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Brunei - Introduction

Brunei is an oasis of calm and Bruneians enjoy a high standard of living and security. Brunei matters for three reasons: hydrocarbons, religion, and location. Its significance for the United States lies in its role as a reliable exporter of gas and oil to growing Asian energy markets, its status as a responsible voice among Muslim nations, and its location in the heart of Southeast Asia astride the strategic sea lanes of the South China Sea.

The Sultan is both Minister of Defense and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces (RBAF). All infantry, navy, and air combat units are made up of volunteers. There are three infantry battalions equipped with armored reconnaissance vehicles and armored personnel carriers and supported by Rapier air defense missiles and a flotilla of coastal patrol vessels armed with surface-to-surface missiles. Brunei ordered three offshore patrol vessels from the U.K. but reportedly seeking to sell these to a third country. The Royal Brunei Navy has several new "Ijtihad"-class patrol boats from German ship manufacturer Lurssen Werft.

Brunei has a defense agreement with the United Kingdom, under which a British Armed Forces Ghurka battalion (1,500 personnel) is permanently stationed in Seria, near the center of Brunei's oil industry. The Royal Brunei Armed Forces (RBAF) has joint exercises, training programs, and other military cooperation with the United Kingdom and many other countries, including the United States.

The United States and Brunei signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on defense cooperation in November 1994. The two countries conduct the annual Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) military exercise. RBAF joined a peacekeeping mission in Lebanon under the United Nations Interim Force (UNIFIL) and has been sending troops to the International Monitoring Team (IMT) in Mindanao to help safeguard the ceasefire between the Philippines Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Bruneis growing commitment to peacekeeping missions is in line with its defense white paper.

While Brunei derives its wealth from its natural resources; it has also sought to protect them. Over 70 percent of the country is currently preserved from development. Much of this is under the Heart of Borneo (HoB) initiative. Brunei's efforts under Heart of Borneo are focused on conservation. The areas under conservation are remote and difficult to access and the conservation plans hope to ensure they are maintain in this pristine state. Brunei also is exploring ways to increase development of other energy sources, such as solar power. GoB officials are working to promote ecotourism as a way to diversify the economy. However, tourism infrastructure, as well as the ecotourism industry, is still developing.

Brunei adheres to conservative Islamic social values, and U.S. citizens are advised to learn and respect local customs and traditions. Typically non-Muslims are not expected to follow the same customs enforced on practicing Muslims. Persons violating Bruneis laws, even unknowingly, may be deported, arrested, or imprisoned. Any public criticism of His Majesty the Sultan or other members of the Royal Family is strongly discouraged.



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