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Post-September 11: Implications for Regional Stability and Security in Southeast Asia

Article by Foreign Policy Centre

September 15, 2006

Fidel Ramos: Post September 11th –
Implications for Stability and Security in Southeast Asia

Tuesday 13th of November 2001 3.30-4.45pm
At the London School of Economics and Political Science


Speaker: Fidel Ramos, former President of the Philippines (1992-98)

Chair: Michael Yahuda, Professor of International Relations, LSE

In the aftermath of the September 11th attacks in the US, and the subsequent military action, The Foreign Policy Centre organised a lecture by Fidel Ramos. In his capacity as both former President of the Philippines and the Commander in Chief of the country’s 1st Special Forces, he analysed the build up to the tragic events and looked at the implications for South East Asia.

The Context of the Lecture

The atrocities of September 11th have forced politicians to re-think their concepts of international security. The significance of interdependence has never been clearer, and this forces discussion to focus on the United States’ relations with the rest of the world. Many have articulated their fears that growing US unilateralism or isolationism could stand in the way of progress that has been made towards multilateralism and international co-operation. South East Asia, like all other regions of the world, is considering what this could mean for them, and how they would fit into a new framework.


Terrorism poses a test of resolve, both for individual states and for the world as a community. The events of September 11th highlighted more clearly than any event in recent history the fact that unrest and stirrings in one part of the world can result in significant repercussions across the globe. With such a dispersed and serious threat, there is, as Ramos commented, “No room for complacency.” However, responsibility must lie with powerful states – especially those in the Western world – to ensure that conflicts are curbed before they can escalate.

As is becoming clearer, both national and regional security is dependent upon co-operation extended between countries. This is a theme that was explored by Robert Cooper in his report for The Foreign Policy Centre, The Post-Modern State and the World Order. Clear moves in this direction have been made in SE Asia; the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia are currently negotiating a pact that would commit them to sharing intelligence on terrorist activities, heightening control over borders to curb the flow of weapons and undertaking joint law-enforcement and peacekeeping operations. The ambition is that eventually all ASEAN countries will join this intra-regional security arrangement. Already, the whole of the East Asian region has declared its support for the anti-terrorist coalition formed by the United States.


The extent of the threat posed by a direct terrorist attack is difficult to predict. While the threat posed by the Al Qaida network seems most acutely felt by rich countries, it is vital for countries such as the Philippines, and the South East Asian region as a whole, to understand the threats they face. Two factors were focused on: economic concerns for the region and the attitude of the Muslim communities in Southeast Asia.

In the event of an attack, the collateral damage is most severe on export-oriented poor countries. Confidence in these economies has already been badly shaken since September 11th and they would likely suffer considerably if they were to be targeted by terrorists on their own soil or within close proximity. The WTO must make greater efforts to insulate outward looking economies from this kind of detriment. In its October 25th issue, The Economist echoed this call to integrate efforts at economic betterment with security concerns. It argued that the Asian Pacific Economic Co-operation Forum (APEC), by virtue of its informal setting, would do well to broaden its agenda in this direction.

Radical Islamism is spreading across Southeast Asia. Many local governments are offering concessions for Muslim communities seeking further autonomy. For example, the Indonesian government is offering “special autonomy” to its Aceh province, and Philippine President G. Macapagal-Arroyo is about to conclude a peace agreement with the orthodox, separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). However, the risk of an Asian-instigated jihad seem small, due largely to the quiet nature of the SUFI school of Islam, to which most Asian Muslims belong. Even Indonesia, as the greatest Muslim country in the world, has a secular state and its great diversity of peoples, spread over 13 000 islands, does not seem to suggest a sufficient degree of cohesiveness as a group as to make this a likely development in the near future.


Undoubtedly, the issue of terrorism cannot be considered without addressing possible underlying causes. Global inequalities, the world-wide grievance of Arab peoples and the sometime failure of the modern secular nation-state to provide its citizens with a sufficient sense of security can all be said to be features of the contemporary world conducive to unrest and terrorism.

There is little doubt that poverty is a breeding-ground for terrorism. Injustice and depravation are central problems to be addressed, and this task is equally important in efforts to uproot terrorism. There is a real need to level the field in international trade: to open up rich-country markets to agricultural exports from developing countries and, more generally, to reform the market system so as to enhance its ability to care for those left behind by development.

Globalisation, by its very nature, is precarious. Easily subjected to cultural resentment, economic issues are at the heart of what is perceived as a “clash of civilisations”. Oft viewed as a “rebellion of the excluded”, Islamism has been seen to radicalise in impoverished areas, where the memory of humiliation by Western powers is reiterated in the frustration of being economically left behind, too.

Lastly, it is the corruption of modern society and its recent secularisation which have, in many ways, prompted a religious revolt of the kind we have seen in recent years. The “idolatry of the market” that Pope John Paul II has cited has created a society where material matters have acquired an improper importance. Ramos calls for “Caring, Sharing and Daring”: we must dare to sacrifice for the common good; and we must recognise the failures of the modern nation-state in respect of economic prosperity, political freedom and social justice. Such a two-fold struggle is imperative: we must take issue with the global economic injustice that can lead to aggression and we must combat terrorism head-on through the emerging models of international co-operation.

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