Keynote Speech


Honorable Angelo T. Reyes

Secretary of the Interior and Local Government

Republic of the Philippines


An International Conference

Session on EU-ASEAN Security Cooperation

21 October 2003

Brussels, Belgium

Relations between our two regions go back many centuries to that bygone era when European explorers scoured the world in search of spices to savor and souls to save. Early contacts evolved into colonial arrangements, which have since matured into more equitable, though far from perfect, partnerships between and among Southeast Asian and European nations. The modern era has seen many member-states of the European Union involved in trade, foreign investment and cooperation assistance in Southeast Asia.

With the trend towards stronger cooperation between and among regional and global institutions and alliances, the EU-ASEAN relationship continues to evolve along areas of mutual concern. Surfacing prominently on the agenda are the areas of security and socio-economic development, which are intertwined more intensively today due to the dynamics of globalization.

This International Conference comes at an opportune time as we pursue the collective effort to strengthen EU-ASEAN relations in the face of emerging challenges and threats to global security. And I thank the European Policy Centre and Hanns Seidel Stiftung for inviting me to share my perspectives on these issues in this session.

Security in a Globalizing Milieu

It is vital to first come to a common understanding of what we mean by a secure world.

The essence of security is trust within a group of people or nations—trust that everyone will abide by a pre-agreed set of rules to achieve the common good, and will do nothing to endanger or disturb the peaceful existence of others. I prefer to call this a sense of community.

Within a genuine community of nations, there is wide latitude for growth, particularly among developing countries struggling to liberate their people from the clutches of poverty. Conditions may be far from equitable, owing to historical or geographic circumstance, but at least there is equal opportunity—a level playing field—for every nation to initiate and sustain development. Domineering and exploitative paradigms of international relations are shunned in favor of approaches that deliberately seek to close the gap between rich and poor countries.

The question is whether or not the world is in fact moving in that direction, given both the promise and peril of globalization. As a process that erodes boundaries among states and integrates national economies, cultures, technologies, and modes of governance in a complex web of interdependence, globalization as a policy issue is seldom met with neutrality or acquiescence.

Can globalization and trade liberalization deliver on their promise to create new opportunities for growth and development, foreign investment and wider market access, while enabling everyone to enjoy the bounty of cheap goods? Or will they merely open the gates to a flood of irresistible forces that will drown immature industries in the developing world?

The security implications of this dire scenario of massive unemployment and bankruptcy are self-evident. Mere apprehension over such prospects is already breeding deep-seated resentment against the globalist agenda—and, by extension, the West—among vulnerable sectors in our part of the world. By the same token, displaced service and manufacturing workers in the West do not look too kindly upon the fact that their jobs are being outsourced offshore or are being taken by migrants who have fled their homelands in search of hope.

From either vantage point, this does not look or sound as if any semblance of global community is taking shape, notwithstanding earlier agreements to conceive and carry out alternative strategies and safety nets for affected sectors. This lays bare a basic paradox in the interim phase of the process: the co-existence of global markets and dynamics alongside national and regional interests. Such a situation is fraught with latent conflict.

On top of the imperative to manage the process with greater sensitivity and prudence, globalization also raises direct challenges in international security. Borders have become more porous not only for trade but also for terrorism and transnational crime.

Interactive Security Threats

What makes “hard” external threats particularly dangerous is their receptiveness to ignition by “soft” threats that have been lingering in many developing countries for decades.

Many of these “soft” threats relate to huge gaps in socio-economic and political development that are all too familiar.

Poverty that spreads in rural and urban areas gives birth to extremism, apathy and disenchantment among many members of a society. In addition, expanding inequality has reinforced the power of local elites over the poor majority in developing countries, giving rise to social conflicts and disparities.

Economic setbacks have in turn decreased various states’ capacity to create the social order and security upon which the economy depends. Regression in institution-building is disintegrating some societies, severely compromising security when coupled with the feeble state of economies. And where economic management is weak, coercion, corruption and personality politics will continue to prevail. These conditions diminish those states’ capacity to respond to security threats, making them vulnerable to terrorism and transnational crime.

To some extent, these intranational social tensions mirror the conflicts between poor and rich nations.

The United Nations has already provided a snapshot of the macro situation upon which it has based its Millennium Development Goals. It is estimated, based on 1998 data, that about 1.2 billion people live on less than one dollar a day, and that nearly three billion people make do with less than two dollars per day. From another perspective, it is noted that the aggregate GDP of the poorest 48 countries is less than the wealth of the world’s three richest people combined.

The gaps between wealthy and low-income countries have clearly grown way out of proportion, fueling the kind of cynicism, hostility and resentment that are tinder for terrorists.

How Terrorism Has Changed the Security Landscape

Today, barely four years into the new millennium, the magnitude of terrorism has changed the landscape of national, regional and global security.

When I was active in the military service, armed rebellion against perceived injustices (in the Philippines and elsewhere) principally took the form of guerrilla-type insurgency. At that time, while guerrillas enjoyed natural camouflage in the barrios, the fields of warfare could still be segregated and contained. By adopting a holistic counter-insurgency approach, that included intensive community development initiatives alongside neutralization of armed elements, we were able to beat the guerrillas at their own game.

But dire socio-economic conditions have made it difficult to stamp out the insurgency problem completely. And in some areas, the threat has mutated into a far more dangerous form.

Terrorism has turned the rules and doctrines of warfare upside down. Everything that I learned at the Philippine Military Academy—everything that has been taught at Sandhurst, Saint-Cyr, the Bundeswehr, the Royal Military Academy of Belgium and West Point over the past century—no longer applies in the terrorist battlefield. In the first place, the battlefield has ceased to have defined geographic and ethical boundaries. Terrorism defies all rules: rather than spare civilians from harm and collateral injury, it pounces on their very vulnerability and helplessness in settings that would normally be neutral to hostilities.

In the mid-1990s I saw first-hand the aftermath of the first ruthless attack of the Abu Sayyaf. For no apparent reason other than to sow terror and to expose the vulnerability of remote areas around our 7,000-island archipelago, the bandits razed a large part of the coastal town of Ipil, deep in the southern Philippines. Armed with imported high-powered guns, they easily overpowered the local police, looted banks, burned buildings and indiscriminately fired at civilians with automatic rifles.

How does one deal with such an enemy? How can even the best-equipped army and police force secure every island, let alone every city, town and village? Is there an omnipresent, quick-response home defense system anywhere in the world that can stop these mindless murderers from turning another airplane, a gas depot or a power plant into a fresh instrument of death and mayhem? How can communities feel secure if danger may lurk in every mall, park, office building, school, stadium and street corner?

Terrorists strike at a time and place of their own choosing, virtually anywhere. Hence, any program meant to defend against terrorist attacks cannot help but be grossly disproportionate in terms of cost and difficulty. It would take dozens, maybe hundreds, of security personnel to secure an installation that one or two terrorists can blow apart in seconds.

Indeed, there are no simple solutions—not even a relentless drive to capture high-profile terrorist leaders like Osama Bin Laden or to dry up their funding lines. The real enemy resides in hateful minds and hearts. Again and again, we have witnessed terrorist acts committed by young men and women of intelligence and conviction. These manifest a firm belief that the Western paradigm of development has failed—or, at least, has failed them. We could call this phenomenon “explosive graffiti”: the poor and the powerless yearning for recognition and self-expression, revolting against the establishment—now in the modern guise of Western-led globalization—in a more destructive manner.

The terrorist threat cannot be underestimated by any means. Virtually infinite pockets of potential incidence of terrorism magnify the power of these small subnational groups, enabling them to engage the most powerful nations on earth in a new mode of “warfare” that is not winnable on conventional terms.

Their very choice of methods and symbols reflects strategic sophistication that compensates for their relative weakness in firepower and resources. The latest wrinkle in their evolving strategy and tactics is the use of the Internet for terroristic ends—starkly pitting nations against one another in a moral debate on how to deal with terrorists who kidnap their respective nationals. This diabolical move succeeds in sowing divisiveness among the so-called “coalition of the willing” and in instilling fear among those who are stationed in Iraq or elsewhere in the Middle East.

9/11 and all subsequent terrorist attacks have focused the eyes of the world on this most dreaded security threat. In response, the US has virtually closed its borders and focused its military might on the war against terror, in its territory and abroad. To preclude a repeat of the 9/11 attacks, the US has drawn its first line of defense—threatening to bring the war to countries that may be hosting terrorist groups or developing weapons of mass destruction. Some countries in Southeast Asia are considered hosts of terrorist groups. But those who are members of the “coalition of the willing” are helped, while others are isolated. This stance creates new conflicts, which have the potential to escalate into new wars.

Post-Cold War Complications

The terrorist threat acquired a new dimension of danger following the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe. The end of the Cold War did not bring lasting peace to the world. On the contrary, the fear of mutually assured destruction by two nuclear superpowers has been replaced by a multiplicity of more palpable tensions along fissures of ethnicity and faith.

The post-Cold War era has brought on a surplus of arms in a buyer’s market, as well as an underground market for loose nuclear weapons, which has exacerbated potential “hard” threats from diverse sources.

Looming in the distance is one aspect of the China factor that seems benign at the moment in the face of the capitalist frenzy enveloping the world’s most populous nation. But the fact remains that China is a communist state with a formidable military capability, growing economic power, and historical links with North Korea and Indo-China. One of Samuel Huntington’s potentially volatile scenarios is a Sino-Islamic link—for instance, in sales or technology transfer in conventional or nuclear warfare capabilities—to partly offset the dominance of the West, particularly the US, in military power.

The post-Cold War era has also witnessed the fragmentation of states as disenchanted nationalities and sectors asserted their identities and pressured governments to foresake the politics of ethnic domination and to reject Western influence in all aspects of governance.

The more fundamental concern is the erosion of a sense of global community and the seeming re-ascendancy of disparate “tribal” interests—the polar opposite of the vision held by globalization advocates.

The US construct of “world community”—a reformulation of the “Free World” concept that underpinned US foreign policy during the Cold War—needs to be validated or re-defined through a broader prism that does not gloss over the interests and aspirations of non-Western states. Let us make sure that each time any of us uses the term “world community” in the future, we mean the same thing: a kindred of diverse peoples driven by a common sense of humanity.

Perceptions of arrogance and/or manipulative dominance by the West breeds latent sympathy for terrorists’ motives, alongside an abhorrence of their methods. This might be viewed as a perverse desire to even the playing field. The vision of widespread prosperity on unacceptable Western terms is replaced by an anarchic or nihilist vision which seeks to drag down everyone to a common level of misery or to obliterate what is seen as a decadent value system that needs to be replaced.

Asian attitudes toward the West could swing either way, characterized as they are by a certain ambivalence. Most Asians, I suspect, love Western symbols of prosperity and individual freedom but abhor perceived domination and exploitation by the West. This partly explains the rampant piracy of Western goods—from bags and apparel to software and audio-video discs—and the persistent attempts by cyber-rebels in the region to hack computers of powerful Western institutions or to at least wreak havoc on the Internet.

Emerging Security Concerns

Over three years have passed since 9/11. Despite efforts to wage war against terror, the threats remain and no amount of victories has given a semblance of peace to the world. Paranoia continues to haunt policy-makers, who cannot help but remain in a state of high alert. A lot of resources which could have helped alleviate global poverty and promote inter-cultural understanding in the developing world have been used to fund security needs.

While the world has been preoccupied with the war against terror, new global threats have begun to surface.

Conflicts over access to resources pose a persistent threat. Complex issues in the management of resources such as water and oil, as well as the environment, has been giving rise to tensions among neighboring states. Again, such issues bring to light the gross inequity in the use of the world’s resources between the developed and the developing world.

Some forecasts show, for instance, that by 2025 more than three billion people will face water scarcity. This is not because the world lacks water—it just needs to use the resource more efficiently.

On the more visible horizon, sustainability of development due to rising energy costs is emerging as a crucial issue for policy makers, energy industries and the general public. Energy security has become a primary concern of the United Nations and a number of international organizations, including ASEAN. The continuing conflict in Iraq and the Middle East, energy supply routes which are getting longer and more vulnerable to terrorist attacks, and increasing demand for energy supplies are issues that must be the focus of a global policy consensus.

In the area of transnational crime, the biggest threat is the multi-billion-dollar international trade in illegal drugs. Not only are narcotics subverting nations by corrupting and debilitating their citizens, particularly the youth; they are also generating oodles of cash that fuel further criminal—including terrorist—activities.

On another front, the emergence of new diseases such as SARS, bird flu and AIDs, along with the resurgence of tuberculosis and malaria, has affected not only the medical but also the political and economic agenda of the affected nations.

The SARS epidemic that hit parts of Asia last year is a case in point. Apart from the direct costs of intensive medical care and control interventions, SARS caused widespread social disruption and economic losses. Schools, hospitals, and some borders were closed, and thousands of people were placed in quarantine. International travel to affected areas fell by 50% and hotel occupancy dropped by more than 60%.

In contemplating these health issues, we cannot help but shudder at the possibility that terrorists would employ biochemical tactics one day soon.

Responding To the Challenge

Even as we are aware of the diversity of threats at the national, regional and global levels, we recognize the fact that terrorism is likely to dominate the security agenda for years to come.

ASEAN & Philippine Responses. To help us sort out these security issues, let me cite the experience in our part of the world. For decades, East Asia has had numerous major political hotspots—with tensions in the Korean peninsula, the South China Sea and the Taiwan Straits, plus serious internal instabilities in some countries, bearing the potential of breaking out into wars in the region. Yet, these tensions have not really escalated into major armed conflicts.

We attribute this situation partly to ASEAN’s long history of cooperation, of understanding and respecting differences, of seeking consensus through dialogues, and of helping each other. It is understood that what affects one affects all. Thus, countries are given the leeway to address their concerns within their respective processes and interests. This breeds different ways of achieving consensus, but as long as the end-destination is clear, conflicts can be minimized.

Even before 9/11, ASEAN member-countries already included terrorism in their 1997 Declaration during the First ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Transnational Crime held in Manila. 9/11 spurred ASEAN to step up its concerted effort to ensure the security and stability of the region.

In response to UN Security Council-issued Resolutions, ASEAN adopted the 2001 declaration of joint action to counter terrorism during the 7th ASEAN summit in Brunei Darussalam in November 2001. The declaration condemned all forms and manifestations of terrorism as a direct threat to the region. The ASEAN Army Chiefs’ multilateral meeting in Manila, also in November 2001, yielded an agreement to enhance information and intelligence exchange and to strengthen bilateral and multilateral cooperation in a comprehensive manner.

Meanwhile, leaders of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation organization (APEC) issued a statement on 21 October 2001, calling for stronger international cooperation at all levels in order to more effectively combat terrorism and the adoption of appropriate financial measures to prevent the flow of funds to terrorists.

An April 2002 workshop, hosted by Thailand, on the prevention of terrorism came up with a 6-point recommendation for members to assist each other in developing national and regional counter-terrorism capabilities.

In May 2002, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines formed an anti-terrorist coalition in Kuala Lumpur. The pact provides a framework by which the three countries would cooperate to combat terrorist groups and prevent them from using their assets for criminal activities, such as piracy, arms smuggling, and drug trafficking. The three countries share common sea borders where terrorists, pirates, and smugglers skip from one island to the other to evade pursuing maritime authorities. Thailand and Cambodia have since joined the pact.

ASEAN has also been successful in apprehending terrorist key personalities operating in the region. Most of them come from two of the biggest security threats in the region—Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) and the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG). Neutralized through ASEAN cooperation were: Abu Bakar Bashir, JI’S spiritual leader who is now serving four years in prison for subversion; Nurjaman Riduan Ismuddin also known as Hambali, JI’S Operation Chief and said to be Al-Qaeda’s Operations Director for East Asia; Abdurajak Abubakar Janjalani, founder of the ASG who was killed in a clash with Philippine Police; Ramze Youssef, one of Al-Qaeda’s top firearms and explosives specialist; Khalid Sheik Mohammed, believed to be Al-Qaeda’s number three man; and JI member and bomb maker Fathur Al-Ghozi, who was tracked down and killed by the Philippine military a year ago.

The Philippines itself has become even more assiduous in combating the terrorist threat in the post-9/11 world, joining the US call for an international effort to deprive terrorists of their extra-territorial sanctuaries and to help rebuild former terror havens as democratic states.

The Philippine government has adopted a National Internal Security Plan, which prescribes a holistic approach in addressing threats to national security and a sixteen-point counter-terrorism agenda. The holistic approach consists of political, social, economic and security components to address poverty, which provides the breeding ground for terrorism.

The Philippines has also supported efforts of ASEAN and APEC to counter terrorism and has pushed for the passage of an Anti-Money Laundering Law to pare down the fund sources of terrorist groups.

As a result of our intensive military operations, we broke the backbone of the dreaded Abu Sayyaf, which has strong links with Bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda, while decimating other terrorist groups.

Some of these efforts have earned for the Philippines a non-permanent seat in the UN Security Council. The Philippines has also been designated by the United States as a major non-NATO ally for its principled support to the anti-terrorism campaign.

EU-ASEAN Cooperation. Let us now focus our attention on the EU-ASEAN cooperative actions against the threats to global security.

At this juncture, the EU and ASEAN are plotting a new roadmap toward a shared destination: peace and prosperity through partnership and cooperation.

The January 2003 Ministerial Meeting between the EU and ASEAN members broke new ground for collaborative endeavor between our two groups. We got off to a good start by adopting a Joint Declaration on Cooperation to Combat Terrorism—the first security concord between EU and ASEAN.

But the EU-ASEAN security partnership is still in its infancy. We have yet to forge a stronger, deeper alliance on the aspect of security. The Joint Declaration has remained largely statements of intention, which have to be translated into clear plans of action.

Toward this end, we can make use of an established venue for dialogue and co-operation on security issues: the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF). Let us further strengthen this Forum by reinforcing confidence-building measures, preventive diplomacy and practical cooperation in tackling common threats and problems, consistent with the ARF’s principle of consensus and step-by-step approach.

Allow me to cite a few recommended action steps that international and regional groups such as our EU-ASEAN partnership may wish to consider in addressing the threat of terrorism:

1) Cross-cultural awareness and understanding and the building of community relations must be intensified to erase the notion that the campaign against terrorism is against a religion, a culture, or even an economic and social status;

2) Each country, in coordination with other countries, must enact an anti-terrorism law that can effectively deal with the detention, prosecution, and punishment of terrorists and their instrumentalities;

3) Our community of nations must establish a research facility on terrorism, which will serve as a vehicle to generate knowledge and to provide a common database on terrorism;

4) Better technology must be developed to enhance the means of tracing and suppressing terrorist financing in order to choke the lifeline of terrorist networks;

5) Countries must cooperate in enhancing air, maritime, and immigration security control, and in regulating the establishment of social, educational, and religious institutions that may be used as fronts by terrorist groups;

6) Developed countries must help provide sustainable socio-economic development projects to areas vulnerable to terrorist influence due to poverty, wide socio-economic gaps and civil conflict; and

7) An alternative ideology to radical extremism must be promoted and propagated in communities all over the world.

Very recently, leaders from Asia and Europe met in Vietnam to discuss areas for cooperation in a world with looming instabilities, brought about by the global threat of terrorism.

In that meeting, Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo thanked the European Union for the technical assistance it has extended to the Philippines in the field of counter-terrorism. Taking off from there, she further made a number of suggestions to advance Asian-Europe security relations:

  • Aside from technical assistance in the fight against terrorism, the European Union may also look into the possibility of including hardware assistance, not only for the Philippines, but the whole of ASEAN.
  • The conflicts should not be allowed to evolve into a religious war. Inter-faith dialogues should be pursued and supported up to the United Nations level.
  • The Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) has been in existence for the past eight years. It is time that the ASEM be institutionalized. It is in this context that the Philippines offered to host the ASEM permanent secretariat.

To reinforce President Arroyo’s pronouncements, may I add that to address our current and future security concerns, we need to take simultaneous action along defense and development tracks.

Security can no longer be viewed from a narrow framework. I believe that unless a multi-pronged, multi-agency, multi-dimensional, and multi-national response is developed and the underlying causes of terrorism—such as ethnic and religious hatred, bigotry and intolerance, and alienation and disaffection—are addressed, this global menace will haunt us indefinitely.

The challenge for us is to put together such a response.

We must show resolve and determination at least equal to that of the terrorist. This involves, among others, committing our active participation in the EU-ASEAN effort to wage war against terrorism, as well as transnational crime and other threats to our common security.

The emerging EU-ASEAN bloc will hopefully see an expansion in capacity-building assistance from the EU to needy ASEAN countries, forging of investment and trade agreements, promotion of technology transfer, joint cooperation between the police and security forces of both regions in combating transnational crime, and even technical assistance to help demographically beleaguered countries develop effective health care, environment and education policies and programs.

Creating A Secure And Progressive World

The 9/11 tragedy made us realize that “hard” threats such as terrorism are very real and cannot be ignored. It became clear that oceans and time zones no longer provide nations a buffer against attack. The wide-open doors of globalization have also ushered in unwanted guests. With globalization, the threads of national fates have became more interwoven.

While new opportunities have emerged for some countries to improve their lot by engaging in enhanced trade with the rest of the world, it has not been a walk in the park for many marginalized developing countries, which have not been adequately prepared to enter this new frontier in world affairs. In theory, these nations stand to benefit in the long run from the discipline of market forces—yes—but in practice there may not even be a long run to speak of. As weak economies gasp and tumble, people are sinking deeper into poverty, despair and anger at their respective governments for failing to provide basic services and to deliver them from the “evils” of globalization.

Bin Laden and his ilk saw this as an opportunity to seduce the disaffected and to poison their minds with hatred for the West.

And that has brought us where we find ourselves today.

While the impact of globalization upon national identities has raised many hopes and fears, there is a growing optimism that humanity will eventually transcend national boundaries by moving towards a community of interests and universal values.

Given the need to address national concerns within different perspectives and needs, dialogues and cooperative actions provide the tool toward furthering global progress, security and peace.

The lack of consensus and diversity of opinions on what the main threats are or how to deal with them should not hinder the quest for unity of purpose around a common security agenda.

Peace, stability and prosperity are essential to establish an environment conducive to improving the quality of life of every citizen of the world. We need to put our coordinative efforts towards this global end. It is fundamental that countries’ foreign policy touch on fostering peace and nurturing a true global community for the attainment of the common good.

The colonial era has long passed. Back then, the strong became stronger by keeping others weak. In contemporary times, the strong can only remain strong by helping the weak become strong themselves. The relations between our two regions today demand greater sensitivity, vision and compassion. During the twilight years of the colonial era, Gunnar Myrdal spoke of the revolution of rising expectations among newly emergent states. The phenomenon continues to define Third World dynamics today and may even have evolved into the volatility of escalating despair. The only antidote to the looming catastrophe this threatens is for us to lock arms and forge the true spirit of global community.

Ladies and gentlemen, the challenge to confront a largely invisible but lethal enemy with new mindsets and methods is very formidable. But we have no choice but to meet the challenge with courage and conviction. For what is at stake is not just the security of both our regions, but the very survival of humankind.

Thank you and good day.