea.
While doing so, Malaysia also tried to avoid crashes with China over the Spratly. Before the slow-down in the military expansion during the financial crisis, their air force has about 95 combat aircraft, including 18 MiG-29Ns, 8 F/A-18Ds, 25 BAe Hawks fighters/ bombers and 13 F-5Es. In the air force build up, it is also noticed that the air forces trained extensively on maritime operations beyond territorial waters. The Malaysia Navy has 40 frigates, patrol craft and coastal vessels armed with Seawolf surface to surface missiles and Exocet anti-ship missiles.
But later during and after the financial crisis, the cut in the defence budget cast uncertainties for Malaysia’s ability to complete its military modernisation intent. Due to the cut, several procurements have been put on hold. Both countries have their own defence master plans which are mapped out on the desired end state that the country wants for their defence. These master plans are spread to 10-20 years depending on the extensiveness of the build-up. During this journey of fulfilling the master plan, there will be either upgrades or acquisition of new equipment introduced to the armed forces.
These are essential to ensure 100% applicability to the defence of the country. And do note, the arms acquisition are spread across a long duration of them, and this is against Colin Grays definition of Arms Race as he stated one of the condition “must be rapid increase in the quantity and/ or improvement in quality”. Modernisation of the Armed Forces Singapore In Apr 2012, Singapore launched the Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Intelligence (C4I) Community, which set another milestone in Singapore’s military modernization program also noted as the 3rd Generation (3G) Armed Forces projects.
Without any doubts, Singapore has been noted as the most technological advanced armed forces amongst the Southeast Asia community. Overview of the most recent acquisitions over the three forces: (1) Navy: Acquisition of Endurance Class Landing Platform Dock Ship, Formidable-class Stealth Frigates, (2) Army: Acquisition of the Bionix II Infantry fighting Vehicle and the Gulfstream 550 Airborne Early Warning Air craft (G550-AEW) and (3) Air force: F-15SG Multirole Fighters, F-16D fighters. Also the recent stated intend by Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen in evaluating the possibilities of procurement of F-35 fighters.
In the mode of modernization, Singapore has embarked to more scenarios based and less threat based planning. Due to the wide spectrum of security concerns, Singapore has embarked to a wide range of contingencies to tackle the threats from state and non-state actors. Singapore now concentrates on the “how” to use the military capability rather than “what” to do with military capability. With the C4I community, the focus will be to fine tune the military capabilities, prefect procedures and protocols.
This will ensure the swift and efficient manner when all the services are being mobilized. Singapore still takes the defence of the state seriously. It is also noted that the defence budget allocated is always a constant every year to ensure the growth of the defence arms. While maintaining this defence growth, Singapore is able to stay one step ahead in defence arm. Malaysia Due to the election, which will be held in end April 2013, there was little priority to the military procurement under the Malaysia Plan of 2011-2015 which monitors all Malaysian government spending.
The two major procurement that are initiated in 2010: (1) development and order to Deftech of Malaysia for 257 indigenously produced AV8 8×8 AFVs and (2) the construction of six Second Generation Patrol Vessels to be built locally by Boustead Naval Shipyards assisted with the France’s DCNS. Another observation is that the intense effort by aviation companies for a requirement of 18 multi-role combat aircraft to replace the Royal Malaysia Navy’s MiG-29 fleet, which is scheduled to be phased out in 2015.
Even said above, after the election, if the ruling National Front coalition wins the election, there may be a possibility that the Malaysia’s Defence will still progress from where they slowed down. But if the opposition party, People’s Alliance, wins by a minor margin, the National Front coalition will face problem will still assigning the budget for the Malaysia Defence arm. As they have been stating that defence is a waste of money expenditure, this is shown in one of the year whereby they had proposed to cut 90% of the defence budget.
Overview of the most recent acquisitions over the three forces: (1) Navy: Royal Malaysian Navy’s key program is the six ship Second Generation Patrol Vessel, (2) Army: Current on-going program is the indigenous AV-8 AFV to be built by Malaysia’s Deftech and based upon the Turkish FNSS AFV and (3) Air force: is the replacement of the Multi role Combat Aircraft replacement for the MiG-29 fleet but due to the election, they have not signed the procurement of the new fleet. Of immediate, Malaysia concentrates on the election.
The National Front coalition now concentrates on the election and trying to get votes to maintain the ruling party. Hence, there is not much emphasis for new military project. The most significant one example will be the replacement of their MiG-29 fleet by 2015, Malaysia has yet decided on which replacement buy to get for the fleet. With this observation, comparing to development in technological of the military and enhancement, Malaysia is slightly behind in terms of the military capability growth.
There is also nothing mentioned on growth in the context of communication network like Singapore. In the modernisation of the armed forces, both countries mentioned on upgrading their arms forces to ensure relevancy of the armed force to the new threats or evolving threats. They are also upgrading their capabilities by leveraging the network to ensure the responsiveness of their armed forces. Through this modernisation, though there are some signs of “wanting” the best piece of art in the theatre. Still there is no sign of arms race. Conclusion
In summary, Malaysia’s arms acquisition is mainly (1) to upkeep with technology on their military capabilities (2) stabilise their internal conflicts, (3) maritime protection over disputed islands at South China Sea and (4) in return giving security to the investors in economic growth. Malaysia is also has been actively involved in bilateral exchanges and exercise. These initiatives are avenues to maintain the external relationships with the neighbours and community that they are actively participating in. Singapore arm’s acquisition is also aligned to their defence policy.
But the key difference is that Singapore is still on track in the development and modernisation of the armed forces. With noted close relationship with US, Singapore is able to extract lessons learnt from their campaigns and develop military defence for both current and future needs. This allows us to have an edge above the rest of the neighbours in defence. Singapore’s involvement in bilateral exchanges, exercises, OOTW and HADR also allows the countries to note of the capabilities of the armed forces. These are deterrence effect allows much more security to the foreign investors to invest with us.
In conclusion, I would define this as not an arms race. Arms race which defined by Colin Grays has four components. Based on what we have research, the two countries, Singapore and Malaysia, does not meet the criteria for arms race. Arm acquisition in the context of both countries is more tilted to modernisation of their armed forces and maintains sustainability in operations. With the availability of both strong military defence and some cooperation, we are able to ensure the security of the SLOC and continual attract investors to both countries to invest.
But at times, I would think that both countries should be very careful on arms acquisition as well. Every time when there is a new “toy” in the state, the other countries will normally try to analysis reasons for the purchase. So to prevent the escalation of arms acquisition to an arms race, one should maintain certain transparency in the process of arms acquisition. Arm acquisition should also be on the need basis and to me means to balance the power. This will prevent misunderstanding that will escalate to conflicts.
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