Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

The Five Power Defence Arrangements: Southeast Asia's Unknown Regional Security Organization

Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

The Five Power Defence Arrangements: Southeast Asia's Unknown Regional Security Organization

Article excerpt


It is not often that the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA), a little known military consultation agreement between Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, and the United Kingdom, makes the news. However, in 2004 it did exactly that: at the conclusion of their second Informal Meeting in Singapore on 7 June the FPDA's five Defence Ministers issued a statement that not only "reaffirmed the relevance of the FPDA", but also "recognised the need for the FPDA to adapt to new challenges in the regional security environment, including threats from terrorism and a range of other non-conventional sources". (1) The main reason the announcement gained so much attention was that it followed a spat between Malaysia and the United States about suggestions that the latter was considering deploying, in partnership with Singapore, marines and special operations forces in high-speed vessels in the Malacca Strait to counter the threat of terrorism, (2) creating the impression that the two events were somehow related.

While the complexities and subtleties of contemporary Malaysia-U.S. relations have been closely examined, little substantive research has been conducted in the past decade on the role and evolution of the FPDA. Far more attention has been paid to the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), which has a role of sorts, the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), which is tasked with looking specifically at regional security issues, and to the role of the United States, which in "hard security" terms continues to be the major contributor to regional security. When the FPDA is mentioned it tends to be characterized as a relic of history. This article is offered as an attempt to redress the balance.

There is an understandable tendency, especially within the Asia Pacific region, to treat those organizations that feel the need to "reaffirm" their own relevance with some suspicion. Yet, while it is true that where there is smoke there is usually fire, this paper argues that the 7 June 2004 statement marks yet another milestone in the evolution of the FPDA, which started its life in 1971 as a transitional arrangement to provide security for Malaysia and Singapore "for a few years as they developed their own defence capabilities" (Crowe 2001, p. 3). Just as importantly insofar as the nay-sayers are concerned, rhetorical flourishes by the FPDA's Defence Ministers have been accompanied by concrete, although not always newsworthy, actions. Against this backdrop, the article attempts to highlight the FPDA's success in responding concretely to changes in the regional security environment and the shifting defence and security priorities of its members, albeit within the context of its admittedly limited aspirations. In the process it argues that the FPDA complements and in some ways exceeds the security contribution of other, established, multinational organizations in the region.

A Brief History of the FPDA

The FPDA is the product of two interrelated forces: the process of rapid decolonization in Southeast Asia that started at the end of the Second World War; and the corresponding geopolitical climate and security conditions that prevailed in the region at the time. Key events insofar as the formation of the FPDA are concerned were: independence from the Netherlands and the formation of the Republic of Indonesia in December 1949; and the commencement of lengthy negotiations leading to independence from the United Kingdom, and the formation of the Federation of Malaya. One consequence of the formation of these two, new, nations and nationalisms was the occurrence of tensions between them.

Under President Sukarno, Indonesia pursued what was termed as an "active foreign policy". Among other things, Sukarno was opposed to Malaysian Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman's idea of a new enlarged federation called Malaysia, comprising Singapore, the oil-rich sultanate of Brunei, British North Borneo (now Sabah) and Sarawak. …

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