October 21, 2005: The war against international terrorism is being fought on several fronts in Southeast Asia.
Malaysia: New Coast Guard. The Malaysians have just created a Coast Guard. By transferring personnel from the Navy, fisheries protection service, and other maritime agencies, the Malaysians have created a sea-going maritime constabulary similar to the U.S. Coast Guard. The new service is expected to improve policing of Malaysian waters, and particularly the critical Straits of Malacca, plagued by piracy.
Thailand: New Strategy Against Islamist Separatists. The recently appointed Army chief-of-staff, Sonthi Boonyaratglin, a the first Moslem to hold the post, has moved quickly to redirect Thai strategy in against the Moslem insurgency in the south. Sonthi's appointment (as in much of East Asia, Thais usually put the family name first) was prompted by government recognition of the fact that the highly aggressive and repressive tactics being used against the Islamist rebels were actually strengthening the separatist cause, rather than weakening it. While maintaining a strong military presence, Sonthi has instituted a "minds and heart" program, that stresses addressing local grievances, including economic development.
Thailand: Naval Reform. The Thais, who already have a pretty good navy, are planning a major reorganization and modernization of their naval forces, for the purpose of improving their ability to insure maritime security in their region.
The Manila-Canberra Axis: Both Australia and the Philippines have long looked to the U.S. for military assistance. Recently, however, the two nations have been developing direct ties to help coordinate responses to regional problems that the U.S. may overlook. Among several developments is the recent conclusion of a status of forces agreement, which will allow Australian troops to assist Philippine troops against the Islamist separatists of the Moro region in south. In addition, Australia has offered to support the Philippine effort with joint naval patrols, which is said to be very welcome in Manila. These initiatives have long-term diplomatic importance for the U.S. Most southeast Asian nations are friendly to the U.S., but tend to be wary of America's enormous power and motives. Thus, the security initiatives between Australia and the Philippines are viewed as much less threatening to their neighbors.