Grey-area phenomena in Southeast Asia: piracy, drug trafficking and political terrorism

Author/s (editor/s):

Peter Chalk

Publication year:


Publication type:

Policy paper

Canberra Papers on Strategy and Defence No. 123

This study examines three specific issue areas of concern that have assumed greater prominence on Southeast Asia's broadened security agenda in the post Cold War era: maritime piracy; drug production and trafficking - with a primary emphasis on the Golden Triangle region of Laos, Burma and Thailand; and political terrorism. Although these threats are by no means new to the Southeast Asian environment, all three issues have taken on greater prominence and meaning in their own right as a result of the new world 'disorder' of the 1990s. 

At the same time, it has become increasingly apparent that the mechanisms for addressing such threats are not well developed in the region. The combined effect has been to significantly elevate the importance attached to these areas of unconventional regional security, with piracy, drug trafficking and terrorism all taking on greater relevance in the national security calculations of many Southeast Asian states. 

In order to more adequately address these threats, the study argues that political élites will not only need to engage in innovative security integration at the national level, they must also be prepared to institutionalise multilateral cooperation at the international level. At the national level, the bureaucratic divisions and jealousies which exist within security and defence establishments need to be addressed, as do instances of official corruption that support issues such as piracy, terrorism and drug trafficking, or at least allow them to exist. At the international level, more attention needs to be devoted to integrating inter-state cooperation into a fully comprehensive and coordinated system of collaboration of the sort that is able to support the development of new, more effective modes of combined action.

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