February 8, 2013
Diplomacy : Malaysia’s First Line of Defense
by Datuk Dr Ananda Kumaraseri | firstname.lastname@example.org
INDONESIAN Konfrontasi and the Philippines’ Sabah Claim posed challenges for Malaysia’s foreign policy and conduct of its international relations and diplomacy.
Indonesian Konfrontasi did not constitute an outright war against Malaysia, but it included serious acts of aggression, short of a full-scale war.
The fierce campaign of hostility and the virulent worldwide propaganda against Malaysia unleashed by the Indonesian government came as a rude shock. Combined with the tactical military pressures applied by the Indonesian government, Konfrontasi most certainly turned out to be much more than a traumatic diplomatic challenge for the Malaysian government and bureaucracy.
The Ministry of External Affairs with the Tunku as Minister was not only ill-prepared but also ill-equipped in terms of manpower and resources to counter the sudden onslaught of the far better-oiled Indonesian diplomatic and propaganda machineries. Indeed, the Indonesian offensive, combined with the concurrent threat to its sovereignty stemming from the Philippines’ Sabah Claim, was in actual fact a matter of life and death for the newly formed Malaysia.
However, the twin challenges of Indonesian Konfrontasi and the Sabah Claim bore a silver lining. The baptism by fire Malaysia underwent in conducting international relations and diplomacy served important lessons early in life as a nation state.
The vehement Indonesian and Filipino campaigns against Malaysia that threatened its very existence as a nation spurred a quest by the government for the newly formed Malaysia to be recognised internationally as a sovereign independent nation. In facing the grave external challenge, the country was able to fall back on its rich diplomatic acumen, ingenuity and diplomatic skills to canvass for understanding, sympathy and support from the international community at regional as well as global forums.
The government’s diplomatic response witnessed a host of Malaysian leaders, led by Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman, shuttling to world capitals in an earnest effort to seek a peaceful solution to the twin challenges. The leadership provided by the ever affable statesman, the Tunku, coupled with his sagacious policy of prudence and perseverance for a negotiated settlement, proved crucial in this critical juncture of the nation’s history.
Together with the diplomatic astuteness and the negotiation skills possessed by its handful of competent diplomats led by the then Permanent Secretary, Datuk (now the late Tun) Ghazali Shafie, a further deterioration of relations with Indonesia and the Philippines was averted.
The steady military assistance provided by Britain, Australia and New Zealand under the Anglo-Malaysian Defence Agreement helped to pre-empt an exacerbation of external military pressures and armed threats against Malaysia. Malaysian diplomacy came to roost and bilateral relations with both the hitherto adversarial neighbours were amicably restored in 1966.
The initial setbacks that Malaysia encountered in responding to the twin external challenges had a positive effect on coalescing Malaysia as a nation and specifically on strengthening the country’s diplomatic machinery. The traumatic experience represented, in many ways, a watershed for Malaysia.
It called for a serious self-examination of the country’s foreign policy as well as an urgent rethinking of the conduct of its international relations and the direction of its diplomacy. This resulted in a distinct shift in Malaysia’s foreign policy emphasis.
The young nation’s psyche regarding the real potential of external threats to its territorial integrity and sovereignty deepened appreciably. The government and the bureaucracy became more appreciative of the importance of diplomacy in safeguarding the country’s national interests, including possible external threats to the country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.
A greater acceptance of diplomacy as the country’s first line of defence against external threats ensued, as well as a sharp increase in resource allocations for the expansion of the diplomatic machinery. This saw changes in the country’s diplomatic apparatus, which featured a dramatic growth of the Ministry of External Affairs (Foreign Affairs Ministry) and its far-flung overseas diplomatic missions.