Asean: Changed security environment

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NEW thinking about defense and security environment during the last few years pervades countries around the world. This was brought about by, to mention a few, the emergence of a terrorist quasi-state in the Middle East;  home-grown terrorist attacks prompting governments to be on extreme alert; mass immigration to Europe; the proliferation of advanced defense technologies; internal displacement of people due to armed conflicts; the phenomenon of environmental refugees including climate migrants as a consequence of natural disasters;  popularity of cyber warfare, which gave way to various levels of internal uncertainty and a new  perception about security concerns.

In  the Asean region, tension prevails as rivals jostle over territories in the West Philippine Sea which has enormous geo-strategic and economic significance. This climate of conflict has security implications which forced governments to  re-think their long-term defense strategies. In fact, some analysts opined that defense planning is increasingly being shaped by climate and resource considerations too. Take note that majority of  the Asean countries are vulnerable to extreme climate disturbances due to global warming and disaster relief had come to be accepted as the military’s secondary role.

The changed defense and security environment in the Asean countries has led to ‘procurement drives’to ensure stability. Singapore highlights its island defense capabilities centered on automation and mobility enhancements. The Singapore Armed Forces recently acquired protected mobility vehicles which enhances ballistic protection for troops and incorporates a host of safety measures. Earlier, the country significantly boosted its sea power by commissioning six new frigates.

The Philippines, as part of its long awaited military modernization  program, recently received new aircrafts including jet fighters and helicopters  from South Korea. Medium lift transport and surveillance aircrafts were also acquired from Spain while heavy landing craft vessels will be acquired from Australia. Meanwhile, as Vietnam’s economy improves tremendously, reforms to further professionalize the Vietnam People’s Army are under way. Its procurements include, among others, fighter aircrafts, submarines, coastal radar system, maritime patrol helicopters and fast patrol vessels for the Vietnam Coast Guard.


Brunei Darrusalam’s off-shore patrol vessels from Germany considerably enhanced its naval operational capabilities. To improve training, its Navy is building a center of excellence for seamanship warfare, weapons handling, firefighting and damage control, communications and engineering training.

Indonesia, on the other hand, identified its need for a complementary submarine fleet that can fill in the gaps of their new ocean-going submarines. Note that Indonesia maintains a submarine base in Sulawesi Island.

Malaysia, which established its own Malaysian Maritime

Enforcement Agency in 2005, took delivery of its first Scorpene submarines in 2009 while Thailand, the first to possess Southeast Asia’s aircraft carrier has been exploring submarine procurement.

The rapid expansion of Myanmar’s Navy backed up by an ambitious program of indigenous shipbuilding is well noted in the region. Myanmar’s military or Tatmadaw, however, was drawn into its largest and costliest military campaign against insurgents in the Kokang region of northeaster Shan State. The Kokang campaign marked the first time the Tatmadaw  undertook combined arms operations involving mechanized infantry, artillery, armor and air power under combat conditions.

Those acquisitions of military hardware were made prior to Washington’s announcement of a US $250 million plan to bolster naval capabilities of the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and Japan and before Singapore agreed to the first deployment in the city state of a US P8Poseidon  spy plane, the most advance surveillance aircraft of the US, and long before the arrival in Subic Bay of USS Tucson, a high endurance submarine with advanced stealth capabilities.

A rising China turning closer to Russia with US as Pacific hegemon are obviously contributory to the changed defense and security environment in the countries of Southeast Asia.

Be that as it may, the most pressing priority for Asean countries in the changed  security environment is to improve their intelligence-gathering capabilities. Procurement of munitions alone would not suffice to meet the countries’  security needs. There ought to have improvement in the region’s intelligence sharing and coordinating capabilities. More than any other time, the new era of  “intel-centric” warfare using innovative information, communications and computer technologies demands the ability to assess, analyze and decisively act in an emerging situation of critical importance. In short, military equipment and weapons  advantage should be backed by an effective intelligence capability.

Ambassador Amado Tolentino served as a member of the Experts Group on Environmental Law of the World Commission on Environment and Development. He lectures at San Beda Alabang School of Law.

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