Wednesday, 02 December 2020
Up-to-the-minute perspectives on defence, security and peace
issues from and for policy makers and opinion leaders.

     |      View our Twitter page at     |     

This week, Prime Minister David Cameron heads to Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and Singapore to secure trade deals with those countries. Besides this economic mission, he is also expected to talk to the leaders and ministers in those countries about combating the militant group Daesh. He is also expected to talk to them about improving airline security.[1] This extremist group, in it's quest to seize territory, has already ignored nation-state boundaries between Syria and Iraq. There is an extremely high likelihood Daesh or its affiliates may conduct similar activities across Southeast Asia boundaries, believes Jiesheng Li. How exactly can the Southeast Asian nations benefit from UK expertise and does this change anything in UK-Asia Pacific relations?

The improvement in airline security is of course essential as it boosts security and confidence in aviation transport. This threat of terrorist attacks via Man-portable Air Defence (MANPADS) missiles has been real even before the rise this new Islamic militant groupócountries were scared that Al Qaeda would launch such attacks after 9/11. Former CIA Director General Petraeus has mentioned the likelihood of a MANPADs attack.[2] Just recently, the RAF Regiment (and possibly the Joint Ground Based Air Defence team) has been training African and Gulf States in airline security. [3] Malaysia itself may not have weak security at its airports, but it may benefit from British expertise, including improvement in airline control and detection, especially after the MH 370 incident.

The issue of counter-terrorism in Southeast Asia is another matter. The UK will naturally wish to prevent Deash or like-minded groups from becoming prominent in the Southeast Asia or wider Pacific region. However, the countries in the region have been dealing with terrorism for decades with Malaysia facing threats from Moro terrorists in East Malaysia and Indonesia facing radicalised terrorists at home. [4] The UK might help in training special operations military and police forces, but it's not as if these countries have not trained up their own special forces.

On the wider security front, Cameron's talks with Malaysian and Indonesian officials may only amount to just talks. The UK has recently committed to the NATO 2% target and pledged to growth its defence budget modestly. Previously it had sent HMS Daring on a Pacific-wide defence engagement tour. The UK continues to be engaged with the Five Power Defence Arrangement (FPDA) where Malaysia is a member. Former Foreign Secretary William Hague has also stated that the UK has increased its diplomatic posts in the region.

Despite all these moves, the UK is unlikely to increase its physical defence presence even with the Daesh threat. The Southeast Asian region is still too physically distant for the UK and it's marginally increase in defence might not mean a US-style pivot to that region. There is a possibility the trip might result in Malaysia leasing the Eurofighter Typhoon, though that is highly unlikely.[5] At the most, the UK might and should continue to engage with FPDA nations, focusing on counter-terrorist exercises.

David Cameron might want to learn about maintaining cohesive multi-cultural societies during his trip. Malaysia may be an example. Although predominantly Muslim, other racial groups such as the Chinese and Indians have live harmoniously with their Muslim counterparts for decades. Even if Malaysia might not be the best example, the island nation of Singapore might be. Singapore also is made up of various ethnic groups which have again lived peacefully with each other. Southeast Asian multiculturalism might help Cameron's anti-extremism policy. Yet Southeast Asian states have not exactly been known for their human rights record and a copycat policy might not be viable back in the UK.

Security through development might be part of Cameron's trade and security mission. According to DFID's Development tracker, DFID is engaged with around 38 international development projects in Indonesia. It is usually said that developing societies would help reduce the formation of extremist militants or their recruitment, and a handful of DFID projects there deal with improving governance and civil society. In the wider region, the UK is also aiding countries with humanitarian and disaster relief (HADR). The British Army's 77th Brigade (formerly Security Assistance Group) has conducted a HADR exercise in the Philippines, helping to improve Filippino government services. Security through non-traditional means might be one issue to combat the extremist militant threat.

David Cameron will cover four Southeast Asian countries and most definitely gain his trade agreements. He however might not have much to contribute to the fight against Daesh in the region. At the most, he can make some pledges, yet not radically alter the security outlook in the region.

Jiesheng Li has an M Phil in Development Studies from the University of Cambridge. He contributes this article in a personal capacity.







We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you continue without changing your settings, we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies on the Defence Viewpoints website. However, if you would like to, you can modify your browser so that it notifies you when cookies are sent to it or you can refuse cookies altogether. You can also delete cookies that have already been set. You may wish to visit which contains comprehensive information on how to do this on a wide variety of desktop browsers. Please note that you will lose some features and functionality on this website if you choose to disable cookies. For example, you may not be able to link into our Twitter feed, which gives up to the minute perspectives on defence and security matters.