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IDSA-BESA Bilateral Dialogue

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  • January 15, 2008 to January 16, 2008

    Non-State Armed Groups and Asian Security in the 21st Century

    Concept Note

    As part of its ongoing efforts to bring together experts on security issues of mutual interest, IDSA and BESA are hosting a Bilateral Dialogue on “Non-State Armed Groups and Asian Security in the 21stCentury”. The sovereign state has been increasingly undermined by transnational, supra-national and sub-national non-state actors. Some like civil society groups, are nonviolent and have played a critical role in reforming state policy and improving governance. Others like the Al Qaeda, Hezbollah and the LTTE, are violent and have become threats to national security and international peace. Such groups, designated as Non-State Armed Groups (NSAGs) are defined as “groups that use force, flow across state boundaries, utilize global communication and transportation networks, seek international influence, and increasingly undertake military operations against dominant states.” In different ways and to varying degrees, these groups have challenged two aspects of state power- sovereignty over the territory and the exclusive right to use force.

    The nature of NSAG’s differs considerably since they aspire to different goals- some desire statehood while others have transcendent millenarian objectives. The main challenge in dealing with them is that while posing as threats to existing states, they perform important social welfare functions that give them legitimacy. According to the dataset of the Military Balance (IISS, 2007), there are 343 armed groups, 187 of them operate in Asia. They indulge in a range of activities such as terrorism (transnational and domestic), separatism, extremism, insurgency, guerrilla warfare, opposition to governments, ethnic violence, border violence, drug smuggling and other crimes. Their presence complicates the internal and international security dynamics and compels us to give serious consideration to issues such as ungoverned and misgoverned spaces, the problems they pose to nation-building and peace and security in the contemporary world.

    The Dialogue aims to bring together scholars studying some of the important NSAGs, with the aim to arrive at a focused, structured, comparative understanding of these actors and implications for Asian security. Theoretical propositions regarding the success/failure of states and non-state groups have been based on the impact of power/interest asymmetries and strategic interaction between the two sides. In an attempt to further refine and/or reinforce the ongoing debate, the first session will cover the following topics:

    • The Uncertain Meaning of Victory in Contemporary Conflicts
    • Small Wars: Theory and Practice
    • Sub-national Insurgencies: Lessons from the Indian Experience
    • The Threat of Nuclear Terrorism in Asia

    The following NSAGs will be discussed during the Dialogue: 1. Hezbollah 2. HAMAS 3. Al Qaeda 4. Islamic Brotherhood 5. Taliban 6. Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)7. Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) 8. Harkat ul Jihad Islami (HUJI) 9. Jama’atul Mujaheedin Bangladesh (JMB) 10. Jemaah Islamiyah (JI). While this list is not comprehensive, the groups selected are representative of the dominant trends and therefore, it is hoped that an in-depth analysis of these groups will bring forth important conclusions regarding how to deal with NSAGs in Asia.

    With the aim of arriving at a comprehensive, focused and structured comparative study, each of these case studies will focus on certain common criteria such as:

    1. Organisation of the Group- hierarchical or network-based; centralized/localized decision-making; functional sub-units such as military, intelligence, political and financial
    2. Membership- size; recruitment and training strategies; sources of motivation and continued membership; social and political origins
    3. Leadership- their ideology; world-view; motives; sources of legitimacy/moral authority; nature of leadership and its impact on effectiveness of the group; cohesiveness/factions among leadership
    4. Ideology- political, social economic vision as a source of legitimacy; justification of violence
    5. Resources- infrastructure; sources of funding, linkages with other non state armed groups/state actors, sources of weapons; intention to acquire WMDs
    6. Strategy- operational doctrines; declared strategies and tactics; intelligence and counter-intelligence capabilities, flexibility, balance-sheet of operational and strategic effectiveness; targets.
    7. State responses to these armed groups and their counter-reactions.