Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA)
The Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA) between the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and Singapore is Southeast Asia’s only collective security arrangement. On the 15th and 16th of April 1971, the ministers of the governments of Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore and the United Kingdom met and issued a communique with regards to a new political arrangement called the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA). This was a historic milestone in the tumultuous relationship between Britain and her former colonies, Singapore and Malaysia. The FPDA created a platform for Singapore, Malaysia, Britain, Australia and New Zealand to consult each other if either Singapore or Malaysia were attacked. It has since expanded to include nearly annual joint military exercises, cooperation on unconventional threats such as terrorism, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
Because of the relative decline of Britain as an economic and military power, by the late '60s, there was an urgent need for the British government to reassess its priorities. As a result, the British government announced in January 1968 that it would be pulling its troops out from Singapore and Malaysia by 1971. Consequently, there was also a need to review the 1957 Anglo-Malaysian Defence Agreement and the decision was made to replace it with a "loose consultative political framework" - the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA). Instead of providing any concrete guarantees for Malaysia and Singapore in case of an attack, the ministers of Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom would only "consult" together for the purpose of deciding what measures should be taken jointly or separately in relation to such attack or threat."
The FPDA was originally established in 1971 to provide for the air defence of peninsular Malaysia and Singapore, following the British withdrawal of military forces 'east of Suez'. During the first decade of its existence, the FPDA conducted a handful of simple air defence exercises. Since then, the regular exercise program has increased in size, scope and complexity. The FPDA has since the late 1980s, seen a resurgence in enthusiasm of the member countries especially with regards to the multilateral exercises. Not only has the size of the exercises increased, but the scope and complexity of the exercises have been expanded. 1997 saw the inauguration of EX FLYING FISH, a combination of EX STARFISH and MAJOR ADEX, which involved some 35 ships, 140 aircraft and 2 submarines.
The most visible element of the FPDA is the Headquarters of the Integrated Area Defence System. The Headquarters, which is commanded by a Royal Australian Air Force Air Vice Marshal, comprises over 40 personnel, drawn from all 5 nations and now from all 3 services. Having had its initial rôle firmly rooted in the air defence of Malaysian and Singaporean airspace, it is now regularly exercising FPDA forces in both Air Force and Naval operations and is moving towards the fuller integration of Army elements, as directed by the ministers in 2000. HQ IADS controls a full and varied exercise and training programme, which sees significant assets deployed into theatre. Since 2000, the UK contribution has included a Royal Navy task group, Type 42 destroyers, support vessels, Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft, Tornado fighters and Rapier ground based air defence missile systems.
The 7th Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA) Defence Ministers' Meeting was held in Kuala Lumpur on 1 June 2009. The meeting was chaired by Malaysia's Minister of Defence, Dato' Seri Dr. Ahmad Zahid bin Hamidi. The meeting was attended by The Honourable Joel Fitzgibbon, Minister for Defence, Australia; The Honourable Dr. Wayne Mapp, Minister of Defence, New Zealand; The Honourable Mr. Teo Chee Hean, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence, Singapore; The Right Honourable Baroness Ann Taylor, Minister for International Defence and Security, United Kingdom.
The Ministers had a useful exchange of views on significant developments and changes that are shaping the regional security environment. In particular, they took note of the impact of the global economic downturn on the regional security. The Ministers reaffirmed the important role that the FPDA has played in enhancing regional security for almost four decades and agreed that the FPDA continues to evolve as an important component of the regional security architecture.
The Ministers noted that several FPDA activities had been carried out since their last meeting in 2006. They expressed satisfaction that there had been good progress in moving towards more joint and combined activities and noted in particular the successful conduct of the inaugural major joint FPDA exercise, Suman Protector, in 2007. The Ministers also noted the mutual benefits and professional value that member countries have derived from their participation in FPDA exercises.
The Ministers commended the progress made in enhancing the capacity of members in addressing non-conventional threats through the continued inclusion of non-conventional elements into FPDA exercise serials. They were pleased with the progress to enhance the scope of FPDA exercises, particularly in capacity-building for Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief.
The Ministers reaffirmed their strong commitment to the FPDA, and their determination to work together for peace and stability. The Ministers reiterated the need to ensure that the FPDA continues to remain relevant to the evolving demands of the changing strategic environment as well as the needs of its members. The Ministers noted the progress achieved in upgrading the operational capabilities of the Headquarters Integrated Area Defence System (HQIADS).
On 27 November 2020 Defence Ministers from Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore and United Kingdom reaffirmed their nations’ continued commitment to the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA). Assuring the resilience of the FPDA amidst these difficult times, the Ministers commended the FPDA Consultative Council (FCC), the FPDA Policy Group (FPG) and the FPDA Activities Coordinating Committee (FACC) leaders for their adaptability in utilising alternative platforms to ensure continuity in decision-making processes amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
In June 2021, Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore and the United Kingdom sent their Defence chiefs to reaffirm their commitment to collaborate in keeping pace with the evolving challenges in the region. Representatives also discussed a 10-year roadmap for greater strategic and defence cooperation to enhance operational interoperability.
Ships from the UK’s Carrier Strike Group, led by the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, performed an exercise with the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) 26 July 2021. The exercise, to advance interoperability and coordination between the two navies, built on the deep and long-standing defence partnership between the UK and Singapore. A ship from the Group also took part in Exercise Bersama Gold - with Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand – this marked the 50th anniversary of the Five Power Defence Arrangements.
As Peter Ho, Singapore’s former Permanent Secretary of Defence has articulated, "‘the FPDA is like a chameleon, constantly adapting to the changing environment. Its physical avatar — IADS — has transformed itself from an air defence system to an area defence system, the only standing multilateral defence system in the region. This must be a unique achievement for a loose consultative framework."
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