Five Power Defence Arrangements remain relevant today, say defence chiefs

Five Power Defence Arrangements remain relevant today, say defence chiefs

The world's second-oldest military partnership, the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA), remains relevant in tackling today's non-traditional threats and maintaining stability in the region.

Making this observation, defence chiefs of 42-year-old grouping's member countries - Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and Malaysia - also said there is no need to expand the grouping's current size and scope for now.

The FPDA, which came into force in 1971, was initially conceived as a transitional agreement to provide for the defence of Malaysia and Singapore until the then new states could fend for themselves.

Singapore's defence chief, Lieutenant-General Ng Chee Meng, said on Thursday that the grouping has made good progress since its inception to cement ties in the region through dialogue and joint exercises. To remain relevant, the grouping has, since 2006, gone beyond its military remit to include non-traditional threats like terrorism and disaster relief operations.

He cited how Singaporean and Australian troops pitched in to help New Zealanders in 2011 after the Christchurch earthquake. This, Lt-Gen Ng said, was due to the "trust, friendship and phone calls that we can make across the different time zones".

Amid the growing prominence of other multilateral military groupings like the recent ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting (ADMM)-Plus, which has 18 member countries including China and the United States, Lt-Gen Ng said the FPDA is still useful.

"The steadiness in which we (the FPDA) pursue our collective interest, the steadfast contributions of assets and commitment over the long period of time, speak volumes."

The defence chiefs spoke to the media on Thursday after the 15th FPDA Defence Chiefs' Conference. During the three-day meeting which ends today, the chiefs also issued a document on developing the grouping's future exercises to beef up cooperation.

From today, men and machines from the five nations will take part in a 14-day exercise, codenamed Bersama Lima, in Penang. The drill will involve 12 ships, 72 aircraft and six ground-based air defence units.

Britain's chief of defence staff, General Sir Nicholas Houghton, told The Straits Times that such drills to build capacity of other countries to prevent conflict is "a smarter way of using militaries".

"This plays to the strengths of the FPDA as bespoke defence arrangement," said Gen Houghton.

"It is useful that it links regional countries to countries from outside the region so that it helps support the stability of the region," he added.

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