Weapons, Viruses, and the New Defense Reality in Southeast Asia

What happens when the greatest threat to national security comes from a virus? What does that mean for defense spending, modernization, and civil-military relations? In Southeast Asia — where militaries have long had an outsized role in politics, economics, and society — the answers to these questions are still very much up for grabs.

There are over 54,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Southeast Asia, with nearly 2,000 confirmed deaths. The evidence from Indonesia and the Philippines, which have very low levels of testing, suggests rates of infections and mortality could be much higher. While Malaysia appears to have flattened the curve, and Singapore is getting a handle on a massive outbreak in dormitories that house over 300,000 migrant workers and which account for 90 percent of the city-state’s cases, Indonesia and the Philippines are still struggling.

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