Five-country defence pact should stay 'nimble, yet steadfast' to founding principles: PM Lee
SINGAPORE: In order for a five-nation defence pact established 50 years ago to remain relevant, it should be "nimble, yet steadfast" to its founding principles, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
Speaking on Thursday (Oct 21) during a joint call between the defence ministers of the countries making up the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA), Mr Lee described a geo-strategic environment that will continue to be "in flux".
"There will be new threats and geopolitical shifts that upend our operating assumptions and expectations," said Mr Lee.
"I encourage the FPDA to be nimble, yet steadfast to its founding principles, and to be a stabiliser for regional peace and development."
This would allow the defence pact to remain "successful and strategically relevant for many more years to come", he added.
The FPDA involves five nations: Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand and Britain. Under the defence pact, member states must consult each other in the event or threat of an armed attack on Malaysia or Singapore.
It is the second oldest such multilateral defence pact, after the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).
In his remarks, Mr Lee noted this year marked a "major milestone" for the defence arrangement.
"Fifty years ago, the FPDA was formed under special circumstances, as a consultative framework to provide critical security for two young nations in Southeast Asia following the withdrawal of British forces," he said.
While the security context in the region had evolved, the FPDA remained valuable for all involved, he added.
The arrangement provides "significant operational value and training opportunities" for the militaries of the member states, Mr Lee said.
He noted it is the only such multilateral security arrangement in the region with an operational element, the Headquarters Integrated Area Defence System (HQIADS), which continues to conduct regular high-end conventional exercises today.
This allows the individual militaries to build trust and enhance their coordination while strengthening HQIADS’ capabilities as a training and exercise headquarters, he added.
Mr Lee described the FPDA as an "excellent example of a multilateral security grouping adapting and contributing to regional peace and stability over the long term".
It does so by promoting regional cooperation and respect for international law through exercises as well as regular professional seminars and forums, said Mr Lee.
The FPDA has also expanded beyond traditional military exercises to build capabilities in maritime security, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and counter-terrorism.
Mr Lee added that the pact has also taken steps to reassure other countries in the region that it is an "inclusive and peaceful security arrangement" by inviting them to be observers for exercises, as well as exchanging ideas and sharing information on FPDA activities with them.
The FPDA has been a valuable platform that regularly brings together the defence ministers, chiefs of defence forces and senior officials of its member nations, said Mr Lee.
"That these interactions have continued even amidst the pandemic is a strong reflection of the adaptability of the Arrangements and the importance that we, as member nations, place on the FPDA," he said.
In his remarks, Mr Lee reaffirmed Singapore's "resolute commitment" to the pact.
"I express my deepest appreciation to all member nations for your longstanding support to the FPDA. We can take collective pride and ownership in the Arrangements’ longevity."
The 11th FPDA Defence Ministers’ Meeting (FDMM) - hosted by Malaysia and held via video-conferencing on Wednesday - was attended by Singapore’s Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen and Malaysia’s Senior Minister for Defence Hishammuddin Hussein.
Also in attendance were the United Kingdom’s Minister for the Armed Forces James Heappey as well as Peter Dutton and Peeni Henare, the defence ministers for Australia and New Zealand respectively.
Singapore’s Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) said that during the meeting - which is held every three years and hosted alternately by Singapore and Malaysia - the ministers discussed ways to “deepen existing cooperation in conventional domains, as well as grow collaboration in non-conventional and emerging domains” to ensure the defence pact remained relevant in addressing contemporary security challenges.
“The FDMM also discussed the important role of the FPDA in building confidence, promoting a rules-based international order, and providing reassurance amidst a climate of heightened geopolitical tensions,” said MINDEF in a release.
“The FPDA has remained relevant, responsive and robust despite a radically changed security environment,” said Dr Ng in remarks following the meeting.
FPDA exercises and engagements had proceeded smoothly without any country feeling threatened, he added.
“This open, inclusive and constructive stance creates transparency and builds confidence of others towards the FPDA,” he added.
“I am confident that the FPDA will remain an enduring presence in the region, for many decades to come.”