Saturday, December 11, 2010

Is defence spending justified?

Malaysiakini - No parliamentary oversight on runaway defence spending.
In the above news article, Kua Kia Soong, the Suaram director and academician who wrote 'Questioning Arms Spending in Malaysia', described the arms race in the region as both wasteful and futile.

According to him, many Asean countries, but particularly Malaysia, has been on an arms race since the end of Cold War.

“Since the early 1990s, the Asean countries have been the only region in the world where defence spending has increased by more than 10 percent since the end of Cold War,” he said at a forum entitled 'Towards an Alternative Defence Policy and a Culture of Peace' which was held in conjunction with the book launch.

Kua also said: RM1 billion worth of arms is equivalent to building at least 100 hospitals or 1,000 new schools or 10,000 new houses.

Do you know that since Independence in 1957 – after more than 50 years - there has not been a single new Chinese or Tamil primary school built? In fact we had more Chinese and Tamil primary schools then (1,350 and 880 respectively) compared to the present (1,285 and 550 schools respectively). And the population at Independence was only half what it is today.

But in one weekend alone in April 2010, the government could justify spending RM10 billion on arms at the Kuala Lumpur Defence Fair. With that money, we could have built 1,000 hospitals or 10,000 schools or 100,000 houses!

I find it very difficult to assess his article as a whole because there are several separate issues mixed up together, for example, Kua talked about:

(1) RM1 billion worth of arms is equivalent to building at least 100 hospitals or 1,000 new schools or 10,000 new houses. Chinese and Tamil schools have reduced in numbers while the population has doubled.

In this, I totally agree with him on both, what RM1 billion can do, and the marginalization of vernacular schools. But let’s not mix defence spending up with civil infrastructure or the BN government's neglect of vernacular education, though I appreciate of course Kua was trying to higlight the 'waste' of the former. It should be a separate subject. In an ideal world our billions we allocate for defence should be used instead for building schools and hospitals. But unfortunately we live in a violent, selfish and greedy world.

(2) Corruption involved in defence spending – see separate MKINI article Defence Ministry goes on a spending spree. There have been and will be various forms of corruption, from:

(a) humongous ‘commission’ (for no or little work done, a la the Selangor hospital project),

(b) large sums for substandard products - manufacturer merely passes on ‘commission’ sums {see paragraph (a) above} by either substracting same from the cost for the products which means it gives us a cheaper and thus inferior product to what we pay for, or adding same to the cost of the product which means we pay a far higher price than we should for the product - eg. RM700 million extra for the submarines.

(c) directorship of military-industrial complexes for retired generals and senior civil servants or retired politicians who kowtim (okay-ed) the choice and purchases, to

(d) ownership of agencies supplying spares for purchased aircraft or ships or vehicles - one of the most guaranteed and lucrative contracts, etc.

Again, I totally agree with Dr Kua. This explains why our defence budget is way too bloody high and why at the same time we usually received substandard products for it.

Thus I support the musing of Subang MP R Sivarasa who lamented the absence of a parliamentary standing committee to oversight the considerable military spending.

He said: “Among the many dysfunctional institutions in Malaysia, one of them is the Parliament. Yes, we are supposed to debate the defence expenditure, but the government can always bulldoze it through.”
(3) However, I believe Kua has been incorrect to describe Malaysia’s armed purchases as a futile arms race by comparing it to the gargantuan defence expenditures of China, S Korea, Japan and India. He stated that each of their respective aircraft procurement budgets would dwarf that of all of Southeast Asia combined.

He cried: “Given the disparity in defence budgets, Asean countries cannot be said to engage in an arms race against regional powers like India or China. It would not be a race.”

No, Asean countries aren’t competing with the biggies. Kua has been wrong in this respect, to imagine Malaysia is competing with, for example, China or India. Those are major if not super powers, giant sharks like the USA.

In fact they are less dangerous than the USA. The USA has eleven nuclear-powered aircraft carriers with several complementary amphibious fleets and a capacity to wage wars at the international level in two separate theatres, and thus the only major power in the world to have an invasive force, by amphibious or air or combined operations, backed by a monstrous worldwide logistic capability.

We aren’t worried about the biggies. If the unthinkable happens, and say, the USA invades us, we retreat to the jungles and hills and copycat the Vietnamese. The Yanks won’t like that. The Chinese or Indians don’t have a US-like invasion capability nor secure logistic lines to sustain any invasion of Malaysia, assuming they would even try that in the first place.

Malaysia is a mere ikan bilis military power, but an ikan bilis has its natural predators.

Who then are our threats. For a start, let’s leave out Singapore as a potential enemy which seems to unduly worry many Malaysians, especially Malays. Singapore would be nuts to invade Malaysia, because it’ll at the same time destroy all it has built up for itself, as a First World economy and international financial and shipping centre. It is as dependent on Malaysia as we're on it.

Singapore merely postures its military might as a deterrent, telling its neighbours not to threaten it as it has a heavy bite. Naturally vis-a-vis Malaysia, it doesn’t want its water supply curtailed, nor will it tolerate its vital sea lanes being threatened. In the latter, it has allied itself with the USA to ensure (okay, let’s be blunt and call a spade a spade) Indonesia behaves itself.

We can also dismiss Thailand or Vietnam as potential and immediate threats. The communication and logistic lines are far too daunting for any ambitious Thai or Viet Napoleon. Besides Thailand has its own humongous internal problems to address, and I cannot see a war weary Vietnam trying to rebuild its country and economy back to normal out for mischievous and expensive adventure.

Now, I am not sure whether Kua is plain naïve or just from the looney far left who only wants to build schools, universities, hospitals and aged homes, when he stated: ... although the last war against the Indonesian 'Confrontation' was over more than 40 years ago, the government has continued to make available ample funds for the defence minister to purchase state-of-the-art defence equipment.

Defence planning is always about the future. Malaysia cannot wait until a new Konfrontasi occurs before we rush off to buy weapons. If we do that, then we certainly will need all the hospitals Kua wants the defence budget to go to. Lots of war cemeteries will be necessary too.

Malaysia is a littoral state with one of the longest coastline in the world, around the Peninsula and that in the east, from Tanjung Datu in the extreme west of Sarawak running all the way to Tawau in Sabah. We also have the most porous borders with Indonesia and Philippines.

In recent times, we have significantly serious disagreements with Indonesia over some islands and their potential for fossil fuel deposits. Illegal migrants slipping through the Sarawak/Sabah borders with Philippines and especially Indonesia can only get worse, if the illegal migrants were not economic migrants but instead trained and armed troops in mufti.

We badly need more patrol boats for both the Straits of Malacca and the north and eastern parts of Sabah, and surveillance along the Sarawak/Sabah borders with both Indonesia and Philippines. Essentially, we require helicopters, patrol boats, surveillance aircraft (both manned and drones), troops trained for jungle warfare, first class communication, logistics and good intelligence.

Alas, we cannot do without fighter aircraft for protection of our ground and sea operations. Land and sea forces will be highly vulnerable without air superiority. So we are talking about an arms race between ourselves and Indonesia or Philippines.

I think Philippines would have lots of problems in trying to better us (financial problems and its own preoccupation with the southern Muslim insurgencies) so our main threat, much as the government may not wish to publicly acknowledge, is Indonesia.

As long as Indonesia is well off and prospering, it won’t bother us. But once it has internal problems it will need an external enemy to divert its people’s attention, as the recent Bentera hooligans and once Soekarno had attempted.

No Dr Kua, we certainly require arms. Besides, old war horses like the Nuris and MIG 29s need to be replaced. Perhaps the MIG 29s can be refurbished to last for another decade. Look, I won’t go into the nitty gritty but suffice to say, we don’t live in an ideal world.

And yes I agree with you, we dread and anticipate the corruption that will underlie or is already underlying our military spending. We are trapped between the Scylla of not (or under) preparing for the defence of our national interests and the Charybdis of unmitigated corruption in our defence spending.


  1. If we can't even fight corruption effectively & seriously how are we going to defend the nation .
    Anyone or countries that are going to invade Malaysia don't have to fire a single shot.
    They just need to " buy " some key personnel.

  2. Without spare parts supplies, all high tech weapon Malaysia purchase are merely scrap metals.

    Missing 1 small specially casts bolts can ground billions ringgit weapons.

  3. Seems to have your uncles hand in the article. ;-)

  4. Perhaps KTEMOC uncle didn't told him all the stories.
    The defense business badly affected by 2 things : training and MAINTENANCE.
    Lots of fighter jet parts are SPECIALLY cast, and some even cast using rare earth material. You can't use a Toyota part that looks the same and put it inside aircraft.

    I am not surprised when the military broke out the news that say they use existing aircraft parts to repairs other aircraft.

    Lots of military freaks (including the minister) KNOW NOTHING ABOUT military management. When Singapore acquire any weapon, they make sure it is maintainable, or parts can be make/cast easily or through R&D.
    That's why we don't see Singapore simply go buy "state of the art", "best punching power for the value of money" military equipment. They won't acquire anything that they can't secure the maintenance chain.

  5. Defence spending
    Know the procurements
    What really needed for the country
    For support services or preparing for invasions

    No doubt it costs billions
    Proper study on future defence spending
    It isn't a toy play don't want throw it away
    The country defence needs must study in depth

    As we have read
    Somebody along the chains
    The undercut and uppercut reign
    Just buy without really knowing the needs

    Look at our latest purchases
    Submarines can't float costing millions to service
    It is this wastage we can't afford to knock into costs
    Somebody in defence never doing his homework

    With ameeno it is the line of gravy train
    Running like clockwork on the tracks
    How many millions to feed its hungry cronies
    Besides crumbs for some dogs barking

    Of course the country needs defence
    With the latest equipments and airplanes
    With sound and skilled arm forces
    Patrolling the coasts and forests

    It is the wastage causing anger
    Buying substandard products charging inflated prices
    Once I laughed at the US military procurements
    Now it has happened in the country

  6. The Japs conquered all of Malaya, Singapore and British Borneo in TWO months. The Askar Melayu threw away their guns and uniforms and fled when they saw the Japs cycling down from Thailand

  7. Dear Anon @ 1.05 pm 121210,

    You said,"..The Askar Melayu threw away their guns and uniforms and fled .."

    Perhaps the following is a figment of the writer's imagination

    Lieutenant Adnan Saidi

    By Nureza Ahmad written on 2004-06-11
    National Library Board Singapore

    Adnan Saidi (b. 1915, Selangor, Malaysia - d. 1942, Singapore), a lieutenant of the Malay Regiment's 1st Battalion, died fighting the Japanese in one of the fiercest battles in Singapore during WW II. A war hero, he led his men in the Battle of Opium Hill (Bukit Chandu), off Pasir Panjang, giving the Japanese a bitter taste of real combat so much so that when they captured him, they tortured him as revenge before killing him and burning his body. Adnan received medals posthumously for his courage while a memorial plaque was erected at Kent Ridge to commemorate the bravery of Adnan and his men. The memory of this brave soldier also lives on at Kranji War Memorial where his name is etched on the main memorial column wall of the Kranji War Cemetery.

  8. Dear Anon @ 1.05 pm 121210, it's best to stick to known historical facts. I agree with the information provided by JohorMali. But there is no denying the Japanese won the Malayan campaign in blitkrieg fashion, ironically on their bicycles. The British were the ones who threw in their towels far too fast. Under General Arthur Percival, the British military was hopelessly incompetent. Also, their desertion of local Penangites to the mercies of the Japanese army by massive evacuation of only Europeans to Singapore was the ultimate betrayal of their colonial subjects and the fall of British prestige among Malayans.

  9. It would be wise just to ignore Anon @ 1.05 pm 121210 - a product of UMNO's new history syllabus where facts are not so important...

    Malaysia looks like its racing with Singapore in the arms race as we are buying what they are buying interms of subs and jets..however, Mig-29s can still be be ugraded. Including our F-18s and Sukhois. We need more fast patrol boats and better radar defence for our coastal shores..