How deep is the state?


THE Rome Statute has been explained until only two kinds of people can now insist it is “incompatible” with the Malaysian Constitution: the wilful fool and the rabble-rouser with undeclared political interests.

In an earlier period of Malaysian politics, they would have been branded subversive “anti-national elements” – and dealt with promptly and decisively.

By obstructing the country’s accession to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, they inflict harm on Malaysian diplomacy, Malaysia’s standing in the world, and legions of oppressed peoples around the planet.

Ever since independence, Malaya and then Malaysia has had a proud international reputation for championing workable ideals, righteous principles and international law even in the face of violent and terrible odds.

In 1960 the UN asked Malaya to contribute a force contingent to the United Nations Operation in the Congo (ONUC). Malaya obliged and even increased the troop contribution as the situation required.

Other postings followed, whether as observers or peacekeepers, from Somalia and Namibia to Cambodia and Timor-Leste. Malaysian contingents also distinguished themselves in Bosnia-Herzegovina and rescued trapped US Army Rangers in the Battle of Mogadishu.

Not all of Malaysia’s international postures involve the security forces, since foreign policy is first and foremost a diplomatic venture.

Foreign policy is the backbone of Malaysia’s international renown and self-esteem, based as it is on universal values rather than narrow selfish interests.

It is also duly bipartisan, being where Government and Opposition parties find common ground.

Such has been Malaysian foreign policy that our country is rightly celebrated for principled stands against oppression, from apartheid South Africa to occupied Palestine to genocidal “ethnic cleansing” in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.

As violent oppression around the world escalates, so must institutional measures to limit and deter it. The Rome Statute is foremost among these international institutions.

It is no longer adequate for particular countries to make an individual stand. Right-thinking nations now need to coordinate among themselves to become a right-acting bulwark against transnational cruelty and injustice.

Acceding to the Rome Statute signifies a country’s commitment to core humanitarian values. Choosing to not accede amounts to wilful neglect of those values, exposing the hollowness of virtuous policies, whatever else may be said or done.

The Barisan Nasional government was reportedly poised to accede to the Rome Statute until it lost GE14. Had it won and made the accession, there would not have been any partisan controversy now.

Opposing Malaysia’s accession for whatever domestic political reasons of the moment damages the national interest, and undermines an admirable bipartisanship in righteous foreign policymaking.

Causing Malaysia harm and embarrassment in this way also betrays oppressed communities seeking protection and justice, such as 1990s Bosnian Muslims and today’s Rohingyas.

But for some politically desperate or venal individuals, no price seems too high for others to pay just to score political points.

Targeting the Malaysian state by injuring the nation is now the aim of the game motivated by fear, ignorance and dishonourable intentions.

True to form, such shameful efforts exploit issues of race and religion, among others. But these efforts are disjointed and unimpressive, quite unlike what a coordinated state entity can muster.

Thus despite some appearances, the controversy is fanned not by any “deep state” but rather the absence of an appropriate deep state oriented to the national priorities of post-GE14 Malaysia.

The deep state has been defined as “a state within a state,” acting at variance or in opposition to the de jure state of the day and its formally declared policies.

There are certain features that typify a deep state.

First, it comprises official institutions of state acting in surreptitious and coordinated fashion to frustrate the aims of state leaders. This is not the case here.

Second, it acts in what it perceives to be the national interest since it fundamentally disagrees with incumbent state leaders on what constitutes the national interest. Again, this does not apply here.

Third, the deep state opposes current policy because it genuinely believes such policy to be deleterious. Once more, partisan rabble-rousers cannot care less about the impact of any policy so long as their actions are deleterious to the political incumbents.

In “Trump’s America” today, however, the actions of the US deep state are obvious. The situation differs markedly from Malaysia.

Donald Trump came into the presidency wanting to change many things, which upset bipartisan conservatives regardless of their party affiliation.

He wanted to kill Nafta and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, institutions that the deep state regarded as cornerstones of US trade interests.

He unnerved US defence allies in Europe and Asia, and even questioned the relevance of Nato. His apparent cynicism of US military alliances upset the deep state further.

Trump’s initial defence budget also stressed veterans’ benefits rather than weapons acquisitions. He wasn’t keen on escalating military action in Syria or staying as long as the military chiefs wanted.

At the same time, he cosied up to authoritarian leaders like Vladimir Putin of Russia and Kim Jong-un of North Korea.

No other US president had ever presented such a formidable combination of challenges to the country’s Establishment.

That Establishment, or the US deep state, then tried to distract him and compromise his objectives. Scandals were uncovered while his friends and associates were targeted.

The initial plan of impeachment failed to gain traction in Congress, and the two-year investigation into alleged “Russian collusion” came to nothing.

Institutions like the FBI, the Justice Department and the Pentagon pushed for what they wanted rather than what he preferred.

Eventually he compromised – on the defence budget, Syria and military posture generally.

Malaysia’s Pakatan Harapan government is supposed to deliver a new improved Malaysia, post-GE14.

Alongside the new official state should be a new deep state, since the latter comprises the organs of the former. Both should be working closely together for reforms.

However, that remains a work in progress. It is the absence of a new deep state matching the formal state that makes official policies vulnerable to outside (non-state) attacks.

Bunn Nagara is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia.

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