I considered titling my talk today: "Malaysia-U.S.
Defense Cooperation: The Untold Story." The reason is that for many
years U.S. and Malaysian forces have cooperated on a wide range of
missions with virtually no fanfare or public acknowledgement. And
in spite of its success, our bilateral defense relationship seems
to be an all too well-kept secret.
very much appreciate the chance The Heritage Foundation and the
Center for Strategic and International Studies have provided for me
to reveal this well-kept secret. I would particularly like to thank
Dr. Ed Feulner of Heritage, not only for his kind introduction, but
also for his ongoing contributions to enhancing Malaysia-U.S.
understanding. I'd like to thank Dr. John Hamre as well, both for
the hospitality CSIS is providing today and for his leadership on
defense issues. Dr. Hamre may be among the few to whom our
bilateral defense cooperation is not in fact a secret.
Before I begin, I'd like to touch briefly
on our bilateral relationship as a whole--as a kind of preview to
Prime Minister Mahathir's official visit to Washington in two
Certainly, I am aware that a visit by a
head of state to Washington, D.C., is not a rare occurrence,
especially these days. So why is this particular visit
Historically, Malaysia has been a steady,
reliable friend of the United States. Our multitude of common
interests include trade and investment on a sizeable scale and
security cooperation across a range of fronts. An equally important
point is the common values our two countries share, including a
commitment to democracy, religious tolerance, and equality for all
our diverse citizens. In times like these--in a time of war--it is
these values that bind nations together.
I would point out that there is still another factor that makes our
relationship important. Malaysia--though a small country halfway
around the globe--occupies a somewhat unique position. We are an
Islamic country. We are stable. We are prosperous. And our Prime
Minister, Dr. Mahathir, has gained a certain status and sway, not
only in the Southeast Asian region, but throughout the Islamic
An Unsung Story
would like to elaborate on this subject later, but--to alleviate
any suspense--I will first address the unsung story of our defense
the recent hit film Black Hawk Down. The scene was Somalia, 1993.
And although Hollywood saw it differently--I guess you could say
Malaysia's role was left on the cutting room floor--the fact is
this: More than 100 Malaysian peacekeeping forces engaged in that
fierce fighting to try to rescue the trapped U.S. Army Rangers.
Fighting together with the U.S. Rangers, one of our troops made the
ultimate sacrifice, along with the 18 U.S. soldiers who died.
Fortunately, our troops do not serve to
become stars in Hollywood.
were indeed gratified, however, when we were honored by the
Pentagon for our contributions. And then, in New York this past
March, a total of 23 Malaysian peacekeepers were awarded the Dag
Hammarskjöld Medal, which is presented by the United Nations
to peacekeepers killed in the line of duty.
fact, since 1960, Malaysia has participated in more than 20 United
Nations missions, from East Timor to Kosovo. For Malaysia,
peacekeeping operations are an integral part of our foreign policy.
Like the United States, we believe that nations--even small
ones--have the responsibility to contribute when and wherever
possible to a stable world order.
A Special Relationship with the U.S.
Malaysian forces regularly conduct joint
training with United States counterparts, and the United States
routinely enjoys access to Malaysian airfields and ports. Also,
Malaysia provides one of the few bases outside the United States
for U.S. military jungle-warfare training. U.S. troops are warmly
welcomed in Malaysia and enjoy training there. In particular:
- There have been more than 75 U.S. military
ship visits in the past two and a half years.
- The United States conducts training
exercises with the Royal Malaysian Air Force, flying with and
against them in mock battles.
- U.S. Navy SEALs conduct training in
Malaysia twice a year.
- The U.S. Army does field exercises with
the Malaysian army. I might mention here that, for their expertise
in jungle warfare, Malaysians are known in the business as
- Finally, 1,500 Malaysian defense personnel
have benefited from the U.S.-sponsored IMET (international military
education and training) program.
you can see, cooperation between our two nations started long
before September 11, 2001. But the horrific events of that day
galvanized our relationship as never before. Prime Minster Mahathir
has been vocal in condemning the attacks, and we have been happy to
provide an elevated level of cooperation with the United States on
the range of fronts. For example:
- The United States averages more than 1,000
overflights per year. Since September 11, this number has increased
dramatically, and all requests have been approved.
- The United States has excellent access to
- Malaysia occupies a strategic location
along the Strait of Malacca and southern South China Sea, and
devotes considerable resources to maintaining safe and free
shipping lanes for commercial and military vessels. Since September
11, Malaysian forces have been protecting U.S. ships in the
- Malaysia has a considerable number of
troops and military assets on our islands to thwart the threat of
Abu Sayyaf terrorists in the Southern Philippines.
- In addition, Malaysia is actively
identifying assets of terrorists and teaching Indonesia and other
ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries how to
A Regional Leader in the War on
Beyond our bilateral cooperation with the
United States, Malaysia has been at the forefront of prosecuting
terrorists within our region. The capture in December of Philippine
terrorists in Malaysia and the subsequent arrests of
al-Qaeda-linked terrorists cells in Malaysia and Singapore have
underscored the need for regional coordination, which we are
62 terrorists and militias with global and regional links have been
arrested under our Internal Security Act, and more are currently
being hunted down.
Malaysia's approach in fighting terrorists
and militants is worth mentioning here. In addition to pursuing a
military/security solution, we believe that we must win over the
hearts and minds of our people by ensuring higher standards of
living, eliminating poverty, providing quality education and health
services, and creating more jobs. In essence, we must create hope,
not despair; a more promising future is the antithesis of a
breeding ground for future militants.
the same time, of course, the proper interpretation of Islam by our
people is imperative; that Islam is a religion of peace and
tolerance, and is against violence and senseless killing.
well, we should mention the leadership among Islamic countries of
our own Prime Minister, Dr. Mahathir.
you think of Dr. Mahathir, it would be interesting to take a quick
survey to see what adjectives come to mind. I would think the
responses might include "outspoken," "man of conviction," "tells it
like it is." A recent news story referred to him as "habitually
straight-talking," and I think that is a fair description.
Basically, Dr. Mahathir speaks his mind.
the years, some in the United States have misinterpreted some of
this straight talk. Let me be clear: Strong friendships can
withstand strong words. Malaysia and the United States have been
close for decades. Our multi-faceted relationship will have its
high and low points, but the core values our nations share
as I said, the Prime Minister speaks his mind, but he also speaks
from the heart. He is a man of principles, and he is consistent in
example, in his widely publicized speech at the World Economic
Forum in New York this past February, the Prime Minister explained
that Islam is a peaceful religion that has been radicalized--or
hijacked--by a few for political or personal gain. He explained
that in Malaysia, where the government recognizes Islam as the
primary religion, non-Muslims are free to practice their own
religions, not only because this is permitted by Islam, but because
religious tolerance is an essential component of modern
even more recent example of the character of Prime Minister
Mahathir occurred last month in Kuala Lumpur. Malaysia was hosting
representatives from nearly 57 OIC (Organization of the Islamic
Conference) countries to try to build a consensus for tracking down
terrorism. Part of the objective was to take a step to try to
delink Islam and terrorism. We want to make it clear that true
Islam does not stand for violence and terror. Our own country is
testament to this. We also tried to arrive at a definition of
conference convened just at the time that the Middle East situation
started to go from bad to worse. And Dr. Mahathir opened the
session with an eloquent and courageous speech that suggested that
all attacks targeting civilians--whether by September 11 hijackers,
Israeli troops, or Palestinian suicide bombers--should be regarded
as acts of terrorism.
Suffice it to say that this view was not a
majority opinion among the OIC members. But that was, and remains,
Dr. Mahathir's position, and as a result, the communiqué
that emerged was relatively balanced. And that was a classic
example of the posture we've seen, and will continue to see, as
Prime Minster Mahathir seeks to exert a moderating influence on
even the most inflammatory of issues.
sure the Prime Minister will talk more about our common battle to
eliminate terrorism during his upcoming visit here to Washington.
You might not like to agree with some of the things he says. But if
you listen to him and hear all of what he is saying--not just a
sound bite from last month or a headline next week, but the full
scope of his arguments formed over the course of many years'
experience--I think Americans will find a bit of common ground.
conclusion, the world has changed much since September 11. What is
it that Malaysia can offer the world, including the United States,
in this new strategic landscape?
- Malaysia is resolute and steadfast in
fighting all forms of terrorism in Malaysia and is committed in
supporting the global war against terrorism.
- Malaysia is a model of an Islamic nation
that is moderate, progressive, and tolerant; constant with
modernity; and more importantly, a model that has succeeded in a
multi-racial, religious, and cultural setting. Muslims, Christians,
Buddhists, Hindus, and Animists live harmoniously together,
enjoying the fruits of prosperity and stability. I hope more
Americans will experience for themselves this remarkable success
- Malaysia is playing a key leadership role
in Southeast Asia to promote peace and stability, as exemplified by
our role in supporting the peace process in the southern
Philippines and ensuring the territorial integrity of
- Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir, as the
longest serving leader of the region, and increasingly regarded as
a world statesman and Muslim leader, is a credible voice of reason,
moderation, pragmatism, and progress, which makes him a key world
figure in our quest to eliminate terror and to achieve a more
prosperous and peaceful world.
let me close by saying once again, thank you all for giving me the
chance to get some of the good news about the U.S.-Malaysia
relationship on the record. We are looking forward to the Prime
Minister's visit on May 13-15 to continue to enhance both personal
and governmental relations with the United States of America.
The Honorable Najib bin
Tun Abdul Razak is the Minister of Defense of Malaysia.