Future conflicts will be on resources, says former air force chief

by ALIFAH ZAINUDDIN/ pic by MUHD AMIN NAHARUL

THE military can do more in nation building besides fighting battles, as the environment is now posing greater threats to people’s livelihoods.

Former air force chief General (Rtd) Tan Sri Rodzali Daud (picture) said climate change is becoming a major security threat to the nation as it can exacerbate conflicts over resources such as food supply and clean water in the region.

Speaking ahead of a government white paper on Malaysia’s defence strategy, Rodzali said the military must be well-equipped to deal with more frequent disasters and risks brought about by changing weather patterns and rising sea levels, which could lead to new forms of violence.

“I would imagine that conflicts would be more centred on resources in the future — of food, water and land. The environment will be a big challenge for us, so we have to be very smart on how to mitigate these issues,” he told The Malaysian Reserve in an interview.

Unpredictable weather changes have seen Malaysia more susceptible to floods in recent years, especially in the northern states. Just two years ago, continuous heavy rainfall in the northern peninsula left Penang and parts of Kedah paralysed by flood waters.

It was reported that nearly 80% of Penang was inundated as water levels rose up to 1m.

This is consistent with a study on rainfall trends between 1975 and 2004, which recorded higher rainfall during the northeast monsoon season.

On the global front, a study by British charity Oxfam International found that the number of natural disasters has more than quadrupled in the last 20 years. It said there were over 400 weather-related disasters per year within the last decade, compared to 120 per year in the early 80s.

A total of 60 disasters were recorded for the year 1980. In 2006, the total count was 240.

“Nation building is part and parcel of the armed forces. When there are no conflicts, our troops are in the barracks but there are many things that can be done to help the nation. The military can play a big role in diplomacy and be at the forefront in times of natural calamity,” he said.

Rodzali, who now serves as the Royal Malaysian Air Force Veterans Association president, said Malaysia must also work towards becoming self-sustainable in terms of food. The country continues to depend heavily on imports, especially on vegetables and fruits which can be produced locally.

It was reported that the total agro-food imports exceeded RM52 billion last year.

“Food security is an important area because in the end, you need food on the table or else there will be problems. We need new types of farming which can yield good products, feed the general population and limit imports.

“The military has evolved and must move in a different fashion. It is no more like the early days, where it was all about big aircraft, tanks and ships. We need to work smart, be highly educated and strategise ourselves not only in the aspects of combat, but areas that are tied to national security including the economy. I think this is the way for Malaysia to move forward,” he said.

Defence Minister Mohamad Sabu is scheduled to table the white paper in Parliament on Dec 2.