Saturday 31 December 2011

The Morality Of Defence Spending

with thanks toMajor (Rtd) D.Swami

The Morality Of Defence Spending by Lt Col (Rtd) Tommy Pereira formerly of the Royal Malaysian Engineers Regiment
Friday, December 30, 2011
I have served a few years in the Malaysian Army but do not pretend to be knowledgeable in the subject of strategic studies,not that it really matters, as the nation obviously has many experts. I have also been a taxpayer since 1972 and still am, although according to Pemandu only about 1 million Malaysians pay tax. (This is another topic on which I have a huge grouse to air as well.)
This letter is thus written in my capacity as a taxpayer.

For the last five decades the Government has been spending on defense as if we have a bottomless pile of money. As a taxpayer I am questioning the rationale behind this unbridled spending.

I am certain that for each item of expenditure there would have been numerous papers written to justify each such expenditure. I am also certain that most, if not all, of these papers are top secret,as ordinary laymen like me are not qualified nor intelligent enough to contribute, discuss, understand or possess the security clearance to have access to them. But if I had been clever enough to sneak into the country, secure a citizenship and with the aid of godfathers end up in the corridors of power I would off course have access to them. In fact if I claimed to be an expert even if I were a non-citizen but with the right connections, I would be paid handsomely to provide my views.

The first question I would like answered is; who decides whether money should go into providing shelter, basic necessities and quality education or be spent on expensive items for defense? Can anyone with a conscience deprive our citizens of their basic necessities on the pretext of building up our defense? Can all the money in the world guarantee that we will protect our nation from all threats?

We just need to look at what is happening around us to realize that at the end of the day no level of military sophistication will guarantee us a safe nation. Recent events should serve as a clarion call to remind us that it is the unity of our citizens which will ensure a safe nation within which every citizen will be allowed to prosper.

We can own any number of submarines, modern fighter aircraft and modern tanks but if a true aggressor wishes to do so all of them could be taken out within a short time. At the end of the day it will be the collective will of a united nation which will turn the tide. Iraq, with all the money it had spent on defense and with a wide array of weapons and armaments in its arsenal capitulated within weeks in the nineties and again in 2003.

Libya did not have a regime change because of a foreign invasion. In spite of all the reports we hear of a tax free, heavily subsidized nation it imploded because of the dissatisfaction of its citizens. NATO air power was only effective because a large number of Libyan citizens were prepared to fight on land. Wikipedia states that the small Libyan Navy had 8 Foxtrot Submarines from the Soviet Union in 1982. It also had a number of Frigates and Corvettes. During the February 19th Movement, Libyan Navy vessels were initially used by the Gaddafi regime to bombard rebel(Libyan) locations especially around Tripoli.On a single night in May 2011 NATO took out 8 of the Libyan Navy vessels thus incapacitating the Navy.

The developments in other Arab nations, including the once mighty Egypt, should be lessons for defense and strategic planners of all nations. We should also be wary of Armed Forces, within in a corrupt system, who will not flinch when asked to turn their weapons on their own people, like in many Middle East nations.

For centuries we have learnt that no matter how powerful an arsenal a nation has, if there is a capable aggressor it will be defeated and subjugated. This lesson has been passed down to us from events stretching back thousands of years. For recent history we only need to look as far as Germany, Italy, and Japan in the last Century and Iraq in this Century.

No amount of money spent on the wrong items of defense is a guarantee of any peace. In fact the more a nation spends erroneously on defense the more it is encouraging it’s perceived adversaries to spend on armaments as well. However, if a nation diverts its funds from defense spending to providing basic amenities to its people, ensuring good infrastructure, good education, good health care and provide jobs, the less likely its citizens will allow its nation to be attacked by outside forces. It will also be less likely to implode.

We still have hundreds of thousand if not millions needing a roof over their heads. They are unable to eke out a living due to lack of access and opportunities. They are unable to have a decent meal. Never mind education, water, electricity, mobility and the other items which many take for granted.

We seem to be in a rush to declare our townships “Cities”, our sites “Heritage”, our states “Developed” or “Historical” and our nation developed, by 2020. But does anyone, especially those in Parliament, truly care about the plight of an alarmingly large number of our citizens.

If we were to take into account the billions we have had at our disposal since independence is there any excuse for a single Malaysian not to have a roof over his head. We have had the same government in power for over five decades so we cannot, like the British, Americans, Australians and New Zealanders blame disruptions resulting from the true exercise of democracy, for this pitiful fact.
What I would like to know is who ultimately decides whether a Ringgit should be spent on providing basic necessities for our citizens or spent on the latest aircraft, naval vessel or tank.

Who decides that a Malaysian citizen should continue to be deprived of water, electricity, foodand education so that we can build up our defenses. Who decides that we should build high end “villages” for our EXCOs while metres away our people are crammed into slums.

Who decides that our people should be allowed to continue to be deprived of basic medical care while they themselves fly out to the best hospitals in the world? Who decides that we should not provide classrooms for our children while they send their children to Oxford and Cambridge and the like?

Who decides we need mega structures while school children and ladies have to negotiate creaky make shift bridges over raging waters just to get to school or the market? Who plays God to the extent that a fellow human being is to continue to be condemned to “Hell on Earth” while they conjure up enemies and decide that our money should be spent on defense.

While there are many areas of unjustified spending, especially in our nation, I would classify spending on mega defense projects such as submarines, the latest fighter aircraft and heavy armaments as the most mortal of sins. It does not have a multiplier effect apart from that on the bank balances of the advisers, agents, the suppliers and many others along the hierarchy . A Ringgit spent is a Ringgit down the drain or sea or river.

As an analogy, we can provide a decent house of 750square feet for RM 40,000. This includes water supply and solar panels for electricity. A Billion Ringgit could thus provide decent houses for 25,000 families. Nine Billion Ringgit could therefore provide houses for 225,000 families. Even RM 500 Million, which is the figure claimed to have been paid as commission for a single deal could have been used to build 12,500 houses or 50,000 people assuming an average of four to a household. Instead there are those who justify such expenditure by flippant statements such as “Willing buyer willing seller”.

As it is impossible, for me at least, to obtain actual figures let us assume that currently we have 2 million (based on 8% of our population) people who need 500,000 houses. If we take the earlier figure of RM 40,000 as the cost of one complete house we would need RM 20 Billion. Haven’t we spent many times that amount on various adventures over the last five decades. Can we, in all honesty, look at those in need of a home in the eye and say to them “sorry we cannot afford to allocate money to provide houses for you”. It is akin to condemning a person to prison. In fact it would be better to commit a crime and end up in prison as you are guaranteed shelter and food if not the other amenities. The innocent homeless do not have even shelter and food, so who is better off.

It is not too late for us to conduct honest evaluations of our situation and our actual priorities. We do need an Armed Force. That Armed Force should be built up within our means. We should focus on quality with high ideals. We should ensure that all of them are truly patriotic and not there just to earn a living or collect medals.

Why do we need to engage in an arms race? Who are we competing with. Nations with a siege mentality can be excused for high defense spending. The top eight military spenders in terms of ratio of GDP are in the Middle East. And yet when their nations imploded there was nothing they could do. In Libya for example while NATO air bombardments destroyed large sections of Libya, more real damage to the property of the citizens resulted from the weapons of the Libyan Armed Forces.

In terms of global defense spending as a ratio of GDP, There are only two nations from Europe in the top ten, Macedonia(6%) and Greece (4%). It is interesting to note that once powerful Japan, restricted to spending less than 1%, but because of its large GDP still has a credible defense capabilitiy. Likewise Germany.

The Philippines with a GDP which is 25% of ours, with almost 100 million people living in thousands of islands, ongoing insurgencies in the North and South to contend with and embroiled in the overlapping claims issue over the Spratly Islands, only spend less than 1% of their GDP, do not have any armaments to speak of, never mind fighters or submarines, and yet have not been invaded by any foreign forces.

We should take a lesson from Europe. That continent had been at war for the last two thousand years right up to the Second World War. Then it was the Soviet Era. However in the 1950s some European nations, including Germany and France, started cooperating economically. Then Europe witnessed the crumbling of Communism and the expansion of nations wishing to cooperate and ensure the stability of their continent. Their resources were diverted towards economic growth. For the first time in their history Europe is at peace.

Greece while a member of the EU continued to spend up to 4% of their GDP on defense as they had their problems with Turkey, and is now in ruins, not solely because of defense spending, it must be admitted.

The best form of defense is projecting a vision of a nation which is solidly united and with no territorial ambitions. It should make it clear in no uncertain terms that invaders will be met with the full force of the anger of its citizens even if it does not have cutting edge defense equipment. It only took weeks for the Allies to invade and throw out regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq but years later they are still struggling to project some semblance of success in their endeavours. They are pulling out of Iraq with their tails between their legs no matter what the American spin doctors and Obama spew out.

You can destroy the best armaments in the world but you can never destroy the will of a true patriot. History has countless examples to prove this yet with the glitter of quick riches we justify our military spending with numerous justifications most of which are kept secret.
It is quite simple to paint a gloomy picture to justify an Arms Race. At one time it was communism, then the Domino theory. We have spent Billions. Can we truly say that it was all necessary? The reality is that even if a nation were to fall, most of the decision makers would be the first to take flight while the poor subjugated, deprived masses would have to contend with the reality of continuing to eke out a living.

We should focus on building up an Armed Force which is truly capable of defending the nation to the last man even if it means resorting to insurgency tactics. We cannot afford to have an Armed Force which crumbles when it is deprived of its modern armaments, which is a very strong possibility in all conflicts.

We should look at equipping them with modern but basic weapons, educating them correctly, housing them properly and utilising them in nation building activities all the time. In peace there is no challenge greater than keeping an Armed Forces motivated. There are military personnel highly trained in all fields which a nation sorely needs, such as medicine, engineering, infrastructure building and even education, but languishing in their barracks. Some even resort to crime.

They can be utilized to go into the interiors and build up nucleus of secure communities wherein all basic amenities including education and healthcare will be provided.
A nucleus team can comprise:

a. A Section From the Engineer Regiment(For construction)
b. Two Electrical and Mechanical Corps Personnel
c. Two Medical Corps staff
d. Two Education Corps personnel
e. A platoon of Infantry

This team, with the right equipment and pre-prepared materials, should be able to complete a settlement comprising 25 houses including sanitation, a classroom a medical room, a community centre and a trading centre, all with water supply and solar powered electricity, within one month. The locals will also be trained to participate in the construction and soon will be able to continue with minimal supervision.

Most of the citizens in the rural areas are usually experts in tilling the land. All that needs to be done is to encourage them to produce for the market, in addition to producing for their community thus developing nucleus farming communities, adapting to some form of modern agriculture methods.

The team can remain for six to 12 months and then be pulled out. While undertaking their construction tasks for the community, they will continue to abide by military rules and procedures including training.

They will also be tasked to train the locals in basic community leadership and security duties. In fact this had been an active part of the Armed Forces activities in the past under “Hearts and Minds” “JiwaMurni” and other similar programmes. Why it has not been exploited to the fullest is a mystery.

We can also use retired and serving Armed Forces Personnel to assist in character development, sporting activities and outdoor activities in schools thus, in the long run, eliminating the need for national service training. This will also free teachers to concentrate on academic activities.

This nation is regularly subjected to floods. We are also well aware of the flood prone areas. Yet year after year we see women and children being evacuated and made to sit and sleep on floors. By now we should have built proper hostels in the affected areas to house these people. Over the last five decades we could have built sufficient houses for all if not most of those living in flood prone areas so that many need not be evacuated unless it is a once in a 100 years type of floods.

The urban poor continue to live in crowded slums and are fast developing into major threats to society. Crime rates have increased.
We have large tracts of land. We are far from self sufficient in agriculture, poultry and meat. We can build up our production capacity by following similar approaches to the Felda schemes. This should be made available to the urban poor and will go a long way rather than RM 500 handouts.

There are many other similar areas where funds spent on non-priority items of defense can be utilized to cater for the basic needs of our nation.

It is time we conducted an honest appraisal and focus on the welfare of our people first.It is time we become accountable for each sen spent.

27th December 2011

posted by Major (Rtd) D.Swami @ 10:13 PM  


  1. I don't think zaid hamidi would understand the message written even if he happens to read it...........?and do you think anybody in the umno government care?

  2. It is tragic to see fellow humans without basic necessities while others bask in luxury without sweating. Each of us has only one lifetime, how much longer one has to wait before all of us can live comfortably? Instead of keeping up with Joneses, those who have should look and see if they can help those have-nots.

    When I travel within West Malaysia, I cannot help noticing the abundant idle lands which could be better utilized. I cannot understand why some people cannot choose to live in the country side where the properties and rentals are much cheaper and schools more conducive to children's education. For those who find it difficult living in the cities, they should consider rural. At least there is a choice. The government should build more low-cost houses sans the profiteering on its abundant land bank all over the country, together with good transport services. Something so basic yet unaccomplished after more than 50 years.

  3. Shuk.. not only Zahid Hamidi even many of the generals don't understand the message written and you bet why!
    Mediocre a plenty!

  4. Before any nations spends on defence the Minister must visit Benta, Batu Bali, rurals areas of Pekan and the unfederated Malay states.

  5. Saudi has just bought $29 billion in arms from Uncle Sam. Last year, it bought $60 billion worth. Can these "weapon systems" be used against low-tech terrorists? Is there enough skilled manpower? Are the weapons free of control by Uncle Sam?

    This stupendous expenditure, supposedly to deal with unidentified enemies, explains the game in general. The capitalist centres pay for resources when they must. Appointed or annointed satraps then obediently return the money by way of useless purchses or projects, or interest on misued loans.