Military superiority

Will a pattern of uneven military modernization lead a strategic problem for regional security? Military superiority sometimes intimidates the less capable. It could be an instrument to bully diplomatically its neighbors. But this is only true in the regional arena. On worldwide basis, very few could withstand the might of the superpowers. So in the larger arena, nothing beats good diplomacy. Historical suspicions among states could give the wrong perceptions that might lead to) tensions triggered by arms competition.

In addition, the continued presence of severe interstate tensions within SEA over maritime boundaries, disputed territory, fisheries disputes, border conflict over refugees and alleged support for domestic rebellion might give the needed incentives to modernize their military so as to provide a deterrence (especially against the stronger states) or to have a bigger sphere of political clout in the region. 8Thailand undertook a military build-up after the communist victories in Indochina in 1975. Thailand’s military modernization efforts was induced by this event, especially as the United States had stood by and allowed the communists to achieve victory over the pro-US regimes in South Vietnam, Laos and Kampuchea.

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Vietnam conceivably undermining Thailand through its support of internal communist rebellion raised fears. The alarm was boosted by the Vietnamese invasion of Kampuchea in December 1978. There were also domestic political factors it considered. The Philippines is one who needs military modernization immediately. But economic constraints prevent it to be implemented. This island republic has 7000 of islands. It has thousands of kilometers of shoreline to guard against intruders.

It has two insurgency problems. One is the communist oriented National Peoples Army. The second and more problematic is the separatist Muslin group of MILF. This group is being supported financially, technically and morally by some rich Muslim countries. An extremist portion of this group is involved in terrorism in the Philippines and in Indonesia- and the rest of the world. Reports showed that they have the connections and support of other international terrorist groups. And another big problem that bothers it is- It is the only Christian country in Southeast Asia, which has predominantly Muslims population.

The Philippines has an army of 120,000 men, and a police force of 100,000 men. But the equipments they are using are antiquated. Its few airplanes and helicopters are American military surplus of World War two vintage. These are dubbed as “flying 10 coffins”. Not all military men have handguns; and some are even faulty. But on the positive side, its armed forces are well-trained and have long experience in guerilla warfare. The Philippine Government has pleaded with the United States for military assistance. The latter has responded, but on trickles and dole-outs.

The Philippines is in dire need to modernize its military, but because of the economic situation it is in, it can not afford the expense of modernization. 8Indonesia had heightened sense of insecurity stemming from the communist victories in Indochina in 1975, as well as the poor showing of the Indonesian military in overcoming a small ill-equipped Fretilin force when it invaded East Timor in 1976 provided the impetus for military modernization although it must be noted that this has been incremental and gradual in nature.

Moreover, since the declaration of Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) in the 1980s, Indonesia’s military modernization has concentrated on improving its maritime security. Indonesia is a far-flung archipelago, with sealanes and vast waterways to patrol, a daunting task indeed. Indonesia has thus focused its attention in recent years on developing the necessary conventional naval, air force and rapid deployment capabilities to patrol and defend its huge archipelagic waters and its EEZ.

Its jungle warfare school in Johore is widely regarded as the best of its kind in the world. 8When Malaysia begun modernization program in 1979 to build up Malaysia’s capabilities, some security analysts suggested that this was in response 11 to Malaysia’s apparent concerns over Singapore’s military capabilities. Malaysian Armed Forces (MAF) has had vast experience in counter-insurgency warfare, having fought a stubborn communist insurgency in Malaya and the East Malaysian states for some 40 years.

However, on-going disputes with the Philippines over Sabah, the British withdrawal in 1971, the communist victory in Indochina in 1975, the US withdrawal from mainland Southeast Asia from the 1970s under the Nixon Doctrine and growing recognition of Malaysia’s vulnerabilities stemming from its exceptionally long coastlines and its oil and gas fields both offshore, all contributed to a fundamental re-orientation of the MAF from counter-insurgency to conventional military capabilities.

The contiguity with a number of ASEAN states (sharing land and/or sea borders with Thailand, Brunei, Indonesia, Singapore and the Philippines) and the presence of territorial disputes with all of its neighboring states have added to the security challenges facing Malaysia. It would like to be prepared for all contingencies. Singapore’s economic importance and military capability rank it among Southeast Asia’s middle powers despite its small size and population. Unique among the ASEAN states, Singapore fears sudden political developments in the region that might require its armed forces to be used either as a deterrent, or as a 12 means of national defense.

This indicates that Singapore’s leadership perceived that under certain circumstance, conflict could in fact occur, and military defense capabilities must be credible at all times. Brunei has a land area of 2,226 sq. miles (5,765 sq. kilometers), with total population of 383,000. The Sultan of Brunei is both Minister of Defense and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces (RBAF). All infantry, navy, and air combat units are made up of volunteers.

There are two infantry brigades, equipped with armored reconnaissance vehicles and armored personnel carriers and supported by Rapier air defense missiles and a flotilla of coastal patrol vessels armed with surface-to-surface missiles. Brunei has a defense agreement with the United Kingdom, under which a British Armed Forces Ghurka battalion is permanently stationed in Seria, near the center of Brunei’s oil industry. The RBAF has joint exercises, training programs, and other military cooperation with the United Kingdom and many other countries, including the United States.