PM Najib was reported to have said, “This is a national effort under the principle of total defence. We were able to deploy our national assets from both the private and public sector under the co-ordination and supervision of the Government to get the students out of Egypt”. PM Najib was referring to the role played by various agencies of government, the private sector and I suppose NGO’s too, in the evacuation of the 10,000 odd Malaysians out of Egypt to Jeddah, and thence back home.
What strikes me most is PM Najib’s use of the term ‘total defence’ in reference to the above national effort, which I believe is not well understood by the general public. I had used the term ‘total defence’ in my casual conversation with some of my civilian friends to test their understanding and awareness of the term, but one is not surprise that most have a very shallow understanding of the term and concept. The general understanding by most is that when the word defence is used, they would understand it to mean the roles and tasks of the security forces and in particular the military, in the defence of the country.
Likewise, if I were to ask a junior military officer today on their understanding of total defence and to describe how does the military fits into the concept of things, I wouldn’t be surprised if they will be groping for the right answer. This is because this subject or concept is only taught at the senior levels i.e. Staff College and at other higher military institutions.
Now going back to PM Najib’s statement, I believe the use of the term ‘total defence’ in reference to the operations to evacuate Malaysians from Egypt back home may be out of context and could be misleading. My understanding of total defence is all about galvanizing every sector of our society to strengthen the nation’s resilience to defend the homeland. In other words, total defence provides a comprehensive and integrated response to deal with all kinds of threats and challenges; and the key word being the defence of the homeland; not about deploying our national resources abroad. This is what I mean by saying that PM Najib’s example can be misleading. And please be aware too that total defence is not just military defence, but it includes the other elements of psychological, social, civil and economic defence, and this requires an in depth understanding with regards to how all these elements are galvanized to meet a common purpose.
I did allude to the question that this concept is quite alien to the general public, and yet it will be the general public that is expected to play a crucial role for total defence to be successful.
One only needs to learn a lesson or two from our southern neighbor Singapore and the serious nature at which the general population are readied and trained to part take in regular nationwide exercises in the execution and implementation of the concept of total defence. As a result of this effort, Singaporeans are by and large a society that is imbued with a greater sense of national patriotism and a total awareness of their respective roles and contribution towards total defence.
And may I now ask, why have we not done the same for the Malaysian population?
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