Tri­lat­eral Co-op­er­a­tion by In­done­sia, Malaysia and the Philip­pines: Tem­per Ex­pec­ta­tions

Tri­lat­eral Co-op­er­a­tion by In­done­sia, Malaysia and the Philip­pines:

Global Asia - - CONTENTS CONTINUED - By Raymund Jose G. Quilop

these ef­forts fo­cused on counter-ter­ror­ism have yet to be fully op­er­a­tional­ized.

The steps to­ward tri­lat­eral co-op­er­a­tion in­volv­ing the Philip­pines, Malaysia and In­done­sia have been hailed by some as a way for­ward in com­bat­ing ter­ror­ism in the re­gion. But these ef­forts have yet to be fully op­er­a­tional­ized, and po­ten­tial ex­ter­nal part­ners would be wise to keep their ex­pec­ta­tions mod­est.

In ad­di­tion, writes Raymund

Jose G. Quilop, it is im­por­tant to re­call that the im­pe­tus for this co­op­er­a­tion came from a de­sire to bat­tle kid­nap­ping and piracy — not in­ter­na­tional extremism. the In­creas­ing tri­lat­eral co-op­er­a­tion among the Philip­pines, In­done­sia and Malaysia has sparked great in­ter­est. the launch of a tri­lat­eral mar­itime pa­trol in tarakan, In­done­sia, in June 2017 and the launch of joint air pa­trols in subang, Malaysia, in Oc­to­ber 2017 seem to hold great prom­ise. adding to the mo­men­tum are the in­au­gu­ra­tion of mil­i­tary co-or­di­na­tion cen­ters (MCCS), with two more slated for tawau, Malaysia, and Bongao, Philip­pines.

this co-op­er­a­tion is widely seen as a con­certed ef­fort by the three coun­tries to ad­dress vi­o­lent extremism and ter­ror­ism in the sub-re­gion, par­tic­u­larly given the bloody bat­tle be­tween Is­lamic ex­trem­ists and gov­ern­ment forces last year in Marawi City in the south­ern Philip­pines. Other coun­tries have been quick to ex­press sup­port and even in­ter­est in con­tribut­ing to the tri­lat­eral ef­forts. Con­tri­bu­tions, how­ever, must be seen in the light of the three coun­tries’ in­tent to op­er­a­tional­ize tri­lat­eral co-op­er­a­tion first be­fore al­low­ing oth­ers to jump in.

this co-op­er­a­tion also needs to be placed in its proper con­text in or­der to tem­per ex­pec­ta­tions. Mean­while, the three part­ners must demon­strate that de­spite chal­lenges and con­straints, the ini­tia­tive is mov­ing for­ward, lest it be­come more of a me­dia event than sub­stan­tive air and sea co-op­er­a­tion.

roots in fight­ing Kid­nap­ping

Con­trary to the widely held per­cep­tion that the tri­lat­eral co-op­er­a­tion was meant to pre­vent the spread of vi­o­lent extremism, par­tic­u­larly the move­ment of ex­trem­ists and ter­ror­ists across the three coun­tries’ por­ous bor­ders, tri­lat­eral co­op­er­a­tion has its roots in ad­dress­ing the threat of kid­nap­ping and piracy in the “tri-bor­der” area.

there are, how­ever, even reser­va­tions in the use of the term “tri-bor­der,” es­pe­cially from the Philip­pine side, be­cause the three neigh­bors have yet to fully de­lin­eate their re­spec­tive bor­ders in the area, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to even talk about com­mon bor­ders. the sulu sea is also of­ten used to re­fer to the area where tri­lat­eral co-op­er­a­tion is sup­posed to take place, but a more ac­cu­rate ge­o­graphic area would the Celebes sea. In­ter­est­ingly, given the cur­rent prac­ti­cal and po­lit­i­cal dif­fi­cul­ties in iden­ti­fy­ing shared bor­ders, the coun­tries’ de­fense and mil­i­tary plan­ners ar­rived at a mu­tu­ally ac­cept­able term: “mar­itime ar­eas of com­mon con­cern.”

Be­fore the Marawi trou­bles, the first few months of 2016 saw a spate of kid­nap­ping in­volv­ing 14 In­done­sian and four Malaysian sailors, with the abu sayyaf Group in the Philip­pines be­ing tagged as the per­pe­tra­tors.1 this prompted the for­eign min­is­ters and de­fense-force chiefs of the three coun­tries to is­sue a joint dec­la­ra­tion on mar­itime se­cu­rity.

Of course, the dec­la­ra­tion did not hap­pen overnight. the Joint Dec­la­ra­tion on Im­me­di­ate Mea­sures to ad­dress se­cu­rity Is­sues in the Mar­itime ar­eas of Com­mon Con­cern, re­leased on May 5, 2016, by In­done­sia, Malaysia and the Philip­pines, fol­lowed weeks of de­lib­er­a­tions. In fact, the ini­tial in­ten­tion was to agree on a me­moran­dum of un­der­stand­ing on the is­sues, but given dif­fer­ing le­gal sys­tems and the ur­gent need to act, it was deemed more prac­ti­cal to is­sue a joint dec­la­ra­tion first in or­der to sig­nal po­lit­i­cal in­tent and jump­start co-op­er­a­tion. Four mea­sures were ini­tially iden­ti­fied in the dec­la­ra­tion: “Con­duct­ing pa­trols; ren­der­ing im­me­di­ate as­sis­tance for peo­ple and ships in dis­tress; es­tab­lish­ing a na­tional fo­cal point; and a com­mu­ni­ca­tion hot­line.”

2 this dec­la­ra­tion, is­sued by the coun­tries’ three for­eign min­is­ters, was re­in­forced by their re­spec­tive de­fense min­is­ters when they met on the side­lines of the asean De­fense Min­is­ters Meet­ing in laos on May 26, 2016. the three agreed to in­struct their re­spec­tive de­fense forces to ex­pe­dite tri­lat­eral co-op­er­a­tion. It must be noted that the joint dec­la­ra­tion was is­sued by the for­eign min­is­ters and wit­nessed by their chiefs of armed forces but with­out their de­fense min­is­ters.

less than a month af­ter that first meet­ing, the de­fense min­is­ters met in Manila (June 20, 2016).3 Malaysian De­fense Min­is­ter hisham­mud­din hus­sein at the time told Philip­pine sec­re­tary of na­tional De­fense Voltaire Gazmin and In­done­sian Min­is­ter of De­fense Ryamizard Ry­acudu that hav­ing a tri­lat­eral meet­ing one month af­ter they last met in laos demon­strated their shared com­mit­ment to bring the co-op­er­a­tion to fruition.

It would seem that the com­mit­ment of the three de­fense min­is­ters in­deed pushed their mil­i­tary per­son­nel to ex­pe­dite the nec­es­sary agree­ments at the op­er­a­tional level. a frame­work of ar­range­ment among the three mil­i­tary forces was signed on July 14, 2016. the el­e­ments con­tained in the frame­work are the same as those found in the joint dec­la­ra­tion is­sued by the for­eign min­is­ters.

the three de­fense min­is­ters held their third tri­lat­eral meet­ing on the side­lines of the us­asean De­fense Di­a­logue in hawaii in septem­ber 2016, this time with new Philip­pine sec­re­tary of na­tional De­fense Delfin loren­zana at­tend­ing. stan­dard op­er­at­ing pro­ce­dures for mar­itime pa­trols, ren­der­ing as­sis­tance to na­tion­als in dis­tress and in­tel­li­gence shar­ing were sup­posed to be crafted un­der the frame­work ar­range­ment.

how­ever, only the in­for­ma­tion-shar­ing pro­to­col was ready by that time. the other pro­to­cols were still be­ing dis­cussed at the work­ing level. nonethe­less, the three min­is­ters agreed to start ex­plor­ing joint air pa­trols.4

In­done­sia hosted the fourth tri­lat­eral de­fense min­is­te­rial in Oc­to­ber 2016. at this time, their re­spec­tive mil­i­tary forces had al­ready iden­ti­fied a spe­cific ge­o­graphic area of co-op­er­a­tion, known as the tran­sit cor­ri­dor. In this meet­ing, the idea of con­duct­ing joint ex­er­cises and es­tab­lish­ing a joint mil­i­tary com­mand post were dis­cussed.5 Given the dif­fi­cul­ties of putting joint mil­i­tary com­mand posts in each coun­try’s ter­ri­tory, mil­i­tary co-or­di­na­tion cen­ters were in­stead launched in June 2017, along with the launch­ing of mar­itime pa­trols.

Chal­lenges ahead

While this tri­lat­eral frame­work of­fers good prospects for co-op­er­a­tion, sev­eral in­her­ent chal­lenges must be ad­dressed if it is to go be­yond pol­icy pro­nounce­ments into ac­tual im­ple­men­ta­tion.

Fore­most is the need to syn­er­gize ef­forts among var­i­ous gov­ern­ment agen­cies in each of the three coun­tries in­volved, such as for­eign af­fairs, de­fense and mil­i­tary, na­tional se­cu­rity agen­cies and po­lice forces. While these agen­cies are not pre­cluded from pur­su­ing tri­lat­eral co-op­er­a­tion with their re­spec­tive coun­ter­parts (i.e. among var­i­ous min­istries and po­lice forces), tri­lat­eral co­op­er­a­tion must be among the three na­tional gov­ern­ments, not just agen­cies. this would lead to a more co-or­di­nated ef­fort and avoid du­pli­ca­tion of ini­tia­tives. as an ex­am­ple of such du­pli­ca­tion, tri­lat­eral co-op­er­a­tion re­quires ac­tion plans and spe­cific items to be agreed upon by the for­eign min­istries — go­ing be­yond com­mon for­eign-pol­icy pro­nounce­ments. these ac­tion plans may be bet­ter left to the de­fense and mil­i­tary sec­tors to thrash out and de­fine spe­cific cour­ses of ac­tions to be agreed by their re­spec­tive de­fense min­istries. Cur­rently, the three coun­tries’ for­eign min­istries have crafted tri­lat­eral ac­tions, although some are spe­cific to other agen­cies and need in­puts from these agen­cies. In another ex­am­ple, of­fi­cials at de­fense min­istry level, be­yond craft­ing de­fense­level ac­tions, are also deeply in­volved in craft­ing mil­i­tary ac­tion plans.

In spec­i­fy­ing mil­i­tary ac­tion plans, the ex­act role to be played by po­lice and na­tional se­cu­rity agency of­fi­cials should like­wise be spelled out. One con­straint in curb­ing the ris­ing chal­lenge posed by vi­o­lent extremism is that each of the three coun­tries has dif­fer­ent agen­cies in the lead on this is­sue: for the Philip­pines, it is the na­tional po­lice, as ter­ror­ism is still con­sid­ered a law en­force­ment prob­lem, the case of Marawi be­ing an ex­cep­tion; for In­done­sia, it is both a po­lice and a mil­i­tary is­sue; for Malaysia, its na­tional se­cu­rity Coun­cil, which is directly un­der the Of­fice of the Prime Min­is­ter, takes the lead. Given these dif­fer­ences, much time has been spent to en­sure in­ter­a­gency col­lab­o­ra­tion at the tri­lat­eral level when in fact in­ter­a­gency co-or­di­na­tion should have been fleshed out at their re­spec­tive na­tional lev­els.

as it is of­ten said, the devil is in the de­tails, and work­ing out the de­tails of tri­lat­eral co-op­er­a­tion has taken much time, be­cause the so-called Joint Work­ing Group has had to con­vene sev­eral times. In­ter­est­ingly, the com­plete op­er­a­tional de­tails of tri­lat­eral co-op­er­a­tion re­main un­der dis­cus­sion even af­ter joint mar­itime and air pa­trols have been launched. In­ter­est­ingly too, the mil­i­tary co­or­di­na­tion cen­ters are not yet fully op­er­a­tional in each of the three coun­tries, not­with­stand­ing the sym­bolic launch­ing of these MCCS in mid-2017.

While the three coun­tries are fel­low asean mem­bers, what could not be ig­nored is the seem­ing com­pe­ti­tion among the three coun­tries, es­pe­cially in the con­text of var­i­ous bi­lat­eral is­sues

In­done­sia and Malaysia and be­tween the Philip­pines and Malaysia. at times, these is­sues play out even in what might be con­sid­ered the sim­ple mat­ter of the venue for a tri­lat­eral mar­itime pa­trol. Of course, when the con­tentious is­sue of ter­ri­tory is at stake, the seem­ingly sim­ple mat­ter of a venue for a launch­ing cer­e­mony be­comes com­pli­cated, given its pos­si­ble po­lit­i­cal im­pli­ca­tions. this prompted the trans­fer of venue for the launch­ing of the tri­lat­eral mar­itime pa­trol from subang, Malaysia, to tarakan, In­done­sia, caus­ing a fur­ther two-month de­lay from the ini­tially pro­posed april launch.

If the tri­lat­eral mar­itime pa­trol — in­clud­ing the co-or­di­na­tion cen­ters — were launched in June 2017 on a largely sym­bolic ba­sis, why did another sym­bolic un­der­tak­ing, the launch­ing of the tri­lat­eral air pa­trol, need to wait another four months be­fore it could be launched? Why not have the three as­pects of tri­lat­eral co-op­er­a­tion launched at the same time? Why should an air pa­trol be launched when the mar­itime pa­trol is not yet fully op­er­a­tional? Could it be pos­si­ble that since the launch­ing of the mar­itime pa­trol was held in In­done­sia, another com­po­nent had to be launched in Malaysia, which af­ter all was the orig­i­nal venue for launch­ing the tri­lat­eral mar­itime pa­trol?

It is also puz­zling that one of the three par­ties had to pro­pose at the last minute that merely a joint dec­la­ra­tion be re­leased, in­stead of the signed me­moran­dum of un­der­stand­ing pre­vi­ously en­vis­aged, only for this same party to pro­pose a frame­work of ar­range­ment con­tain­ing al­most the same el­e­ments as the Mou, which was is­sued in a meet­ing in its cap­i­tal but a few months later. the non-is­suance of an Mou and in its stead a joint dec­la­ra­tion and then the sub­se­quent craft­be­tween

The devil is in the de­tails, and work­ing out the de­tails of tri­lat­eral co-op­er­a­tion has taken much time, be­cause the so-called Joint Work­ing Group has had to con­vene sev­eral times. In­ter­est­ingly, the com­plete op­er­a­tional de­tails of tri­lat­eral co-op­er­a­tion re­main un­der dis­cus­sion even af­ter joint mar­itime and air pa­trols have been launched.

ing of a frame­work of ar­range­ment caused a few more months de­lay. the var­i­ous stan­dard op­er­at­ing pro­ce­dures were only ne­go­ti­ated af­ter the con­clu­sion of the frame­work of ar­range­ment.

Reser­va­tions be­tween any two of the three part­ners makes in­tel­li­gence- and in­for­ma­tion­shar­ing more a mat­ter of an in­ten­tion than re­al­ity. Of course, link­ing the var­i­ous mil­i­tary co-or­di­na­tion cen­ters and hav­ing seam­less and real-time in­for­ma­tion-shar­ing is dif­fi­cult for both po­lit­i­cal and tech­ni­cal rea­sons. Be­sides, link­ing the cen­ters pre­sup­poses the ex­is­tence of fully func­tional and in­ter­op­er­a­ble cen­ters, some­thing which may be more for the fu­ture than the present. Given the dif­fi­culty of tech­ni­cally link­ing these cen­ters cur­rently, the most that could be done is for each of the two other part­ners to de­tail li­ai­son of­fi­cers in the other part­ner’s cen­ter.

re­source Con­straints

Putting tri­lat­eral co-op­er­a­tion into ac­tual op­er­a­tion also could be con­strained by lim­i­ta­tions in the num­ber of avail­able mar­itime and air as­sets to be de­ployed for this pur­pose. this is an acute fac­tor in light of other press­ing con­cerns, such as in­ter­nal se­cu­rity op­er­a­tions in the Philip­pines. While it is a laud­able con­cept to have ships pass­ing through the so-called tran­sit cor­ri­dor send a dis­tress sig­nal when at­tacked by pi­rates or kid­nap­pers, thus trig­ger­ing a re­sponse from the naval ships of the three coun­tries, this pre­sup­poses that each of the three coun­tries have naval ships on standby near the tran­sit cor­ri­dor ready to re­spond on short no­tice. this is a lux­ury that not all three part­ners may en­joy. sim­i­larly, the in­tent of hav­ing reg­u­lar air pa­trols us­ing an air­craft of one of the part­ners with air­men from the two other part­ners aboard is laud­able but the op­er­a­tional re­al­ity may mean that “oc­ca­sional” is more plau­si­ble than “reg­u­lar.”

Fi­nally, amid the grow­ing in­ter­est by ex­ter­nal part­ners to con­trib­ute to this bud­ding tri­lat­eral co-op­er­a­tion, the part­ners in­tend to op­er­a­tional­ize their co-op­er­a­tive ef­forts first be­fore al­low­ing other part­ners to be in­volved. these ex­ter­nal part­ners must now work bi­lat­er­ally with each of the three coun­tries. While it could be as­sumed that this might even­tu­ally con­trib­ute to the tri­lat­eral way of do­ing things, it is de facto un­der­min­ing the tri­lat­eral frame­work. If tri­lat­eral co-op­er­a­tion were to be fully strength­ened, an ex­ter­nal part­ner should work with the three part­ners col­lec­tively and not in­di­vid­u­ally.

ex­pec­ta­tions about this tri­lat­eral co-op­er­a­tion, there­fore, should be tem­pered. the chal­lenges and con­straints out­lined above ought to be ad­dressed if tri­lat­eral co-op­er­a­tion is to be fully func­tional. and while this tri­lat­eral co-op­er­a­tion is now be­ing mar­keted as a way to curb the spread of vi­o­lent extremism in the three coun­tries, its orig­i­nal rai­son d’être — to ad­dress grow­ing kid­nap­ping and piracy within the so-called ar­eas of com­mon con­cern — should not be rel­e­gated to the side­lines. While it is im­per­a­tive for any mech­a­nism to evolve, the orig­i­nal and fore­most rea­son for its cre­ation should re­main the pri­mary ob­jec­tive. raymund jose g. quilop is an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal sci­ence at de la salle univer­sity, Manila, and was for­merly the as­sis­tant sec­re­tary for as­sess­ments and in­ter­na­tional af­fairs, depart­ment of Na­tional de­fense, philip­pines. the views ex­pressed are solely those of the au­thor.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Cambodia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.