Middle Power and Malaysia’s International Peace Contribution
Capt. Martin A. SEBASTIAN RMN (R)
Conflict and peaceful transition are part and parcel of the birth of a nation. Though many developing nations eventually backslide into conflict again, Malaysia has been successful in ensuring lasting peace through the combined efforts of security and development. The journey towards the formation of Malaysia was not spared from conflicts—in 1948-1989 the Malayan Communist Party (MCP) and the North Kalimantan Communist Party (NKCP) were the main threat against the formation of the nation. The conflict was eventually resolved through peace agreements. Whilst forging peace efforts at home, Malaysia played and continues to play a major role in peace efforts at the global and regional stage.
United Nations. On gaining independence from Britain in 1957, the infant nation Malaya did not wait too long to play her part in global peace and security. On the 15th of September 1957, Malaya joined the United Nations (UN) and thus began her long commitment to foster peace.
The United Nations Operation in the Congo (ONUC) was established after United Nations Security Council Resolution 143 of 14 July 1960. The mission was launched to help restore stability to the Congo after it fell into conflict and disorder following independence. ONUC was the UN's first peacekeeping mission with a significant military force, and Malaya deployed her first troops overseas as part of the ONUC mission. Malaysia’s commitment to global peace and security, undertaken before the formation of the Federation of Malaysia in 1963, remains unchanged. In 1998, Malaysia was the top 5 Troop Contributing Country (TCC) to the UN. To date, from the blistering deserts of Sahara to the freezing snow of the Balkans and to the deep foliages of Africa, Malaysian Armed Forces (MAF) has served in UN field missions in every continent except the Americas.
In UN Field Operations, Malaysians are best known for their courage and steadfastness in the Battle of Mogadishu, Somalia in 1993. Despite all odds, and beyond the call of duty, a small deployment of Malaysians went from being part of the UNOSOM II mission (Malaysian Force Commander-Gen Aboo Samah), to a rescue mission. Almost 70 United States Rangers (not part of the UN mission) were trapped in a botched operation to kidnap the Somalian warlord Farah Aidid at Bakara Market. The rescue mission resulted in the death of a Malaysian soldier.
Besides Malaysia’s gallant service with troops and medical services in UN field missions, Malaysia served four times as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. First in January 1965, sharing the term with Czechoslovakia. (This was a crucial year for Malaysia as Indonesia was embroiled in a Confrontation with Malaysia, and Singapore opted to leave Malaysia. These issues were resolved amicably). Malaysia went on to serve three more terms in the UNSC, in 1989-1990, 1999-2000 and 2015-2016. Malaysia continues to speak for the Palestinian people through peace efforts using the UN platform.
Malaysians have also been selected to serve in the UN Headquarters in New York. Malaysian officers have been part of the Division of Policy Evaluation and Training (DPET) and the Office of Military Affairs (OMA), Department of Peace Operations (DPO). Malaysia is well recognised within UN circles and continues her commitment with a combined contingent of troops with Brunei with UNIFIL in Lebanon.
North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). Following the Dayton Peace Accords in 1995 which ended four years of civil war between Bosnians, Serbs and Croats in the Balkans, the NATO-led multinational Implementation Force (IFOR) relieved the preceeding UN mission, UNPROFOR. Malaysian forces serving in UNPROFOR were redeployed as MALCON (Malaysia Contingent) with the NATO Multinational Division South West (MND-SW) under the command of Britain. Malaysian troops, already deployed in Konjic during UNPROFOR were to redeploy 126 kms to Livno under NATO MND-SW. Malaysia deployed a Tactical Air Control Party (TACP) comprising of MAF fighter pilots directing NATO aircraft (some from aircraft carriers) to strike offensive positions in the operations. Malaysian Support Element (MSE) was deployed in Split, Croatia. Malaysia paid for the services of her troops under NATO, to honour her commitments. In 1996, IFOR was replaced by the Stabilisation Force (SFOR). During the service with NATO, Malaysia was given an office at the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE), also the first of it’s kind for an ASEAN Member.
In 2010, Malaysia was again part of another NATO–led force, this time with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. Malaysia deployed five medical contingents till 2013, funded by the Malaysian government.
South Philippines. Malaysia played a key role as facilitator in the peace process between the Government of Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The five-decade-old conflict between GPH and the Moros only brought devastation to the tri-border community in the Sulu Seas and turned Mindanao into a base for militants and transborder crime syndicates. Though there were many challenges in the process, which included the Lahad Datu incident, the battle for Zamboanga and Marawi, Malaysia was steadfast in her commitment to the peace process. The Malaysian Armed Forces today, lead the International Monitoring Team (IMT) in Mindanao.
In January 2019, residents of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) overwhelmingly voted to ratify the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), paving the way for the creation of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM). In exchange, the MILF is to decommission their armed wing and relinquish their weapons. BARMM will be implemented by a coalition of MILF, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), and incumbent ARMM officials as part of the Bangsamoro Transitional Authority (BTA) before elections scheduled for 2022. Malaysia was instrumental in this peaceful process through years of meetings taking place alternatively between Manila and Kuala Lumpur.
Southern Thailand. The insurgency in Thailand’s Deep South is an ongoing conflict originating as far back as 1948. It is an ethnic and religious separatist insurgency which has become increasingly more violent since 2001. Malaysia has been a facilitator in the search for peace between the Kingdom of Thailand and the insurgents, mainly the National Revolution Front (BRN). The peace process involves too many parties and this has become a challenge to peace talks. Nevertheless, Malaysia continues with her efforts to bring belligerents to the negotiating table with a view to finding lasting peace in the troubled region.
Recognising that development is key to peace and stability, Malaysia continues to promote technical cooperation to developing countries, sharing her development experience in the spirit of South–South Cooperation through the Malaysian Technical Cooperation Programme (MTCP). Malaysia funds and provides technical courses through a plethora of programmes.
The stellar service rendered by Malaysia and Malaysians in peace efforts has been a noble and commendable contribution for a small nation. Since the birth of Malaysia, an unchanged foreign policy has made Malaysia a brand ambassador for peace. It is time for Malaysia to use the MAF as an instrument of foreign policy, institutionalising her efforts. Malaysia should be coherent in galvanizing her separate efforts and progress as a Middle Power for Peace.
Capt. Martin A. SEBASTIAN RMN (R) is a Senior Fellow with the Maritime Institute of Malaysia (MIMA). Whilst in service with the Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN), he served as Desk Officer for UN Peacekeeping Operations for 3 years and served a year as Deputy Chief Operations in the UN Field Mission in Morocco. He attended the UN Peacekeeping Instructor Course at the UN Staff College in Turin, Italy and later served 3 years in the Office of Military Affairs (OMA), Department of Peace Operations (DPO) New York as Strategic Planning Team Leader for West African peace missions. He continues to be active in the study of Peace Operations