Asia Inc Dec 94
INTERVIEW: Najib tun Razak, Malaysian Defense Minister
The Defense Never Rests
Arms dealers began salivating when Malaysian Defense Minister Najib Tun Razak
announced last year that his country's acquisition of 18 Russian MiG-29 fighter
jets was only the beginning of a decade-long program to upgrade the country's
armed forces. Since then, Malaysia has purchased eight American FA-18s and
is now looking to buy an offshore patrol-vessel fleet.With its high economic
growth, Malaysia can afford to spend more on defense. And Najib, in his current
post, is uniquely positioned to have a lasting impact on the region. The
41 -year-old son of the late Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak is also a rising
star in Malaysian politics. During a recent visit to Singapore he talked
with Asia, Inc.'s Salil Tripathi about regional security issues and related
Our defense needs in the 1990s are different from in the past. Malaysia has
moved from countering domestic insurgency to planning to combat external
threats. I find the current debate about a regional arms race surprising.
Why is it that during the 1960s and 1970s we didn't hear about an arms race
in Sou theast Asia?
Malaysia is not spending that much on defense ($ 1.5 billion is budgeted
for 1994). We have a legitimate need to replace our aging equipment, most
of which is outdated. It is unwise to keep using it. Take combat aircraft.
They are necessary for security reasons, and we cannot fly aircraft that
are structurally unsound. Furthermore, it is uneconomical to use aging vehicles;
spare parts are hard to find. You must remember that Malaysia was the last
country in the region to acquire modern combat aircraft. Others had them
first, but we didn't make any noise about it.
There is no reason for alarm in the region. Are Asian countries buying weapons
of mass destruction? No. Are they buying weapons capable of strategic offensives?
No. The increased expenditure is defensive. That's what all of us are doing.
We should look at the direction of the increased expenditure, not just the
I have heard of the so-called Thai naval buildup. But Malaysia is not concerned.
Our countries have excellent bilateral and multilateral ties. We should not
look at the strength of each country in the region purely in military terms.
ASEAN is a shining example of regional cooperation. No member country is
likely to jeopardize that bond. That does not mean that the ASEAN Regional
Forum is a military alliance like the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
The forum had its first meeting in July, and it went well. We must give it
a chance to evolve without being overly optimistic or pessimistic. ASEAN
should move ahead with self-confidence and have multilateral talks on security
A start has been made in the Spratlys dispute, which has been referred to
as the next political flash point. But we have to change this Cold War mind-set.
We should look at the region as an opportunity. I know China has not forsaken
its territorial claims of sovereignty, but Beijing has become more pragmatic
and flexible. It has alluded to joint development -- a positive sign.
As for the U.S., it has an important role to play in the region. But not
in the Cold War way. Post-Subic Bay, there is no need for a permanent U.S.
military base. Rather, ASEAN countries need access to U.S. technology and
Perceptions of who is an enemy and who is a friend have changed since the
end of the Cold War. In the new climate there will be new opportunities --
in business, as well as in the sharing and transfer of technology.