Security Threats in Asia:
security challenges are emerging as the dark and violent side of globalization.
Rapid economic, technological and social changes have brought an
unprecedented era of beneficent international trade, migration, and
communication throughout the world. But
such changes have also spawned a much more sinister by-product in the form of
international crime, terrorism, human smuggling, arms trafficking, environmental
degradation and infectious disease. Many countries in the Asia-Pacific region are slowly
recognizing that transnational security issues are emerging as their top
security challenges, and may pose an even more long-term threat to state and
regional security than inter-state conflict.
Moreover, military forces in the region are discovering that in addition
to their traditional role of defending their home country from external attack,
they must contend with the ever-present reality of transnational security issues
that threaten to undermine the very foundation of their societies.
their most basic level, transnational security issues can be defined as
nonmilitary threats that cross borders and either threaten the political and
social integrity of a nation or the health of its inhabitants.
They are often driven by non-state actors—such as criminal gangs or
terrorist groups—who have little regard for international laws or standards.
They often emerge slowly, beyond the scrutinizing gaze of the
international media and only get noticed after a particular catastrophic
event—an interception of a human smuggling vessel or a region-wide pollution
crisis. Their causes are multifarious and not easily ascertainable.
Solutions are equally elusive, especially for long-term problems that
cannot simply be swept away by a single policy change or introduction of an
international law or convention. Yet
their effects can be devastating and long-lasting.
a human security perspective, transnational security threats destroy lives and
ultimately undermine the fabric of human society.
In the United States, for example, over 15,000 people die every year as a
result of the narcotics trade—including collateral violence and health
impacts. In Thailand, the influx of
methamphetamine pills from neighboring Burma (Myanmar) is devastating
Thailand’s young population, where rates of drug addiction are skyrocketing.
The AIDS epidemic—and its precursor HIV—is marching across Asia with
determined speed and far-reaching impact. International
health authorities now consider Asia to be the next epicenter—outside of
Southern Africa—for the global AIDS epidemic.
In southwest China, narcotics trafficking across the China-Burmese border
is facilitating the spread of HIV into neighboring Yunnan and other Chinese
the Asia-Pacific region confronts massive environmental degradation.
Transboundary pollution is spawning both human health and diplomatic
problems throughout the region. Climate
change poses the ultimate environmental wildcard and if predictions concerning
its effects are accurate, it could decimate coastal areas and entire island
states. Economic disparities among
countries in the region are spurring large-scale human smuggling and illegal
migration. Small-arms trafficking
is fueling a rise in transnational crime and terrorism. Sea lanes are increasingly infested with pirates who no
longer hesitate to murder ship crews or create environmental devastation as part
of their illegal acts. These
are just a few examples of the transnational challenges that the region
explore the vast array of transnational security challenges facing the region,
the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies (APCSS) held a three-day conference
that looked at transnational issues from both a regional perspective as well as
a subject-matter perspective. Eight
working groups explored specific aspects of transnational security challenges,
including transnational crime, terrorism, small-arms trafficking, infectious
disease, illegal migration, environmental degradation and the role of the
military in addressing transnational security challenges.
The structure of this conference report follows that of the conference
itself. The first part provides a
survey of transnational issues from a regional perspective.
That is followed by an inquiry into transnational issues from a
Perspectives on transnational security threats in Northeast Asia were
provided by China, Japan and Russia. All
three nations emphasized certain common themes, such as concern about crime and
narcotics. The representative from China was particularly concerned
about narcotics trafficking, which was described as China’s top transnational
Japan also emphasized the threat of illegal drugs, but, in addition,
listed other transnational problems such as arms smuggling, nuclear smuggling,
infectious disease, illegal migration, environmental degradation and
international terrorism. The
Japanese representative also noted that the Japan Self-Defense Force might have
a role in countering these threats if they threaten Japan’s internal security
environment. He also stressed the importance of having a regional
approach to mitigating these threats.
Representatives from Thailand and the Philippines described an array of
transnational security threats to their nations.
Drug trafficking was described by both countries as a major security
problem. In the Philippines, the
increase in the use of methamphetamine hydrochloride (shabu) is a major
concern for police and health authorities.
Methamphetamine use is also rising in Thailand.
In 1995, Thai officials seized over 539.43 kilograms of methamphetamine;
four years later, that number exceeded 4,504.28 kilograms.
the region, according to the two representatives, drug trafficking is spurring
violence and increasingly involves money laundering, and other transnational
crimes—such as terrorism and kidnapping.
On the issue of terrorism, the Philippines stressed that this was one of
their top challenges. The
Philippines representative described five terrorist groups that pose a threat to
that country’s internal security, including the New Peoples Army (NPA), the
Alex Boncayao Brigade (ABB), the MNLF-Islamic Command Council (ICC), the Moro
Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG).
Other transnational challenges included arms smuggling, human smuggling,
and maritime piracy.
Representatives from three countries, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka,
enunciated South Asia’s perspectives on transnational security threats.
Common concerns within all three countries included worries about
trans-border narcotics trafficking, terrorism, small-arms trafficking and
The representative from Pakistan noted that the major transnational
threats facing his country include terrorism, narcotics smuggling and illegal
migration. Like Pakistan, India is also concerned terrorism, narcotics
smuggling and illegal migration. In
addition to these issues, the Indian representative also highlighted his
nation’s worries about maritime piracy and crime, cyber-crime and money
laundering. The Indian
representative noted India is a haven for illegal transnational activities
because of the country’s size, economic status, border span, infrastructure,
and geographic location.
Lanka’s primary transnational security concern is terrorism, especially in
light of its on-going struggle with the northern-based LTTE (Tamil Tigers).
The LTTE was described by the Sri Lankan representative as a “cancerous
movement…[that] has spread over all directions of the globe.”
The representative also lamented the success with which the LTTE has
internationalized its operations—including crucial fund-raising—particularly
in Scandinavia, Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia.
noted earlier, illegal migration was a major common theme throughout the region.
In India, there are 15 million refugees, including asylum seekers, economic
migrants, and others. India
considers the long, sustained influx of mass numbers of refugees to be a
“cause for international destabilization and friction.”
In Sri Lanka, the government is concerned about growing human smuggling
to India, Myanmar and various Western countries, some of which is engineered by
Representatives from three countries—Australia, Papua New Guinea and
the Marshall Islands—described transnational security threats from a South
Pacific/Oceania perspective. Like
their counterparts in other sub-regions, all three countries were concerned with
certain key transnational threats, including crime, environmental degradation,
narcotics trafficking, and illegal migration.
Of these various transnational issues, all three nations especially
emphasized the pernicious threat of narcotics trafficking.
Australia noted that the porous borders in its northern territory makes
it a target for drug smuggling. Similarly,
the Marshall Islands representative noted that island states are particularly
vulnerable to drug smuggling because they are dispersed over an area
encompassing two million square miles of ocean.
Consequently, international drug trafficking syndicates view the region
as a key transshipment point for drugs headed for richer nations.
Marshall Islands representative also noted that for many island states,
environmental issues constitute a major security concern, especially the complex
issue of climate change. Given
their intense concern about climate change, many island states are urging
industrialized nations to sign and ratify the Kyoto Protocol, which seeks to
limit the emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
New Guinea described illegal migration as one of its top transnational security
threats, particularly the organized trafficking of migrants.
Human smuggling has grown in the region and is affecting states in
various ways, such as by promoting crime or altering ethnic balances.
Pacific island states are sometimes used as transit areas for on-going
human smuggling to Western countries, while Australia is considered a key
Australia noted that it faces an ‘arc of instability’, which refers
to the geographic region that stretches across from the Northwest (including
Indonesia and East Timor), to the North (which features continued instability,
including a lack of resolution of the Bougainville crisis) and to the Northeast
and the East (which feature instability in the Solomon Islands, Fiji and latent
problems in other Pacific Island countries).
Instability within this region will impact Australia in numerous ways,
one of which is to make the nation more vulnerable to transnational problems
that may originate in those areas.
session on transnational crime focused on the various transnational criminal
threats confronting the Asia-Pacific region.
A Japanese presenter noted that his country is facing four major types of
transnational crime: (1) small arms trafficking (2) drug trafficking (3) credit
card fraud and (4) human smuggling. He
also asserted that small firearms are flowing into Japan from the United States,
China, and South Africa. Narcotics
smuggling is fueled by many immigrant groups, with Iranian nationals playing a
prominent role. Credit card fraud,
meanwhile, is partially an outgrowth of the lack of domestic laws against this
category of crime. Finally, human smuggling involves many countries.
In particular, he noted that the Philippines is emerging as a major
source country for young women who are smuggled into Japan where they are often
forced to work in the sex industry.
of Japan, it was observed that narcotics trafficking continues to be a major
challenge for the entire region. In
the Philippines, Chinese organized crime groups are joining with their
Philippine counterparts to import methamphetamine hydrochloride (known as shabu)
into the Philippines. In China, two
recent drug seizures suggest growing cooperation between Chinese and Colombian
criminal gangs. Criminal groups are
entering into transnational alliances to facilitate drug trafficking and are
exploiting countries or areas with loose government structures and minimal law
enforcement activities (such as Cambodia or Burma).
One presenter noted that this is an expected outcome since transnational
crime thrives within weaknesses in particular jurisdictions.
Dysfunctional or underdeveloped civil institutions act as a magnet for
international criminal cartels eager to find a venue for their illicit
In addition to more traditional transnational crimes—such as drug
trafficking or credit card fraud—internet-based, or “e-crime”, presents an
entirely new frontier for international criminal groups.
As one presenter noted, “of all crime types, e-crime appears most
amenable to manipulation by criminals working across jurisdictions.”
But in some cases, the criminals are operating domestically and are using
international channels—and the weakness inherent in poor institutional
arrangements between nations—to obfuscate their true origins.
It was noted that the process of globalization—and its related trends
of increased mobility and communication—is fueling a process that can be
described as ‘convergence.’ Convergence
allows criminal organizations to learn through international networks about
opportunities in other jurisdictions.
Convergence is also apparent in the circuitous routes used to smuggle
illicit products or human beings. The
use of multiple transit countries effectively disguises the origins and modus
operandi of criminal operations. Narcotics
trafficking into Australia, for instance, has been facilitated by the use of
such diverse transit countries as Mauritius, Solomon Islands and Tonga.
in the working group also noted that many countries have been reluctant to move
from their domestic definitions of crime to an international definition. It was noted that many countries view transnational crime as
“something out there” and too often blame “someone out there” for their
crime problems, although the problem is often related to domestic conditions.
For example, corruption, a clearly domestic problem in many countries,
tends to both foster transnational crime and impede cooperation across
jurisdictions against international criminal activity.
aspect of transnational crime is the displacement effect created by enforcement
efforts. This refers to the
tendency of criminal organizations to adjust their operating locations, methods
and criminal activity in response to law enforcement “crackdowns.”
For example, in the field of people trafficking, smugglers changed boat
routes through Indonesia in response to crackdowns by Indonesian authorities.
Furthermore, since the mid-1980s, drug traffickers have changed their
transit routes out of Burma in response to increased enforcement efforts by
Thailand. This shift is reflected
in the changing pattern of heroin seizures between Thailand and China in the
years 1989 through 1996.
The panel on infectious disease and security explored the rise of
infectious disease around the Asia-Pacific region and addressed how this issue
affects regional security. Underpinning
the discussions was the idea that the concept of security—and particularly its
traditional emphasis on state-based conflict—should be expanded to reflect
current post Cold War realities. As
one presenter noted, security should be defined “not merely as the absence of
external physical, or internal political threats, but as the attainment of
national and global sustainability and resilience.”
Because security is generally defined in military terms, resources
generally flow to military forces accordingly.
If, however, the causal links between disease and security can be
established, it could expand the flow of resources into this critical area.
One presenter noted that infectious disease poses a security threat to
the nation state and its inhabitants for the following five reasons: (1) It
impacts the state’s most basic unit—the human being; (2) It can undermine
public confidence in the state’s general custodian function; (3) Because of
its trans-border fluidity and ephemeral nature, diseases cannot be controlled by
traditional border control mechanisms; (4) Transnational disease pandemics can
complicate already tense bilateral and multilateral relations and thus
indirectly cause regional instability; (5) Disease can threaten military
operations by disabling soldiers and diminishing the will of nations to
participate in coalition operations.
The burgeoning AIDS/HIV epidemic clearly provides a direct example of the
linkage between disease and security. More
than 34 million people around the world are infected with HIV, a trend that
continues to worsen. In Africa, the
epidemic is so severe that it threatens to stall or perhaps undermine economic
development in many countries. In
Southeast Asia, the HIV epidemic is growing faster than in any other part of the
world. It threatens to
overwhelm health budgets in many countries as the cost of HIV treatment
continues to skyrocket. In
Papua New Guinea, AIDS not only threatens human beings, it also undermines
social structures because of the fear and stigma generated by the disease.
In many countries, one of the societal effects of the HIV epidemic is the
creation of large orphan populations as parents and older relatives succumb to
The presenter noted that international pandemics are growing because of
various medical, demographic and social factors.
One of these factors is rising antibiotic resistance.
Medical advances have led to a sharp reduction of many infectious
diseases that traditionally killed millions.
Much of this progress is linked to the introduction of antibiotics.
But recently many antibiotic resistant strains have emerged that threaten
human populations once again. Diseases
that could once be controlled by relatively inexpensive antibiotics must now be
treated with more expensive medication for much longer periods of time.
In East Asia, examples of antibiotic resistant diseases include
Mycobacterium tuberculosis, cholera, and malaria. Environmental degradation is another factor fueling the
spread of infectious diseases. Climate
change is expected to result in a greater incidence of disease through its
influence on insect vectors as well as other means.
Researchers assert, for instance, that a small increase in average
temperature in the United States may allow mosquitoes carrying Dengue Fever to
reach as far north as New York City.
Globalization and international migration also facilitate the rise and
spread of infectious diseases. Every
year, millions of people migrate to other countries, either permanently or
temporarily. Millions more are displaced by humanitarian emergencies and
other factors. As human beings move
into previously uninhabited areas, they may risk contact with pathogens
(traditionally associated with animals) that have mutated to infect humans.
According to the presenter, examples of such mutations include the
following: the zoonosis of measles from animal distemper, smallpox mutated from
cow or monkey pox, and influenza related to Newcastle disease or fowl or swine
influenza. International migration
is also a major risk in large-scale pandemics.
Immigrants and refugees can carry diseases from their homeland to their
new country of destination, even before the disease is recognized. In the United Kingdom, there have been cases of malaria
acquired by individuals living near airports.
The resurgence of tuberculosis in many developed countries, moreover, is
partially linked to mass immigration from countries where the disease is highly
As noted earlier, disease poses a threat to human security and state
security in a number of ways. First,
disease threatens individuals through death or disability.
Second, when countries face mass outbreaks of disease, they can undermine
state capabilities and public confidence. Disease,
as one participant noted, is inherently political because of the powerful
psychological and emotional reactions that it invokes.
People react violently to threats of disease and focus their ire on
political leaders whom they have trusted for protection against such calamities.
Disease can also exacerbate inter-state tensions or cause conflict.
When India experienced an outbreak of the plague in 1994, many countries
around the world cut trade and tourism links with India, resulting in massive
revenue loss in excess of $2 billion. The
global reaction to India’s plague—and Indian indignation over what it
perceived as unfair treatment—almost assures that countries will have an
incentive to hide internal disease outbreaks in the future.
Another security aspect of disease is bio-terrorism.
As one presenter noted, biological warfare has been used sporadically
throughout history. During the
World War II years and earlier, Japan’s notorious Unit 731 performed
biological experiments on Chinese nationals that resulted in thousands of
deaths. According to some estimates, Japan deployed biological
warfare agents in Myanmar (Burma), Indonesia, Russia, Singapore and Thailand
during this period. More recently,
Iraq has displayed a propensity to use biological war agents, although much of
Iraq’s capability has reportedly been destroyed.
For security and law enforcement officials today, a bio-terrorist attack
remains a primary concern. As part
of their security preparations for the 2000 Summer Olympics, Australian
officials prepared contingency plans to address a possible terrorist attack
involving biological weapons. Similar
concerns are evident in many other countries throughout the world.
session on transnational terrorism examined recent developments in terrorism in
Asia and attempted to predict future trends.
Terrorism was defined by one presenter as “the systematic use of
violence that is employed by non-state actors to achieve specific political
objectives.” He also asserted that terrorism has been effective in
achieving short-term goals (e.g., disruption of society), but generally
ineffective in achieving long-term goals (e.g., gaining national independence).
Another presenter noted that international terrorism’s center of
gravity has shifted eastward from the Middle East to Central and South Asia.
He also asserted that states are increasingly distancing themselves from
terrorist groups. These groups, in
turn, must rely more heavily on organized crime to fund their activities.
Terrorists also rely on refugee and diaspora communities to help them
presenter also noted that terrorist activity is rife in South Asia.
The region is the home to six of the world’s 16 highest-intensity
conflicts (Assam, India, Bihar, Pakistan, Kashmir, Sri Lanka, and Nepal), plus
11 of the globe’s 17 lower-intensity conflicts.
India has several serious separatist movements that regularly result in
violence, plus the dispute with Pakistan over Kashmir.
Pakistan is riddled with conflict between government and dissident groups
and between Shiite Muslims and Sunni Muslims. Similarly, Nepal has suffered violence stemming from a Gurkha
separatist movement and an insurgency by the Nepal Communist Party.
Another presenter focused on terrorism in East and Southeast Asia. He argued that during the Cold War, an array of sub-state Communist and ethno-separatist groups used terrorism to achieve their political goals. Terrorism, unlike traditional conventional warfare, is seen as relatively inexpensive. Some have described it as a high yield/low cost method of warfare. Weak political groups can achieve leveraged social and political influence through the use of terrorism, which requires relatively little personal risk to the perpetrators. The presenter focused his inquiry on three major terrorist groups: the Alex Boncayao Brigade (ABB) and Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in the Philippines; the PULO and New PULO in Thailand; and the Aum Shinrikyo Supreme Truth Cult in Japan.
The Alex Boncayao Brigade, according to the presenter, is the
self-described “punitive” armed wing of a leftist faction that split off
from the New People’s Army in 1993.
The group claims a membership of 500, although most experts believe the
actual number to be around 100. The
group has engaged in acts of violence to “protect Manila’s urban poor from
exploitative business practices.” The
group claims responsibility for bombing the head offices of Shell Philippines,
Caltex and Petron (the Philippines national oil corporation).
In early 1996, however, the government under President Ramos, launched a
major offensive against the group which led to the arrest of much of the
group’s leadership. Nevertheless,
the group demonstrated that it could continue to wield power and influence.
Following the election of President Joseph Estrada in 1998, the group
announced an escalation of its “People’s Struggle.”
A series of bombings and shootings, including the assassination of a
senior officer of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in 1998,
have been attributed to the group. Despite
these operations, the presenter asserted that the long-term prospects for the
ABB are relatively bleak, due to the impact of the 1996 arrests and the lack of
a unifying cause that can mobilize a large number of Filipinos.
Unlike the ABB, the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) poses a much greater challenge
to the government of the Philippines. The
insurgent movement can be traced back to 1989 and is governed by Caliph
and other religious leaders who, together, constitute the so-called Minsupala
Islamic Theocratic Shadow Government (MIT-SG).
According to Philippine military estimates, the ASG has a support base of
1,148, with more than 330 fighters. The
primary goal of the ASG is to create an independent Islamic State in Mindanao
(MIS). According to the presenter,
the ASG also sees its objectives as “intimately tied to an integrated effort
aimed at asserting the global dominance of Islam through armed struggle.”
ASG claims responsibility for a series of recent attacks, including a
1993 attack on the San Pedro Cathedral in Davao City; a 1994 ambush of a bus in
Basilan, resulting in the massacre of 45 Christian passengers; a 1995 raid on
the coastal settlement of Ipil that led to the death of 53 civilians; the
February 2000 bombings of two inter-island ferries, resulting in 45 civilian
deaths. Most recently, the ASG was
behind the recent kidnapping of 71 elementary school teachers, children and
international tourists. By August 2000, over 20 hostages had been released, four had
been beheaded and another 15 rescued by the Philippine military.
Finally, the Aum Shinrikyo is best known for its sarin gas attack on the
Tokyo subway system, which killed twelve and injured over 5000.
The group was founded in 1984 and bases its belief system on “an
idiosyncratic fusion of mystical Tibetan Buddhism and Hinduism, mixed with the
Apocalyptic Revelations of St. John and the Sixteenth Century predictions of
seer-astrologer Nostradamus.” The
leader of the group, Shoko Asahara, once predicted that a nuclear war would
erupt between Japan and the United States, which would wipe out 90 percent of
Japan’s population. In the wake
of this destruction, Aum would be able to rise up and usher in a new,
spiritually pure world. Estimates
regarding the number of members in the Aum Shinrikyo group range between 10,000
its peak in 1995, Aum Shinrikyo had nearly US$1 billion at its disposal, much of
which was used to build an elaborate chemical/biological weapons program.
The development of this program was facilitated by the cult’s policies
of recruiting students from Japan’s top universities who specialized in
physics, biochemistry, biology and electrical engineering.
In April 1990, the group attempted major terrorist attacks using
biological agents at three major locations: the Japanese Diet (Parliament), the
Yokosuka naval base (home to the US Navy’s Seventh Fleet) and the Narita
International Airport. These
attacks were unsuccessful. Later in
June 1993, the group used botulinum toxin in an attempt to murder the Japanese
royal family during the wedding of Prince Naruhito.
During the same month, the group attempted another attack in which they
released anthrax spores from the top of a building they owned in Tokyo.
As the presenter noted, Aum Shinkyo may represent a new type of terrorist
organization that “blends open-ended and higly volatile millenarian belief
structures with the type of extremist Manichean outlook characteristic of many
fundamentalist religious organizations.”
panel on maritime piracy noted that maritime crime and piracy are growing
challenges in the Asia-Pacific region and are threatening global shipping
networks. One presenter asserted
that over 1,455 maritime piracy incidents had been reported to the International
Maritime Organization from 1984 until April 1990.
Moreover, despite the fact that the number of piracy reports dropped
between 1997 and 1998, the level of violence experienced by ship crews has
worsened dramatically. In 1998, for
instance, over 51 crew members were killed and 31 wounded in a series of piracy
attacks. In the Asia-Pacific
region, the areas most prone to piracy attack—based on incidents reported in
1999—were the Singapore Straits and areas around Indonesia.
maritime piracy is “essentially a crime of opportunity” requiring effective
timing and appropriate geography, it is a crime that thrives in Southeast Asia
where there are thousands of small vessels plying the waters that can provide
camouflage and cover. Additionally,
the region features thousands of small islands—often unmonitored—where
pirate groups can base their operations. A
presenter noted that most pirate attacks occur in narrow and busy sea lanes. In these areas, law enforcement is minimal and government
complicity is common. Pirates will
often commit their maritime crimes in the waters of other nations.
A recent example of this was the kidnapping of foreign nationals in
Malaysia who were later taken to the Philippines.
the factors that may contribute to maritime piracy are the presence of maritime
disputes between nations. Unsettled
maritime boundaries can deter effective enforcement against crime, including
piracy, especially since one nation’s enforcement actions may be perceived as
intrusions by a neighboring state. The
existence of such gaps in maritime enforcement provide “a great deal of elbow
room for maritime pirates to operate.” The
South China Sea with its numerous maritime disputes is a prime example of this
phenomenon. As would be expected,
maritime piracy is rife within this region.
also thrives in the milieu of unsettled questions of international law.
The 1982 United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) establishes
an obligation to suppress piracy on the high seas.
Yet 80% of piracy is not committed on the high seas; rather, most acts
are committed within the territorial waters of particular states.
Although piracy is deemed a universal crime, this does not mean that
there is universal jurisdiction. Pirates
take advantage of contested areas where countries are reluctant to conduct naval
another trend in maritime piracy is “jurisdiction jumping.”
Pirates will sometimes travel to the territorial waters of another state
and then commit a crime against a third state.
Afterwards, they may seek refuge in their home state or another
jurisdiction. This ability to jump
to different territories allows the pirates to evade law enforcement actions.
In addition to piracy, other maritime crimes in the Asia-Pacific region
include narcotics trafficking and human smuggling.
Many of the panel members agreed that to effectively counter maritime
piracy, regional cooperation must exist on several levels.
First, states would need to cooperate by assisting in the creation of law
enforcement mechanisms that can counter piracy.
Laws between countries would have to be standardized or harmonized to
allow a common attack on piracy. Studies
would also need to be conducted to illuminate the modus operandi of traffickers
of migrants and pirates in order to identify zones of instability.
The panel on environmental degradation examined the myriad of
environmental challenges facing the Asia-Pacific region.
Presenters noted that Asia suffers from significant air, land and water
pollution and the trend—with very few exceptions—is worsening.
Despite this reality, public consciousness about the issue is still
relatively low. Environmental
issues often do not generate the level of attention or concern, as more
traditional security issues (such as the threat of a region-wide nuclear war).
Environmental problems are often recognized only after severe damage has
occurred and by that time, it is often too late.
pollution was highlighted as a particularly serious environmental challenge for
the region. In many of Asia’s
urban areas, air pollution exceeds levels considered safe by the World Health
Organization (WHO). Twelve of the
world’s 15 most polluted cities (as measured by levels of particulate matter
in the air) are located in Asia. In
most Asian cities, the largest source of air pollution is the transportation
sector, a trend that is worsening due to the increased reliance on automobiles,
motorcycles and buses. The impact
of such pollution on human health is devastating.
Air pollution is now viewed as a significant contributor to chronic
health problems in the region. Air
pollution problems are also inherently transnational.
In the case of northeast Asia, China is the major regional emitter of
sulfur dioxide and is a significant emitter of nitrogen dioxide.
Prevailing winds carry these pollutants from China to Korea, Japan, and
the North Pacific (to include North America).
In Korea, it is estimated that up to 13% of sulfur deposition originates
from China and, depending on seasonal changes, the amount of sulfur coming from
China often exceeds the amount generated in Korea. In Japan, sulfur deposition originating from China is
estimated to range between 3.5% to over 50%.
Another transboundary pollution threat for Northeast Asia is marine
pollution, which includes chemical pollutants, hydrocarbons, heavy metals,
radioactive waste, sewage, heat waste, oil, and many other materials.
One marine environmental issue in particular threatens to spark conflict
in Northeast Asia: the dumping of industrial and nuclear waste into the oceans.
Such dumping practices are preferred by many countries because they are
cheap and efficient. Countries
will often dump waste into areas of the ocean where there are overlapping
claims. Russia and Japan have admitted dumping thousands of tons of
nuclear waste into the East Sea (Sea of Japan).
The Yellow Sea, meanwhile, is the dumping ground for industrial pollution
from both China and Korea. The East
Sea (Sea of Japan) is used as a dumping ground for industrial waste and has been
the site of multiple oil spills. The
breakup of a Russian oil tanker off the Japanese coast in January 1997 caused
massive damage to Japan’s sensitive fish and aqua-culture breeding grounds. The incident caused an international dispute between Japan and
Russia as each blamed the other for not taking responsibility for the disaster.
The panel also noted that deforestation poses another major threat to
environmental security throughout the region.
Deforestation continues at a rapid pace throughout the region, and
particularly in Southeast Asia. Over
50% of the original forest cover in Southeast Asia has been destroyed, a trend
that shows no sign of abating. Deforestation
can lead to more severe natural disasters and scarcity challenges that can have
transnational implications. One
example of the linkage between deforestation and security occurred in 1997 and
1998 when a haze crisis developed in Southeast Asia.
The haze was the result of forest fires in Indonesia—caused in part by
excessive logging. Over 20 million
Indonesians suffered from adverse health effects of the haze crisis.
In neighboring states, such as Malaysia and Singapore, officials
initially attempted to downplay the severity of the crisis, but eventually they
had to abandon their diplomatic posture and point the finger directly at
panel also noted that arguably the ultimate transnational environmental issue
for the region is climate change. Climate
change will likely have profound consequences for the region’s environment as
well as human health. Rising sea
levels will have disastrous effects on many of Asia’s largest cities that are
adjacent to the ocean, such as Bangkok, Calcutta, Karachi, Manila, Bombay,
Shanghai and Tokyo. Moreover,
island states consider climate change—and its impact on sea level rise—to be
a major threat to survival. Some
Pacific Island states have entered into negotiations with larger countries to
expedite the out-migration of their citizens in the event that sea level
predictions become reality.
The small-arms trafficking session focused on a problem that contributes
both to international crime and terrorism and, ultimately, may result in social
instability. One presenter defined the phenomenon of small-arms
trafficking as the “import, export, acquisition, sale, delivery, movement, or
transfer of firearms, ammunition, explosives and other related materials from or
across the territory of one State Party to that of another State if any one of
the States concerned does not authorize it.”
presenter disclosed the findings of a previous meeting on small-arms trafficking
that was held by the Council on Security Cooperation in the Asia-Pacific (CSCAP). Among other things, he noted that small arms are the weapons
of choice for most transnational criminal activity. He also asserted that there is often a strong linkage between
weak states and the proliferation of small arms. Weak states tend to invite small arms trafficking—as well
as other forms of crime. Stronger
states may supply arms in expedient cases, although their complicity is often
was noted that the movement of light weapons—in violation of state laws—is
contributing to crime and other anti-state elements.
The proliferation of small arms around the world partly reflects the
“shift of armed conflict progressively from the regular to the irregular.” Armed conflict in the future, according to one presenter,
will be governed by a “new kaleidoscope where neither the old rules or new
South and Southeast Asia are particularly vulnerable to the scourge of
small-arms trafficking due to various factors.
The Afghanistan-Pakistan region arguably contains the world’s largest
concentration of weaponry, a situation made more volatile by the fact that it is
also a center for terrorist and extremist ideology.
Similarly, Asia has two of the largest opiate producing countries in the
world—Myanmar and Afghanistan—and it is well-known that narcotics
trafficking, and its collateral violence, depends extensively on the
availability of small-arms.
Similarly, the existence of organized crime cartels in the
region—notably those based in Russia, Central Asia and China—contributes to
the demand for, and hence the trafficking of small arms.
Additionally, Asia is a tinderbox for unresolved conflicts, including
those over land and sea borders, as well as those that are more ethnic or
religious in nature. Within this
milieu, small-arms act as a catalyst for instability.
The presenter also noted that the scale of small-arms trafficking in Asia
is enormous. In the late 1980s,
there were very few AK-47 assault weapons in South Asia, but now there are over
seven million. The
proliferation of small-arms can be partly attributed to military modernization
in the developed world. As old
weapons are phased out, they often find themselves in the stream of
international commerce within the illegal arms market.
The panel also noted that small-arms trafficking threatens the state in
several ways. First, it can undermine democratic institution building as
governments seek to control the threat. Their
attempts often result in draconian measures—such as a military takeover of the
civilian government. Small arms also sustain domestic criminal groups that erode
or challenge the power of the state. Economic
development can be impeded in those states with high levels of small arms.
States at the bottom of development charts are often the same ones
experiencing serious internal or external conflicts. Similarly, efforts to reduce or eliminate border controls
(for the purpose of allowing freer trade and exchange) tend to be undermined by
the reality of small-arms trafficking. This
harms nations that are in need of such exchanges.
session on international migration and human smuggling focused on the various
causes and effects of migration in the Asia-Pacific region.
As one presenter noted, migration is not a new phenomenon in the region;
many countries—such as Thailand—have been shaped by extensive historical
migrations. Asia witnessed one of
its largest mass migrations in 1975 after the fall of South Vietnam.
Additionally, the Asia-Pacific region is the source region for millions
of migrants and refugees who reside around the world.
But despite this historic reality, migration continues to generate sharp
and often emotional reactions in both source and host countries.
migration is stimulated by various “push” and “pull” factors.
As one presenter noted, migration “can be explained as a rational
choice by people who evaluate the costs and benefits of relocating.” Push and pull factors can be delineated into four basic
categories: (1) political (2) demographic (3) socioeconomic and (4)
environmental. Migration due to
political factors has been a common scenario in Asia’s history.
Political suppression or generalized violence in a society may prompt
people to emigrate abroad, legally or illegally.
In Fiji, anti-Indian sentiment—reflected in a number of coups by some
native Fijians—has spurred emigration from some parts of Fiji’s ethnic
and economic factors are also powerful stimuli for both legal and illegal
migration. Demographic pressures in
China are fueling massive internal migration, some of which is transformed into
international migration. Similarly, population growth in the Philippines—a
major source country for immigrants in the region—is exacerbating unemployment
pressures and thus stimulating emigration.
Moreover, economic factors play a major role in stimulating migration.
In China, income disparities between Fujian and other coastal provinces
and nearby Taiwan, Japan, or South Korea has sparked substantial illegal
emigration, much of it controlled by human smugglers known as ‘snakeheads.’
Asia’s economic crisis of 1997 also sparked mass migration among
particular countries. Indonesia
witnessed the exodus of thousands of its nationals who fled to neighboring
Indonesia. In addition to economic
causes, environmental factors—such as climate change, natural disasters or
deforestation—also stimulate migration and may become a much greater cause of
mass migration in the future.
the pressures for migration have increased in the region—combined with
shrinking avenues for legal migration—the trade in human beings has flourished
accordingly. According to one presenter, between 10 and 50 percent
of all illegal migration is organized by smugglers.
Migrant trafficking depends on an array of false passport and fake visa
services. The People’s Republic
of China stands out as a major source of smuggled migrants throughout the world.
Most recently British customs officials discovered 58 dead Chinese
nationals trapped in a truck near the port city of Dover.
The incident exposed the cruel and callous disregard for human life
inherent in the human smuggling trade. A
Chinese presenter noted that the growing problem of illegal Chinese emigration
is the result of multiple economic and social factors both within China and in
various destination countries. In
general, Chinese migrants are seeking higher-paying jobs in countries that are
facing labor shortages. Moreover,
the human smuggling trade thrives within the legal contradictions that often
exist in destination states. On one
hand, many of these countries prohibit illegal migration, but simultaneously,
they allow or tolerate it because it satisfies the labor needs of domestic
presenter also noted that China has exerted extensive efforts—legally as well
as politically—to stem the human trade. Articles
176 and 177 of the Criminal Law of the People’s Republic of China specifically
prohibits illegal emigration and the activity of organizing illegal emigration
(smuggling). Articles 318 and 321,
which were added in March 1997, provide harsher penalties for those caught
smuggling people abroad. Notwithstanding
these legal measures, the problem of human smuggling continues almost unabated
due to powerful underlying economic factors.
Human smuggling is a problem so vast that no single country can handle it
alone. Successfully mitigating the
issue will require extensive and sustained international cooperation.
presenter on the international migration panel noted that international
cooperation between countries in Asia and North America has helped
reduce—although not eliminate entirely—the growing trade in human beings.
Information sharing between various immigration ministries has helped to
expose the problem of passport and visa fraud.
The United States and Australia have shared information about recent
incidents of human trafficking into Australia.
Similarly, Canada and the United States are cooperating to stem human
smuggling into North America.
the scale of illegal migration grows in the region, it is increasingly being
viewed by governments as a security concern.
On the level of human security, international migration can lead to abuse
or victimization of migrants. Human
smuggling subjects migrants to unsafe and inhumane conditions.
Upon arrival, migrants may be forced into dangerous occupations, such as
the sex trade, where they have few rights or recourse to assistance.
Governments consider migration a security concern because of the
perception that it contributes to crime. Because
illegal migrants cannot enter the legal job market, they may feel
compelled—either through their own initiative or from coercion by the criminal
gangs that smuggled them—to engage in criminal activities, including
prostitution, drug trafficking, and theft.
On the international level, countries might view migration as a security
issue especially when it is perceived to be the result of manipulation by a
sending country. Governments may
force or strongly encourage certain segments of its population to migrate in
order to pressure a neighboring state.
Military Responses to Transnational Threats
In the post Cold War world, military forces are discovering that their
roles are expanding to include missions that involve countering transnational
security threats. The two presenters and one discussant on this panel focused
on the evolution of military roles and the changing geopolitical environment
throughout the world that is spawning these transnational challenges.
One presenter noted that the nature of conflict is changing and that
“comfortable security models and industrial age warfare” are out-dated
concepts. Another presenter noted
that writers such as Martin van Crevald and Robert Kaplan have depicted a dark
and bleak future world in which conflict occurs at the sub-national level
between terrorists, criminal gangs, or guerillas.
The state’s primary challenge will be to defend itself from internal
and low-intensity conflict, conflict that will eat away at its internal social
order. Yet, the current trend in
many military circles is to focus on “business as usual.”
The emphasis on the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) in the United
States reflects this trend. The RMA
is primarily geared toward major state-to-state confrontation.
It is not necessarily the most efficient response to transnational
threats, which many see as the key mission for military forces in the coming
decades. In other words, as a
presenter noted, the United States military is preparing for the conflicts that
it wants to be engaged in, not the ones that it will be inevitably drawn into.
Military forces are likely to be drawn into transnational security
missions based on a hierarchy of relevance.
For example, issues such as money laundering and computer crime would
probably not elicit a military response, since these threats can be managed more
effectively by civilian agencies. Infectious
disease and environmental degradation are more likely to involve military
forces. Military forces often have
specialized capabilities that would be useful in large-scale infectious disease
outbreaks. Traditionally, military
forces—especially those in the United States—have prepared for scenarios in
which infectious disease may be used as a weapon. In the event of a biological weapons attack, the United
States military has contingency plans to assist civilian authorities.
Similarly, military responses to environmental degradation might include
disaster relief, drought assistance, or the rebuilding of essential civil
trafficking of small-arms, narcotics or illegal migrants might involve military
intervention even more directly. Military
forces working as peacekeepers may be able to interdict large shipments of
illegal arms. Similarly, military
units may provide key support roles for civilian agencies directly responsible
for intercepting illegal drugs. In
the United States, military forces have played a key anti-narcotics role on the
U.S.-Mexico border where they provide key intelligence on trafficking trends.
Mass migration may also prompt a military response, as was the case in
the Caribbean during the mid-1990s when thousands of Haitians and Cubans
attempted to reach the United States.
Of the various transnational security threats, maritime piracy and terrorism may
military forces most directly. Maritime
piracy is a growing problem in the Asia-Pacific region.
One presenter noted that the number of piracy attacks in Indonesia
doubled in 1999, compared with a year earlier.
This probably reflected the effects of economic crisis and domestic
unrest in that country. States are discovering that by conducting naval patrols
through key shipping corridors, they can significantly reduce the incidence of
piracy. Consequently, the role of
the military in countering maritime piracy is likely to grow.
Similarly, military forces have extensive experience with terrorism.
Military forces have played key roles in collecting intelligence against
terrorist organizations, providing hostage rescue services, and, in the most
extreme cases, attacking terrorist facilities and headquarters.
Although the military can take on these roles, it is culturally not
enthusiastic about these types of missions.
There is an institutional bias against ‘Military Operations Other Than
War’ (MOOTW). As one high ranking
marine officer stated, many in the U.S. military—like their counterparts in
many countries—aspire to ‘heroic war’ in which they direct their energies
toward a demon, a dictator or a hated regime, and crush it.
Heroic war has clear objectives and transparent chains of command.
But the reality of future conflict is that it is much more likely to be
muddled, with missions more opaque and infused with multiple political and
economic objectives. Countering narcotics trafficking, conducting humanitarian
operations, or engaging in peacekeeping operations—these are just a few
examples of the likely missions of the future.
They are not so traditionally heroic, but they are necessary.
A broad consensus emerged that transnational security issues are a
growing challenge for the Asia-Pacific region.
It also became clear that not all states agree about which challenges are
more severe. Problems such as
infectious disease, small arms trafficking, and terrorism do not affect every
country equally. Similarly,
economic factors may affect the level of priority given to a particular problem. For example, a country faced with the challenge of sustaining
a certain level of economic growth might not consider pollution to be as
important an issue, compared to its neighbors.
Illegal migration may be more harmful to a receiving state, but in some
respects, it can be helpful to a sending state because of the remittances sent
by migrants back to their families.
One key thought that emerged was the need for international cooperation,
not only at the top levels, but also at the working level (or operational
level), between agencies of different countries.
Countries must establish enough mutual trust in order to be willing to
share sensitive operational intelligence. Moreover,
a common agenda to confront transnational security issues must emerge.
This conference was a good beginning, but the challenge of managing
transnational security threats will require persistent inquiry into the problem
and its potential solutions.
[This report was prepared by Paul J.
Smith and Don Berlin]
ABOUT THE ASIA-PACIFIC CENTER
The Asia-Pacific Center (APC) is a research, conference, and study center funded by the U.S. Department of Defense. The Center’s mission is to foster understanding, cooperation, and study of security-related issues among civilian and military representatives of the United States and other Asia-Pacific nations. The Center provides a focal point where national officials, decision makers, and policy experts can gather to exchange ideas, explore pressing issues and achieve a greater understanding of the challenges that that shape the security environment of the Asia-Pacific region. APC occasionally publishes articles on Asia policy issues written by APC research, staff, and fellows. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Asia-Pacific Center, the Department of Defense, or the United States government.