‘The Strategist: Brent Scowcroft and the Call of National Security’

March 9, 2015


‘The Strategist: Brent Scowcroft and the Call of National Security’

In foreign policy, every success is just the start of the next crisis. Brent Scowcroft (above with President G.H.W. Bush) has pointed this out often in his four ­decades at the top of the American national security establishment. When the Soviet Union was conceding defeat in the nuclear arms race, he wondered if Gorbachev would instead “kill us with kindness.” When the Evil Empire was crumbling, he fretted about loose ­nuclear weapons and ethnic slaughter. When American troops were routing Saddam Hussein in the Persian Gulf war of 1991, he worried that “Iraq could fall apart,” leaving us to pick up the pieces. Again and again, this taciturn Mormon has been the Woody ­Allen of American foreign policy.

In “The Strategist,” his informative but inelegant biography of Scowcroft, Bartholomew Sparrow argues that this former national security adviser (to both Gerald Ford and George H. W. Bush) and still-reigning wise man (as he nears his 90th birthday) could also be considered “the United States’ leading foreign policy strategist of the last 40 years.” But just as there are writer’s writers, Scowcroft is a foreign policy strategist’s foreign policy strategist, not widely known outside the guild. One of Ronald Reagan’s national security advisers cited him as a model; so did one of Barack Obama’s. “They all wanted to be Scowcroft,” one study says of his successors. Sparrow, a professor at the University of Texas, wants to narrow the gap between guild esteem and public acclaim.

But the qualities that account for this esteem make Scowcroft a tough subject for a biographer: How do you give color to the classic gray man? Journalists have ­described him as having “the gaunt demeanor of a church elder,” his words “carefully weighted to ensure that they contain not a gram more of information than their author wishes to convey.” Even after hours of interviews, Sparrow’s Scowcroft remains a steely and reticent figure.

As national security adviser, Scowcroft was known for being a trusted “honest broker,” scrupulous about presenting different views and sticking to a fair process for debating and deciding among them. He also brought an unglamorous focus on details, since strategies, he said, “succeed or fail depending on whether they are implemented effectively.” Sparrow tries to discern a strategic vision as he traces his subject’s central role in many of ­recent history’s main events. What emerges is less a coherent vision than a distinct ­temperament — one resistant to the temptations of wishful thinking and suspicious of promises of either easy war or easy peace. “We’re humans,” Scowcroft has said. “Given a chance to screw up, we will.” That temperament has surely frustrated more than one commander in chief looking for the simple choice or smooth way forward. But it also may, more than anything, explain Scowcroft’s celebrated record.

When he was coaxing the Cold War to a peaceful end, a foreign policy triumph for which Scowcroft deserves a nontrivial share of credit, he rejected triumphalism in favor of caution. He was always “very worried about all that could go wrong,” one former aide told Sparrow, ordering preparation for all manner of unintended consequence as others gloated. Soaring rhetoric made him wince; Reagan’s thunderously cheered call to “tear down this wall” struck him as a “lousy statement” that only “made it less likely that Gorbachev would tear down the wall.” When it did come down, Scowcroft resolved that there would be “no jumping on the wall.” If ever there was a real mission-­accomplished moment, this was it. Yet compare that response to the later Bush administration’s triumphant reaction to the fall of Baghdad.

This caution held true of more controversial turns in Scowcroft’s career as well. In the wake of the bloody crackdown in Tiananmen Square in 1989, Scowcroft was caught by news cameras giving a respectful toast on an unannounced trip to China. He thought it less important to project outrage or serve up punishment than to get the United States-China ­relationship back on track. What seemed the morally ­upright stance, Scowcroft argued, would do little more than provoke a backlash by an insecure Communist leadership. “If this meant appearing less than zealous about defending the human rights of Chinese dissidents,” Sparrow writes, “so be it.” But Scowcroft was denounced as “supine” by the just-departed American Ambassador, Winston Lord, “obscene” and “embarrassing” on the floor of Congress.

Scowcroft has called his approach ­“gardening,” designed to patiently foster long-term change. For vindication of the long view, Sparrow considers an earlier diplomatic effort that met with ­opprobrium: the Helsinki Accords of 1975, which at first seemed to trade acceptance of Soviet dominance in Eastern Europe for token concessions on self-determination and human rights. When the ­agreement was signed by the Ford administration, some White House aides protested, the president’s approval rating fell and even Ford’s own party blasted him in its 1976 platform for “taking from those who do not have freedom the hope of one day getting it.” Yet to Scowcroft, Helsinki’s token concessions would create a framework for more meaningful change. And ultimately, far from bolstering Soviet power, the ­accord turned out to be, in the assessment of the historian John Lewis Gaddis, “the basis for legitimizing opposition to Soviet rule.” Eastern-bloc human rights organizations started calling themselves Helsinki groups.

Since Scowcroft long prided himself on a “passion for anonymity,” it was a “shocking gesture,” in Sparrow’s words, when he took to The Wall Street Journal in 2002 to warn, under the headline “Don’t Attack Saddam,” of the dire consequences of an invasion of Iraq. The administration was staffed by protégés and former colleagues, and George W. Bush is the son of one of his best friends. To them, this public counsel was an act of betrayal — ­prophetic perhaps, but betrayal just the same. All the more so because, a decade earlier, Scowcroft had been a key advocate of using American military power to respond to Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait.

Scowcroft and His GeneralHonest broker: Scowcroft with General H. Norman Schwarzkopf in 1990

In both cases, despite the apparent tension, Scowcroft had been focused on the same goal: preserving order. When ­Hussein threatened to upset the ­existing order, he felt Washington had to respond. And when the Bush administration threatened the existing order, he also ­responded.

In the final years of the Cold War, Scowcroft’s conservative focus on order may have been sufficient: Progress was on his side. But today, at a time when the international system is changing, for better or worse, the imperatives have ­become more complicated, less clear-cut. Scowcroft ­acknowledged later that once the Cold War ended, “we were confused, ­befuddled. We didn’t know what was ­going on, and we didn’t think it mattered much.” Or as Sparrow puts it, he does not try to “alter the nature of the game; . . . he plays the game set before him.” It was Scowcroft who helped momentarily push and then retract the widely derided concept of “the new world order.”

At one point in “The Strategist,” ­Sparrow paraphrases Seneca: “Luck is the result of preparation coupled with ­opportunity.” Scowcroft would most likely agree. In looking back at his accomplishments, he talks of “guiding and managing forces,” of “not bucking a tide.” Even if the imperatives today are different, Scowcroft’s temperament is still a useful tonic. For if anything makes Scowcroft a “great man,” it is that he does not see great men (or women) as all that significant.

Daniel Kurtz-Phelan, a member of the secretary of state’s policy-planning staff from 2009 to 2012, is an Eric and Wendy Schmidt fellow at the New America Foundation. He is writing a book about George Marshall.

A version of this review appears in print on March 8, 2015, on page BR24 of the Sunday Book Review with the headline: On His Watch

Cambodia Realigns Its Foreign Relations

March 7, 2015

Cambodia Realigns Its Foreign Relations

by Murray Hiebert, Phuong Nguyen, YaleGlobal


Samdech Techo Hun SenSamdech Techo Hun Sen of Cambodia

Cambodia’s foreign relations map has undergone dramatic shifts in the past six months. In the aftermath of Cambodia’s elections in July 2013, Beijing promptly recognized the results and congratulated Prime Minister Hun Sen and his ruling Cambodian People’s Party for their victory.

However, as anti-government protests led by the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party grew in the weeks that followed, with protesters condemning the elections as fraudulent and calling on Hun Sen to step down, China has since largely remained silent and kept the prime minister at arm’s length.

At the same time, the Cambodian government in the past few months has moved to consolidate its relations with Vietnam following several years of deteriorating ties between the two neighbors. Phnom Penh made this move despite the anti-Vietnamese sentiment in Cambodia fed by opposition leader Sam Rainsy that has gained traction since the elections.

An ongoing political crisis and China’s apparent hedging on Hun Sen are behind this emerging geostrategic realignment.

Hun Sen is struggling to deal with growing opposition to his rule and grievances from the public on labor rights and governance at a time when Cambodia is at a critical political and economic crossroads. The country is seeking to become more integrated with the rest of Southeast Asia and the world in the years ahead. Cambodia’s youth are increasingly more educated and exposed to democratic norms and the outside world.

Hun Sen, whose strong-arm tactics largely worked in the past, now faces what is perhaps the most serious challenge to his rule in decades and is seeking outside recognition to boost his domestic legitimacy. The truth is, even if his party manages to win the next elections, Hun Sen must continue to deal with growing demands for greater transparency, better rule of law and more democracy.

China, until recently Cambodia’s most important patron, has not been willing to offer Hun Sen much political backing. While the two governments continue to maintain high-level meetings and exchanges, there has been a shift in Beijing’s policy toward Cambodia. Shortly after Hun Sen announced he would not step down in the face of opposition-led protests, an article in China’s state-controlled Xinhua in late December quoted Khmer analysts calling for national referendum on whether to organize new elections. Chinese leaders probably will not give Hun Sen the cold shoulder anytime soon, but they seem to be charting a middle course and slowly moving away from their past policy of wholeheartedly endorsing his government.

The social and political changes taking place in Cambodia have not been lost on Beijing. Chinese leaders could be hedging their bets on Cambodia’s political future to avoid the kind of strategic blunders they made in Myanmar in recent years. Beijing long threw its support to Myanmar’s military regime and was taken unaware by the sweeping reforms President Thein Sein launched in 2011. Chinese leaders did not begin to face up to the new political reality in Myanmar until Thein Sein suspended construction of the multibillion dollar Chinese-backed Myitsone dam.

As part of its new policy, China is engaging different actors in Myanmar’s emerging political scene, from parliamentary speaker Shwe Mann and army chief Min Aung Hlaing to opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Chinese leaders who have largely given Thein Sein the cold shoulder are now considering an official invitation for Aung San Suu Kyi to visit China. Neither President Xi Jinping nor Premier Li Keqiang made a stop in Myanmar during their diplomatic blitz across Southeast Asia in 2013. Interestingly, Cambodia was not included in that itinerary either, despite being a staunch ally and a popular investment destination for Chinese businesses.

Meanwhile, relations between Vietnam and Cambodia have blossomed during the past few months. Hanoi has provided Hun Sen with much needed outside recognition and a boost to his legitimacy. In late December, Hun Sen visited Vietnam ahead of the 35th anniversary of the ouster of the Khmer Rouge by Hanoi’s troops, and Vietnamese leaders lavishly congratulated him for his role in rebuilding Cambodia.

Two weeks after Hun Sen’s trip, Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung visited Cambodia, where the two leaders co-chaired a bilateral trade and investment conference – the largest since 2009 – and pledged to boost economic ties in banking, finance, agribusiness, tourism and telecommunications. At the end of 2012, Vietnamese businesses had invested around $3 billion in nearly 130 projects in Cambodia, making Vietnam one of the country’s top foreign investors. China, in comparison, invested a total of $9.17 billion in the country between 1994 and 2012.

Hanoi is closely watching the political turmoil in Cambodia, but still jumped at the chance to patch up ties with Phnom Penh following several years of irritation over border demarcation and Cambodia’s siding with China over the South China Sea disputes. In the foreseeable future, Hanoi still has an interest in sustaining regime stability in Cambodia and the ruling party’s grip on power given how overtly anti-Vietnamese Sam Rainsy has shown himself to be.

For instance, Rainsy has recently declared that Vietnam is encroaching on Chinese territory in the South China Sea, in the same fashion that he alleges the nation is grabbing Cambodian territory.

Offering Hun Sen political support when he most needed it, as well as strengthening bilateral economic ties, seemed like a logical choice for Vietnamese leaders. Hanoi is also concerned about the increasingly anti-Vietnamese rhetoric among the Cambodian population. Launching the new Cho Ray Phnom Penh Hospital, a joint venture between Vietnam’s Saigon Medical Investment and Cambodia’s Sokimex, was perhaps an effort to soften anti-Vietnamese sentiment through joint cooperation in the health sector.

But realistically, Hanoi’s support alone is insufficient to assure Cambodia’s and Hun Sen’s autonomy among foreign powers. Beijing’s noncommittal stance in recent months might also have prompted Hun Sen to look for support beyond his traditional patrons. For instance, he shrewdly used Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to Cambodia in November 2013 to boost his domestic legitimacy – by asking Abe for advice on electoral reforms – and his position vis-à-vis China.

Hun Sen and Abe issued an unusual statement on bilateral maritime security cooperation, underscoring the need to settle disputes peacefully and according to international law. The two countries agreed to boost military ties, with Japanese experts, including those from Japan’s Self-Defense Forces, expected to provide training to Cambodian military personnel for future United Nations peacekeeping operations. And in stark contrast to what happened at the ASEAN Regional Forum in Phnom Penh in 2011, Cambodia did not object to tabling a discussion on China’s Air Defense Identification Zone over the East China Sea during the Japan-ASEAN summit in Tokyo in December 2013.

Cambodia is evolving quickly, both politically and economically, and it remains to be seen whether Hun Sen can retain power for several more election cycles. Beijing’s new strategic calculus in Cambodia has suddenly left Hun Sen feeling vulnerable, at least for the moment. This has prompted Hun Sen to work to boost his standing among other regional actors, particularly Japan, Vietnam and ASEAN, by offering them his support on issues of contention with China such as territorial disputes in the East and South China seas.

(Murray Hiebert is senior fellow and deputy director of the Sumitro Chair for Southeast Asia Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, DC. Phuong Nguyen is a research associate with the CSIS Sumitro Chair.)

Four Ideas for a Stronger United Nations (UN)

February 8, 2015

Four Ideas for a Stronger U.N.

by Kofi A. Annan and Gro Harlem Brundtland

Kofi A. Annan and Gro Harlem Brundtland Gro Harlem Brundtland and Kofi A. Annan

Seventy years ago, the United Nations was founded “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.” Looking around the world today, the least one can say is that it is not fully succeeding in this mission. From Nigeria through the Middle East to Afghanistan and Ukraine, millions are suffering and dying from that scourge, or are imminently threatened by it, and the United Nations seems powerless to save them.

We have four ideas for making the organization stronger and more effective. A big part of the problem is that the Security Council, which is supposed to maintain world peace and security on behalf of all member states, no longer commands respect — certainly not from armed insurgents operating across borders, and often not from the United Nations’ own members.

Throughout the world, and especially in the Global South, people struggle to understand why, in 2015, the Council is still dominated by the five powers that won World War II. They are more and more inclined to question its authority, and the legitimacy of its decisions.

We ignore this threat at our peril. Times have changed since 1945, and the Security Council must adapt.

Almost everyone claims to favor expanding the Council to include new permanent members, but for decades now states have been unable to agree who these should be, or whether, like the existing ones, they should have the power to veto agreements reached by their fellow members.

Our first idea aims to break this stalemate. Instead of new permanent members, let us have a new category of members, serving a much longer term than the non-permanent ones and eligible for immediate re-election. In other words they would be permanent, provided they retained the confidence of other member states. Surely that is more democratic?

Secondly, we call on the five existing permanent members to give a solemn pledge. They must no longer allow their disagreements to mean that the Council fails to act, even when — for instance, as currently in Syria — people are threatened with atrocious crimes.

Let the five permanent members promise never to use the veto just to defend their national interests, but only when they genuinely fear that the proposed action will do more harm than good to world peace and to the people concerned. In that case, let them give a full and clear explanation of the alternative they propose, as a more credible and efficient way to protect the victims. And when one or more of them do use the veto in that way, let the others promise not to abandon the search for common ground, but to work even harder to find an effective solution on which all can agree.

Thirdly, let the Council listen more carefully to those affected by its decisions. When they can agree, the permanent members too often deliberate behind closed doors, without listening to those whom their decisions most directly affect. From now on, let them — and the whole Council — give groups representing people in zones of conflict a real chance to inform and influence their decisions.

And finally, let the Council, and especially its permanent members, make sure the United Nations gets the kind of leader it needs. Let them respect the spirit as well as the letter of what the United Nations Charter says about choosing a new Secretary-General, and no longer settle it by negotiating among themselves behind closed doors. Under current procedures, governments nominate their own citizens as candidates for the position. Members of the Security Council then conduct rounds of secret voting known as “straw polls” to ascertain who has broadest and deepest support; crucially, the five permanent members use different colored voting slips so that their preferences — and those they do not favor — are made clear to the other 10 temporary members.

Let us have a thorough and open search for the best qualified candidates, irrespective of gender or region; let the Council then recommend more than one candidate for the General Assembly to choose from; and let the successful candidate be appointed for a single, non-renewable term of seven years. He or she (and after eight “he’s” it’s surely time for a “she”) must not be under pressure to give jobs or concessions to any member state in return for its support. This new process should be adopted without delay, so that it can be used to find the best person to take over in January 2017.

These four proposals are spelled out in greater detail in a statement issued this Saturday by The Elders, an independent group of global leaders working together for peace and human rights. We believe they form an essential starting point for the United Nations to recover its authority. And we call on the peoples of the world to insist that their governments accept them, in this, the 70th anniversary year of the United Nations.

Kofi A. Annan, Chairman of The Elders, served as Secretary General of the United Nations from 1996 to 2007. Gro Harlem Brundtland, Deputy Chairwoman of The Elders, is a former Prime Minister of Norway and served as Director General of the World Health Organization from 1998 to 2003.


Mr. Salleh, this is not the way to settle an Issue

January 26, 2015

Mr. Salleh, this is not the way to settle an Issue

by  Syed Jaymal Zahiid

Fearing their Malay-majority city neighbourhood may soon be overrun by Chinese, a group of residents in Taman Keramat marched to the construction site of upscale condominium project Datum Jelatek here and violently tore down its cladding today.

The group had warned of “bloodshed” last November if the luxury condo project, which sits on the former site of four blocks of Selangor State Development Corporation (PKNS) flats owned mostly by Malays, goes ahead.

“This is a 100 per cent Malay area,” Salleh Majid, spokesman for the group, told Malay Mail Online when contacted over the phone.

News portal The Malaysian Insider had reported a violent protest breaking out at the condo project site earlier today, but Salleh said the residents reacted aggressively to defend their homes from “Chinese occupation”.

“I did my own study and I found out that they are trying to attract Chinese from China, Singapore, Taiwan and so on,” he said referring to the condominium project.He also disapproved of local ethnic Chinese staying in the proposed project, when asked.

MALAY_DATUM JELATEK_PROTESTNo one should be allowed to behave like this

“No. We already have this understanding… Keramat was created by Datuk Harun after May 13 to balance the Chinese population in the city with the Malays,” he said.

“We have been through May 13 before, so why set fire to the oil? Why the need to provoke?” he asked, referring to the bloody racial clashes of 1969 that pitted the Malays against ethnic Chinese.

The Keramat area was set up by the then Selangor Mentri Besar Harun Idris in a delicate attempt to achieve racial balance.Salleh said residents were afraid that the influx of Chinese to the area might force Malays to vacate, similar to other Malay settlements in the city in the past.

The self-professed professional claimed this was a conspiracy by the predominantly Chinese DAP opposition party to open up Keramat to the Chinese, but he did not provide proof to support his allegation.

“This is all a DAP agenda,” Salleh alleged, before adding, “This project came amid insults to the Malays like the ‘Allah’ issue and others.”

Salleh had previously said the planned luxury studio apartment, measuring 538 square feet each, was priced at RM700,000 and was not affordable to the Taman Keramat Malay community.

He claimed the prices were intentionally set high so that only other races could afford to purchase the units.

The Datum Jelatek Project that will be built on a 5.5-acre (2.2 hectares) piece of land had previously been said to be a redevelopment project of the low-cost housing area in Jalan Jelatek after all the residents, who were mostly Malays, had been moved out and given a small compensation.

However, the project was said to have “changed” into a proposal to develop four exclusive buildings comprising offices, a hotel and a shopping centre targeted at the high-income group and corporate sector.

Despite the protest, then Selangor Mentri Besar Tan Sri Abdul Khalid Ibrahim had given PKNS the nod to proceed with the project. Salleh said residents of the demolished flats felt cheated when they found out that the land was used to develop a luxury condominium.

“And what is more painful for most of the third generation of Keramat residents is that luxury condominiums are being built instead of affordable houses for the Malay residents here,” he said.


Sinking the Ships: Indonesia’s Foreign Policy under Jokowi

January 22, 2015


 Sinking the Ships: Indonesia’s Foreign Policy under Jokowi (CO15016)

by BA Hamzah*


BA HamzahDespite some adverse comments, President Joko Widodo is not about to drastically change Indonesia’s “free and active foreign policy”. What may change during his tenure is the emphasis, orientation and strategy.

His challenge is how to execute his foreign policy without losing friends. Jokowi should start calling on his ASEAN counterparts to continue the traditional regional diplomacy.


OUTWARDLY PRESIDENT Joko Widodo’s policy of burning and sinking fishing vessels from friendly states for illegal fishing gives the impression that he cares less for regional diplomacy. His policy is a stark contrast to his predecessor President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s policy of “a million friends and zero enemies”. Yudhoyono has assiduously courted many friends over the last decade. In less than one hundred days, his successor, however, seems bent on leaving behind a different legacy.

indonesia-ship-kri-todak-Indonesian Navy Ship deployed to protect territorial waters

Although the action of burning fishing vessels is essentially a domestic matter, it has foreign policy implications. For states which have signed Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) with Indonesia on how to treat wayward fishermen, especially in disputed maritime space (such as with Malaysia), the action has ruffled diplomatic feathers as it breaches international norms and possibly the ethics of modern-day diplomacy.

What next?

Coupled with Jokowi’s observations on what appears to be Indonesia’s conditional support for the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), for example, it is daunting to speculate what he will do in the next five years. Many critics (including Indonesians) have asked whether the new President is changing course, pursuing a new foreign policy orientation, or simply grabbing headlines for domestic consumption.

Notwithstanding all the nuances, I believe President Jokowi will keep Indonesia on an even keel. He is not about to drastically change Indonesia’s foreign policy. Jokowi is going to retain Indonesia’s independent posture known as the “free and active foreign policy”, which has guided Indonesia for so long. What may change during his tenure, though, is the emphasis, orientation and strategy to achieve the objective while strengthening his political grip domestically. In a way, he may give the impression that he cares less about diplomacy – but is he?

As Head of State, he is answerable to the Parliament on many issues. As such, he has to operate within certain institutional bounds. Under President Jokowi, Indonesia is not likely to dump membership in ASEAN, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), United Nations, World Bank or the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

On the contrary, Jakarta is likely to strengthen its role in all the multilateral institutions including the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), the East Asia Summit and the Group of Twenty (G20), the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) and others. Rubbing shoulders with the world’s leading politicians is an essential part of diplomacy. More importantly, the national interests of Indonesia are better served by supporting their objectives.

Domestic support and diplomatic bridges

Just like his predecessors, Jokowi would not downplay the relevance of geography and geopolitics in the making of foreign policy. In a nation that is fast emerging as a middle power, Jokowi has to take into account demography and domestic politics, including managing rising nationalist sentiments in foreign policy making.

Jokowi-2Decisive Leadership

To be one among equals in the region, President Jokowi needs to formulate a pragmatic foreign policy. As he goes about strengthening his credentials at home, he should not burn the proverbial diplomatic bridges.

The seizure of the fishing vessels is Jokowi’s way of telling Indonesians that he is no pushover when it comes to defending the sovereignty and national resources of the state. Despite rhetoric to the contrary, in the long-run, the Indonesian Parliament is not likely to allow President Jokowi a free hand to undermine further Indonesia’s diplomatic credentials. Appealing to nationalist sentiments may have short-term advantages. However, it will not augur well with multilateralism in the global era.

One perennial complaint about Yudhoyono when he was in power was his indecisiveness. President Jokowi wants to be perceived as a decisive person, who does not always dance to the tune of big power politics. He will soon find out whether in an interdependent world, a reclusive nationalist is able to navigate through the rough seas all alone.

In the region, Jokowi will have to tread carefully in ASEAN waters. If he adopts a very aloof policy towards ASEAN, at a time when the organisation needs robust support from all, regional cooperation will take a back seat. Despite recent statements, there is no reason to expect Indonesia to abandon ASEAN, which has contributed positively to the political development of Indonesia since the New Order replaced Sukarno in 1966. To clear the air of uncertainty in the region, Jokowi should start calling on his ASEAN counterparts as traditional diplomacy dictates.

Jokowi’s three-pronged maritime strategy

Since the time of President Suharto, Indonesia has had a moderating influence on ASEAN. For example, when the 45th ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting in Phnom Penh in July 2012 failed to adopt the traditional Joint Communiqué, the Indonesian foreign minister stepped in to save the day. Together with his counterpart from Singapore, they drafted ASEAN’s Six-Point Principles on the South China Sea disputes.

To its credit, Indonesia has been instrumental in promoting the ASEAN Political and Security Community (APSC). Jakarta was also instrumental in establishing the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (1976) and Bali Concord II, which provided the foundation for the emerging ASEAN Economic Community (AEC). Due to be formalised by the end of this year, the AEC will not be realised without Indonesia.

Over China, President Jokowi walks a tight rope. No one expects Jokowi to shy away from criticising China for its expansive maritime claims that overlaps with Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) off the Natuna islands. Nevertheless, demography, geopolitics, geography, economics and realpolitik dictate that Indonesia and China remain the best of friends. Moreover, Indonesia is considered the most acceptable party to engage with an assertive China in the South China Sea. For example, Jakarta can push for the conclusion of the Code of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea. It can also help moderate the Sino-US naval rivalry in the region.

President Jokowi’s policy of transforming the Indonesian maritime space is three-pronged. The first prong deals with strengthening internal resilience. The crackdown on illegal fishing is just one aspect of it. Upgrading the capabilities of the navy and air force is the second. The third prong involves the construction of some 24 deep-seaports across the entire archipelago as well as improving other support facilities in the maritime sector.

President Jokowi’s decision to upgrade the navy may exacerbate the ongoing regional naval arms race and make it more complex to manage regional security problems at sea, including the overlapping territorial claims in the South China Sea. Besides Indonesia, Australia, China, India, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam are also expanding their respective submarine fleets.

The challenge for President Jokowi is how to execute a robust maritime policy without losing friends in the region.

*B. A. Hamzah is a Senior Lecturer with the Department of Strategic Studies, National Defence University of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur. The views are personal. He contributed this specially to RSIS Commentary.

On Leadership in times of National Crisis

January 16, 2015

On Leadership in times of National  Crisis

by Azrul Mohd Khalib

Najib and his gang

The relentless rains and subsequent floods devastated countless communities living along the East Coast, severely affecting those in Kelantan, Pahang and Terengganu. Thousands of lives were jeopardised by rising flood waters. At its highest point, the flood resulted in the displacement and evacuation of over 230,000 people in nine states.

Leadership, or the lack of it, exhibited by government officials before, during and after the floods became a bitter theme for the past month. The leadership of the Prime Minister, members of his Cabinet, the various agencies under the National Security Council, the Menteri Besars, political representatives and even the Ketua Kampungs at the community level were tested and found sorely wanting.

By and large, many of our elected leaders failed Malaysia and her people miserably when they were most in need.

If it weren’t for the fact that our uniformed services (military, police, bomba, civil defence & Rela, etc), numerous non-government organisations and citizen disaster relief initiatives were able to mobilise and respond as quickly as they did based on reports from the field (many sourced from social media, of all places), I have no doubt that instead of replaceable property and infrastructure assets being destroyed and lost, more lives would have been claimed by this disaster.

The learning curve during a humanitarian crisis is a steep one where the grading isn’t measured in As, Bs and Cs but often the number of lives lost and livelihoods destroyed. Screw ups and the ones who have to pay the price are often not the decision makers and politicians but, as we have seen, the ordinary folk in the kampungs, towns and cities.

Najib and Obama in HawaiiThe PM’s absence at the very onset of the crisis can be forgiven to a certain extent. Engrossed as he was in golf diplomacy with the leader of the free world, he might have been guilty of what we all initially thought this crisis was: Predictable flooding which is expected each year due to the monsoon season.

A nuisance and an inconvenience for many but really nothing to urgently fly home for and kasi burn some vacay time. However, I would like to think that the PM would have better access to quality and reliable information as opposed to the regular Malaysian whose main source of news these days comes from Facebook.

His supporters say that it isn’t fair to place the full responsibility on DPM Malaysiathe shoulders of the PM. That in his absence there is the Deputy PM. However, it isn’t the latter’s face plastered on everything from billboards to boxes of Maggi and bags of rice (which apparently made a recent comeback). The 2013 Barisan Nasional campaign was essentially based on a presidential model. With that approach comes all the blame and glory that comes with it.

The PM is there for you to solve all your problems and he is responsible. You can cry about how unfair it is but nasib lah. You can’t play president and then when the crap hits the fan, fall back to the parliamentary democracy model.

By the way, my contribution to the talk of why YAB PM was in Hawaii for some tee time: Obama met Najib to talk about concluding TPPA negotiations and the closing of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. The former is well known but what is developing is Obama’s wish to expedite the latter. The US just sent five detainees from Guantanamo to Kazakhstan for resettlement.

The US President might have been trying to talk Najib into Malaysia taking in a busload of detainees or two, especially with Malaysia’s sterling record of dealing with terrorism and radical elements. But that’s just me speculating.

Menteri Besar KelantanThe Menteri Besar of Kelantan wins the Mr Misplaced Priorities Award. Despite the fact that people were being increasingly cut off and crying out for essential services and supplies of food and water, and even as the flood waters surrounded his own home and that of his Spiritual Leader, all he could think about was introducing hudud law.

Even as it was pointed out to him that it would be a bit hard to debate the motion while the Dewan Undangan Negeri was slowly being submerged and representatives most likely would need to be equipped with face masks, snorkels and fins, and learn to communicate via sign language and whiteboards, Yang Amat Berhormat Menteri Besar was steadfast till the bitter end in wanting to carry it through. Until he couldn’t. And no, he gets no points for trying because for the longest time, he was conspicuously absent from the frontlines of the disaster relief.

The Prime Minister’s instruction to members of the Cabinet to BALIK! has got to be one of the most embarrassing moments of his presidency/ administration. With the exception of a few ministers who didn’t go abroad for their holidays and were in fact at the frontlines of relief efforts with minimum fanfare (I am looking at you, Datuk Sri Ahmad Shabery Cheek aka “Action Man.” I don’t like your politics but you really showed everyone what it means to be serving the rakyat. Tabik spring!), everyone else in the Cabinet were MIA.

Many of us didn’t even know who was in charge of the National Malaysian Defence Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, pictured in 2010Security Council. Even the Home Minister whose ministry is most involved in the emergency response was nowhere to be seen. Fail. Why was it necessary to have these characters? Much as we abhor the centralised (sometimes Soviet-like) mindset of our government and the extent our politicians take in partisan politics, the fact of the matter is that a lot of decisions in a crisis require leaders to take charge. The lateness in the national response to the East Coast humanitarian emergency can be traced back to the absence of a leader.

In times like these, leaders must demonstrate numerous abilities linked such as being decisive, flexible, able to solve problems rapidly, creative, strategic, motivating and ability to understand complex scenarios.

It isn’t about being fair or unfair, reasonable or unreasonable, kasi peluang or not. You cannot talk to or pay off a flood, landslide or any kind of humanitarian disaster. Unlike how we treat many problems in our country, we cannot pretend a crisis doesn’t exist.

Shabery 2So on the report card thus far, where did our leaders get an F? In disaster prevention and planning. Best demonstrated by the continued denials by the Kelantan MB that uncontrolled and illegal logging contributed to the floods. The miniscule amount budgeted for disaster relief under state and federal budgets. And the lack of prepositioned equipment and stockpiled supplies for emergency disaster response. Ahmad Shabery Cheek’s constituency scores an A here as probably the most prepared for this crisis. They even had pre-determined helicopter landing zones.

In adapting and expanding capacity where necessary. The government emergency response became defensive and took a more reactive than proactive approach towards requesting assistance. To this day, some communities remain cutoff from aid as many government relief centres are depending on people to go to them.

In restoring communications. If you had Celcom as your mobile phone service provider, chances are you were able to stay connected if you had access to power. Restoring limited cellular communications would allow for communities to call for help or at least let people know where they are and their condition. Too many locations were cut off from the rest of world, and to some extent, this remains so till this day.

In co-ordination. The failure for there to be a structure to co-ordinate emergency response efforts effectively continues to plague ongoing humanitarian assistance particularly in remote areas and locations. Those who receive good media coverage, are close to major roads (or roads), linked to political parties and are easier to access logistically, are getting plenty of aid and supplies. There are many places which are getting too much aid and some places, almost nothing at all. We are starting to hear of stories where entire villages have been left out and are desperate after more than a week without food and potable water. Don’t believe me? Check the Orang Asli settlements.

Where leadership was apparent was in the middle management of our uniformed services who responded rapidly to save lives. The rakyat took one look at their absent and vacationing political leaders and decided to take matters into their own hands to help fellow citizens in their hour of need. We salute them all. Amazingly, even the Myanmar refugee community responded with their own initiative to help collect aid to send to help Malaysians in the affected areas. Talk about being united in humanity.

The true measure of a leader’s strength is how they rise to master that moment when it arrives.

Our prayers are with the thousands of families made homeless and destitute due to these floods. But prayers are not enough to help them make it through this hardship. We need to continue to help channel assistance in the months ahead. We need to continue to step up.