[Letter to the Editor] PBK’s Peli Aron ‘unrealistic’ about Sarawak’s security challenges

Letter to the editor. —DayakDaily.com file pic. // Photo by Free-Photos from Pixabay

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Letter to the Editor

By Dr Shun Deng Fam

Peli Aron is unrealistic about security challenges

Parti Bumi Kenyalang (PBK) deputy president Peli Aron recently made comments about Sarawak’s hypothetical national security should it become a sovereign nation. Unfortunately, these comments are stunningly naïve and lack little sense of what Singapore’s first Prime Minister, the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, would call ‘realism’.

First of all, he picked Brunei and Singapore as examples of states able to defend their wealth, despite being small, independent states. Brunei’s only terrestrial neighbour is Malaysia. The next nearest conventional security threats can only come from the sea and no neighbouring nation has ANY ability to project their forces. Throughout the history of the Bruneian sultanate, every time a foreign force has managed to project itself onto Borneo, Brunei has lost territory. The formation of Sarawak was one of those times. Singapore on the hand, is a small nation but with the highest military participation rate of all South-east Asian Nations due to its National Service policy. Its wealth enables it to maintain one of the most technologically advanced militaries in the world, with reserve equipment and forces based elsewhere. It has made no secret of its ability to execute a “forward defence” doctrine, the ability to strike first while its larger neighbours are still trying to build a force. This is called deterrence and requires highly-trained and technologically advanced (and hence expensive) armed forces to achieve.

Next he claims that Malaysia would not be able to defend itself in a conventional war today, and that the Sarawak Rangers and foreign powers defended Malaya during the communist insurgency. It is clear that Malaysia lacks air superiority and this needs to be addressed. Nevertheless, the navy and army are not decrepit forces and retain significant fighting ability. Even though Peli brings up the problem with the Scorpene-class submarines, this is completely irrelevant today because the boats are completely operational. Peli also makes the mistake of exaggerating the role of the Sarawak Rangers during the communist insurgency in Malaya, because the unit ceased to exist after the formation of Malaysia in 1963, while the insurgency began in 1968.

Thirdly, Peli assumes that Sarawak can become a country and does not need armed forces because the United Nations Security council can send forces to “prevent” an attack, using another mistaken example, the first Gulf War in this case. The biggest mistake that Peli makes in this assumption is that the United Nations did nothing to prevent the attack on Kuwait. In fact, Kuwait was invaded by Iraq and completely occupied, and its king exiled in Saudi Arabia. The United Nations first imposed sanctions, and WAITED, while Kuwait was still occupied and its government still in exile, before deciding to use armed force. The next major mistake was that he thought that the Gulf War to liberate Kuwait was because of Kuwait. It was not. Operation Desert Shield was launched because President H.W. Bush was afraid that Iraq would turn and attack Saudi Arabia. The United Nations-led force was meant to prevent and energy crisis in the even that Saudi Arabia was attacked. Closer to home, I would also point out that when Indonesia wanted to annex a West Papuan state that was pushing for independence, the US abtained any vote on the issue, and the other Western leaders supported West Papua, but did not think it worth to commit troops. President Kennedy then wrote to the Dutch government to let Indonesia take Papua in return for Indonesian support against communism. West Papua was treated as a bargaining chip and then gifted to Indonesia.

As for the role of the United Nations, I will refer Peli to Article 1 of the United Nations Charter.

The fifth major conceptual error is that there not wanting war is why some countries have no ‘organised army’. Coming back to an earlier point, not wanting war is exactly why Singapore has such a powerful armed force disproportionate to its size. The list provided is also problematic. Some in the list do have military or paramilitary forces, such Monaco, Costa Rica, Iceland, Mauritius and Panama. Peli should take the time to understand the defence rearrangements of Costa Rica, Iceland and Monaco with immediate, militarily powerful protector nations. He should also look up the history of Panama to understand why they cannot have a “complete” army, as well as the struggles in Haiti, of having first abolished the armed forces and then struggling to reinstate them again, when the security forces provided by (surprise, surprise!) the UN engaged in culturally unacceptable and criminal conduct. In some other cases, he should look at geography, and the remoteness of some places like Mauritius and the Pacific Island examples.

The sixth major mistaken assumption is that Sarawak can put all its economic eggs in the oil and gas basket and provide free lunches for its citizens. This undermines the entire future of a hypothetically independent Sarawak. The previously bulletproof king of oil economies, Saudi Arabia, is now trying to impose taxes where there were none. The dwindling Bruneian production has also coincided with the Sultan’s imposition of the sharia law. Algeria is tottering towards another round of unrest because the fluctuating prices of hydrocarbon (which accounts for 95 per cent of the country’s export income) meant that oil and gas revenues have been falling short. Oil and gas is a sunset industry, and not something to bet the kitchen sink on.

All-in-all, Peli Aron, as a senior leader of a political party and who was one of the leaders of Bersih 4.0 in Sarawak, has displayed an alarming lack of informed opinions, with some of his comments in the article bordering on Trumpism in that the comments were made with no solid factual or historical evidence. The independence of a nation is not something to be taken lightly but I am afraid Peli Aron has shown himself to be an ill-informed and short-sighted political leader.

Dr Shun Deng Fam is an academic at the Research School of Humanities and the Arts at the Australian National University. He did his PhD research on Sarawak as a Prime Minister’s Australia Asia Scholar (awarded by the Australian government). He remains a keen Sarawak observer, and has projects ongoing or about to commence there.

This is the personal opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the views of DayakDaily.

— DayakDaily