Prince Mohamed addresses JIDD

His Royal Highness Prince Mohamed Bolkiah, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, yesterday made a keynote address at the Jakarta International Defence Dialogue (JIDD) in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Following is the full text of HRH Prince Mohamed Bolkiah's keynote address:

I would like to thank President Yudhoyono for his welcome and his opening address and Minister Yusgiantoro, Major General Dr Syarifudin Tippe and Governor Fauzi Bowo for all the arrangements for our meeting and their kind hospitality.

I would also like to thank the Government of Indonesia for bringing this dialogue to our region. It comes at a critical moment in Asian affairs. Recent events across the continent have caused great social, economic and political insecurity. As a result, the role and purpose of modern defence is being deeply questioned.

Like everyone in this part of Asia, our thoughts and prayers in Brunei Darussalam are with the people of Japan and the Middle East at a time when their futures must seem severely at risk. This means that the questions we are discussing here are more than academic. They are real and very urgent.

So, it is a privilege to join so many distinguished defence authorities, advisors and analysts here and I thank you very much indeed for inviting me to play a small part.

A few years ago, I remember going to an international conference where one of the main speakers was a former army general. He began with an apology. "I am a military man," he said. "So please excuse me if I am blunt!"

In my case, I am not a military man so I will start in a different way. I am a diplomat. So, please excuse me if I am not blunt! I graduated from a military college and I still hold military rank but, for nearly 30 years, I have been in Foreign Affairs, where you don't get any points for bluntness.

In fact, in my work, the aim is not to score points. It is to listen carefully and speak even more carefully! With that in mind, any contribution I can make this morning will not be technical. We have a very difficult and extremely important subject and many experts here, including our own Ministry of Defence. So, what I would like to do is to keep to my own field and offer a diplomatic perspective.

It is one that I gradually learned when I first joined our Diplomatic Office. That was just before we resumed our full independence back in 1984 and, at first, it looked like a fairly simple idea. Cooperation ... good! Confrontation ... bad!

Now, I have learned, of course, that those are just big long words. Putting them into practice is quite different. It is not at all simple. It is an extremely complex process. What it calls for is constant dialogue and negotiation and this can be very frustrating. Nevertheless, it is part of the job and you have to accept it. It is also, however, a very difficult lesson to learn.

When I look back at my early days, I can see that I was very lucky because I had first class teachers. These were my regional friends, colleagues and mentors. From them, I learned what "diplomacy" really involves. At the same time, they also taught me how closely it is linked to "defence".

Among them was the late S Rajaratnam, Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore, a former Foreign Minister and one of our respected Asean Founding Fathers. As many of you will know, his name, of course, lives on. It is honoured by the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies and, as some of you may remember, this was the venue for last year's Asia-Pacific Programme for Senior Military Officers.

So what we saw was something quite special, I think. Our region's finest military experts meeting at an institute named after one of our finest diplomats! For me, that says it all! Defence and diplomacy coming together and complementing one another. To put it simply, each balancing the other - promoting strengths and protecting any weaknesses.

If you ask how this balance is achieved, you will, of course, hear many different answers.

A lot depends on personal experience and what country you come from. In my own case, I have two responses. One comes from my faith which tells us that we were all made into nations and tribes so we may know and understand each other and, for me, this is the essential spirit of diplomacy.

Then, my second response comes from our membership of the United Nations and what we said when we first joined the Organisation in 1984. I still remember it well. We said: "For small countries like ours, peace is a necessary pre-condition for our economic and political survival" and, for me, this is the essential spirit of defence.

Put them together and I think they add up to what is increasingly called, "Defence Diplomacy" and I am very glad the term is now being used in many Defence Ministries, including our own. As to what it means, I think the list of themes for our dialogue here makes it very clear. It's a long list but everyone of them is aimed at dealing with the root causes of disagreement, dispute and conflict. So whatever name we give it, I think it is an extremely significant development in our approach to defence.

Some may call it the "soft" approach but, for a small country like ours, there is no other way. That is why, several years ago, I wrote that, for us in Brunei, "Diplomacy has to be at the front line of our defence." And, over the years, we have never changed. We still see international relations as a chance to build friendship and cooperation between all people, no matter what their backgrounds, cultures or beliefs.

As I also wrote at the time, however, the way to do this must be "flexible and skillful" and "it must always operate rationally". In other words, it must give everyone the chance to settle differences with dignity. When we say this, though, we are not in any way denying the need for traditional defence. It is vital that we hear, learn and respect every aspect of it. We must know it well, in all its technical, scientific, strategic and economic complexity. At the same time, we believe it is part of overall international relations. We don't see this as a "soft" approach or a "hard" one. Instead, we think it is the only rational one, when we see the terrifying nature of weapons today.

It is the approach that Asean has adopted for the past 44 years. You could write long books on the subject but they would all have the same brief message. It is a translation of the words of our Asean Founding Fathers and it gives us our direction.

Indonesia's Foreign Minister, Adam Malik, said it clearly back in 1967: "Southeast Asia" he stated, "Must become a region that can stand on its own feet, strong enough to defend itself." He was speaking at a time when every member of Asean today was "on the verge of economic and political chaos". As Tun Abdul Razak, the Minister of Defence and of Foreign Affairs of Malaysia, added: "We must take decisive and collective action." That is what lies behind all our current programmes and projects.

As a result, we have become much more than a political and economic association and we see the evidence of this at every meeting we attend, even here today. As I wrote more recently, "To those of us who grew up in the war-torn and hostile Southeast Asia of the 50s and 60s, that is an astonishing achievement." Fifty years ago, we would have been deeply suspicious of one another but now we are the closest of partners.

So, the lesson we have learned together is the one I am sure this Dialogue will support. It has taught us that defence is far, far more than weaponry or its procurement, or its management. It has to answer simple human concerns. What are we defending? And what is the best way to do it?

These are the two questions that occupy our minds in Asean today and in my own country we offer two answers. Firstly, we are defending our future and, secondly, the best way to do this is to work well with our neighbours.

This, we feel, is defence designed by diplomacy and diplomacy shaped by defence. In this sense, we are all military men and we are all diplomats.

Thank you and I wish you all a most valuable dialogue and a very successful meeting. - Borneo Bulletin (24th March 2011)