For over a week the international media has been riveted to the tragic story of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 which disappeared on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. More than 230 individuals are believed to have perished though what actually happened to this plane remains the greatest aviation mystery since Amelia Earhart’s plane disappeared over the South Pacific in 1937. As a past and likely future international aviation traveller, I am acutely interested and concerned with aviation safety and security. All kinds of scenarios have been presented for Flight 370’s disappearance ranging from catastrophic mechanical failure to pilot suicide and murder of the crew and passengers. I suspect the likely answer is a suicide pact by the pilot and/or co-pilot, which resulted in them shutting down the plane’s communication devices and plunging somewhere into the Indian Ocean where tangible evidence may never be found.
This tragedy and murderous crime shows that many areas of the world do not have wall-to-wall satellite and radar coverage tracking every speck of airspace and covering every electronic communications device. It also demonstrates how pathetically slow and evasive the Malaysian Government has been in revealing verifiable information on this event. It only now appears that Kuala Lumpur is letting the FBI come and investigate after letting over a week and a half of precious time elapse. Flight 370 also shows the poor quality of radar coverage of many countries in that critically important part of the world. We must also remember that although Malaysia is a former British colony with some attributes of London’s parliamentary government and legal systems, that it is also a predominately Islamic country which has served as a operational hub for Al Qaida and affiliated Islamist groups such as Jemah Islamiyah which seeks to establish an Islamic caliphate in southeast Asia including the large populous country of Indonesia. The following 2011 National Defense University Press book The Borderlands of Southeast Asia: Geopolitics, Terrorism, and Globalization provides informative background on SE Asia’s regional political and military cauldron
Flight 370 should also bring long overdue public attention to this economically and strategically critical region. The Straits of Malacca is one of the world’s key strategic choke points as large volumes of oil and other international trade commodities transit from the Middle East and Indian Ocean through these straits to China, Japan, the Korean Peninsula, Australia, and the U.S. Malaysia is also adjacent to the oil and natural gas rich South China Sea which China and other countries are interested in accessing and exploiting and make seek to engage in violent conflict over. One South China sea locale, the Spratly Islands, is likely to become a potential future conflict source which may draw in the U.S. and the following U.S. Army War College study illustrates.
There are also numerous regional rivalries and conflicts in that region which amplify its geopolitical importance. There is a an Islamist uprising in predominately Buddhist Thailand’s southern region which happens to border on Malaysia. Malaysia also has disputes on topics such as water, seismic research, borders,and access to oil and natural gas resources with neighboring countries such as Singapore, Brunei, the Philippines and Indonesia. China is becoming increasingly aggressive in its policies toward SE Asia having recently publicized a nine-point map in which it claims nearly all of the South China Sea has its maritime territory. Coupled with the U.S.’ increased emphasis on a strategic tilt to the Asia-Pacific region, the growing defense spending by countries in that region, and increasing U.S. security ties with countries as diverse as India and Australia, the SE Asian archipelago will become increasingly important to U.S. economic and political security interests and we cannot allow China to assume the role of regional hegemon.
We are understandably concerned and appalled by ongoing Russian gangsterism in the Ukraine. However, we must also remember that the Pacific Rim is where the major threats to our security and prosperity will emerge in the years to come. Unfortunately, we have a administration that is more concerned with useless rhetorical posturing instead of realistically confronting emerging geopolitical challenges to our interests and accepting the Hobbesian reality of international politics. We need to transcend the sometime need for diplomatic nicety and cultural sensitivity, and bluntly tell the Malaysians that they have failed to respond effectively and honestly to this crisis to their own domestic public opinion and to international public opinion. A key factor in promoting effective governmental domestic and international policymaking is telling the truth publicly and as quickly as possible. Considering Malaysia’s anemic, evasive, and procrastinated response to this tragedy and crime, it is highly unlikely other countries will view it as an attractive and reliable political, strategic, and economic partner for the foreseeable future.