Defence Cooperation with Malaysia
India has been working on its ‘Look East Policy’ since 1992 and as part of such a policy it has been enhancing its defence ties with the ASEAN members. Malaysia is seen as a key member of the ASEAN and a very significant enabler and contributor to the reg
India has been working on its ‘Look East Policy’ since 1992 and as part of such a policy it has been enhancing its defence ties with the ASEAN members
GEOSTRATEGIC LOCATION OF MALAYSIA and the emerging security environment in Asia in general and South East Asia in particular makes it imperative for both New Delhi and Kuala Lumpur to strengthen their mutually beneficial defence and security ties. Malaysia is a littoral state of the Malacca Strait that links the Indian and Pacific Oceans and more narrowly the Bay of Bengal to South China Sea. The strategic significance of Malacca Strait for passage of ships both civil and military is also well known. Malaysia’s security dilemmas are further complicated by separation of Malaya peninsula and its territories of Sabah and Sarawak by South China Sea which requires it to pay particular attention to security of air and sea lines of communication. Further, Malaysia has a growing economy with large volumes of trade both with India and China besides many other nations which adds to its strategic significance. Therefore, cooperative defence and security relationships are an inescapable need for Malaysia.
Similarly, India’s defence relationship with Malaysia is motivated by securing its growth and development through promoting a peaceful and stable environment in the region in particular and at the global level in general. India has been working on its ‘Look East Policy’ since 1992 and as part of such a policy it has been enhancing its defence ties with the ASEAN members. Malaysia is seen as a key member of the ASEAN and a very significant enabler and contributor to the regional security. Indo-Malaysian defence and security cooperation is, thus, a subset of a larger regional effort.
Looking back, Indian and Malaysian defence forces have a shared heritage as both nations’ armed forces have evolved from British military. During the British colonial era Madras native Infantry troops served in Singapore, Malacca and Penang in the 19th century. British Indian Army consisting of Indian troops and formations also contested the Japanese offensive in Malaya and Singapore in World War II. Some of the officers of federation of Malay states were trained in the Indian Military Academy, Dehradun. A number of such officers have risen to very high positions in the political, civil and military spheres. In 2007, Captain Tunku Ismail Ibrahim, the grandson of the Sultan of Johor state, led a unit of the Indian Army at the Republic Day in New Delhi in 2007.
British forces also practised their counterinsurgency concepts and precepts against the insurgency in Malaya; these concepts with some modifications were used by the Indian armed forces in the Northeast in the early stages of insurgency there.
In recent times the Indo-Malaysian defence relationship gained momentum after signing of a memorandum of understading (MoU) on Defence Cooperation between the two nations in 1993. Earlier, there were some constraints in nurturing the defence relationship due to Cold War equations. This MoU provides the basic framework based on which the relationship was to be progressed. Besides consultations on defence and security issues and supply of defence equipment the MoU provides for joint ventures, joint development projects, procurement, logistics, maintenance support, training and education. Engagement between staff of the services and officials at policy-making level, exchanges in strategic and security studies assessments and experiences, cooperation in areas of counter-terrorism, maritime security, disaster management and peacekeeping operations are an important part of the MoU. The overall objective was to promote regional and global security and work also with the multilateral regional frameworks in order to achieve such goals.
There is a mechanism of Malaysia-India Defence Cooperation Committee (MIDCOM) meeting which is jointly chaired by the two Defence Secretaries. The Committee meets once a year to review the progress in defence cooperation.The last MIDCOM meeting was held at New Delhi in June 2013. Dialogue between the three services of both the armed forces takes place on annual basis. The third Army-to-Army Staff talks were held at Kuala Lumpur in December 2012; the fifth Air-to-Air Staff talks at New Delhi in December 2012; and the fifth Navy-to-Navy talks were held at New Delhi in June 2013.
Malaysian officers regularly attend the Defence Services Staff College (DSSC) Course, the National Defence College (NDC) Course and several other specialised courses in India. Indian officers regularly attend the Malaysian Command and Staff Course as well as other specialised courses.
In recent years, there has been an increase in frequency of political and military leadership’s visits to each other’s countries in order to expand the nature of defence cooperation. For instance, last year in November General Tan Sri Dato Sri Rodzali Bin Daud, Chief of the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF), along with a high-powered delegation visited India to exchange and enhance cooperation with the Indian Air Force (IAF). The principal objective was to explore fresh areas of collaboration and strengthen relations between India and Malaysia, both the Air Forces are flying aircafts like Su-30MKI, MiG-29 and British aircraft Hawke. General Daud visited IAF’s Pune airbase to see the training facilities of Su30MKIs and Ozar base repair depot in Nasik which houses MiG-29 upgrade and overhaul facility as well as Su-30 manufacturing facility. Malaysian MiG-29 pilots were trained by the IAF in mid-1990s. In fact, Malaysian Air Force’s requirement of training their MiG pilots was instrumental in propelling it sign the MoU.
IAF team has also trained Malaysian pilots and technicians of Su-30. Malaysian Air Force had sought IAF’s help in training their pilots in weapon system operators and maintenance staff for Su-30MKI fighter aircraft. Earlier in January 2013 IAF Chief Air Chief Marshal N.A.K. Browne had visited Malaysia and the airbase at Kedak. India has also assisted RMAF in setting up a Systems School for the Su-30MKM at Gong Kedak Airbase.
In addition to the cooperation between two air forces the other important dimension of India’s defence diplomacy with Malaysia is cooperation in the naval and maritime domain. Last year in September the Indian Chief of Naval Staff visited Malaysia to strengthen the maritime and naval relationship with Kuala Lumpur.Indian Navy has been regularly taking part in the Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace Exhibition (LIMA) in Malaysia; Indian naval ships and Indian Coast Guard ships frequently make port calls at Malaysian ports. Similarly, Malaysian ships have also made port calls at the Indian ports. Malaysian naval ships also have regularly taken part in joint naval manoeuvres named as MILAN series of exercises. The most recent conduct of exercises was in February 2014 ships of where 16 countries along with Malaysian ships also participated. It was the biggest exercise since its beginning in 1995.
The objective of such exercise has been that maritime forces of these nations come closer professionally and culturally cementing friendship and building confidence in the areas of inter-operability. Countering piracy at the sea and coordinating their research and rescue operations and response to natural disasters were other goals of these manoeuvres. Further, Malaysia and India have agreed to cooperate in the deployment and maintenance of Scorpene submarines, which both countries have bought.
Not to be left behind the Indian Army has also been active in strengthening its ties with its counterpart in Malaysia. In addition to attending courses at each other’s training establishments Malaysian officers have also attended courses in UN peacekeeping operations being run in New Delhi. For the first time a bilateral army exercise Harimau Shakti based on conventional war in an urban setting, including counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency activities, was carried out in Kuala Lumpur in October 2012. The next army exercise is scheduled to be held in India this year. Malaysia and India also agreed to have an exchange programme for army trainers between the Army Training Centre and Counter Insurgency Warfare Centre and also to expand other existing training arrangements in the form of short courses.
As the security of Malacca Strait is of concern both to India and Malaysia New Delhi had expressed its desire to join the multilateral effort of Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore. However, the general principle is that primary responsibility of the security of Straits was that of the littoral straits. Indian Navy has been coordinating its patrolling activities on the avenues of entry to Malacca Strait with the Malaysian and Indonesian navies. Another initiative for multilateral efforts has been the Eyes in the Sky programme which is a maritime air surveillance operation over the Malacca Strait. This again has been limited to participation by the littoral states even though many countries like India and China were interested in making a contribution.
Nevertheless, India has been participating in the Cooperative Mechanism on the Strait of Malacca and Singapore (SOMS) and contributed to two of the six IMO Projects (Project 1 and Project 4) for enhancement of navigational safety and environmental protection in the Straits.
Both India and Malaysia are members of the ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting (ADDM) Plus forum where shared defence and security concerns are discussed and joint exercises are carried out especially in the areas of non-traditional security. The basic objective of creating this framework was to bring about cooperative security, especially in the areas of humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, maritime security, counter-terrorism and peacekeeping operations. ADMM-Plus has also proposed furthering of bilateral and multilateral dialogue and sharing of expertise among the military forces of member states. The arrangement also advanced proposals to counter particular threats and issues such as piracy and natural disaster through joint military exercises. Last year a joint exercise was held off the coast of Brunei to practise some of the above-mentioned objectives. Both Malaysian and Indian defence forces took part in the exercise.
Malaysian defence relationship with India needs to be seen in the overall context of what is happening in the Asia-Pacific region. While China is increasingly becoming assertive in its territorial claims and ASEAN nations are responding to China’s rise through cooperation with US and other regional powers Malaysia has been very pragmatic in its approach. Even though it has enhanced its defence ties with the US and western powers it continues to maintain a balanced relationship with China. It needs to be noted that Malaysia has annual trade figure of $106 billion with China which is more than that with India and is at third place in Asia with Japan and South Korea coming at first and second places respectively. Therefore, its opposition to China’s aggressive activities in South China Sea has been muted. But that does not mean that it does not consider China as a security challenge. India is considered as a benign power and somewhat of a balancer to China therefore strengthening of Malaysia-India defence relationship is seen as mutually beneficial to both countries.
In conclusion it can be said that while there is a tremendous scope for broadening and deepening the defence relationship with Malaysia there is a lack of integrated and coordinated response from India’s ministries of defence, external affairs and economic affairs. The absence of a unified response in forging a strategic relationship with Malaysia despite convergence of both countries’ interest is also possibly due to lack of an articulated national security strategy on part of India. Even though there is a mechanism of regular strategic dialogue between India and Malaysia it has not been paid attention it deserves. Currently, there is a positive perception of India in Malaysia regarding its rising capabilities and as a possible benign balancer in the complex security dynamics in the Asia-Pacific region. India remains a preferred partner of ASEAN in all its endeavours and Malaysia endorses that view. Military-to-military cooperation with Malaysia is required to be further strengthened to achieve India’s strategic objectives of its ‘Look East Policy’.
Malaysian Defence Secretary General Dato Dr Haji Ismail Bin Haji Ahmed calling on the Defence Minister A.K. Antony in New Delhi on June 21, 2013