Submarines in Southeast Asia: Proliferation, Not a Race

ASEAN countries are looking to bolster their submarine fleets, but this is not an arms race.

By Koh Swee Lean Collin

January 30, 2014

In early January this year, Vietnam formally joined the Southeast Asian “submarine club” with its first Russian-built Kilo-class submarine christened the Hanoi. Not too long ago, Jakarta expressed interest in acquiring the same model of submarines from Russia or more boats from South Korea, ostensibly to augment the incoming new fleet of three SS-209 boats purchased from South Korea back in August 2012. Just recently in November 2013, Singapore contracted German shipbuilder ThyssenKrupp to develop the Type-218SG, the first of two boats slated to enter service in 2020.


Image Credit: REUTERS/Edgar Su

Other Southeast Asian countries have evinced interest in acquiring an undersea warfighting capability, but were prevented from doing so largely because of budgetary constraints. In the case of Thailand, even though no submarines were bought after the German offer of second-hand Type-206A boats lapsed in March 2012, the Royal Thai Navy has reportedly constructed submarine basing support and training facilities in anticipation of future acquisitions. The Philippine Navy has been eyeing submarines but for now, decided to prioritize the use of limited funds to beef up surface and naval aviation forces, with anti-submarine warfare capabilities tipped as the next major focus to substitute for a submarine capability.

A “Submarine Race” in Southeast Asia?

This recent spate of submarine acquisitions being implemented or planned has characterized Southeast Asian naval modernization efforts to date, which could lead to observers highlighting the revival of a “submarine race” in the region after the bout of submarine purchases made in the 1990s to early-2000s. A superficial survey of open remarks by the region’s defense and naval planners seemed to allude to this. For example, Indonesian Defense Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro reportedly remarked that the submarine purchase, among other defense equipment, is designed to signal Jakarta’s commitment towards Indonesian defense modernization so that “we can keep up with ASEAN members.” Bangkok referred to the submarine programs of neighboring Southeast Asian navies when it emphasized the need for submarines as part of the country’s naval capabilities.

However, technical and geopolitical indications point to neither the existence of a “submarine race” nor the prospective emergence of such a phenomenon in the foreseeable future. Any negative effects of submarine proliferation in Southeast Asia appear to be at least counterbalanced by rising trends of regional cooperation in the submarine field.

Key Patterns in Submarine Capabilities

While there are evident efforts among regional submarine operators to look beyond a mere “fleet-in-being” force to create a more effective and sustainable force to guard their national waters, there are no indications of a rapid expansion of submarine forces. The Vietnamese submarine force will number six boats by 2016 while the Indonesians will muster three new submarines around the same time, whereas the existing pair of West German-built Type-209s will most likely be decommissioned. With the progressive phasing out of the ageing Challenger-class boats by then, Singapore will most likely have just two Archer-class submarines in service before the first Type-218SG is inducted. In short, the number of submarines in service throughout Southeast Asia will remain more or less stable within the next decade, with new boats supplanting old ones for existing submarine users while any expansion will take place over a significant span of time, primarily dependent on the countries’ economic health.

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The state of democracy in Southeast Asia

June 23rd, 2012  Author: Chayut Setboonsarng, CARI

The great philosophical question about the elements of a perfect democracy and their relation to capitalism remains unsettled, and is likely to remain thus.


Yet the recent history of Malaysia, Myanmar and Thailand calls for a more practical conversation about the nature and extent of democratic transformation in Southeast Asia.

The demand for democratic institutions is typically associated with the rise of an educated middle class, and the organisers of pro-democracy demonstrations in the streets of Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur certainly fit this demographic. But the evolution of democracy has not necessarily followed the same pattern across the whole of Southeast Asia. This is most notable in Myanmar where there is no middle class and the reformist president, Thein Sein, is acting on geopolitical and economic considerations.

The political processes in Thailand and Malaysia (and indeed in the rest of Southeast Asia) are centred on personalities rather than on ideologies. During elections, the average Thai voter does little to examine the policies put forth by the ruling Pheu Thai Party or the opposition Democrat Party. The left–right debate is non-existent because both parties’ public policies are informed by populism. Instead, voter interest is focused on who operates and supports the political parties. During the July 2011 elections, for instance, it was common knowledge that former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was fully supportive of his sister Yingluck Shinawatra’s taking the helm of the Pheu Thai Party. Yingluck’s familial affiliation also ensured the continued support of Thaksin’s base, whose welfare entitlements would be protected. Across the aisle, the Democrat Party’s known ties with the military and the old guard vouched for the party’s commitment to preserving the interests and status quo of these groups.

In Malaysia’s race-based politics, matters of austerity and taxation are also conspicuously absent from the public debate. The Bersih electoral reform activist movement, the United Malays National Organisation’s (UMNO) dwindling hold on power, and the emergence of a clear bipartisan balance, gives the looming general elections more weight. The quality that most distinguishes leader of the opposition Anwar Ibrahim from the incumbent is simply that he is not Prime Minister Najib Razak. Provisions outlined in Buku Jingga, the opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat’s master plan, are not radically different from the government’s Economic Transformation Programme.

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US State Dpt: Global Counterterrorism Forum in Istanbul

United States criminal justice system flowchart.

Friday, 8 June 2012, 12:13 pm
Press Release: US State Department

Background Briefing: Senior State Department Official on Global Counterterrorism Forum in Istanbul

Special Briefing  Senior Department Official

Istanbul, Turkey

June 7, 2012

MODERATOR: We are in Istanbul for the Global Counterterrorism Forum. We have with us [Senior State Department Official], hereafter Senior State Department Official, to walk you through the events for tomorrow. Take it away, [Senior State Department Official].

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Okay. I’m sure you’re all exhausted, so I’ll try to be brief. A little background first on the Global Counterterrorism Forum and a little bit about tomorrow. I think you’ve seen the fact sheets.

It’s important to remember that Secretary Clinton came into office with a strong conviction that we needed a more comprehensive counterterrorism policy and that there was an important diplomatic role to be played. She believed strongly that it was not just a question of taking out the terrorists who were threatening us at any given moment, but that over the long term, we also needed to diminish recruitment, which the terrorists of course rely upon, and help others to do a better job defending themselves against the threats within their borders and in their regions.

You’ve heard her speak at great length about smart power. She – we very much consider this to be a smart power approach. We could call it strategic counterterrorism. And its core elements involve countering violent extremism, undermining the ideology of al-Qaida and other extremist groups, and capacity building. Those are really the two pillars.

And to advance that agenda, she led the effort to create the Global Counterterrorism Forum, a multilateral informal body that is established to focus on those two areas and to really concentrate on strengthening civilian institutions in frontline states around the world. The GCTF was established last September in New York. The United States co-chairs this group with Turkey. She and Foreign Minister Davutoglu presided over the launch, and there are 30 members of the GCTF – 29 countries and the EU.

The GCTF sought from the outset to bridge old and deep divides in the international community between Western donor nations and Muslim majority nations. And it has, I think, done that quite effectively. You have, I know, the lists of the members, so I won’t go through all those. I also wanted – I also sought to bring in the other great powers – China, India, Russia – as well as geographic representation from all continents. So that sort of explains the composition.

At the outset, the group sort of exceeded expectations from the beginning with the announcement of two important deliverables: One was roughly $90 million to support rule of law programming in primarily transition states – those of the Arab Awakening – and there was a great deal of support for that —

QUESTION: In the forum, or United —

MODERATOR: Ninety million —

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Ninety million from donors within the Forum —


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: — to that end. And also the United Arab Emirates stepped forward and announced its intention to create the first Global Center of Excellence for Countering Violent Extremism.

To bring you up to date, that project is going forward and we expect that the center, with support from the United States and many other GCTF countries, will open its doors in October. And the rule of law work has also gone forward in very important ways —

QUESTION: What is the Center of Excellence? Is that like a hall of fame or something?

MODERATOR: Guys, why don’t we let him finish, and then we’ll go to questions. Go ahead, please.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The Center of Excellence just – since it does deserve some elaboration – is going to be focused on training, research, and dialogue. And it is going to be a center that provides best practices to a whole array of different kinds of groups, government officials, so that they can help make the policies that will result in a diminution of radicalization. It will also deal with NGOs, communities, religious leaders, and the like.

So the – just to come back for one second to the organization of the GCTF, it consists of a coordinating committee, and that is the sort of superstructure, and beneath that there are five working groups, two functional ones. Countering Violent Extremism is one, and that is co-chaired by the UAE and the UK. Another one is the Rule of Law and Criminal Justice. We co-chair that with the Egyptians. There are also three regional working groups: one in the Sahel, one in the Horn of Africa, one in Southeast Asia. The —

QUESTION: Southeast Asia, you said? Sorry.


Tomorrow we will have the first plenary at the ministerial level since the group was created last September. In the interim, all the working groups have help meetings, some of them multiple meetings. The key initiatives that will be rolled out are as follows. There will be a set of good practices in the criminal justice sector. The document is called the Rabat Memorandum on Good Practices for Effective Counterterrorism Practice in the Criminal Justice Sector. And that is essentially a blueprint for further programs in this area so that countries will have – I’m sorry, let me back up – so that there will be essentially an agreed-upon plan that members of the GCTF will work off of as they provide assistance to different countries so that they can improve the quality of their police, their investigators, their prosecutors, their judiciary, and even their legislators so that they can write better laws for dealing with terrorism.

So the Rabat Memorandum is one blueprint for that. Another blueprint that’s going to be rolled out is called the Rome Memorandum. This has to do with practices for prisons for rehabilitating violent extremists, for essentially disengaging them from groups that they may be involved with and radical ideologies that they may be attracted to. This too is going to be a blueprint for technical assistance. We have worked closely with the UN on this one, and a number of countries will be supporting the work in this area. And we’ve already been getting requests for technical assistance. As many of you know, prisons have become really one of the primary incubators of terrorists, and this is an effort to roll that back.

A number of countries will announce a range of deliverables, support for these different programs as well as some programs of their own that they will be rolling out. There will be an update on the progress in terms of opening the center in the UAE. And finally, there will be the announcement of the intention to establish an international training center dedicated to carrying out the kinds of trainings that I talked about in the Rabat – with the Rabat Memorandum. There’s going to be an actual center of excellence, if you will, another institution focused on delivering those trainings for criminal justice institutions and other rule of law institutions. That – the location of that will be announced shortly, but I’m not prepared to say where it’s going to be just yet. Continue reading

Is China Trying to Split ASEAN?

By Trefor Moss May 30, 2012


Defense leaders from around Southeast Asia are meeting in Phnom Penh this week for the 6th ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM). The theme of the get together – “Enhancing ASEAN Unity for a Harmonized and Secure Community” – smacks of doublespeak: unity and harmony within ASEAN are sorely lacking at the moment, and no-one really thinks the ministerial meeting is going to rediscover them.

In the anarchy of the international arena, a club like the Association of Southeast Asian Nations ought to be a reassuring place to be. The organization gives its ten members – small or medium-sized players in geopolitical terms – the opportunity to close ranks when dealing with the greater powers, and to speak with one voice loud enough to be heard in Beijing, Washington and any other place that needs to listen.

Unfortunately, ASEAN doesn’t work like that: individualism swiftly trumps collectivism whenever contentious issues arise.

In particular, ASEAN has a China problem. Ask the ten members about China, and you’ll get a kaleidoscope of opinions about what that country represents. Some ASEAN countries are very much pro-China: their own economic development is tied closely to Beijing’s, and they are comfortable with the political implications of their China connections. Others are cooler on relations with Beijing: they balance a wariness of Chinese influence with the obvious benefits of a healthy trading relationship. And finally, there are those that feel threatened by China and regard themselves as targets (or at least potential targets) of Chinese assertiveness.

Unity on the question of how to handle China has therefore eluded ASEAN. And given the association’s nature, this is unsurprising: neutrality and non-intervention, not unity and collectivism, are ASEAN’s most cherished principles.

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East Asia Summit – Disasters to top summit agenda

Petchanet Pratruangkrai
The Nation
October 31, 2011 2:02 am


Amid increasing natural calamities in the region, relief issues to get priority in discussions by leaders

Relief measures for floods and other natural disasters will be a top agenda item for the sixth East Asia Summit (EAS) in Bali in mid-November.

Asean secretary-general Surin Pitsuwan said flood relief would be put near the top of the agenda by Asean leaders and its eight EAS partners as many countries in Southeast Asia are facing severe inundation.


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Pirates operate undeterred in the high seas

by Rohan Mathes

Sea piracy is as old as the sea itself. Piracy on the high seas could be traced back to the era when the Viking pirates prowled the seas in search of treasures. Later, the sea -roving plunderers operated in the Horn of Africa, including the Somali waters, the Gulf of Aden, South East Asia, including Indonesian waters, the Malacca Straits, the South China Seas, South Asian waters as far west past Japan, the Bay of Bengal, the Niger Delta in West Africa and the Persian Gulf waters . Nevertheless, in no time in the known history of maritime piracy, has this menace reached such exponential proportions and impacted on the international marine industry, as now. Continue reading

Suicide Bombers Jakarta, jihad vs. hirabah, insights on attacks & renouncers of violence

July 21, 7:28 PM

Suicide bomb blast in Jakarta

The suicide bomb attacks on the JW Marriot and Ritz Carlton hotels in Jakarta last Friday have led to the deaths of nine people, including the two suicide bombers, according to the Indonesian police. Six of the people killed by the blast were foreigners. According to reports, forty two have been injured.

The Indonesian police and experts have suspected that the mastermind behind the attacks is Noordin Mohamed Top, a Malaysian national who has been a senior operational officer in the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), a dangerous regional Southeast Asian terrorist group. The JI has also been suspected. Noordin Top may have broken from the JI to form his own group. Continue reading