Earlier this month, Brunei held a change of command ceremony that marked the official shift to a new navy chief. Though the development itself served merely as a confirmation of an already confirmed change, it nonetheless spotlighted an important personnel shift in Brunei’s defense policy more generally.
As I have noted before in these pages, despite the relative lack of attention given to Brunei as a defense actor in Southeast Asia, it remains a small but nonetheless important player on a range of regional security issues, from terrorism to the South China Sea, where it is one of four claimant states in the subregion (the others being Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam).
The past few years have seen a mix of continuity and change with respect to defense developments in Brunei. While Brunei has continued the various lines of effort in its defense policy, including building up its own military capabilities and working more with other interested parties in the region, it has also had to make adjustments due to various shifts at play, be it the reshuffle of various officials or defense budgets coming under some strain due to broader economic challenges.
Last week, in a notable development in Brunei’s defense policy, Brunei held an official handover ceremony to formally install its 16th navy chief. First Admiral Haji Othman bin Haji Suhaili Suhaily took over from First Admiral Pengiran Dato Seri Pahlawan Norazmi bin Pengiran Haji Muhammad as the commander of the Royal Brunei Navy (RBN), who had served in the post since 2015 as part of over three decades of service in the RBN.
The change of command ceremony took place at the Royal Brunei Navy headquarters on April 19. Per Brunei’s defense ministry (MINDEF), it involved a series of activities. These initially included the inspection of the guard of honor, a march parade, a farewell speech by the outgoing RBN commander, a signing ceremony of the handover certificates, and blessings for the ceremony. It was then followed by interactions involving the incoming RBN commander, such as the receiving of an honorary salute, an inspection of the guard of honor, and the delivery of his inaugural speech.
MINDEF highlighted some of the outgoing RBN commander’s achievements, from the successes of the service’s regional and international operations to the strengthening of bilateral relations between Brunei and other foreign countries. But as the new commander settles into his post, the focus will soon shift to the question of the extent of continuity and change in some of these areas moving forward.