After exploring Malaysia's defence policies in the past, Dr Chandran Jeshurun shares his observations of some of the critical issues relating to this country's defence and armed services.
Q: In your essay, you observe that the Malaysian Armed Forces (MAF) have been modernised since the 1980s and shifted its force level, structure and posture from the Army-based counterinsurgency to one that is more conventional, and balanced between the Army, Navy and Air Force. What are the reasons, internal and external, for the shift? Has the shift caused any inter-service rivalry?
A: Yes, there has been this major shift, if you would like to call it that, from an old established structure of the MAF to its 21st century functions and this has willy-nilly meant that the Army has had no choice but to accept equal status with the Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) and the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF). As everyone now knows, the position of Chief of Defence Forces (CDF) itself, which had traditionally been an Army preserve, is now open to the other two service chiefs as their ranks have been raised to that of a four-star general during (former premier Dr) Mahathir's (Mohamad) time. Inter-Service rivalry has always been an unavoidable reality in the MAF due to the Royal Malay Regiment's (RMR) distinguished past and most of the decision-and policy-making positions being monopolized by the Army.
However, it is difficult to speculate about which of the three services will emerge as the predominant one as the pattern of actual combat scenarios is still uncertain. At one time, soon after the Gulf War when US air power was used with devastating success, it looked as if the RMAF would get a powerful new boost in its role as a major strike force. But being a nation with huge maritime resources and strategic interests, one can also see the potential for the RMN to become the premier service of the future.