07 JANUARY 2004



Terrorism as we are aware, violates the most elementary values of human co-existence and the rules and norms of the national and international order. It has an extremely significant foreign-policy dimension too. By operating worldwide, the terrorists have accessed new ideas, resources, and fresh opportunities. In addition to accumulating political influence and economic resources, they have acquired specialized and dual technologies, and learnt tactics and techniques from both the East and West. Over a period of time many rag-tag groups have evolved into sophisticated organizations. As a global problem, the consensus is, that terrorism must be met with an international response.

Sri Lanka is just emerging from a brutal 20 year conflict in which more than 65,000 people, both combatants as well as civilians perished. During this time the country experienced the full spectrum of terrorism in all its manifestations. Now, fortunately, there is a cease fire in place for the last two years and there is much hope and expectations for the future, amidst a few temporary pitfalls. Being a small nation, Sri Lanka nevertheless, participated actively in the Global War on Terrorism. The country is staunchly supportive of the necessity to protect all democratic values and the requirement to actively participate in global markets and related economic growth.


The forces of globalization have facilitated the rise, growth, mobility and acquisition of special weapons/dual technologies by terrorist groups. For instance, the Internet is widely used not only to reach out to existing and potential support bases, but also to shorten the planning and preparation phases of terrorist (attacks against civilians) and guerrilla (attacks against combatants) operations. Moreover, using inexpensive travel and widespread communication, terrorist groups have successfully and in unprecedented ways influenced their existing and potential support bases amidst them and far away from the theatres of conflict.

Terrorism as we know, is not a new threat. The nations of the world, bar a few, are becoming truly united in the face of this historic challenge, rising to a new level of cooperation against the groups and individuals who threaten our way of life and the networks and powers behind them. The United States, the European Union, Russia and-very significantly--an impressive number of the Islamic States are turning from initial shock and condemnation towards constructive engagement in the expected long struggle against the evil of terrorism.

It is significant to emphasize the importance of the contribution of the Islamic world in this struggle. We have heard of the "clash of civilizations" and the much taunted "holy war" between Islam and the rest of the world.

A strong condemnation of these terrorist acts from many predominantly Islamic countries demonstrates both the unity of the international community and its ability to isolate, punish and defeat terrorist groups and networks, regardless of their regional or religious backgrounds. It must not be a clash of civilizations, but a struggle--within each of our societies, between those inspired and guided by a vision of betterment and those representing ideologies based on hatred.


Considered a mere nuisance and a law and order problem during the Cold War, terrorism has become the most pressing domestic, regional and international security issue for governments today. In the twenty first century, mankind is facing its first great challenge. which has been labelled in the media as "the war against terrorism". But this is an entirely new kind of war, because we face a new kind of enemy: it is not a single entity, not even a single State, but a well established network that functions in many countries, using advantages of modern technology and globalization. Over the last decade, gradually losing much of its sponsorship, international terrorism has developed a huge and well-concealed infrastructure of support.


Without understanding current and future adversaries, it is not possible to formulate effective policy or practical responses. The nature and the context in which they emerge, grow, decline and disappear must be understood. In a globalized world, terrorists and criminals are highly mobile. The analogy of a balloon or a shark applies to terrorist groups. Like when a balloon is squeezed, it bulges out in another place, terrorists rapidly move in search of new opportunities. Similarly, like a shark rapidly moving underwater in search of prey, contemporary terrorists move rapidly and survive on opportunity1. As opportunities for terrorists to move are many, action against terrorists must be multinational.


While we all look for new long-term strategies, including, a new sense of urgency in adopting a comprehensive convention against terrorism, we need to remember that we have twelve existing United Nations conventions and protocols dealing with terrorism. The 11 September acts of terror underscores the need to ratify and implement them. This is one of the most vital steps that needs to be taken without delay. It is, I believe important to mention only the most recent two.

Firstly, The International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism, adopted on 9 December 1999, states that a person commits an offence if that person "provides or collects funds with the intention that they should be used or in the knowledge that they are to be used, in full or in part, in order to carry out" acts of terrorism, and calls on all State Parties to "take appropriate measures ... for the identification, detection and freezing or seizure of any funds used or allocated for the purpose of committing the offences".

Dear colleagues, fortunately, 132 countries have signed the convention, and 31 have become parties by ratifying the treaty. This indeed is good news. However, it is time to issue a strong appeal for a quick implementation of all existing UN Conventions, which provide a solid legal framework for global efforts in the eradication of terrorism. This is imperative.

Secondly, The Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, signed in December 2000 in Palermo, provides powerful instruments that, even though not directly aimed at terrorism, can help in that effort as well. These include: increased cooperation among the States and their law enforcement agencies; new tools in tracking down the terrorists' assets and preventing money-laundering (such as lifting bank secrecy that protects them); easing and speeding up of extradition procedures; and protection of witnesses.

This is why we must use this opportunity to appeal strongly for a quick ratification and a full implementation of existing United Nations conventions, which provide a solid legal framework for global efforts in the eradication of terrorism.


I must also mention the efforts taken by the US which I would like to term Major Initiatives. These are:

  • Creating of smart borders (Canada and Mexico)

  • Combating fraudulent travel documents.

  • Increasing the security of international shipping containers. (Container Security Initiative)

  • Intensifying international law enforcement cooperation.

  • Improving cooperation in response to attacks.

  • Proliferation Security Initiative


There is also a considerable lobby for the establishment of an International Institution to Fight Terrorism : an International Counter -Terrorism Unit. This assumes that the international community has arrived at an accepted definition of terrorism, and the concomitant establishment of a permanent international mechanism to combat terrorism.

One of the first benefits of such a step would be that democracies with less experience in combating terrorism would no longer be as powerless when confronted by the threat of terrorism. This is food for thought.


Finally, It is important to analyze at this juncture, how other important players view the threat. I shall take two examples. Firstly China. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman recently stated that the Chinese side opposes terrorist activities in any form and supports attacks on terrorism as long as the attacks are based on conclusive evidence and with clear targets and a guarantee of the safety of innocent civilians.

He also stated that The United Nations Charter should be respected and the role of the UN and its Security Council should be strengthened, adding China will discuss with the UN Security Council all proposals that are conducive to cracking down on terrorism. This is extremely encouraging.

Richard Nixon had once remarked that had Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew lived in a different country in a different time, he would have achieved the status of a major historical figure-a Churchill, Disraeli or Gladstone. Lee recently turned 80, having for 45 years carefully observed international trends and maneuvered to keep his city-state secure and prosperous. While in Singapore a few weeks ago, the NEWSWEEK magazine interviewed him. When questioned on the American-European divide, Mr Lee had stated that The Europeans underestimate the problem of Al Qaeda-style terrorism. "They think that the United States is exaggerating the threat. They compare it to their own many experiences with terror-the IRA, the Red Brigade, the Baader-Meinhof, ETA. But they are wrong."

Lee was critical of both sides of the Atlantic alliance on Iraq. "When America and Europe are divided, when Japan is hesitant, the extremists are emboldened and think they can win against a divided group. The terrorists' tactics for the time being are to hit only Americans, Israelis and America's strong supporters, the British, the Italians, the Turks, warning the Japanese but leaving others alone. They intend to divide and conquer."


As post-modern terrorist groups are multidimensional, they operate militarily, politically, financially and ideologically. As such, the efforts against terrorism must be multi-pronged or on all its fronts. As terrorists have greater patience and commitment, efforts against terrorism must be sustained and far-reaching. Otherwise, counter terrorism initiatives against an adversary with greater staying power are bound to fail. A brief look at the regional and functional developments in the history of terrorism demonstrates that terrorist groups have moved across geographic boundaries and regions to survive. Furthermore, to adapt to the changing environment, the phenomenon of terrorism itself has undergone profound change.

From a Sri Lankan perspective, being a tiny island nation, all efforts are made by us to support the Global war on terror and its manifestations. We know that we are not alone in the accomplishment of this needy endeavour but much more needs to be achieved.

Sri Lanka has begun its own journey towards resolving the longstanding conflict with the support of the international community. It is pertinent to mention the vital role being played by Norway as the facilitator and US, Japan, EU as underwriters of the reconstruction program and the active support of India.

Ladies and Gentlemen, these are difficult times and it is opportune for us to reflect on all these matters and map out a fool-proof strategy, globally, together, to eradicate, if not control this menace.

Thank You.


1 Bruce Hoffman, a pre-eminent specialist on terrorism, equaled terrorist behavior to that of sharks. Hoffman, personal communication, September 2001. To understand terrorist behavior, see, Bruce Hoffman, Inside Terrorism (Columbia University Press, New York, 1998)


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