Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

Addressing International Terrorism in Southeast Asia: A Matter of Strategic or Functional Approach?

Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

Addressing International Terrorism in Southeast Asia: A Matter of Strategic or Functional Approach?

Article excerpt


The destruction of the World Trade Centre twin towers in New York and the attack on the Pentagon on September 11, 2001 resurrected America's penchant for international crusades and global activism. Shortly after, the United States called for a worldwide coalition to combat terrorism. US policy toward Southeast Asia underwent a radical transformation as earlier post-Cold War priorities, such as economic diplomacy, democratization and human rights, became secondary to the overriding agenda of countering terrorist groups and organizations wherever they might be. Washington began seeking levels of military and diplomatic cooperation with member-states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) not seen since the end of the Cold War. After more than a decade of relative disengagement from the region, American concerns over Islamic extremism and alleged Al-Qaeda connections in a number of Southeast Asian countries prompted Washington to re-examine its interests and posture in that part of the world, which in the 1990s were limited to economic objectives and general political support to ASEAN. The United States dangled financial, diplomatic and military assistance to attract allies and supporters in the region in its effort to mobilize these states in the global counter-terrorism campaign. Consequently, Washington's security ties with a number of Southeast Asian countries improved dramatically as the Bush administration provided military training, intelligence support and other resources to states fighting terrorist groups in their territories.

A year after September 11, however, a number of Southeast Asian states began casting a wary eye on America's global campaign against terrorism. Washington's announcement of the September 2002 National Security Strategy created the impression in the region that America's global antiterrorism campaign relies primarily on military means and fails to address the very conditions that cause this security problem. Washington's new defence strategy directed against terrorists or states sponsoring terrorism also seemed to ignore the fact that Southeast Asian countries had battled homegrown terrorist groups long before September 11. Moreover, these countries cannot simply accept the idea that international terrorism is their most important security issue. America's decision to adopt a strategy of pre-emptive defence has also created an image of an unilateralist power bent on weakening the United Nations, defying international public opinion, and effecting regime changes in a number of smaller and weaker states. Some Southeast Asians are also apprehensive that Washington's enforcement or implementation of this new national security strategy will legitimize external intervention in the internal affairs of states deemed as harbouring or supporting terrorist groups. They also fear that America's predominantly offensive security strategy will render Southeast Asian security arrangements useless if regional priorities run counter to vital US interests and that some of the world's problems are too complex and deeply rooted for a superpower to resolve unilaterally.

This article examines how America's war on global terrorism has been waged in Southeast Asia and how it has changed the regional security landscape. The article raises the following questions: How is the US conducting its anti-terror war in Southeast Asia? How are the states in the region responding to America's counter-terrorism campaign? And how is Washington's promulgation of a new national security strategy affecting its war on terror in the region and its relations with the Southeast Asian states?

Counter-terrorism in a Global Society

The destruction of the twin towers in New York and the attack on the Pentagon in Washington on September 11 highlighted the qualitative transformation of a security challenge in international affairs--terrorism. As a form of asymmetric conflict, terrorism refers to the use of force for political purposes such as to create fear, draw widespread attention to a political grievance, and/or provoke draconian or sustained response from the targeted state. …

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