The Defence White Paper: Stating Malaysia’s Case
by : Karminder Singh Dhillon (Deputy Secretary General [Administration], Ministry of Defence)
Malaysians woke up to a new dawn on 9 May 2018.
Amidst the prospects of new skylines in governance, political reform and institutional change; the emergence of political will towards these new horizons has accorded the nation’s defence establishment an unprecedented opportunity for genuine transformation. The genesis of this transformation is the nation’s first-ever public document in the form of a Defence White Paper (DWP) and the corresponding announcement of its presentation in Parliament sometime in 2019.
What constitutes a Defence White Paper and why does Malaysia need one?
At the most basic level, the DWP lays out a comprehensive long-term plan for the nation’s defence. It puts into the public sphere, the government’s commitment to the safety of the people and to the defence of the nation’s territory and national interests.
At the deeper level, the DWP outlines the nation’s defence strategy, capability plans and funding requirements. It sketches out elements of the government’s defence investment, including new weapons, platforms, systems, and the enabling equipment, facilities, workforce, information and communications technology, science and technology as well as plans for its defence industry.
In a nutshell then, the DWP reflects the government’s commitment to a safe and secure nation. Such a commitment allows the government to enjoy the confidence of its citizens in matters pertaining to the defence of the nation.
THE PROCESS IS AS IMPORTANT AS THE OUTCOME
A DWP is both a national policy document as well as a public document which outlines the broad strategic policy framework for defence planning. Ownership of the DWP is thus with the nation as a whole, and its citizens are its primary beneficiaries.
Herein lies the necessity for the DWP to be produced after extensive consultation across civil/military lines with sufficient input from think-tanks, academics, industry representatives, non-governmental organizations, and all components of government.
It must aim to reflect the broadest possible consensus about the appropriate role for the defence forces within the context of the country's national priorities, legal framework, and resources.
The preparation of a DWP is thus, in and of itself, a fundamental exercise in democracy. It must aim to promote a broad awareness of the functions and value of the armed forces. In doing so, it aims to confer greater democratic legitimacy on the national defence policy.
At the end of the day, the DWP worth will depend on the level of inclusiveness that constituted its process.
WHY MALAYSIA NEEDS A DWP
Why does Malaysia need a DWP? The more appropriate question, really, “Why should the nation not produce one?” Given the new-found political will that has come with the stated desire for good governance in the form of transparency and accountability by the new government, a DWP would serve the defence establishment, the government itself, the nation as a whole and all its citizens, a multitude of benefits.
As a public document the DWP will inevitably have to explain what roles the armed forces play, and why these roles are important to citizens. In doing so, it will build public support for the continued funding of the defence budget in the face of pressures from competing national policy interests.
As a government policy document, the DWP will give coherent instruction to the Defence establishment, in particular the military, about government expectations for their roles. It will also provide the rationale and authority for the allocation of resources to the defence forces, and legitimize the spending of public funds for that purpose.
Should the defence establishment wish to make a case for the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to be pegged at a fixed rate for its annual budget, the DWP will have to make the case persuasively. If presented with due diligence, the DWP will build a constituency of advocates within the community of lawmakers, NGOs, and other interest groups.
In this sense then, the DWP will act as a tool for the justification of budgetary resources over a multi-year time-frame. The assurance of predictable funding – if successfully obtained – will enhance and stabilise ongoing defence planning processes.
GOOD FOR OUR NEIGHBOURS AND THE REGION
The transparency that the DWP creates pertaining to the nation’s defence activities domestically has the potential to extend to our neighbours as well as to the larger region.
The DWP is an efficient instrument for confidence- and security-building in that it will state and confirm the country's bilateral, regional and multilateral obligations and commitments. Its public and open nature will ensure that Malaysia’s intentions are not misinterpreted. The DWP will also encourage a constructive policy dialogue on changes in the security environment and the assessment of traditional and non-traditional threats faced by the region.
Malaysia awaits very optimistically the production of its first-ever DWP, and rightly so.