Wednesday November 30, 2022 01:50 pm


🕐 2022-10-25 14:26:46


Air Vice Marshal Mahmud Hussain (Retd)

In the post-Cold War era, when the world is shifting from a unipolar to multipolar world order, the concept of security is becoming more and more nebulous. The complexity of the idea defers us to constantly subject it to a process of iterative exercise. The expansion of the concept, in recent times, has pitted the resolve of liberal world order against the backdrop of realpolitik. Great powers are now more interested in striking up regional cooperation with states for economic, trade and security cooperation that addresses the well-being of common people. This is particularly true for regions with plenty of resources having multiple conflicting interests from state and non-state actors. 
This article has three major components. First, it is about security threats. Second, the threats relate to non-traditional security challenges. Third, it has a geographical dimension.  
First, about security threats. Security threats are facts or experiences that cause damage or pose danger to human existence. 
Second, conceptually, security threats are divided into two categories; traditional security threats and non-traditional security threats. Traditional security threats are essentially related to external military threats that seek to undermine the security of the sovereign state and its territorial integrity. Non-traditional security threats (NTS) on the other hand, are based on threats to the survival and well-being of people and states that arise primarily out of non-military sources, such as energy, natural disasters, infectious diseases, mass migration, human and drug trafficking etc. They are transnational in nature with regard to their origins and effects.  
Third, what we mean by the term “Indo-Pacific”. The term is also used to specify the region of Indo-Pacific Asia. It is a vast region that is bounded by the circle formed by the two oceans — the Pacific and the Indian. The region consists of 24 countries. That includes China and the United States who have “veto” power in the United Nations. There are four nuclear-powered states with India and Pakistan being the neighbors. It is the home of world’s 60 percent population with 4.3 billion people that includes China and India, the world’ two most populous countries. It is also the home to the world’s largest economies — the US, China, Japan — and to some of the best performing and most dynamic markets — India, Indonesia and Thailand. It makes up about 60 percent of global GDP and 60 percent of global maritime trade. Last but not the least, two of the most sensitive and geostrategic choke points are precisely located in the Indo-Pacific, namely, Bab-al-Mandab and the Malacca Strait.  
Since the late 2010s, the term “Indo-Pacific” has been frequently introduced into geo-politics. It also has a “security link” with the latest Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD), a grouping between India, Australia, Japan and the United States. The concept of QUAD may change the mental map of the Indo-Pacific in strategic sense. However, that is for future to tell.  
In recent times, Indo-Pacific has become the flashpoint of Real Politik of great power rivalry. Military drills by China and the US protégé, Taiwan may have a far-reaching impact on facing the challenges of non-traditional security threats in the region. If that happens, it will severely undermine the efforts of the states to come together to fight the non-traditional security challenges that so severely prevent the well-being of the common people. In my article, I will primarily highlight the areas that are of immediate concern to security problematique, namely, resource scarcity, environmental degradation and bio-diversity, transnational crime, human and drug trafficking, health security and pandemics, illegal unreported and unregulated fishing, food and energy security.  Let us start with energy security which is at the top of global security agenda these days. 
For a sustainable Indo-Pacific, countries need regular and continuous flow of energy resources. Asia-Pacific, consisting of Asian states, is a sub-set of Indo-Pacific region. This sub-set region consumes more than 36 percent of what North America consumes of energy. The region’s growing energy needs have led to new strategic relations with other parts of the world, especially the Middle East, and have raised serious questions about energy security. Some of the security related questions are: first, do energy needs pose new challenges to Indo-Pacific security? second, are the supply chains through the choke points safe for continuous flow of oil and gas in the event of major war; and third, the most important, how damaging will energy be as a source of tension between states. The Russia-Ukraine War has acted as a catalyst to the energy crisis. So, both China and India have turned toward Russia for oil and fuel supply, thereby demonstrating two powerful states’ difficulties in taking sides with the West.
However, the effect of energy due to Russia-Ukraine war has not been the same for Indo-Pacific and Europe. Europe has been badly hit for its dependence of gas on Russia. But in case of Indo-Pacific, energy per se has not been so much of a disaster. However, the conflict brings to the fore few facts that are significant for the states in the region, such as: there is a changing pattern in trade coupled with innovative financial transaction; there is a greater reliance on the Middle East oil;  there is also, a greater reliance on open access to sea-lanes, and shifting strategic relationships that need resolution, such as conflicts in and around South and East China Sea, and freedom of navigation in the seas which are vital for national security among the states. All these have an impact on the region’s energy security. But the most important lesson is that Indo-Pacific states face the common challenge of external reliance on energy supplies, and therefore, it also promises potentials for the states to cooperate by stressing its extra-regional exogenous character.
Food insecurity is one of the most significant challenges of the Indo-Pacific region. While it does not get the same attention as other regional security issues such as the South China Sea, or China-Taiwan conflict, the current state of food insecurity is grim. The Asia and the Pacific Overview of Food Security and Nutrition estimate that 945 million people in the region have experienced moderate or severe food insecurity in 2019, due to limited food availability or insufficient means to access food. Compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, the impacts of climate change and the Russia-Ukraine War, a growing population in the Indo-Pacific will be affected by food insecurity in the coming future. This means that more people will suffer from hunger, reduced productivity, undernourishment, young age ailments, and pressures of migration. One of the most affected is Bangladesh, with a quarter of the population experiencing food insecurity. Population factors, geography of watercourses and low elevation makes addressing Bangladesh’s food security problematic, as food cultivation and distribution is impacted by natural disaster disruptions.
Food prices are among the most important indicators of what is happening to individual household’s economic security. High price levels affect households’ ability to purchase food as well as the incomes of farmers. When food prices rise, net sellers of food gain, but when food prices decline, net buyers of food gain. In the Indo-Pacific, net buyers – such as small farmers, those with non-farm employment and landless labourers – outnumber net sellers (who tend to be large farmers with a surplus to sell), even in rural areas. When food prices rise, everyone notices. When famine happens, everyone notices. About 40 percent of the region’s inhabitants cannot afford a healthy diet. There is a strong co-relation between human security and loss of purchasing power of food commodities. 
According to the United Nations, the region will be home to nearly 5 billion people by 2050, meaning more people will be at risk of food insecurity. When considered with climate change, unwarranted cross-border migration, and the region’s growing population, food insecurity can prove to be the region’s most pressing challenge.
The Indo-Pacific is one of the most disaster-prone regions. Maplecroft’s ‘Climate-Change Vulnerability Index 2011’, calculated the vulnerability of 170 countries due to climate change till 2040. Of the 16 countries rated as “extreme risk”, 9 are from the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). In order of risk hierarchy, they are: Bangladesh (1); India (2); Madagascar (4); Mozambique (5); Afghanistan (8); Myanmar (10); Ethiopia (11); Thailand (14); and Pakistan (16). In 2020, Cyclone Amphan led to the displacement of nearly 5 million people across Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, and Bhutan. Just like in South Asia, the countries of Southeast Asia are also experiencing the various threats related to climate change. The United Nations predicts that the risk of floods and droughts will increase for Southeast Asia in the next ten years, leading to economic losses worth 3 percent of GDP for the Philippines, 2 percent for Laos, and over 1 percent for Cambodia. Small island countries of the Pacific Oceania are equally subjected to sea-level rise due to global warming, though greenhouse gas emissions from them is low. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts that sea-level rise would have calamitous effects in low lying areas of the region. The glacial melting in the Himalayas can cause serious damage to the plains of the lower riparian states, such as Bangladesh. In a 2018 report, the World Bank predicted that over 140 million people will be migrating from their own countries by 2050 due to climate change. Climate change-induced migration has deleterious effects on human tension, access to health care, education and entitlement to livelihood. Bangladesh, for example, has become a vulnerable spot for this phenomenon. Compounding the climate insecurity for Bangladesh is the influx of 1 million displaced Rohingyas from Myanmar. 
Indo-Pacific is the scene of irregular migration. Irregular migration includes both migrant smuggling and trafficking in persons. Human trafficking is of particular concern as the region ranks number one in illegal smuggling of persons. Southeast Asia has been identified as a major source of trafficking. 
The other issue of concern is refugees and asylum seekers. Australia is the destination of choice for asylum seekers. The Rohingya have been termed as the most persecuted community. Five years have passed since the last influx of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. Their fate seems to have been overshadowed by COVID -19 for the last two years, and now by the Russia-Ukraine War. But Bangladesh continues to remain under its security implications. Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) has published a report named “Forcibly Displaced Myanmar National (Rohingya) in Bangladesh: Governance Challenges and Way Out”. The report says that Bangladesh faces long budgetary constraints, and security challenges because of the protracted stay of Rohingya. The TIB Chief (2019) draws our attention to the dangers of emerging radicalism    as the individuals who face brutality are likely to be the target for recruitment by the radical groups. 
In recent years, Asia Pacific has been the source of spreading of pandemics, such as SARs and COVID-19. Post-COVID assessment has shown multi-dimensional negative impacts on social, economic and food security at local state and trans-border regional levels. Due to COVID-19, the fight to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of defeating poverty (SDG 1) and hunger (SDG 2) has been set back. Two years ago, in December 2019, when we first heard of the COVID-19 pandemic, no one would ever imagine how radically it could change our lives.
In Indo-Pacific, there seems to be a symbiotic relationship between human trafficking and drug trafficking. Both fetch huge sums of money by illegal transnational crime. The illicit trade of men and drug leads to illegal arms trade. The region hosts both the “Golden Crescent” and “Golden Triangle”, two global hubs of narcotics business. The favored narcotics route is overland from Myanmar to Bangladesh to India to Pakistan to Afghanistan to Central Asia to Russia to Europe, a mind-boggling exercise in heroic adventurism. South Asia and the Gulf in the past were integral to cannabis trade. 
Figure 2: Drug Trafficking Route

More than half the world’s Muslims live in the Indo-Pacific region. Dealing with radical fundamentalism of any religion or a particular state’s anti-religious policies will pose a transnational security challenge for the region. Threat posed to religious minorities, if not fully recognized and addressed by states will undermine the capacity to build institutions and good governance needed for promotion of democracy.
Illegal unreported and unregulated, in short IUU fishing is a threat to our economic security and the natural resources that are critical to global food security, ocean ecosystems and sustainable fisheries. Globally, fish provide about 3.3 billion people with 20% of their animal protein intake. Around 60 million people are engaged in fishing activities globally. Estimates put around USD 20 billion annually in economic loss due to IUU fishing. In 2020, the US Coast Guard said that illegal fishing had replaced piracy as a global maritime threat. In the Indo-Pacific region, like elsewhere, the collapse of fisheries can destabilize coastal nations and pose a much bigger security risk, as it can fuel human trafficking, drug crime and terror recruiting. The Bay of Bengal is a hot spot for illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing.
The Asia-Pacific region is biologically diverse. It has 17 of the 36 global biodiversity hotspots, and 7 of the world’s 17 megadiverse countries are found in the region. It has the highest marine diversity in the world, the longest and most diverse coral reefs, more than half of the world’s mangrove forests and the highest seagrass diversity. However, rapid economic growth, increasing population and its consumption, environmental pollution, high growth of urbanization, agricultural depletion and invasive alien species have caused extensive bio-diversity loss and ecosystem degradation. For example, between 2000 and 2015, approximately 135,333 km2 of natural forest was lost which is 10.6 percent of the world’s total natural forest loss; about 80 percent of the region’s coral reefs are currently at risk. The region, especially East Asia, the Pacific and South Asia, witnessed the sharpest increase in premature deaths as a result of ambient air pollution between 1990 and 2015. China, for example, contributes 1.2 to 2 million deaths per year owing to a high rate of industrialization and high dependency fossil fuels. While Indo-Pacific is highly impacted by climate change, the region is also key to reducing greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming.  
One or two words about Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, in short IPEF, would be useful at this stage. The framework is critical to advancing partnership in areas that directly or indirectly address non-traditional security concerns of the participating countries, such as, trade, digital economy and technology, supply chain resiliency, de-carbonization and clean energy, infra-structure building, workers standards, taxation, investment screening and anti-corruption.  Except Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar, other Southeast Asian nations are a part of the IPEF. The framework includes US treaty allies such as Japan, the Republic of Korea, Australia and New Zealand. But the US may also consider to include other South Asian countries besides India, such as Bangladesh or Sri Lanka. 

Thus, we see that non-traditional security threats address the issues of security threats differently from traditional military threats. They are not immediate threats to national security as traditional military security threats are. But they have long-term consequences in energy concerns, environmental sector, health issues, food autarky, migration problem, economic progress plus sustainability of democracy. The list of challenges is long. They can be, summed up, in one word under the rubric of “Human Security”. 
I would like to conclude by stressing that though non-traditional security challenges are not state-centric, they can easily be manipulated as tools of political advantage by great power politics. Small states need to be cautious on making alliances that are not inclusive. The exclusionary principle in forming groups to address non-traditional security threats can easily be manipulated for strategic interests of the stronger, thereby foiling the objective of combatting human calamity. In truth, challenging non-traditional security threats do not need military prowess, it needs compassion and understanding of other’s pain. States located in Indo-Pacific, bestraddling the two great oceans of the world, can ignore this truism only at their own peril. 

Air Vice Marshal Mahmud Hussain is a retired air force officer. He served as High Commissioner of Bangladesh to Brunei Darussalam from November 2016 to September 2020. He served as the Chairman, Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (CAAB). Presently, he is working as the Distinguished Expert at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Aviation and Aerospace University (BSMRAAU).