07 March 2019

Our Eyes- A mini Interpol or a network to beat a network

Liviu Ioniţă

Image source: Mediafax

The unpredictable evolutions in the strategic environment have raised uncertainties, hence, today, the only certainty is uncertainty. The distance between countries is not an obstacle anymore and the dependency between the national-states is increasing. The forthcoming threats will be no longer conventional, but dynamics, multidimensional: terrorism and radicalism, separatism and armed insurgences, natural disasters and environment issues, borders breaches, piracy and sea robbery, natural resources and minerals robbery, guns traffic, contagious diseases, cyber warfare. These are threats which are cutting across borders of religions, or time. All of these need unity and cooperation.

These seem to be the ideas that have generated the creation of what the media was calling back in 2017… mini Interpol… and the ideas belong to Indonesian Minister of Defence, Ryamizard Ryacudu.

An Intelligence collaboration platform to combat terrorism

According to his own statements, the meeting from 2017, with the Internal Affairs and Right Minister from Singapore, K. Shanmugam, at the International School of Studies S. Rajaratnam, from the Technological University Nanyang, it was the starting point in building a collaborative intelligence platform, necessary for terrorism combat, considering five main elements: the creation of a common data base, personnel exchange, instruction and common operations and, finally, expertise and resources exchanges.

2017 events from Marawi, Philippines, and the will for similar events not to be repeated again and transform South-East Asia into a second Middle East were the main arguments wherefor the general in reserve, Ryamizard Ryacudu, has intensely promoted the creation of a regional collaboration platform dedicated to strategic intelligence exchange regarding terrorism, radicalism and extremist violence in ASEAN member states (Association of South-East Asia Nations).

Something that was initially agreed on, in 2017, by the Defence Ministers from six states – Indonesia, Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Thailand- and was publicly made across the 11th reunion of ASEAN Defence Ministers from Clark, Philippines, it was officially launched in Bali, on 25th of January 2018, and approved, ulterior, in October 2018, across the Singapore meeting of the ASEAN member states, called Our Eyes.

The name was precisely chosen to refer to Five Eyes, the coalition between the US intelligence agencies, Canada, Great Britain, New Zeeland and Australia, dedicated to communications surveillance.

According to Joint Declaration of the ASEAN defence ministers on strengthening cooperation, building resilience, from 19th of October 2018, across the 12th reunion of ASEAN, given that the increasing global uncertainty and the increasing complexity of unconventional and transnational security challenges are asking for a more coherent and effective collaboration between states, it was adopted the Our Eyes initiative, dedicated to intelligence strategic exchange on threats in the region.

The statements reaffirm the intention the promote dialogue and cooperation between ASEAN member states, to intensify collaboration in antiterrorist combat area, increase efforts dedicated to regional stability consolidation, respect the principles regarding territorial integrity and sovereignty, and launches the 3Rs concept (Resilience, Response, Recovery), dedicated to shape the framework of the future meetings of Defence officials on terrorism combat efforts.

It happened a year ago as well, and in the immediate period after that, the same high-Indonesian official was supporting the initiative at the formal and informal meeting, with clear efforts to make it attractive for those considered as being possible partners: firstly, the other four ASEAN member states which, for now, are not part of Our Eyes- Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar- then the regional partners, the US, Australia, New Zeeland, Japan.

Third generation terrorism

According to minister Ryamizard Ryacudu, ASEAN region is facing serious threats and, given that each country has a different method to deal with it, coordination is necessary to get strategic information and holistic approaches between governments so that the threat the Islamic State represents, as well as other terrorism forms too, to be eliminated.

Global terrorism is evolving and it is changing. The current terrorism threats in the region come from a third terrorist generation. After Al-Qaida and the Islamic State were founded in Syria and Iraq, the coalition operations from the Middle East led to the rise of a third generation. Having the ideology and the presence of the Islamic State in different parts of Asia, Africa and Middle East, the next phase of the terrorist group threat is creating nucleus in Philippines, Afghanistan, Xinjiang, Chechnya, Yemen, Nigeria, Somalia and Libya.

The Indonesian official thinks that there are decentralized threats coming from the Islamic State, spread globally after its dispersal in Iraq and Syria. Another of the specific characteristics of this third generation terrorist threat is the comeback of Islamic States’ fighters in the provenience countries. Terrorists are determined to destabilize the region and create a caliphate province, known as wilayat.

Such an evolution could be the starting point of some terrorist attacks in South-East Asia. Hence, it is needed a cooperation effort between the countries in the region, between all countries in the world, in order to face this threat.

Other states interested in Our Eyes

Our Eyes initiative has nothing in common with politics, as it is a purely combat process against some terrorist groups and a peace maintenance process, being, at the same time, the continuation of some measures adopted by Indonesia, Malaysia and Philippines, like organizing common air and maritime patrols, trying to end piracy, kidnaps and other illegal activities from Sulu Sea.

 Prime-minister’s, Ryamizard Ryacudu, diplomatic efforts have led to shaping Australia’s possible involvement in the Asian project, as the Australian minister of defence, Christopher Pyne, has stated that his country is ready to join the Our Eyes group, by providing information and training in terrorism combat. Hence, given that Australia and Indonesia benefit, already, from a high-cooperation level in intelligence and defence, by sharing significant quantity of information about the fighters coming back from the Middle East and of radical islamists who are in Indonesia, they may even consider an accession invitation to Our Eyes, only it is answering Australia’s national security priorities and commitments.

It seems that the US is also interested in Our Eyes, or at least this is what the former secretary of defence, James Mattis, suggested after the meeting he had with him. The Indonesian minister of defence has stated that the US has committed to support the six member states with advanced tools to collect information.

General Ryamizard Ryacudu is focused on the European states as well, inviting them, across an Asia-Europe dialogue on anti-terrorist issues, held in October 2018, in Brussels and Berlin, to join Our Eyes members effort. Accompanied by officials from EUROPOL, NATO, EEAS (European External Action Service), the Indonesian official has called on the necessity of society to get involved in the fight against terrorism, extremism and exclusivism.  

Our Eyes prospects

Recently, at the end of January, the ministers of defence from Our Eyes states have reunited again, in Semarang, Indonesia, as the forum asks, each two weeks, for such meetings dedicated to information exchange.

At least on the surface, the initiative is quite worthy. They need preventive measures, complex information, collective, interstate, constructive and concrete actions; an effective strategy and an operational platform. All of these aims to destroy the terrorist group before bloating. They need a governance to call on the civil society organizations, the academic environment and the private sector to prevent and combat violent extremism, to offer responses to terrorism. In other words, they need a network to beat a network (Ryamizard Ryacudu).

There are also voices thinking that the new platform is facing a high-distrust level regarding cooperation in intelligence services field, referring to nations which, usually, were reluctant regarding the mutual exchange of information.

We will have to see how Our Eyes will evolve. For now, everyone is focusing on:

  • A G20 member state, the biggest country with a majoritarian Muslim population, where the presidential elections and the parliamentary ones, planned for 2019, will be for the first time simultaneously developed- Indonesia;
  • A state wherein president Rodrigo Duterte has taken controversial measures against drug traffic, and the orders to shoot to death have led to serious breaches of human’s rights. The same president has modified the foreign policy, signing a new alliance with Russia and China, despite the controversy related to South China Sea, and, in May 2017, he approved the martial law in Mindanao-Philippines region;
  • A constitutional monarchy led since 2014 by the National Council of Peace and Order. The army has suppressed the opposition, calling on the martial law and there were recorded breaches of human’s rights. The elections, initially planned for 2017, but postponed several times, are planned to take place in February 2019. In February 2017, Junta has initiated peace negotiations with the insurgence movement from the South provinces with mostly Muslim people- Thailand;
  • A state led by a sultan, meanwhile some responsibilities accrue to a prince, where there is no political liberalization and also where, in 2016, the penal code was reformed, incorporating a new approach based on Sharia- Brunei Darussalam;
  • A state wherein the May 2018 general elections, the Coalition Barisan Nasional, to include a joint national Organization, was defeated for the first time in its 60 years of existence. The former prime-minister, Mahathir Mohamad, 92 years old, has led the opposition group, Alliance for hope, to victory and has replaced Najib Razak, who was prime-minister since 2009. The European Parliament has convicted the death sentence and squelching the popular complaint, as well as the absence of peaceful expression, including public debates- Malaysia;
  • A state wherein the People’s Action Party leads the transition before the next parliamentary elections, planned for 2021- Singapore.