On Easter Sunday this year, Sri Lankan people came face to face with international terrorism for the first time. At several international security conferences held in the Russian Federation over the last three months, the theme of international terrorism forming a part of ‘hybrid threats’ was discussed at length, with solutions yet to be found. Many countries attending were seriously concerned about several new forms of security threats which in combination were defined as Hybrid Threats; threats that use military and non-military methods, including radicalization through social media, cyber attacks, fake news, so-called Color revolutions, external efforts at regime change and terrorism. The consensus among more than a hundred countries that participated in these conferences was that only with joint action and information sharing could they mitigate the risks.
At the Moscow Conference on International Security (MCIS) held in April 2019 organized by the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation and attended by more than 1000 delegates from 111 states, with 55 states headed by Defense ministers, heads of military and chiefs of general staff, the problem of ‘International Terrorism and Hybrid Threats’ was one of the topics of discussion. Sri Lanka participated at the level of Defense officials, while the Sri Lankan Ambassador was invited to be a speaker at the Special Session at the MCIS on ‘Color Revolutions & Hybrid Warfare’. The large numbers in attendance was a testament to the sense of urgency felt by the global community to find solutions collectively to threats, including non-traditional threats, which could no longer be combated individually.
Delegates to the Moscow Conference on International Security proposed that non-traditional threats require reconfiguration of the conventional responses. There was agreement that regional and multilateral approaches were needed to find solutions. Some delegations warned that great power rivalry on the brink of transition from open competition to open contestation if not conflict could see risks spill over into other countries. At a bilateral meeting held on the sidelines of the MCIS with General Wei Fenghe, Minister of National Defense of the People’s Republic of China, General Sergei Shoigu, Minister of Defense of the Russian Federation said that “Relations between Russia and China reach a new, unprecedented high level to become a key factor in ensuring peace and international security thanks to leaders of both countries”. He added that “It is a key factor in ensuring peace and international security”. Many delegations mentioned the Easter Sunday massacre in Sri Lanka.
Early in June this year, Sri Lanka’s President Sirisena attended the CICA summit in Dushanbe, capital of Tajikistan, at which he met with President Putin on the sidelines. CICA, the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia, brought over 20 heads of states of the Eurasian region, including President Putin of Russia, President Xi Jinping of China, President Rouhani of Iran, President Erdogan of Turkey, President Hun Sen of Cambodia, and prominent others from Vietnam, India, and Pakistan. Global Security was a common concern, and was reflected in the joint declaration of this year’s summit. The CICA declaration, setting out the consensus on a comprehensive set of foreign policy positions of the member states, stated:
“…We express our deep concern on the security threat posed by extremism and terrorism in all forms and manifestations and unreservedly condemn of terrorist attacks worldwide, including recent attacks in the Democratic Republic of Sri Lanka and other CICA countries. We express our condolences and sympathies to the families of the victims. We stress that all acts of terror are unjustifiable whenever, wherever and by whomsoever committed. We reiterate our strong commitment to combat terrorism and extremism and call upon states to devise a comprehensive strategy to combat terrorism, including through eliminating conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism, preventing provision of funds, blocking recruitment and cross border movement of terrorists, countering extremism and radicalization, and the spread of terrorist ideology, countering misuse of the Internet for terrorist purposes and dismantling terrorist shelters, good governance, economic development and peaceful resolution of prolonged unresolved conflicts. We recognize the leading role of States and their competent agencies in preventing and countering terrorism and extremism on both national and international levels. We call on all States to unite their efforts against terrorist threats on the basis of international law and the Charter of the United Nations…We condemn any forms of propaganda of the ideology of terrorism and extremism, separatism and religious intolerance, as well as discrimination based on religion and belief…” (Declaration of the 5th Summit Conference of CICA, 2019)
The CICA Declaration 2019 also affirmed that it would “develop dialogue on a regional security architecture that is open, inclusive …” and confirmed that “… no state or group of states has the right to intervene, directly or indirectly, for any reason whatsoever, in the internal or external affairs of any other state, including with the aim of changing legitimate governments and that every state has the right to determine its political system.”
The most recent in a series of high profile security related conferences in the Russian Federation was the 10th International meeting of High Ranking officials Responsible for Security Matters organized by the Security Council of Russia. It was held in Ufa, in Bashkiristan, an autonomous ethnic republic of the Russian Federation, the oldest such, dating back a century to the October 1917 Revolution. The Sri Lankan delegation included the Additional Secretary of the Ministry of Defense. Most countries were represented by Ministers of Defense and National Security and heads of intelligence services. From 17 to 20th June, representatives of 119 countries discussed the problems of ensuring national security in the face of growing hybrid threats.
The conference was hosted and its opening and closing sessions were chaired by Nikolai Patrushev, the Secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation which is chaired by President Putin. The conference discussed the dangers of new threats including the use technology to disseminate extremist ideologies, radicalization, borderless terrorism, returning foreign fighters and cyber threats.
The Head of the External Intelligence Services of the Russian Federation, Sergei Naryshkin, said that “meddling in the sovereignty of states on the pretext of fighting terrorism was counter-productive”, adding that “it is not possible to ‘manage’ terrorist groups”. He warned that hybrid threats were eroding the system of relationships between states established after the Second World War. “Only a multipolar architecture can ensure prosperity and development” Naryshkin said, adding portentously that “if the Western community was not mature enough to accept this, then other countries should project the global system without the West”. Naryshkin concluded his speech with the significant assertion that “Russia is ready to lead this”.
The representative of China, Guo Shengkun, a member of the Politbureau of the Communist Party of China, said that a global front against Terrorism needed to be forged, highlighting the vulnerability to Internet radicalization due to an on-line population of 829 million.
The UN Under-Secretary General for countering Terrorism said there was a question about what they should do about returning foreign fighters, 20,000 of them who were in Iraq and Syria. The UN, he assured, retains the focus on counter-terrorism.
A recurring concern was that there was yet no universally accepted definition of Terrorism. Making that point, Rajinder Khanna, Deputy National Security Advisor to Prime Minister Modi and Secretary of the National Security Council Secretariat, added that this lacuna was used by some states to encourage terrorists. “There is no distinction between good and bad terrorists” he said.
The representative of Iraq said that he would like to promote the idea proposed at the Conference by the Sri Lankan ambassador, of a global United Front of states against Terrorism. He said they could come up with a conference on Terrorism to find solutions. The Sri Lankan Ambassador said that terrorism proliferates when the state is weakened, and a strengthened state is a bulwark against terrorism.
Serbia’s representative said that today, real threats come not from concentration of power but the disintegration of power. Terrorism and extremism, he said, threaten the integrity of states by breaking them up into protectorates of other countries. Uganda offered a definition of hybrid threats as “threats that undermine the state through coercive and subversive methods”. Some lamented that “criminals are better coordinated while states are divided”.
South Korea noted that Technology had an impact on national security and states should enhance their capability to respond promptly to such threats. Malaysia spoke of a regional initiative of a “Digital Counter messaging centre” as a response to on-line extremism and radicalization, while highlighting the importance of improving border security. Moldova spoke of their Centre for Cyber Security with a Response Group to minimize effects of social media radicalization and a National Council to counter hybrid threats at all levels, recommending joint training and practice sessions.
A common complaint was the funding of terrorist groups by some countries and the moving around of foreign terrorists. Argentina said they were working on a conceptual document on a comprehensive approach to National Security. Several regional initiatives were highlighted such as The African Centre for Study and Research on Terrorism and the European Center for Countering Hybrid Threats.
At the Roundtable on Terrorism held on the last day of the conference, the Chair, Yuri Kokov, the Deputy Secretary of Russia’s Security Council, said that the role of the State in counter-terrorism should be fully recognized and that close international cooperation was essential to neutralize the threat of terrorists, including “lone wolf terrorists”.
“Returning terrorist fighters” was identified as one of the biggest threats by some countries as terrorists — including many women — infiltrated Central Asian countries from Afghanistan. They appealed for cooperation to close transit channels. Afghanistan appealed to the world to stop distinguishing between terrorists.
Tajikistan joined India and many other countries including Sri Lanka in urging a universal definition of Terrorism. The Sri Lankan Ambassador offered a possible universal definition for discussion, also insisting that there were certain global events that kept cropping up in terrorist propaganda aiming at radicalizing youth from different parts of the world, and unless addressed, those will continue to motivate young people into joining extremist groups and later resort to terrorism.