UPDATE (3pm, 31/10/2016): Since this article was launched at 8am today, it’s been viewed by 60,000 Malaysians, some of which have questioned the one-sidedness of the opinions of our key commenter, Yin Shao Loong, who is admittedly known for more liberal views. At CILISOS, we endeavour to provide two sides to every story so if anyone here knows someone credible who is willing to comment on the other side of the NSOF, please email our editor at [email protected] and we will try to update our article ASAP 🙂
In the meantime, one of our readers posted up this link to the Malaysian Patriot talking about our article. We’ve replaced the speculative conclusion of the Praetorian Guard with his point of view. Do read his article for an alternative view.
Before you start hashtagging the police in the comments, please read on first.
In case ugaiz may have forgotten, the National Security Council (NSC) Act has been in effect since August 1st. If you haven’t heard of the NSC yet, the two sen intro is that it gives the Prime Minister the power to declare a what’s essentially a mini-Darurat in any part of the country – something that only the Agong can do. If you’re unfamiliar with the NSC, you should definitely give our previous article on it a read – it’s pretty scary.
ANYWAYS, since then, news on the NSC has been relatively quiet till a couple days ago when PM Najib officiated the National Special Operations Force (NSOF) – a military team under the direct command of the NSC.
With all the concerns over the NSC, the Committee’s official website has published a whole list of replies to the many concerns and criticisms of the act, which you can read here. But why is this second army thing such a big deal? Well, we spoke to Political Analyst Yin Shao Loong and he tells us there’s a reason why a military force is never under the direct command of an elected leader; but before we get into that, let’s first learn a little more about the NSOF…
They will be the first to show up in the Security Area – and they will be fully armed!
PM Najib calls the NSOF a “first-responder” team, meaning that in any situation where the NSC declares a Security Zone, they will be the first people who’ll swoop in to control situation and take down any threats BEFORE the police and/or the military arrives. The team currently consists of 17 officers and 170 personnel from the Malaysian Armed Forces, PDRM, and the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency.
We don’t exactly know what kinda equipment they have, but based on the video of a drill during the NSOF launch, they are equipped with full tactical combat gear (including a variety of guns), riot shields, helicopters, and 4WD vehicles. It seems that the only threat that these guys aren’t prepared for is bad copywriting:
It should be 'Speed and Accuracy' or 'Fast and Accurate'. But not this. https://t.co/XcZLmlWpNf
— Khairy Jamaluddin (@Khairykj) October 27, 2016
If you’re wondering where the funding for the NSOF is coming from, the short answer is that we don’t know. There’s very little information other than PM Najib’s speech at the launch, and we couldn’t find any allocations mentioned in the 2017 Budget. Shao Loong thinks funding could be coming from the Prime Minister’s Department or the Total Security System outlined by the National Blue Ocean Strategy (Part of the 11th Malaysia Plan). PM Najib mentions this as well:
“NSOF’s establishment is based on the principle of the national blue ocean strategy where we will share our assets, abilities and forces, under a single chain of command. – PM Najib, as quoted by The Sun Daily.
So what big threat is the country facing that we need such measures? Well…
The NSOF was put together to combat threats that… have yet to be decided.
Here’s the quote from PM Najib himself when asked what kind of threat would require the deployment of the NSOF:
“The threat will be decided. If something happens, the National Security Council will make a report to the Inspector-General of Police and the army chief.” – PM Najib, as quoted by Channel News Asia.
To be fair, comments were made during his speech about terrorism as well, and the threat of ISIS, but it was a strange response to a direct question from ChannelNewsAsia.
And the reason we used that particular title for this article is because of PM Najib’s following sentence, since the Prime Minister is the head of the NSC:
“Then they will refer to the prime minister for directions on deploying them.” – PM Najib, as quoted by Channel News Asia.
But “second army” isn’t the right word. Shao Loong says the right term to describe the NSOF is “militarized police” and here’s the difference – the function of the police is to handle domestic (internal) security while the military handles external threats. Shao Loong further explains this for us:
“The composition of the NSOF shares the same problems as the NSC – It involves the military in domestic affairs. The military is supposed to be a tool for defence or war between states. Internal security is the job of the police. Domestic terrorism therefore is a police issue. This is how the Malayan Emergency was run, with the police in the front line...” – Shao Loong, in Whatsapp interview with CILISOS.
And if you still think this is making a mountain out of a molehill, guess which country is currently dealing with issues of police militarization now? Here’s a clue – #BlackLivesMatter.
Yep, one of the reasons attributed for the rise in violent actions taken by the police towards civilians in the US is the blurring of the line between law enforcement and military, since…
- Cops are outfitted with military grade equipment,
- Cops are given the right to take over private property without permission,
- Cops are trained to use harsh military enforcement tactics against “homegrown Jihadis”
all of which inevitably get used in civilian protests. Again, we’re talking about the US here, but doesn’t it all sound familiar?
If you are finding this worrying, better whip out the anti-anxiety medication because…
The NSOF isn’t the only domestic security force that’s getting militarized!
In Malaysia, the Commander-in-Chief of our armed forces is the Agong. This is in line with other democratic countries in which the military is NEVER under the command of an elected leader. In the UK, the military is led by the Queen, and even though the President of the United States is the Commander-in-Chief of the American armed forces, his (or her) decisions can be vetoed by the US Supreme Court. Usually though, even if a Prime Minister or President is the Commander-in-Chief of the army, they have to get the permission of the parliament or senate to go to war.
The justification for NSOF comes from the fact that it cuts through a lot of bureaucracy to allow troops to be immediately dispatched in an emergency situation, as explained by local defense news portal Rentaka:
“The main mission of the establishment of the NSOF is to prevent overlapping jurisdiction between the Armed Forces, Police and Security Agencies. This is because of the jurisdiction based on the core business of the respective agency; but with the establishment of the NSOF the army, navy, and/or air force will be able to respond to any emergency situation without the need for the government to give a “Posse Comitatus” first.Take a look at Lahad Datu for the best example, [in a time of need for] self defense, the military are unable to intervene in the situation according to the international law. Even the US has the same red tape that prevents military commando units like the Delta Forces to be involved in a terrorist situation inside the US Soil without the President allowing the Posse Comitatus Act; and this is also practiced in Malaysia.” – Rentaka, as quoted from Cilisos FB comments.
To clarify, “Posse Comitatus” is kinda like a militia in which the authorities have the ability to recruit ordinary citizens into a militia for defense purposes or, in more modern usage, the ability to involve the military in domestic affairs. The Posse Comitatus Act is a US law that forbids authorities from using the military in domestic situations.
However, this brings about the prickly situation of checks and balances in terms of accountability for what a military might do. In fact, There are several countries in which a leader has full and direct command over the military, and there’s a name for these kinds of governments… but HEY! Let’s go back to talking about the US!
There is an argument that the current structure of the US Government was nothing like what their Founding Fathers envisioned when they came up with the Constitution. The military was supposed to have been run by the people, for the people. But after September 11, the increasing centralization of power onto one person in the name of national security has raised concern that the US is beginning to bear the marks of a Dictatorship.
Back in Malaysia, the NSOF actually the third militarized force formed in recent years that exists as under a different command from the Agong. The other two are usually the guys you’d usually call to help you direct traffic or remove snakes from your house :-
RELA (People’s Volunteer Corps) – The Malaysian Volunteer Force Act in 2012 gave them official powers to take on civilian peacekeeping duties in times of Emergency which is okay, since that was why RELA was formed in the first place, BUT it also gave them military ranks, uniform, and training; which is not okay because RELA is under the Home Ministry and not the Agong.
JPAM (Civil Defense Department) – This one has over 1 million volunteers nationwide, and is usually involved in rescue efforts. HOWEVER, it was moved from the Home Ministry to the Prime Minister’s Department in 2015 and given firearms training and two naval ships. Not sampan ah, but ships from the Malaysian Navy. Also, it was recently renamed as APM (Malaysian Civil Defence Force).
But does Malaysia really need such measures to jaga our security?
So in case you were really not keeping up with the news, a lot of these measures (along with POTA, SOSMA, etc) were taken due to fears of rising Islamic radicalism in Malaysia (aka “Terrorism”). We made a lot of comparisons to the US because it’s very hard to argue against the fact that the United States is pretty much the target of choice for terrorist groups:
“The US has an imperialist foreign policy which leads it into foreign intervention and direct conflict with the local resistance in a number of countries. The political nature of this conflict makes it a target for terrorist tactics because terrorism is traditionally favoured by groups resisting colonial interference.” – Shao Loong
However, Malaysia’s situation is actually quite different (warning – long explanation incoming):
“Malaysia has a completely different foreign policy situation. We have a long history of small numbers of Malaysians engaging in foreign struggles in places such as Afghanistan and Palestine. … We have tended to export trouble rather than import it, [which may lead to] a situation of ‘blowback’ that can come back to haunt us. Radicalized Malaysians who persue political violence overseas pose a risk to all Malaysians if they bring their politics back, like Muhammad Wanndy Jedi guy apparently sending his agents to commit acts of terror.
Malaysia is acting like it is facing the terror threat that the US faces. Our situation is different because we are not invading other countries. We need tackle the local contexts that promote political violence. To some extent, that is happening through limited deradicalization programs, but there appears to be more radicalization efforts going on. The armed response of the NSOF is actually directed at a very late stage of the problem, when people have already committed to the politics of violence. Prevention is better than (lethal) cure.” – Shao Loong
In other words, all these measures are being introduced to fight the symptoms of the problem while ignoring the political and social root causes of the problem, like kindergartens enacting war games with young children using toy guns and the Palestenian flag. There are also theories that the threat of terrorism in Malaysia has been overplayed, to create the need for more measures like the NSC and the NSOF.
But what’s the worst that can happen? At least we’re prepared!
During the NSOF launch, PM Najib proudly stated:
“I understand this is the first time something like this has been formed. The only force in the world … we are the only government in the world who has created a force like this.” – PM Najib, as quoted by Channel News Asia.
And there’s a reason why that is, which you may have already picked up in an earlier point. But checks and balances aside, the vagueness of what the NSOF actually does, coupled with the vague wording of the NSC Act itself puts a lot of power in the hands of one person, and despite assurances that there are “no intentions other than to protect the people,” we haven’t had a good track record of using these laws for their intended purpose since, despite assurance that SOSMA will not be used for political reasons, it was still used against an ex-UMNO leader and his lawyer who lodged police reports against PM Najib.
So again, the same question comes back full-circle – should we be more supportive of such steps taken to protect our national/individual security at the possible expense of our Constitutional rights and freedoms (not to mention breaking the traditional chain of command of the Agong and the military?
In the time since this article was published, The Malaysian Patriot offered a counter-argument which we quote in part:
“As the line between police work and military duties blurred, there would be times when immediate and decisive actions will be required. Ideally, His Majesty’s consent should be sought to activate the military. But the delay may result in loss of territories and lives.This has always been taken advantage off by militant and terrorist groups. By targeting their actions on the civilian government, they tried to legitimise their actions as in support of the Regent.Every day, there are new threats emerging … So if you choose to ignore these threats, be ready to face the consequences.” – Quoted from The Malaysian Patriot.
As mentioned in the Editor’s comments at the beginning of this article, we always strive to provide neutrality; or at the very least to present both sides of the story. We’ve since reached out to the following people:
- Captain Panirchellvum (Decorated war veteran during the communist insurgency) – Pending reply
- Wan Saiful Wan Jan (IDEAS) – Pending reply
- Major Zaidi (Former Air Force pilot) – Pending reply
- Jomo Kwame (Institute of Strategic and International Studies Malaysia) – Pending reply
- Oh Ei Sun (PM Najib’s former political press secretary) – Pending reply
- Dzirhan Mahadzir (Defense journalist) – Declined