fbpx

Can Colombia Legitimize its Coca Trade?

2018 10 31 Roberto Pic 300x150 - Can Colombia Legitimize its Coca Trade?

BusinessInsider.com The wrapped fingers of a raspachin worker who collects coca leaves, during the harvest on a small coca farm in Guaviare province, Colombia. REUTERS/John Vizcaino

For the past century, Colombia has been embroiled in an intense war on drugs which has created a steady state of violent conflict within the country, and little impact on long-term production or drug use. This war has largely been financed by the United States. Complicating the drug war is another long-standing conflict with leftist guerrillas who have control of territory with a high density of coca plants. This piece will focus on the problems of the Colombian approach to the war on drugs and how it can be adapted into more workable solutions in the future.

At the height of their power, the drug cartels controlled Colombia, with Pablo Escobar becoming the 7th richest person in the world.

They supplied 80% of the global cocaine market. Much of the demand for cocaine came from the U.S., prompting the U.S. government and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to take action. They then sent money, supplies, and even agents to Colombia as a way to disrupt the drug production, and distribution to North America. Through a long and bloody process, which included murder, arrests, and extradition requests, the DEA and Colombian government were able to dismantle the drug cartels in Colombia.

Unfortunately, this only partially resolved the sourcing issue and did nothing to address the demand issue. While the DEA and Colombian government were able to curb the cartels’ flow of drugs from Colombia to the U.S., other sources stepped in and continued the supply. Thus, the actions of the DEA did nothing to address the demand for cocaine in the U.S. The DEA and Colombian government were also ineffective in transitioning out of the drug war and providing an environment in which those previously involved in the drug trade could otherwise make a living. There were many promises by the Colombian government to help the farmers replace their coca crops with legal commodities, unfortunately, the help never came. The government failed to adequately support these farmers with seeds and other farming assistance, so the farmers quickly went back to cultivating the coca crops. The farmers needed to support their families, and no alternatives were offered. An example of that is Wilmer Ovalle, a young man that is taking over his father’s coca cultivation in the absence of state support for other crops. Ovalle knows that with the coca crop he will have a steady income and the drug trade will go on, even if large cartels have been broken up.  (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/apr/18/colombia-united-nations-assembly-war-on-drugs)

In an effort to diminish the supply, the DEA ran fumigation operations in which they used agricultural planes to spray herbicide over the Colombian countryside killing the cocaine crops.

Similar to the violent oppression of the cartels, the spraying forced the growers to adapt, and many moved deeper into territory controlled by the guerrillas. Ovalle’s father moved their family plantations to Colombian natural reserves, where the fumigations were prohibited. The farmers cut down trees and planted their coca in the Colombian tropical forest, exacerbating deforestation issues

There was a glimmer of hope for Colombia with the accession to power of Juan Manuel Santos, who promised a more community-based approach to the drug war, as well as signing a peace deal with the FARC guerrillas, which includes a workable, sustainable solution to the illicit drug business. However, like too many things in Colombia, the policy rhetoric often differs from practice and implementation, thus the war on drugs continues. With the political damage following the failures of the FARC peace deal, Santos had to leave office and was replaced by his opposition

In order to stop the unnecessary violence and suffering from this two-front conflict, Colombia must dedicate itself to a community-based approach.

One which helps farmers shift their production from coca to food and other crops which are profitable. The government needs to help the farmers make the transition as part of a post-conflict solution which places farmers at the center of the solution. Historically, farmers have shown willingness to cooperate, as they are concerned with the violence perpetuated by illicit drug trade as well as health impacts of coca farming. However, the government must show the political will to follow through and help the farmers. This might require farming support, subsidies, or tax incentives until the farmers are able to produce a significant yield of legal crops which can support their families and communities. The international community must also act to condemn the war on drugs, assist with community-based post-conflict practices, and look for other sustainable solutions to this conflict. The war on drugs failed miserably for both Colombia and the U.S., as production rates and prices for coca remain strong, as does drug use in the U.S.

~ Roberto Malta is a Brazilian born, George Mason University student pursuing a B.A. in Global Affairs, with minors in History and Economics

A Brief History of Soviet Support for Terrorism

2018 10 31 Kate Pic 300x146 - A Brief History of Soviet Support for Terrorism

AP telegraph.co.uk Pilot Juergen Schumann sits in the doorway of a Lufthansa plane in Dubai on Oct. 15, 1977, prior to being murdered by Red Army Faction leaders.

The reign of terror the Soviet Union inflicted upon its citizens is well-documented, but what’s less well-known is the impact it had abroad.

Though it brutally crushed protest movements within its borders, the Soviet Union actively funded terrorist separatist groups across the globe. To undermine governments outside the Eastern Bloc, they provided leftist terror cells worldwide with arms, equipment, and connections to higher-level government operatives able to organize and connect terrorists across continents.

In Germany, the Red Army Faction and the 2nd June Movement were two such groups. In Italy, the Red Brigades were aided similarly.

Each of these groups received Soviet equipment and training, sometimes directly from the Soviet government and sometimes through Soviet-allied governments such as Cuba. These governments and groups then worked to further disseminate weapons across the globe, leading to a diaspora of Soviet equipment among left-wing governments and radical groups.

One place the Soviet support was particularly successful in breeding terror was Palestine.

Soviet support of the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s airplane hijacking campaign led to an exponential expansion of its scale: in the early 1960s, there was an average of five hijackings a year, but with Soviet support, the PLO was able to hijack 82 aircraft in 1969 alone. Soviet support was so successful that the KGB’s General Alexander Sakharovsky bragged that, “Airplane hijacking is my own invention.” During this time, the scale of the conflict increased significantly, tensions heightened between Israel and Palestine, and radicals were given a platform which they retain to this day — hearkening back to the Soviet training, financing, and organization which initiated the campaign of violence.

The story of Soviet support for terrorism is a cautionary tale.

Many Soviet-backed organizations remained potent for years after the fall of the Iron Curtain, and many remain active to this day. Regardless of the regime behind them, state-sponsored terrorist organisations take on lives of their own and may present threats for decades — which is why it is puzzling that countries with huge diplomatic clout, such as the United States and Canada, still turn a blind eye to the role state sponsorship plays in facilitating terror across the Middle East. It’s time to apply the lessons we learned from the Soviets and crack down on the funding Saudi Arabia, Iran, and others funnel to extremists. If not, the radical organizations they support will likely outlive us all.

Muslim Democracy

iranian anti regime protests. afp 0 - Muslim Democracy

London – Hoda al-Husseini

While the term contains the word Muslim, Muslim democracy seeks neither to reform or build theocracies, but rather to incorporate Islamic ideals into democracies in Muslim majority countries.

Muslim democracy as a concept is being practiced by Islamist groups which aspire to political relevance without revolutionary goals. Violence is an issue that determines whether a group is relevant to the Muslim democracy discussion, in that groups must have an attitude of deterrence as regards violence.

While an unfavorable position on violence is a vital aspect of Muslim democratic status, it is not the only aspect.

Other characteristics that determine how an Islamist group would fair in a democratic setting include its attitude toward minorities, political pluralism, and whether they believe religious authorities should have veto power in the political processes.

While all these elements are germane to determining a Muslim democracy’s potential, gauging how successful Muslim democracies are is less clear-cut.

Muslim leaders can claim an affinity for democracy while behaving in ways that tell a different story. The best way then, to gauge a Muslim democracy’s status is to determine how internally democratic a given group is. Until political freedom exists in a community, none of the aforementioned amounts to much. If there is no political freedom, then there is no incentive for political parties or leaders to explain themselves and their views on issues. A democratic process wherein any group can engage is essential in determining a group’s legitimacy. The case studies in Muslim Democracy are Turkey’s AKP party and the IAF in Jordan.

The AKP, Turkey’s Justice and Development Party, has been in power since 2001 and has seen three free and fair elections. The dissolution of the Ottoman Empire midwifed the Turkish Republic, which was founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. The “Kemalist Ideology” was a secularist ideology based on rapid modernization. This ideology was based on the glorification of pre-Islamic Turkey, and it endeavored to eliminate the Islamic traditionalism that had been a part of Ottoman rule. However, the Kemalist Ideology never gained traction with the rural masses, yielding many Islamic and Kurdish rebellions.

The AKP was created by the reformist wing of the Islamist Refah Party, after recognizing no openly Islamist party would gain momentum in Turkey.

AKP succeeded in a landslide in 2002 with 34% of the vote and 2/3 of the seats. The success can be attributed to the rise of the new conservative provincial classes, as well as the AKP being labeled as a conservative democracy. AKP embraced minority and human rights, democracy and demilitarization instead of orientation to the Muslim world. The adoption of a neoliberal fiscal policy brought about a Turkish economic boom, and a focus on issues like health care, housing credits, student grants, and infrastructure.

While AKP rose to power espousing a secular ideology, it later used its popular mandate to implement more Islamist policies, such as banning adultery in 2004 and reintroducing headscarves in universities. In 2008, the government launched investigations of the military based on secret deep state paranoia.

In 2010, alleged coup plans were revealed resulting in the arrest of army officers. The Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, had gained newfound confidence at this point which resulting in more Islamist reforms like upgrading flight attendant uniforms to ones in accord with Islamic teachings. The regime also took a more authoritarian tone: censoring the internet, issuing new press laws, and shutting down anti-AKP protests. While the AKP initially inspired optimism as a democratic model and seemed to be moving in the right direction, the absence of a significant, effective opposition has allowed it to veer closer to authoritarianism.

The Islamic Action Front (IAF), established in 1945, started as a charitable organization advocating religious awareness and practice.

It had built and maintained a close and cooperative relationship with the government before entering politics in 1989. Later known as the IAF, the Islamist bloc emerged as the single largest political fraction in the 1989 elections. In the 1990s when there was nothing uniting the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists with the regime after the secularists and nationalists had been sidelined, they looked to curb the political influence of the Islamists.

By this point, the Islamists were more vocal in their opposition to the regime, and the regime had become wary of pro-Palestinian youths groups emerging from the Muslim Brotherhood. The electoral reforms of 1993 were seen as driven to disadvantage Islamists and the Islamic Action Front was created by the Muslim Brotherhood.

Islamists were shut out of the political system after opposing the 1995 peace deal with Israel and boycotting the 1997 election. The IAF contested the parliamentary elections in 2003 after King Abdullah postponed elections in 2001 to gerrymander. The IAF participated in the 2016 elections, winning 16 out of 130 seats after boycotting elections in 2010 and 2013.

Within the IAF, the question now is how to participate and attain its goals, not whether to participate or not. Islamism, as used by the IAF, can be seen as loyal opposition to the liberal autocracy of Jordan, and the potential for greater tension between the Islamists and the state has been predicted.

While both of these case studies fulfill requirements about opposing violence, they prove that a political environment that allows for open competition and free political processes is prerequisite for Islamist ideals to thrive in a democratic environment.

Venezuela and the Predicament of Rentier States

2018 10 28 Roberto Pic 300x203 - Venezuela and the Predicament of Rentier States

Prensa Miraflores, The New Politics Papers, Transnational Institute’s Public Alternatives Project

Much is said about Venezuela and its current state, but often in isolation from processes occurring in other Latin American countries and the world.

At the same time, it’s important to avoid reducing the current crisis to solely external factors. Many elements thereof are indeed purely Venezuelan and have contributed to one of the harshest crises Latin America has ever seen. Which, in itself, speaks to the situation’s severity.

It is no secret that Latin America is a continent marked by social and economic inequality.

Venezuela is no exception to the rule. As many of Latin America countries opened their economies to capitalism after World War II, and in the context of the Cold War, it exacerbated preexisting inequalities, especially as foreign investment arrived without proper democratic institutions to provide balance. As a result, this led to social unrest and to the arrival of political insurgencies, which were violently repressed by the Venezuelan dictatorship in the middle of the 20th century. Despite that this movement failed, it changed values in the country to be more left-leaning, anti-capitalist, and fearful of foreign investment, which was only seen as benefitting the country’s elites.

The external factors are easiest to explain.

Venezuela was blessed with a huge amount of oil, arguably the most coveted resource in the wake of the second industrial revolution in the late 19th century. However, instead of using it to jump-start its industrialization like the United States, or save it, like Norway, for strategic purposes, Venezuela became a rentier state. Rentier states are those which have an abundance of valuable natural resources, like oil, which they sell in the foreign markets for huge profits.

Rentier states also tend to have authoritarian governments.

These use part of the profits they make from exporting natural resources to provide welfare services to their population, all with extremely low taxes. As a result, any social unrest an authoritarian state might normally provoke is suppressed by the low taxation and decent state services. In addition, the state uses its profits to develop oppressive apparatuses to crush opposition that may rise against it, maintaining the status quo, and not industrializing.

Venezuela is hardly alone in this respect; nearly all Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) member states, plus Russia, qualify as rentier states.

Saudi Arabia is a prime example as it provides services to its population, even giving away money, all while repressing its opposition and making few efforts to develop its domestic economy. It also explains the sudden collapse of Venezuela’s economy when the price of oil dropped from $100 per barrel in 2014 to less than $40 per barrel in 2016. As the commodity financed the whole Venezuelan economy, the collapse was inevitable.

When a rentier state is unable to provide services it used to provide, social unrest rises and the state must take measures to contain it, increasing state repression and brutality, often coupled with disastrous economic policies that freeze prices and the supply of goods and services requisite to the wellbeing of its population. Not long thereafter the main worry for the population shifts from daily crime and insurgency groups to state oppression and violence.

Rentier states are dangerous.

They engage in the oppression of their populations and are often responsible for state-sponsored terrorism on a global scale. Even when they focus on internal repression, it usually resembles a Robespierrian terror rule. These states are dangerous to their populations, to other states, and they finance global terror worldwide – Iran is a chief example. Their racket, providing welfare-like services to the populace without taxation is susceptible to failure and can plunge nations into chaos, as seen in Venezuela, and even civil war.

The international community should act to mitigate such disasters.

It could facilitate their entrance into international organizations, incentivizing development and domestic, industrialization of their economies, facilitating entrance into the global economy, and intervening, with sanctions on the UN Security Council, for example, to stop such states from terrorizing their populations. Thus, not only will this halt worldwide human rights violations, it will increase rentier states’ accountability to their populations, reducing their ability and incentive to fund terror organizations.

~ Roberto Malta is a Brazilian born, George Mason University student pursuing a B.A. in Global Affairs, with minors in History and Economics

Scandinavia: Striking the Balance and Setting the Precedent

nintchdbpict000314885278 e1491596779663 - Scandinavia: Striking the Balance and Setting the Precedent

Passers-by flee the scene of the attack, which saw a truck rammed into a shopping centre in Stockholm, PA: Press Images

Europe has been on high alert for terror attacks in major metropolis around the region. Complicating the matter are questions over immigration, asylum, religious freedom, and how countries can absorb and integrate masses of refugees.

Scandinavia, with its welfare-state propensity and open-minded lifestyle, is bearing the brunt of these issues. There is no contemporary precedent for how to peacefully integrate vast numbers of diverse asylum seekers into the relatively small, homogeneous population of Scandinavia. This makes the outcome of the current situation questionable.

One sure consequence is the rise of right-wing ultra-nationalism. Right-Wing ultra-nationalism secures its power by stoking fear and conflict over asylum seekers and immigrants. Finding a framework and process for peaceful integration is necessary to avoid extremist ideology exposure. Scandinavian governments will be tested as they balance privacy and security, maintain religious freedom, and create equitable, transparent processes.

Scandinavians value their privacy and individual freedoms, yet have been forced by terrorist attacks to consider the trade-offs they must make for better security. 

Questions dominate the Scandinavian discourse such as whether a government should attempt to mitigate attacks by raising physical barriers in city centers, or by focusing on defeating extremist ideologies, or whether immigrants and citizens should be allowed their right to privacy. 

Homogeneous populations like those in Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark have been attacked by extremists as recently as 2017. In April a truck attack in Stockholm killed five and injured more. In August two people were killed and 10 more wounded in a stabbing in Turku, Finland. Both perpetrators were asylum seekers.

Concurrently, the number of radical extremists on Sweden’s intelligence radar has risen from 200 to 2,000.  

The number of asylum seekers in Europe peaked in 2015 but remained above 550,000 in 2017.  In Sweden and Finland alone, 200,000 asylum seekers have been admitted since 2015. Concurrently, the number of radical extremists on Sweden’s intelligence radar has risen from 200 to 2,000.  

Most Nordic countries have programs which aim to build resilience and identify at-risk populations. Finland has programs wherein troubled youth are admitted and subsequently, social workers share information they gather with local police. Many similar programs fan out across the region, but they tend to be voluntary and underfunded. Many Scandinavian citizens are concerned about privacy and thus support these programs’ voluntary nature.

There are cultural and religious tensions between Muslim immigrants and the Scandinavian people, the latter of whom tend to exhibit low levels of religious adherence. And then there are religious divisions within Islam which leads to tension. Many of the asylum seekers are Shia.

The majority of Muslims resided in Scandinavia previously are Sunni. Established, Finnish Sunnis have perpetrated hostilities against the newly arriving Shia. Not only is Scandinavia struggling to cope with how to integrate a foreign-born population, but it must also contend with ancient animosities between foreign-born populations. Given the high levels of atheism in much of Scandinavia, the religious divide is slippery and has some questioning whether it is the religious leaders’ responsibility to quell animosity or the government’s job to vet asylum seekers.

Local citizens, asylum seekers, and civil society have hotly criticized the integration process.

In particular, in 2016, Denmark was criticized for its jewelry law which required immigrants to forfeit assets over £1,120, irrespective of family heirlooms, wedding rings, and other sentimental pieces. Some Danes believed the policy was equitable because Danish citizens seeking government assistance could not hold general assets of greater value. However, asylum seekers and NGO representatives believe it is punitive. 

The rationale was that immigrants should not be allowed to keep savings and other assets and still expect the Danish government to pay for housing and food when Danish citizens are not allowed the same opportunity. Is a country like Denmark, known for being open-minded and tolerant, still both of these when assets are being confiscated?  

The public needs a better understanding of the motivation behind these laws to avoid the populist rise and extremist response across Scandinavia.

As it turns out, low-income Danes, immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers are all treated equally under the law. In addition to free housing and food, they are all provided free education. The public needs a better understanding of the motivation behind these laws to avoid the populist rise and extremist response across Scandinavia. Scandinavians worry what will become of their welfare system and wonder how far they can stretch their resources. Asylum seekers see these measures as discriminatory.

Neither Scandinavian nor international media, nor governments are doing enough to counteract both sides’ fears. There has been a consequent rise in extremism by nationalist groups, evidenced by Norway’s government which touts the primacy of Norwegian values, and by the fascist roots of the Swedish Democrats party which has been gaining momentum.

If these countries wish to maintain their open-minded reputations they must review the foundational ideologies on all sides and address the challenges of successful integration.

This should include finding a balance between privacy and security, as well as seeking greater empathy and transparency from all parties. “Xenophobia, racism, and welfare chauvinism have gone mainstream in Scandinavia,” says Mette Wiggen, a prominent analyst of the radical-right. Unfortunately, there is no playbook for how to keep this from spiraling out of control.

One thing is certain: if concessions are made on all sides, and there is tolerance, care, and dialogue, Scandinavia can set a precedent for how to integrate asylum-seekers as they have for governance and quality of life for years.

The Threat of Drone-Based Terror

Drone - The Threat of Drone-Based Terror

On August 4, 2018, President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela was attacked with explosive-laden drones during a political rally. Although the drones were not successful in assassinating the Venezuelan leader, they managed to injure seven national guardsmen who were at the rally.

A few weeks earlier in July, the Public Safety Secretary of Mexico’s Baja California was also targeted by an armed drone, although the attached IED did not detonate. Attacks such as these are indicative of the burgeoning threat that drone-related terror can play in today’s world.

No longer is drone technology limited to the militaries of countries like the United States, Nigeria, or Pakistan. Instead, groups such as Hezbollah, the Houthi rebels, and the Islamic State are getting in on the action. In fact, ISIS recently threatened Paris with a drone attack. As drones become easier to obtain and use, attacks using this technology will become more frequent, more sophisticated, and more deadly.

The barriers to carrying out a drone-based terror attack are lower than ever. Lightweight hobby drones are cheap, easy to purchase and allow terrorist groups to carry out attacks from a distance. While military drones are less accessible and harder to operate, they do provide a higher operational capacity and have a number of avenues by which terrorist groups can obtain them. In this way, drone-based terror is comparable to nuclear terror.

Hobby drones, like a dirty bomb, can easily be weaponized, but have a relatively small impact, while military drones, like a weapon of mass destruction, can be stolen, bought from a rogue state or corrupt official, and has a high potential impact. Additionally, improvements in battery and camera technology will only increase the negative impact of drone-based terror as groups learn to harness these ever-increasing capabilities. In recent testimony to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, FBI Director Christopher Wray stated that drones, “will be used to facilitate an attack in the United States against a vulnerable target, such as a mass gathering.”

The Security Challenges of Drone-Based Terror

Drone-based terror presents unique security threats and challenges. The particular tactical flexibility inherent to drones forces a rethinking of current security strategies. Traditional notions of perimeter defense and target hardening no longer apply when the threat is as maneuverable and flexible as a drone.

Small drones can be used in swarms to destroy commercial airliners, disrupt military operations through hyper-local targeting, or inflict asymmetric damage on civilian targets. Additionally, drones can and have been used in conjunction with more traditional methods of terror.

During the Islamic State’s defense of Mosul, drones were used to guide suicide bombers and improve the accuracy of rocket and mortar fire. The coalition’s anti-drone no-fly zone was quickly counteracted by a do-it-yourself solution implemented by fighters on the ground. Further, drones can conduct both intelligence and counterintelligence operations: terrorist groups could use drones to jam military communications, survey battlefields, and download sensitive data.

In addition to conventional attacks and military-based operations, drones could be engineered to disperse chemical weapons, biological agents such as viruses or Anthrax, or even radioactive material. A September 2018 National Terrorism Advisory System Bulletin warned that, “some terrorist groups overseas are [pursuing] new technologies and tactics, such as unmanned aerial systems and chemical agents,” while Hezbollah may have the ability to carry out biological warfare using drones.

Finally, aerial drones are not the only technology terrorist groups can exploit. In January 2017, Houthi rebels killed two Saudi soldiers with a sea-based drone. As aquatic drone technology continues to proliferate, terrorist capabilities may widen to include attacks on coastal cities. Aquatic drones maintain the security challenges of aerial drones but can dramatically widen the target range of drone-based terror. Land-based drones may pose a threat as well, since “fighters in Syria and Iraq have been […] experimenting with remotely controlled vehicles and small robots for nearly a decade.”

Countering Drone-Based Terror

US doctrine focuses on active and passive defense, as well as a proactive intelligence-based approach, to countering air threats. Because of the small size, speed, and maneuverability of drones, they may not be detectable to forms of active defense reliant on radar. However, communication jamming may be a particularly effective form of defense against drones, reducing targeting accuracy and thus the potential threat.

Additionally, acoustic and radio detection methods can make up for radar’s shortcomings in countering drone incursion. On the passive side of defense, simple behavioral changes like hosting high-profile events indoors, varying arrival and departure agendas of potential target personnel, and changing transport routes can make all types of terror, not just drone-based attacks, more difficult. Finally, greater control and oversight of the supply chain, through the monitoring of suspicious purchases and cooperation with manufacturers, would decrease the likelihood of terrorist groups acquiring drones in the first place.

Drone-Based Terror Takeaways

Drone-based terror can be seen as an emerging threat to the global security environment which demands immediate and creative solutions. Terrorist groups are already making use of drones in the air, at sea, and on land in a variety of situations and capacities. The barriers to acquiring, arming, and using drones are lower than ever, and drone-based attacks come with their own unique security challenges. As drone technology improves, becomes cheaper, and proliferates, militaries will have to reckon with new security paradigms to combat this rapidly-evolving threat.

Thailand Proposal

thailandbomb - Thailand Proposal

Thai bomb squad officials inspect the site of an explosion in Bangkok Feb. 14, 2012. Three minor blasts rattled the Thai capital Bangkok, leaving a foreigner seriously wounded when a grenade he was suspected of carrying exploded, police said. (NICOLAS ASFOURI / AFP)

The Thai government has employed multiple methods to combat the rising insurgency in Southern Thailand.

One includes a plan proposed by the National Reconciliation Commission (NRC) in March 2005.  This article discusses the long-term solutions embedded in the work of the NRC which were designed to deal with the increase in violence.

Much of the unrest in Southern Thailand has been ascribed to the region’s high density of ethnic and religious minorities. 35% of the population identifies as Muslim and most of these Muslims as Malays. This high concentration of minority individuals creates greater religious and ethnic tension in the region. The tensions are fueled by the spread of extreme Islam in Southeast Asia. As extremist ideology has increased, so too has violence in the region. Since the insurgency’s start in January 2004 more than 6,500 people have lost their lives in southern provinces.

The National Reconciliation Commission, led by Anand Panrayachun, former Prime Minister of Thailand, provided a framework for managing the conflict and curbing the violence in the southern provinces.  

The commission was formed under the command of the King and Prime Minister, and was, “…charged with recommending policies, measures, mechanisms conducive to reconciliation and peace in Thai society. Particularly in the three southern border provinces.” The NRC was tasked with putting an end to daily violence. It is to serve as a catalyst for long-term changes around violence reduction. Finally, it is tasked with building institutions and programs for sustainable peace. The NRC suggested immediate and long-term proposals to combat the ongoing conflict.

In the short-term, the NRC mandated government-initiated peace talks with insurgents and advocates for non-military regional groups to maintain peace. The commission proposed three goals for conflict de-escalation. First, find common ground between the Muslim majority and Buddhist minority in southern Thailand, helping these groups live together peacefully as equals.  Second, create a common understanding of the majority population in Thailand. Third, create a larger, more harmonious and diverse Thai society.

To achieve these goals, the NRC noted the importance of conversation between the Thai government and militant groups.

The NRC noted it, “…believes it is necessary to engage in dialogue, freely exchanging views with people, both at home and abroad, who may subscribe to ideologies different from that of the state.”  In addition to the peace talks, it was suggested that an unarmed peace-keeping unit, known as Shanti Sena, be formed to defuse daily tensions through non-violent means. The mandate of this unit is to, “…prevent existing conflicts from escalating.”

As UN peace-keeping forces have demonstrated, these types of efforts can be effective, but they need sophisticated training and exemplary community relations. The NRC hoped the Shanti Sena would mediate to help re-establish trust between the people and their government. Thus, in the short-term, the NRC advocated for both a political solution and a common security policy.  

The long-term proposals accounted for greater post-conflict reconstruction, including five measures from the structure and seven from cultural and economic perspectives.   

Lastly, the proposal called for a better understanding of the situation in Southern Thailand. It wants to ensure that all parties understand the insurgency was not a simple rebellion against the government. The civil conflict was complex and rooted in historical injustices regarding religious identity, economic inequality, unequal power, and local governmental corruption. Southern Thailand was in a state of civil conflict for a long time.

There were obvious abuses of power in the region. In order to combat this, the NRC suggested, “…a transfer [of] state officials out of the area against whom abuse of authority complaints had been issued, an investigation guided by facts, and transparent legal action taken against such officials when appropriate.”  The NRC also proposed these transferred officers never again be deployed to southern provinces.

The NRC report makes clear that dealing with the crisis would require political will and input from all parties. However, it does not have realistic expectations or frameworks regarding how this might be accomplished.

This may stem from the composition and activity of the NRC. Unlike most conflict resolution boards, this group did not seek testimony beyond the 50 member commission. The commission was comprised of a cross-section of individuals including Muslim leaders and civil society agents both from within and outside the region. However, testimony from individual citizens was not sought. This is in contrast to similar commissions in South Africa and El Salvador. Finally, in other regions, such commissions were effective in post-conflict times, not during conflicts.

Rise to Peace