Transnational Violence and Seams of Lawlessness
(19-21 February 2002)
Transnational violence is one of
the most serious challenges to the future economic and social progress of the
Asia-Pacific region. Certain parts of the
Asia-Pacific region are steadily descending into a state that could be
described as ‘criminal anarchy.’ Other
countries, even if they enjoy more stable governance, are hobbled by economic
constraints that effectively limit their ability to exert an effective military
or law enforcement response to these challenges.
To examine the various
transnational threats facing the Asia-Pacific region, the Asia-Pacific Center
for Security Studies held a conference titled “Transnational Violence and Seams
of Lawlessness in the Asia-Pacific: Implications for Global Terrorism.” Among the major conclusions of this
Issues Are Emerging as Major Security Concerns: Transnational security threats, such as
crime, narcotics and maritime piracy, are emerging as key security
challenges throughout the Asia-Pacific region. This trend has been exacerbated by the region’s economic
crisis that began in mid-1997.
Porous borders, corruption, mass unemployment and economic
malaise—particularly in countries such as Indonesia and the
Philippines—are significant contributing factors. New forms of crimes, such as computer
or ‘cyber’ crime, are also challenging governments within the region. Globalization is responsible for many
positive trends such as international travel, cross-border money flows,
and transnational investment, but it also has a dark side in the form of
crime and terrorism which know no boundaries.
is an Emerging Threat to Asia:
Asia traditionally has not been viewed as a center for terrorism,
but experts now agree that terrorism’s ‘center of gravity’ is shifting to
South and Southeast Asia—away from the Middle East. The December 13, 2001 attack on India’s
Parliament highlighted the constant terrorist threat facing India. Moreover, military operations in
Afghanistan are likely to have a ‘displacement’ effect on Al-Qaeda which
in turn may seek to re-locate to Southeast Asia, particularly
Indonesia. Al-Qaeda has perfected
the art of ‘grafting’ itself—its objectives and ideology—onto preexisting
or endogenous groups. This is the
primary risk facing Asia.
Weakened, Al Qaeda Still Poses a Threat: Al-Qaeda’s heavy reliance on Afghanistan as a base of
operations has ultimately proved to be its Achilles’ heel. U.S. and allied forces, relying on
high-tech military operations, have nearly decimated Al Qaeda’s presence
and infrastructure in that country.
However, it must be remembered that Al Qaeda is largely an Arab
organization, with significant roots in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and
Algeria. The support
infrastructure for many of the Al Qaeda constituent groups, such as
Egyptian Islamic Jihad, continues to exist globally. These groups or cells could easily
gravitate to countries with weak governments or sympathetic populations. The struggle against Al Qaeda, or its
successor organization, is likely to be protracted and bloody.
Qaeda’s Goal is to Create a Pan-Islamic Struggle Against the West: Experts noted that Al-Qaeda’s strength
lay in its multi-national composition and its multi-cellular
structure. Al-Qaeda has sought to
bridge the gap between Islamic movements in the Middle East and East Asia
and one vehicle for this fusion has been the International Islamic Relief
Organization, which provides critical funding for groups affiliated with
or sympathetic to Al Qaeda. In one
case in the Philippines, a former director of the IIRO used the
organization to funnel Al-Qaeda funds to Abu Sayyaf and the Moro Islamic
Liberation Fromt (MILF). Al-Qaeda
cells may operate independently, with minimal direction or management from
headquarters. Some may act as
‘sleepers’ until they are activated to carry out their mission. Governments can only respond to this
threat by employing both law enforcement and traditional military methods
against these organizations.
LTTE Continues to Pose Threat to Regional Security: Although the LTTE’s (Liberation Tigers
of Tamil Eelam) focus is primarily limited to one country, Sri Lanka, its
support structure and collateral criminal activities are transnational in
nature. The LTTE has been linked
to the trade in illegal narcotics and small arms in various Southeast
Asian countries, such as Cambodia and Myanmar. The LTTE also relies on—or extorts—funds from overseas
Tamil diaspora communities.
Recently, the LTTE has entered into a truce with the Sri Lankan
government, but experts generally believe that this is a ruse designed to
‘buy time’ and keep the LTTE out of the gun scope of the current ‘War on Terror.’ Seeking or declaring truces, as
several experts noted, is just another war tactic.
Singapore Bomb Plot Highlights Risk to United States: The recently-foiled Jamaah Islamiyyah
(JI) plot in Singapore underscores Al-Qaeda’s Reach into Southeast Asia
and the dangers that such presence poses for the United States. In December, members of Singapore’s
Internal Security Department (ISD) arrested 15 people for terrorism
related activities (including a plot to blow up the embassies of the
United States, United Kingdom and Australia.) Also targeted were key U.S. commercial and military
targets. The arrests by the
Singapore government brought to light the existence of an Al-Qaeda network
existing throughout the region, and which was linked to attacks on a
Manila train system in December 2000.
The JI cell involved in the Singapore plot also reportedly had
plans to bomb a US naval vessel—in a U.S.S. Cole-style attack.
US and its Assets are Major Terrorist Targets in the Region:
United States officials need to recognize that international terrorist
organizations view the Asia-Pacific region as a soft underbelly region for
striking out at US targets.
Arguably the predecessor to the September 11th 2001
airborne terror attacks against the U.S. was Project Bojinka (Oplan
Bojinka) engineered in the Philippines by Ramsi Yousef, Abdul Hakim
Murad and others. This plot
sought to destroy 12 US airliners, almost simultaneously. Similarly, in 2001, U.S. officials acquired
solid evidence suggesting that the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta would be attacked
by Al Qaeda or its affiliates.
Abu Sayyaf, a group based in the Philippines that is linked to
Al-Qaeda, has targeted western tourists—including Americans—in its various
kidnapping operations in Sipidan (Malaysia), Palawan, and other
locations. The targeting of
Americans will likely increase in the absence of effective
Crime and Terrorism are Converging: Traditionally crime and terrorism were traditionally
distinguished by economic and political motives. Criminals generally sought economic gain through illicit
means, while terrorists sought political change and used criminal means to
achieve those ends. Such neat
distinctions are increasingly blurred in the Post Cold War era. Terrorist organizations, bereft of state
support, increasingly are turning to transnational crime activities—such
as narcotics trafficking—to finance their activities. Al Qaeda constituent cells, for
instance, are often encouraged to engage in petty crimes—such as
trafficking in fake passports—to support themselves or their
organizations may enter into agreements with terror groups to sell light
weapons or bomb materials. At
various levels, this convergence is growing.
Trafficking in Asia and Linkages to Terrorism: The Asia-Pacific region, once known
exclusively as a drug-producing and export region, is increasingly
emerging as a consumer region.
Methamphetamines, commonly referred to as yaba or shabu,
are proliferating in unprecedented quantities throughout the region. Thailand considers this particular
drug epidemic to be a key security challenge. A festering political problem involves the Myanmar-based
United Wa State Army (UWSA) which, according to one source, dominates the
Asian heroin and amphetamine trade.
The UWSA reportedly has a large number of military troops at its
disposal, equipped with an array of light weapons that allow them to
protect their narcotics enterprises.
The issue is gradually emerging as a major irritant in the
relations between Thailand-Myanmar.
Laundering is Rife Throughout Asia: As the proceeds of international crime grow, transnational
criminal organizations are looking for ways to launder or otherwise hide
their money. They are taking
advantage of lax banking laws that exist in certain countries in the
region, such as the Philippines and key South Pacific island states, such
as Nauru. Additionally, the
United States confronts a major challenge in trying to stop the money
flows that fuel terrorism. The hawalla
underground banking system, common throughout South and Southeast Asia, is
virtually impossible to monitor.
Funds tied to terrorist or criminal plots can easily pass through
these informal or underground systems.
A new and innovative method must be devised to attempt to monitor
these money flows.
Smuggling is a Growing Security Challenge: Illegal migration and ‘people
smuggling’ are growing transnational challenges in the region. In the 1990s, the phenomenon of Chinese
human smuggling—facilitated by traffickers known as ‘snakeheads’—was
common throughout the region (and remains so). Most recently, Southeast Asia has emerged as a key transit
region for human smuggling from Iraq and Afghanistan to Australia and
elsewhere. The transit smuggling
of migrants via Indonesia to Australia has emerged as a major irritant in
Indonesia and Malaysia have also experienced mutual tensions over
this issue, as unemployment rises in Indonesia drives thousands to try
their luck in Malaysia. Human
smuggling is likely to grow alongside growing disparities in economic
growth and income levels throughout the region.