Facing Non-Traditional Security threats | Sunday Observer

Facing Non-Traditional Security threats

23 April, 2023

There is a wider debate in society on the proposed Anti-Terrorism Bill (ATB), with a firm emphasis on national security. This is often thought of in terms of just one dimension – physical threats to national security, such as terrorism. Even though the war ended nearly 14 years ago, one cannot dismiss the latent threat posed by sympathisers and rump groups of the separatist movement.

In fact, this newspaper reported a couple of weeks ago that India’s National Intelligence Agency (NIA) broke up a ring that aimed to revive the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in India and Sri Lanka. And the Easter attack of April 2019, whose fourth anniversary fell this week, proved that terrorist acts can come from unexpected quarters and at unexpected moments. That was a huge lapse vis-à-vis the national security apparatus, as a friendly nation had warned the relevant authorities of an imminent terror attack. Yet, the warnings went unheeded.

It is, therefore, essential that we take physical security seriously. There is no doubt that our Security Forces have to be downsized in peacetime, but their core mission must remain more or less the same – protecting the country from any threats internal or external. But rather than relying solely on manpower, technology such as aerial surveillance, satellite technology and facial recognition can give them an edge, even if the number of “boots on the ground” is not very high.  

In this respect, protecting our borders from human and contraband (including drugs) smugglers has assumed greater significance. Just last week, the Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) and the Sri Lanka Coast Guard (SLCG) nabbed a group of drug smugglers who were transporting 179 Kgs of heroin with a street value of Rs.3.5 billion, off the Southern coast. Just a few weeks back, the SLN foiled yet another attempt by people smugglers to take a boatload of illegal migrants to Australia.

While transnational terrorism remains a significant threat in this part of the world, there has been a seismic shift in recognising and acting upon such Non-Traditional Security (NTS) threats. Among the NTS threats are Climate Change, shortages of resources such as energy, food and water, infectious diseases and pandemics such as Ebola and Covid-19, natural disasters (floods, tsunamis, wildfires and earthquakes), transnational organised crime, human and drug trafficking and mass migration, as seen in the Mediterranean.  Some of these are unfortunately left out of the “national security” debate by those who still cling on to old notions of physical security.  

Climate Change could become an existential threat to humanity by 2100, through a sea level rise induced by Global Warming. Climate Change is already causing freak weather events and natural disasters such as flooding. Moreover, climate-induced migration is growing. The World Bank has predicted that over 140 million people will migrate from their home countries by 2050 due to climate issues.

Sri Lanka, reeling from an economic crisis, has already experienced what it is like to endure energy and fuel shortages. The best way to counter this is to go for renewable energy, for which there is ample scope in tropical countries such as Sri Lanka. The authorities here plan to generate 70 percent of energy requirements from wind and solar by 2030 and phase out fossil fuel cars by 2035, which will go a long way towards meeting Net Zero targets by 2050.

Covid-19 was an abject lesson in facing a once-in-a-century pandemic. The threat from Covid-19, RSV, Ebola and Avian Flu has still not gone away. The world must not repeat the shambolic response to Covid-19, where the rich countries hoarded practically all available stocks of Covid-19 mRNA vaccines and PPE supplies. The disbanding of the Covid Task Force was a wrong move – it should have been renamed as the Pandemic Response Committee and called upon to continue its work, lest we have to face another pandemic.

Sri Lanka faced a spate of natural disasters over the past few years, taking a heavy toll of lives. While some of these may be beyond our control, we can still take precautions. A renowned geologist has warned that Sri Lanka should invest in more seismic detection equipment, as many minor tremors were reported around the island in recent weeks. The UK is experimenting with an emergency siren for mobile phones that can be activated in case of a major disaster event. Sri Lanka too should opt for such approaches to warn citizens of any impending disaster.

The very fact that underworld bosses are controlling their minions in Sri Lanka from the UAE shows the transnational nature of crime. The trafficking and smuggling of persons across international boundaries has also increased in recent weeks, with Sri Lanka becoming a key transit point.

All these NTS threats cannot, however, be countered by individual countries acting alone. These are global issues that need a global response and collective action through blocs such as BIMSTEC and the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA). Strong multilateral partnerships are the key to resolving menacing NTS threats.


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