Tara Kartha, Research Fellow, IDSA
As we near the end of the 1990s, it is clear that in spite of the fact that there was only one major conventional classic inter-state war, the decade set a new peak for the century in the annual number of wars, and in war related deaths. War appears to be undergoing a transmutation into lower but more sustained levels of violence, where intra-state conflict has become the trend rather than the exception, and where the main weapons of war are small arms and light weapons. The fact that out of the 232 parties who waged between 1989 and 1994, over 164 were non-governmental actors, reflected the change in the patterns of war, with the boundaries between the state, the armed forces and the population no longer clearly demarcated. Additionally, the decade also found these non-state actors equipped, in most cases, with weapons far more sophisticated than those available to the security forces. This rise in sophistication of weapons has led to a corresponding increase in the casualty rate in most conflict areas. The path from the .303 to the assault rifles and rocket propelled grenades has been a bloody one. This is evident in Afghanistan, where, if 14 years of civil war and foreign intervention caused around one million deaths, the body count in the present conflict has crossed that number in just under eight. Given a phenomenal spread of guns across the world, it is hardly surprising that the decade has also seen that occurrence so peculiar to this period—the “failed state”, a state that has simply collapsed under the weight of a an over-armed society unable to govern itself. At least 22 UN peace-keeping and rescue missions have been launched in situations where the main weapons of war used by combatants were essentially small arms and light weapons. In Cambodia, for instance there are as many mines as there are people, and across the world there may be an estimated 500 million weapons on the loose.
Predictably, it was war in Europe that focussed media attention and university studies on the dangers to regional and international security arising from the phenomenal spread of light arms. The carnage in the former Yugoslavia jolted the notion that civilised Europe was less prone to the violent passions periodically let loose elsewhere in the world. It also brought home the lesson that Asia had already learnt—that civil war had the most unpleasant spill-over effects in terms of refugees, gun- running and allied activity. Worst of all, it also had the potential to wreck relations between states. The danger that another world war might arise from the power keg of Europe, was one factor that drove US diplomats into crafting a damage limitation exercise across the former Soviet Union, even as Europeans themselves fought bitterly over the solutions to the war.
As Afghanistan continues to spew out refugees, and Cambodia continues to be bogged down by economic destruction and weapons proliferation, the problem of intra-state war, and its spill-over effects has become part and parcel of security studies the world over. More than 40 institutions are involved directly or indirectly in studying the threat caused by these weapons of civilian destruction. The UN and a host of other international organisations are studying the nature of the problem from their own particular organisational interest. The ECOSOC, for instance, examines the possibilities of tighter firearms control, while physicians from International Red Cross and the Red Crescent have been closely involved in the fight against anti-personnel mines. At the regional level, the Organisation of American States has established a convention to limit the trafficking in light weapons and increase cooperation between members. Other organisations like the Organisation for Cooperation and Security in Europe (OSCE) are also involved in conflict-prevention measures that deal directly with proliferation issues, while the Organisation of African States is similarly engaged in reducing the extremely damaging effects on societies awash with weapons from former or continuing conflict areas.
Outlining the Scope and Objectives
Most of these recent efforts concentrate on a pull-back, embargo of weapons in a war-torn society or projects to reduce intense gun proliferation which threatens the continued survival of the state. Bosnia is a good example of the former, while Angola and Zaire are instances of the latter. Here the dangers from gun proliferation are clearly recognised, though there are fairly convoluted manifestations of the effects. Less easy to understand are the dangers to states which are not faced with “virtual war” situations, or may simply be adjacent to a conflict area. This paper discusses the threat to the security of such states from light weapons proliferation, not simply as an academic exercise that deals with a distant possibility, but also because the experience of conflict areas teaches us a few basic lessons:
l. Proliferation begins insidiously, and its serious effects on security are almost always never understood until it is too late.
2. The path from an initial influx of weapons to massive proliferation that threatens the very integrity of the state, may be a short one. For instance, in the former Yugoslavia, the period was a little more than two years, while in Kashmir, the time lapse from the first few weapons (20 weapons in end-1988) to a massive availability (more than 20,000 in mid-1996) was similarly short.
3. Reversing societal proliferation is an exercise that is fraught with difficulty, for which there are as yet few tools available, and fewer success stories in spite of a wealth of academic and professional effort.
Given these basic lessons, the need for stemming proliferation at the outset becomes vital. Additionally, a regional fall-out is “built-in” as it were, into present conflicts, since they are heavily dependent on neighbouring state infrastructure. Note that:
l All the regions of continuing conflict zones are usually situated on the borders of the country. This ensures that the militants have an escape route, and sometimes a safe haven in a neighbouring country, with or without its consent.
2 In-coming weapon routes traverse the territory of neighbours.
3 Monies from extortion, smuggling, ideological backers, etc. are usually banked in neighbouring states eroding their banking systems.
4 A whole network (drug smugglers, arms suppliers, money laundering agents, corrupt customs and immigration agents) that sustains the conflict, is built up in neighbouring areas/states, with only the tip perceptible in the conflict zone itself.
5 Militants retreat for rest and medical attention to these areas/states.
Thus, not only are the regional states a part and parcel of the various facets of the conflict spectrum itself, they are also prey to the same dangers that formed the first phase of the conflict—namely, the almost invisible and insidious spread of weapons. The subsequent phases may follow surprisingly swiftly. In simple words, while the nuclear clock may be turned back by mutual consent among nuclear weapon states, the light arms proliferation clock resists such a solution due to the fact that those involved are non-state actors operating across international boundaries. Being highly fragmented and following diffused command and control patterns, their ability to reduce proliferation (even at the end of a conflict) is not strong.
This paper deals with the threat to the security of the state from arms proliferation, within the Asia-Pacific region. This is not a forecast but an outline, of a process that has occurred elsewhere and is meant to help policy makers understand the nature of the threat from weapons proliferation, and help them to relate it to their own state or the region. The first part of this research project identified the main sources of weapons and patterns of trade. To encapsulate briefly:
1 All states in the region are susceptible to one or other form of light weapons proliferation.
2 The main sources of weapon are Afghanistan and Cambodia, with the international black market slowly increasing its share in the volume of traffic.
3 There is a strong “religious-ideological” factor that pushes weapons across countries, although the profiteers are the main body through which the actual transactions and movements take place.
4 The need for weapons brings together a variety of non-state actors of different and sometimes antagonistic groups, creating linkages across international borders.
5 The same sources that feed weapons into a conflict, also feed weapons into criminal circles, although lower down the chain of supply. (i.e from the stateàsub-state actorsànon-state actorsàblack marketsàcriminals.
Given these basic parameters, it is now necessary to study just what are the possible implications for states adjacent to conflict areas. As noted earlier, the threats concomitant with a war-torn society are different from those of a neighbouring state which has a different set of problems to deal with, other than a societal proliferation. It is noticeable that states with long standing insurgency/militancy problems tend to view them in isolation (from the international situation), unable to perceive that a simmering discontent acquires the most dangerous overtones once it has access to weapons of sophistication and higher rate of fire. Some may wonder why there is a sudden rise in criminality and cases of armed robbery, while others may see a sudden influx of refugees and illegal migrants as simply a political problem, quite divorced from the threat of violence that leads to a flight of refugees in the first place.
The “Threat Envelope”
Scholars debating the issue have identified various conflict scenarios for South-East Asia. These forecasts follow the more familiar “threat scenarios” used for the analysis of most regions. Since the patterns of analysis are more acceptable and easily understood by policy makers and strategic experts, it is within these parameters that the light weapons threat is outlined. In simple words, we examine how a proliferation of weapons will exacerbate these conflict situations. These specific scenarios may be extended to the whole region, and are grouped around (a) ethnic, spillover effect—i.e internal conflict scenarios with a strong outside input; (b) disputes over borders and territory—i.e. inter-state conflict on a low level; (c) conflict fuelled by major power rivalry or intervention (conventional war). To this list of threats may be added the rising power of organised crime, and the threats of drug trafficking, and terrorism.
However, the greatest danger from the movement of weapons out of state control and into the hands of non-state actors is that it results in a cycle of events that together result in an erosion of state authority. This is the main “threat envelope”, as it were. Sometimes, this is the desired objective of the actors concerned (militants/hostile intelligence agencies/organised crime groups) At other times, it arises simply as a logical flow of events. This factor needs to be kept in mind when analysing the above threat scenarios. States affected by light arms proliferation are, quite simply put, no longer “sovereign” structures. Trans-border links between militants, organised crime and narcotics traffickers, take away the legitimacy of borders, and reduce the decision making capacity of states. At the extreme end of this process are the “failed states” like Cambodia, where the state can no longer exercise its traditional functions–that is, guarding the territorial integrity of the state, and exercising its sovereign functions. The following analyses examine each of the “traditional” conflict scenarios and the impact of the proliferation of light weapons upon each of these.
Scenario One: Internal Conflict
Increasing the Lethality of Separatism
Weapons have little respect for borders, and given the highly porous nature of borders in this area (unlike Europe), the movement of weapons from conflict zones has been considerable. China has suffered a weapons’ infusion from Afganistan which has manifested itself under the guise of “Islamic ideology” in the Xinjiang region. The Indian north-east, similarly, has several separatist movements which are calling for independence and statehood. All of these, including the “splittism” in China, have increased in violence after the mid 1990s. Where earlier the AK-47 was simply unheard of, it is now the standard outfitting for militants. Separatist movements also exist in Indonesia (Aceh), Myanmar, Thailand, the Philippines, Cambodia, and Sri Lanka. Many of these are related to religious demands though this is usually a thin overlay.
The rise in lethality is best illustrated by the rise of the Abu Sayyaf, who first surfaced in the public consciousness in 1992, being considered as more of an irritant than a threat. Two years later, a spokesman of the heavily armed group was able to assert, “We are the ones the government is afraid of…” Since the massacre at Ipil, the ability of the group to command international attention has been clearly demonstrated. The pattern is similar in the Indian north-east. A group which had stayed dormant for more than seven years, came into its own after the “gift” of between 10-20 weapons (mostly pistols), using which it was able to accumulate Rs 13 lakh in three months (by bank heists and extortion). Since then, there has been no looking back and the group scouts the arms bazaars of Pakistan, Minami, and East Europe in search of better weapons. There are similar examples across the region, but suffice to note that without lethal weapons, these groups would remain no more than discontented elements, well within the control of local police.
“Hardening” of the Conflict Options
As the number of killings rises, ethnic tensions rise along with it, and the various parties involved find themselves forced to react strongly. This includes leaders of moderate groups, political groups, and government figures. There is less room for negotiations, and such overtures are interpreted as “weakness” by opposition figures determined to make political capital. President Chandrika Kumaratunga of Sri Lanka, for example, has had to withstand severe opposition from Buddhist rightist elements, as well as from the armed forces for opening negotiations with the Tamil Tigers. Often there was confusion as to who had broken the ceasefire—the militants or the armed forces. Terrorist attacks, which are particularly difficult when it comes to allocating responsibility, can be a tool for those opposed to negotiations. Guns, therefore, may be used by opposing sides for the same purpose—the prolongation of conflict. A phenomenon peculiar to this type of conflict is that violence in most such small militant areas usually flares up before an election, with a suggestion that this is orchestrated to spoil the chances of a ruling government, or to allow vested interests to continue to reap the profits of war.
Demoralisation of State Forces
The influx of weapons of a higher lethality leads to the immediate escalation of the degree of violence brought to bear by militant groups. The problem, thus, moves beyond the control of police forces and leads to the calling in of the armed forces. The nature of urban war, where non- state actors use civilians as shields, and Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) as force multipliers, leads to human rights violations (which indeed is a primary aim of militants, that is, to put the state on the moral defensive) and more injured—in terms of amputees—rather than casualties, which is the worst thing for a force to absorb. Over a period, this is detrimental to the discipline and morale of the elite forces, which in functioning democracies (unlike what most civil rights organisation think) are nor readily amenable to regarding fellow countrymen as “the enemy”, and are unable to reconcile their training (war against foreign enemy) to the harsh realities on the ground. This results in considerable psychological stress on both officers and men, leading to poor recruitment prospects in the long run. Conversely, over a period of time, a state facing prolonged militancy may find that its armed forces begin to call the shots in dealing with it, or may acquire interests in the continuation of conflict. This was apparent in Thailand during the height of the conflict in Cambodia, when Thai police and armed forces personnel were accused of being involved in the gem and timber trade. It was only through considerable and sustained national effort that matters were brought back to normal. Corruption was also apparent among the paramilitary forces in India, particularly along the north-east borders, with instances of drug smuggling by border forces. Similarly, Russian armed forces personnel are reportedly involved in smuggling drugs and weapons along the Afghan border, especially along the turbulent Tajik-Afghan area. Given that militant groups are always involved in some form of smuggling—gems, drugs or gold/silver—the temptation to often underpay soldiers is considerable indeed.
Corruption also becomes a national security threat when the higher echelons put their own group/individual interests above national interest. It is noteworthy that such states have been victims to coups and countercoups, or at the least victims to political instability.
Erosion of the Rule of Law
There is another less understood aspect of militancy. While government forces have been targeted by the media as violating human rights, less understood is the role of weapons in the militants’ strategy in “controlling” a particular area. One common tactic of displaying their sway is by selective killing of judges and lawyers, which ensures that after a period, the rule of law stops functioning, and the writ of the militants runs. Within militant controlled areas, kangaroo courts are common, with execution meted out to informers. The case of Pol Pot will (hopefully) forever mark the high water mark of cruelty to civilians, while the rule of the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) in its controlled areas, is said to be furthered by MILF courts which sentenced three to public execution by a firing squad. A judge in Minadanao was reported as observing, “The government cannot stop these executions because the government is absent in these areas”.
Similarly, state forces tend to ignore judicial processes (where admittedly the judiciary is completely cowed) and “encounter” killings and “disappearances” have been common to all countries susceptible to militancy. The end result on the structures and character of the state is clearly corrosive.
Loss of Sovereignty Over Parts of the State
The loss of state control over militant areas has been common during periods of heightened militancy, and even over areas where there is a substantial organised crime presence. To take the first, an example is that of Myanmar, where for years the government writ ran over little more than Rangoon itself. Other states like the Philippines and India have also gone through this phase, while Sir Lanka presents a particularly tragic picture of the costs inherent to the state in terms of lives lost and resources wasted in regaining control over the northern reaches of the island. Over the years, Colombo has had to increase its defence expenditure from Rs 2 billion in 1982 to a reported Rs 44 billion for 1996-97 (Rs 7 billion more than the original Rs 38 billion requested) which would come to about 22 per cent of government spending. This is a considerable drain on funds for a small country. Even now, it cannot be said that Colombo’s writ runs over the whole of the east.
The militant-controlled areas are usually the least developed and further most away from the governmental nodal points. This makes it easier for the militants to project an image of being, in fact, a separate state. The danger is that once villagers in controlled areas accept that the militants are a “given” in the region, they may tend to prefer to do business with them, rather than risk being made an example of as “informers”. Over a period of time, many also come to believe in the propaganda put out by the separatists, and may see themselves as wronged against, and develop a “them-against-us” syndrome.
Loss of control in crime-dominated areas, has become apparent in parts of China, according to Chinese commentaries on the issue. State organs have been replaced by clan and religious forces, secret societies, and criminal gangs “to the extent that certain localities have seen the emergence of so-called ‘second police stations’ and ‘second law courts’… even to the extent of arbitrarily using torture and illegal arrest, which forces certain people into becoming appendages of such evil forces out of fear of power and through being bought off”. As may be seen, the situation is not so different from that faced by militant dominant areas.
Proliferation of Weapons In to Society: An Emerging “Gun Culture”
States faced by low level militancy or terrorism usually succumb to the temptation to ease controls over licensed weapons, thus, causing an increase in proliferation of weapons into society. For instance, rising election violence in Sri Lanka (1,248 incidents reported) led to the conclusion that all political parties had issued gun licenses to their supporters, to protect themselves from the rising spiral of violence that has been in evidence since the 1980s. To this plethora of weapons were added the weapons being sold by around 28,000 deserters from the army, weapons given to militant leaders and groups who had surrendered to the state, and weapons in the hands of “bodyguards” of prominent political personalities. The end result was a lot of guns in a small country, and the reducing effectiveness of police forces.
Other countries affected by a long period of violence have seen the rise of private militias belonging to various political parties or antagonistic groups. This was evident in Myanmar, and in the Philippines. It is also beginning to be seen in a few parts of India, where some political bosses are known to move with heavily armed private armies. This is far more dangerous than seems apparent at first—the injection of violence into the political process is fraught with danger to the system as a whole. Election violence has now become the norm rather than the exception in a great many states in this region, with India seeing a series of 17 bomb explosions in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.
At another level, considerable social and economic costs are apparent around areas of conflict. While the huge rise in AIDS and drug-related cases in Manipur may be a direct result of the shifting of narcotics routes into India, following a resurgence of militancy, other cases offer hard data to illustrate the point. For instance, Tamil Nadu (the southernmost state of India and a bare 40km away from Sri Lanka) has nearly 50 times more arrests in connection with narcotics trafficking than a conflict area, Kashmir (2,212 to 51 in 1995), while in 1987 (when both Sri Lanka and Kashmir were beginning to show marked signs of an increase in violence) two border states between them had arrested 440 for possession of explosives, compared to a mere 26 in Kashmir. As the military presence in conflict locations increases, the routes simply move to other locations that have a more relaxed administration. Often, the two phenomena may not be linked up for years, with the state seeing both as separate problems.Even when it is realised, it is clearly impossible to police an entire state, or prevent the moving of men and material through thousands of miles of sea or land. Conversely, until these movements are hindered or stopped in their entirety, the conflict itself will continue to rage.
Costs to Development
Apart from the fact that states are forced to divert scare resources to fighting militancy, there is another aspect to be considered. In their effort to divest the authority and standing of the state, militants target development projects and other signs of state authority. In the Indian north-east, prominent non-governmental organisations (NGO’s) have been shot and kidnapped to ensure that the locals remain dependant on militant largesse. In Kashmir, the case of militants targeting school teachers and other educationists promoted their cause, since they were keen to have only madrassa activity, which in turn would guarantee adequate recruits for their cause. In the case of Latin America, local development is done by the drug lords, which gives them valuable support among the locals, which in turn functions as a kind of “early warning” of possible government forces’ intrusions. It is hardly a coincidence that the states at the bottom on development and human indicator charts are those suffering from sustained internal instability and societal violence.
Scenario-Two: Inter-State Disputes
The second possible threat scenario is related to conflict arising from disrupted borders or territories. Unfortunately, there are a fair number of these in the region, though not all are of a tinderbox variety. At least 12 of the 15 possible maritime boundaries in the South China Sea (excluding the Gulf of Thailand) are in dispute, and some have caused tension between states. The huge availability of weapons has led to a tendency among states to “fish in troubled water”—in short, providing weapons and training to militant elements in inimical states. While earlier, large scale assistance was only done by the superpowers or large regional powers like China, today the cheapness of weapons leaves this option open to almost all states. Motives to do so may vary, from territorial acquisition to simply destabilising a powerful neighbour. Malaysia has sometimes been accused of sheltering rebels from Minadanao, while there was some tension on alleged Malaysian sympathy for Thai rebels from the south. In India, the involvement of Pakistan has been officially admitted by the information minister when he visited the training centres of Islamic fundamentalism—the Markaz Da’wat-ul-Ershad at Lahore.
Damage to Inter-State Relations and Foreign Policy
Often militancy has led to polluting otherwise friendly relations between states. For instance, though India and Bangladesh have agreed to cooperate in preventing militant activity that has been extremely damaging to both, sometimes this becomes a political problem, requiring the adoption of nationalist postures. The recent arrest of a leader of a north-eastern militant group in Bangladesh provides a case in point. The militant, Anup Chetia, wanted for several murders (including that of a prominent and well liked social worker), could not be readily extradited to India, due to domestic opposition labelling the government as a “stooge” of India At issue are the larger relations between the two neighbours which include ground-breaking agreements on water sharing and cooperation in anti-terrorism. At another level, Bhutan and Nepal have found themselves unwilling hosts to militants, while their banks are convenient repositories for moving criminal money in and out of the region. A flourishing criminal underworld has developed that caters to militants, drug traffickers, gangland bosses, and other criminal activities, including poaching of valuable rhino horn, and the flesh trade, further vitiating the fragile economies of these countries. While India may complain that Nepal allows its territory to be used as a transit point for militants, there is, in fact, little that the country can do about it, given its limited resources. Similarly, the incoming migrants from Aceh had soured relations between Indonesia and Malaysia.
At another level, clashes between Thai and Myanmar forces in January and February 1995, due to Rangoon’s suspicions of Thai complicity with separatist organisations, was a flashpoint between the two countries. Similar clashes have taken place, as Myanmarese troops made cross-border incursions against refugee camps in Thailand. There are similar problems between Bangldesh and Myanmar, and Cambodia and Thailand, while in India, the question of “hot pursuit” into Bhutan is still being argued for by sections within the military.
Damage to International Standing and Foreign Policy
States faced by low level militancy usually have to deal with international approbation, misplaced or otherwise. This puts an undue strain on foreign policy, which has to then go on the defensive. Moreover, countries are understandably annoyed when others point out their shortcomings in international fora, and use it as a leverage to gain other objectives. These internal conflicts are usually interpreted differently by other states, some with little knowledge of actual conditions. Given that militants will always have a better chance of earning publicity than the state (the sympathy of the Press always being with the underdog), there is little that the state can do to reverse this process which earns separatists “brownie points”.
Scenario Three: Conflict Fuelled by Major Intervention
The effects of major power intervention in the past are clear enough for all to see. While the carnage in Afghanistan continues, and spreads its tentacles to this region in terms of militant ideology, the case of Cambodia is clearly that of intervention gone awry, with the actors of the region left to deal with it as best as they can. The debris of war in the form of thousands of tonnes of mainly Chinese and American weapons—with more than 946,000 M-16A1s, 114,00 pistols (.45), over 15,000 GPMG, and 65,000 grenade launchers left behind by US forces alone—fuels crime and continued violence. Whether this will be a continued option for outside powers to create trouble in China, for instance, is worth considering. Certainly, China is suffering from a huge increase in weapon proliferation that has caused serious dismay within the country, and conflict in the Xingiang region has its roots in the ideology being practised next door in Pakistan. “Intervention” can no longer be seen as a purely military operation, but a combination of economic, social and quasi-military options that leaves the state unable to govern effectively.
Terrorism and Organised Crime
While these have been adequately addressed as separate issues, it is worth nothing that their lethality springs from the movement of sophisticated weapons and materials, and the rise in technology apparent in weapons and material used. Sniper rifles, like the Dragunov are almost standard weapons among militants, while sophisticated communication sets allow them to liaise with their bases across a border. Particularly dangerous is the spread of man-portable missiles in the region, which pose a threat to civilian aircraft. These weapons have already been used in Sri Lanka, while Chinese shoulder-fired weapons (HY-2) were seized in the valley of Kashmir. Anti-aircraft missiles are also known to be in the inventory of South American militants, as well as within the former drug lord Khun Sa’s private army. Similarly, there is considerably difference between the transistor bombs that New Delhi faced in the 1980s (which caused more alarm than damage) and the RDX which was used in the 1993 serial bomb blasts in Bombay. Terrorists’ capability to target the economic heart of a country, or destroy political stability, arises basically from this availability of increasingly sophisticated weapons. The knowledge that there is simply no complete defence against terrorism is one that states must keep in mind. The only possibility is to exercise complete control over the weapons themselves. The trans-national links that terrorists have created were best illustrated by the so-called “Islamic network” that helped terrorists like Ramzi Ahmed Youssef, who operated across the world, both in terms of “safe houses” and targets. The intention was reportedly to use the Philippines as a base for international terrorism. More alarming is the increasing evidence of a tie-up among various fundamentalist organisations that link groups like the Abu Sayaff (itself a result of the Afghan operations) to militants in Malaysia and extremists operating in southern Thailand. A mystical sect called the Al-Arquam (banned by Kuala Lumpur) is reported to be reactivating and creating a death squad to carry out terrorist operations, with a base in Sabah and supported by West Asian money. While most of the funding comes from countries with a genuine regard for the upliftment of the Islamic poor, these funds tend to be utilised for other purposes, and with devastating consequences. The entire region of the Asia-Pacific has been affected by the phenomenon of terrorism hiding under the guise of Islamist ideology -this includes the US, China, South-East Asia, and India. The common factor is a rising capability to field weapons (in the case of the US, accessed from within the country) and create an atmosphere of fear that is detrimental to the larger cause of Islamic culture and traditions.
The lethality of organised crime has arisen from its considerable funds and lately its ability to use militants for its own purposes. For instance, the drug cartels of Columbia sub-contracted rebels to guard their drug producing areas. Punjab militants were used as “mules” by Pakistani drug traffickers, to the ultimate benefit of both. Such a clear relationship may not be evident in all cases, but the links have been more than clear. The case of a former deputy minister of Chart Thai, who was said to have been a notorious drug trafficker, his connections with the local mafia, and his considerable political power, is just one instance. Ultimately, organised crime works due to the fear that it engenders, and its ability to tilt or otherwise affect political stability. With its immense organisation, its capability to access the underground weapons markets of the world would indeed be formidable.
Even with the best of relations between countries, the difficulties of terminating such activities are immense, given the international networking and the sophistication with which these organisations operate. For instance, as China cracks down on organised crime in Guangdong and the triads in Hong Kong and Macao, the flesh trade (for instance) merely shifts over from the old routes to come in from South-East Asia. The shift in narcotics routes, from Thailand to the various routes through China, Tibet, and India simply prove this point. Similarly, as India closes its border with Pakistan in the west, militants and weapons slip in through the east and through Nepal.
Looking Into the Future
1. Without being unduly pessimistic, it needs to be said that there is little likelihood of any let up in the flow of weapons into the international market. Given that major countries of the world are all in the process of reducing their armed forces (with the combined total coming to around three million), there are clearly excess weapons in the inventories, as well as excess being produced by industries that have to function to the maximum possible capacity. In a shrinking defence market, any former restrictions on sales to conflict areas are clearly going to be ignored. Governments which have so far treated defence industries as a “protected” and favoured area (France, India, China, etc.) are now wielding the whip and demanding that industries be more profit oriented, and capable of delivering the goods.
2. Weapons caches from former conflict areas are still to diffuse. In the future, the areas to watch will be the Irish armouries, the huge inventory within Afghanistan, practically the whole of Sub- Saharan Africa, and possibly Columbia and Brazil—note that in the latter two, there may already be a significant Asian organised crime input.
3. As states institute controls, the unifying tendencies of organised crime, militancy, and radical religion may be expected to increase. A strong input into this will continue to be the narcotics factor.
4. Governments fighting drug and organised crime cartels can expect greater instability and violence, as drug cartels fight back to destabilise the state.
As states in this region move on towards regionalisation, some points are worth noting. The speed and effectiveness of unification may be determined by the slowest state. While growth triangles are a part solution, they cannot replace a healthy, growing and secure grouping of an entire region. A state that is prone to internal conflict (and, thus, more prone to outside hostile “take overs”) is bound to affect the process of integration. In this interconnectivity that is inherent to regionalism, one state’s security problems becomes those of the entire region. This may be the grouping’s strength or its weakness, depending on how the conflict is handled. A region working together can effectively strangle supplies of weapons to a degree where they cease to be a security hazard (one can never hope to eliminate them completely) or work together to prevent the state in conflict from being swallowed by hostile powers/organisations.
Given that the region has two of the largest arms producers in the world (the US and China), imaginative policies by these countries aimed at cooperative security would immeasurably help in restricting movement of weapons, extradition ease, and cooperation in police operations. China is already moving purposefully towards eliminating the scourge of organised crime, with cooperation evident from Hong Kong and Japan. Given its huge land borders, the frequent seizures and executions are unlikely to make any great difference to the movement of weapons.
It is heartening that states in this region have already begun the process of creating specialised structures capable of dealing with the complexity of organised crime, with the Philippines declaring the need for an “intense fight: against transnational crime.” The push is towards the development of bilateral, sub-regional, and international treaties on cooperation in criminal justice. While this is a laudable effort, it is questionable whether states with poor or non-existent justice systems can contribute substantially to this unified stand. It must be noted that it is precisely these states, like Pakistan and Cambodia, that have become a haven for international terrorists, drug syndicates and underground black market dealers.
The centres of weapons diffusion, drug production and money laundering are hardly difficult to identify. Until these centres are dealt with by the entire group on a concerted basis, no great success can be expected from police operations, which will continue along the path of seizures and arrests. Cambodia, for instance, clearly needs assistance, as does Myanmar in shifting its cultivation back to traditional crops, and exploiting its abundant resources for the betterment of its peoples. For far too long, the encouragement of trade with such countries has consisted of taking in lucrative contracts, and enriching a very small section of the elite. A policy of linking business with local education and agriculture has to be followed meticulously, with each neighbour responsible for its adjacent areas, for instance, India assists the development of the Chin and Karen regions of Myanmar, while the Thais move to develop theirs. Other countries could offer funds, and NGO support.
From the above study, it is apparent that a host of economic, political and military solutions are necessary to defeat the horizontal and vertical proliferation of light weapons. If development holds the key to preventing recruitment to separatist causes, political flexibility is another tool that prevents estrangement. It is necessary to keep open the “hard” option of using military force, but this is merely a “holding” action and cannot provide a solution.
Another input is industrial. States in the region need to demand an inventory of all light weapons manufacturers, with a view to cutting off the spread of ammunition. Note that ammunition for the M-1, for instance, is hard to come by, while the 7.62 mm assault rifle ammunition is produced only by a handful of countries.
At another level is the need to exercise control over explosives which are at the root of mine production as well as terrorist activity. While home-made explosives are still a possible option for terror, their destructive power is far less than that of RDX or PETN, for instance. Major producers are the United States and China, both of which have suffered from terrorist attacks. The stress here is on the state, because it is the state which remains the main proliferator loose controls, supplies to unstable areas, and cover supplies and the main target, and, therefore, must be the chief actor in limiting the flow of weapons. Strong state action cannot replace global effort, since the latter is simply a buttressing effort, allowing connectivity between individual or regional efforts. The various possible actions by the state must remain the focus of future studies in this subject of limiting the danger from weapons of civilian destruction.