Malaysia’s Defence Policy: the Past, Present and Future

by : Lt Kol Ahmad Ghazali Abu-Hassan (Retired)


The Past

Since its independence, Malaysia’s defence and security strategy in practice, has arguably never been driven and guided by any specific blueprint. Our defence planning were mainly based on the immediate and short term needs, reactive in nature and ad hoc in its implementation.

Non-security (and sometimes irrelevant, self serving) considerations tend to be the dominating factors in the shaping of our defence capability development, thus derailing any effort to have a focus, coherent, and sustainable development program for the armed forces.


The Present

The last National Defence Policy published in 2007 was a broad expression of our security perception and roles of the armed forces in dealing with these perceived situations. It also appeared that the White Paper was prepared with limited input and policy coordination from other stake holders such as the Foreign Ministry and Home Ministry and the National Security Council.


The Future

With this background it is important that the new Defence White Paper be developed with the following parameters in mind.

Firstly it must be focused and yet flexible. Based on the assessment of the nation’s defence and security scenario the White Paper must identify the specific roles and tasks of the armed forces in these perceived scenarios. Clear distinction must be made between its primary and secondary functions. Priority should be in ensuring that its capability in performing its primary function is not compromised and its ability to perform it secondary functions credible.

Secondly, defence and security policies are intertwined and they form part of the broader national foreign policy. It must be noted that military power is an instrument of foreign policy and its application invariably needs to be coordinated with the employment of other foreign policy instruments such as diplomacy and economy. The development of our defence policy must therefore be deliberately planned and synchronised with our foreign policy. In the area of internal security and other aspects of non-traditional security, similar approach must be taken in our dealing with the Home Ministry and other related government agencies.

Thirdly, taking into consideration the current and future security scenario, the need to progress from where we are now to where we want to be, and against the background of the current state of our armed forces and the national financial position, the stated objectives in the proposed White Paper must be realistically attainable and allow room for gradual development and continuity. It must not be overly ambitious lest it would end up being an unattainable and unfulfilled wish list.

The White Paper should comprehensively cover the following key topics.

Evaluation of security scenarios. The current global, regional and domestic security scenarios must include the projection of future scenarios spanning the period of at least the next ten years and how they would impact the defence and security of Malaysia. Based on these established scenarios Malaysia should determine its defence priority and work out the relevant strategies.

Defence relations and diplomacy. There must be an evaluation of all Malaysian defence relations with global and regional powers, its position in FPDA, relations with other ASEAN countries and its involvement in UN peacekeeping operations. To be effective, Malaysia’s defence diplomacy must be credibly backed by its defence capability. As a small nation Malaysia needs to have good defence relations with credible and reliable global and regional military powers as backup to its own military might.

Training and Human Resources. Human resource training should be forward looking in nature taking into consideration the nature of war in the twenty first century. In addition to traditional military training, cyber-centric training would be an inevitability as cyber technology continues to be the core technology that controls almost every aspect of modern day environment. Apart from technical competency, personnel should also be indoctrinated with cyber defence and cyber security awareness. Acknowledging that cyber space is the fifth dimension in warfare Malaysia also needs to develop cyber offensive strategy as part of its military strategy. This strategy should be incorporated into its land, sea, air, and joint warfare doctrine.

Development and procurement. Future procurement and development program must be planned to break away from the past practice which has resulted in our armed forces being equipped with motley sets of weapons and equipment which at times lack working compatibility, create logistical problems and strategically inefficient. The way forward is to work out a strategy to acquire new weapons and equipment that truly fit in our strategic needs while at the same time making the best use of the present resources until they are phased out and replaced. In terms of defence technology and self sufficiency, clear policy must be established to determine areas which we need to be fully self sufficient, partly self sufficient and due to constraints, has to be fully reliant on imported technology.



The new Defence White paper should form the basis of future development of the armed forces. It should be set on a new paradigm that is practical and focus on the true defence and security needs of the country.

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