Asia / Diplomacy / Millitary · May 17, 2021

Turning tragedies into technological alliances

May 17, 2021

The Jakarta Post
(c) 2021 The Jakarta Post
Phar Kim Beng and Osman Erdogdu , Kuala Lumpur/Istanbul

In light of the tragic sinking of an Indonesian submarine last month, in which all 53 submariners all, and the “disappearance” of MH370 in 2014, Indonesian and Malaysian security and defense are in need of further modernization to suit the context of the pan Indo-Pacific Age.

Tragedies must be transformed into new opportunities. Turkey, after all, has immense depth with aerial drones, radar systems and even unmanned submarine surveillance. Countries like Tunisia, Ukraine, Morocco, Azerbaijan and Serbia either have already purchased them or are on the list to buy them.

Singapore could participate in this defense upgrade, too, as by 2000, it had developed the capacity to have a radar system that can detect the intrusion of any objects from some 20 minutes away before they enter its airspace.

The time is right for Turkey, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore (TIMS). It makes more sense as of the four, three are physically close together.

That said, why should one work with Turkey? Undoubtedly, Turkey’s aerial drone technology, which Turkey used widely in Syria and Libya, has improved by leaps and bounds.

It was one of the most critical factors, if not the most critical one, that invariably helped to prevent the Azerbaijan-Armenia post-Cold War rivalry over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh from flaring up and widening into a major catastrophe in the summer of 2020.

Due to the difficult and mountainous terrain, both Armenia and Azerbaijan could start the armed conflict but not end it in a quick and decisive manner.

Not wanting to see a military stalemate that could further distract Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the strongman of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), and his nationalist coalition partner, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), from being distracted from the serious economic and COVID-19 problem in Turkey, Ankara decided to assist Azerbaijan.

Although Azerbaijan has a predominantly Shia population, Turkey and Azerbaijan come from the same ethnic origins and have decades of good relations.

There were fears that the large mobilization of Turkish troops to help Azerbaijan could inadvertently trigger the latter to ask for Russian military assistance. This prospect could send more Russian troops to the Armenian side, thus escalating the conflict. This led Turkey to the next best option. How?

Turkey deployed its highly advanced aerial drone technology, and military expertise accumulated in Libya and Syria over the last few years to back Azerbaijan forces. The goal was a quick entry and exit strategy once the strategic aims were achieved.

True enough, the strategy worked: the Armenia forces were quickly beaten back and 80 percent of Nagorno-Karabakh was reclaimed by the Azerbaijanis — the biggest ever territorial advances since 1994, when the disintegration of the Soviet Union a few years prior had suddenly left the two newly independent republics in a state of war.

The sophisticated nature of the Turkish aerial drones was two-fold. First, it does not have a callously large radius (LR) of each bombardment. Two, by limiting LR, any significant collateral damage on military properties and lives were kept an absolute minimum.

Turkey may want to help Azerbaijan, but it did not want to destroy its relationship with Armenia either. Turkey’s grand strategy is a zone of peace that can enlarge organically. While Turkey has a variety of unmanned aerial drones, ranging from reconnaissance drones to high and low altitude armed drones, without a doubt, it was due to the precise pin-pick nature of Turkish missiles that were carried out by the drones. Even damages to the Armenian civilians were minimal.

After all, Turkey has been an active participant in the peace process of Armenia and Azerbaijan since the conflict of Nagorno-Karabakh resumed in 1992.

Late president Turgut Ozal even tried to help both sides to avoid any conflict by proposing a land swap between the minority people that had dominated parts of both republics.

To enhance the economic activities of the contiguous areas, the next proposal was the Black Sea Economic Cooperation.

The aim was simple: Any country that is geographically near Turkey can focus their full energy on economic cooperation rather than irredentism and territorial expansion.

Analogously, this is the same as what Malaysia and Indonesia once did after the rise of president Soeharto in Indonesia in 1965.

At the end of the confrontation between Malaysia and Indonesia, the leaders of both sides signed a confidential pact to work closely together on a whole gamut of issues. By 1965, Singapore had achieved its peaceful independence from Malaysia under the guidance of the founding fathers, then-prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, foreign minister S. Rajaratnam, finance minister and later defense minister Goh Keng Swee, and former deputy prime minister Toh Chin Chye — four of them were trusted by their neighbors to be the key decision makers.

As things were, relationships began to improve when all three renounced any stealthy collaborations.

To Singapore, transparency was important. Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur do predominantly share the same cultural and religious values. Open diplomacy made for escalating trust and cooperation.

If anything, any pact to rekindle the kinship and ancestral commonalities of Indonesia and Malaysia, on sheer perception, would purvey an unfortunate impression to corner Singapore.

Indeed, when ASEAN was formed on Aug. 8, 1967, the founding fathers agreed not to resort to the use of force as an instrument of their foreign policy, as stated in the Treaty of Amity, Cooperation and Friendship (TAC) in 1976. This became the modus vivendi of ASEAN.

Turkey’s strategic collaboration should start with the founding members of ASEAN, as they are clustered together.

At the top of the priorities should be sectoral collaboration with Turkish drones that have proven their wide spectrum of abilities.

Although there has been a moratorium on Dialogue Partnership since 1999, it goes without saying that Turkey does want to be a part of ASEAN. It makes perfect sense for Turkey, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore to work together now.


Phar Kim Beng and Osman Erdogdu are respectively the founder CEO and Chief knowledge officer of Strategic Pan Indo-Pacific Arena