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«Securitizing Terrorism in Southeast Asia Accounting for the Varying Responses of Singapore and Indonesia A B S T R AC T This article explains the ...»

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Securitizing Terrorism in Southeast Asia

Accounting for the Varying Responses of Singapore and Indonesia


This article explains the variable success after the September 11, 2001, attacks of

the securitization of terrorism in two ASEAN member states, Singapore and Indonesia.

The two countries are selected because of the differences in their government

characteristics and their domestic politics. The article argues that differences in the nature of the domestic audience explain the divergence of securitization policy responses.

K E Y W O R D S : securitization, audience, terrorism, Indonesia, Singapore In the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, terrorism has pushed other security concerns into the background. This was certainly ap- parent in Southeast Asia, where a major transformation in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member states’ security focus was wit- nessed. Prior to September 11, ASEAN member states did not deem terrorism an urgent national or regional security concern. In the subsequent weeks and months, however, we witnessed a swift policy shift. The governments of ASEAN countries, including Singapore and Indonesia, have since adopted strategies for combating terrorism and implemented numerous counterterror- ism measures. Nevertheless, there has been significant variance in the counter- terrorism campaigns, producing different outcomes over time. Singapore lies at one end of the spectrum, as the steadiest regional supporter of the U.S.

Senia Febrica is a Lecturer in the Department of International Relations at the University of Indonesia, Depok, Indonesia, and a Ph.D. candidate in the Politics Department, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, Scotland, U.K. This article is based on her dissertation, “Global War on Terror in Southeast Asia: Indonesia-Singapore and the Securitization of Terrorism,” at the University of Glasgow. The author acknowledges her profound debt to Professor Dr. Alasdair Young; Dr. Cian O’Driscoll; Dr. Daniel Hammond; Dra. Suzie Sudarman, M.A., her doctoral cohort at the Univer- sity of Glasgow; and the anonymous reviewers. Finally, special thanks go to her colleague Christian Deng for helping with the field research. Email: s.febrica.1research.gla.ac.uk.

Asian Survey, Vol. 50, Number 3, pp. 569–590. ISSN 0004-4687, electronic ISSN 1533-838X. © 2010 by the Regents of the University of California. All rights reserved. Please direct all requests for permis- sion to photocopy or reproduce article content through the University of California Press’s Rights and Permissions website, http://www.ucpressjournals.com/reprintInfo.asp. DOI: AS.2010.50.3.569.

569 570 • A S I A N S u R v E Y 5 0 : 3 global war against terrorism even though no terrorist attack materialized in this city-state. Indonesia sits at the other end, distancing its security policies from the U.S.-led “war on terror,” even though a series of terrorist attacks occurred in Indonesia.

This article aims to explain the different responses of Indonesia and Singapore in the fight against terrorism. Singapore exemplifies an easy case, where the U.S.’s securitization of terrorism resonates strongly.1 In this case, the Singaporean government is the primary audience in the securitization process. On the other hand, Indonesia demonstrates a hard securitization case, where, because of political circumstances, the government response is not as strong as in Singapore. In the Indonesian case, the government plays two roles: as the audience and as the communicator to domestic constituents.

This article argues that the diversity of audience characteristics in Singapore and Indonesia influences the securitization of terrorism in each country.

It addresses how the issue of audience has been neglected in the securitization literature. Focusing on the importance of audience in facilitating securitization is the best way to identify the likelihood of securitization success.

Differentiation among audience categories in a given case reflects the need for the securitizing actor to convince various audiences to allow implementation of exceptional procedures that stem from the specific security issue. The securitization literature notes that a successful securitization move will prompt the same response from divergent audiences, reflecting audience toleration both of rule violations and the implementation of extraordinary measures. This article makes an empirical contribution to the literature by analyzing how Singapore and Indonesia deal with the U.S.-led “war on terror” in Southeast Asia, and the different responses of these two countries in the fight against terrorism.

The article begins by introducing the concept of securitization and highlighting the lack of attention to audience role in successful securitization. It then expands the explanation by providing an in-depth analysis of the nature of audience in Singapore and Indonesia through elaboration of each state’s domestic politics.

–  –  –

Securitization theory presents a security studies framework that conceptualizes security as something more specific than merely dealing with threats or vulnerabilities. Securitization theory argues that security is not necessarily objective practice but can be constructed. This approach adopts a constructivist stance in defining security issues. Thus, an issue can count as a security issue when it “is presented as posing an existential threat to a designated referent object.”2 This process of staging something as an existential threat is what in securitization theory is called a speech act. What is essential from the speech act is the designation of an existential threat requiring emergency action or special measures, and the acceptance of that designation by a significant audience. Thus, a successful speech act involves a combination of language and society: of both the feature of speech that constructs a plot underlining the presence of an existential threat, and the audience that authorizes and recognizes that grammar of security.3 However, in the securitization literature, there is an under-theorization of the role of audience in constructing a more tractable analysis of securitization.

Securitization theory primarily assumes that the political choice to securitize a matter takes place within the context of democratic countries. A securitizing actor articulates an issue in security terms through the language he or she uses to persuade the domestic audience of its immediate threat. The acceptance of the security discourse by the public opens the way for the mobilization of state power outside normal politics. Under circumstances where the security practices are not legitimized by the public, the issue is then argued in the public sphere, and the securitizing actor needs to convince society why a certain condition constitutes a security threat.4 While elaborating on the relationship between the securitizing actor’s positions of authority and the audience under a democratic framework, this theory fails to explain securitization in other forms of society. The securitization literature neglects the fact that in order to explain a successful speech act, one must consider the relationship between the actor’s authority position and the audience, as well as the likelihood that the audience will accept

2. Ibid., p. 21; Ralf Emmers, “Securitization,” in Alan Collins, ed., Contemporary Security Studies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), p. 110.

3. Buzan, Wæver, and de Wilde, Security, pp. 27, 32.

4. Ibid., pp. 28, 24, 32.

572 • A S I A N S u R v E Y 5 0 : 3 the claim. Thus, this article aims to fill the gap in securitization theory and draw our attention to the role of audience in the securitization of terrorism.

Our analysis focuses on variations in the domestic politics of Indonesia and Singapore in seeking to explain their different securitization responses.

T H E u. S. S E C u R I T I Z AT I O N M Ov E

In embarking upon the war on terrorism campaign in Southeast Asia, the U.S. exercised its military as well as non-military power. President George W. Bush warned that “no nation can be neutral in the struggle,” declaring that “either you are with us or against us.”5 One U.S. official in Southeast Asia augmented the warning, noting that “[i]t’s not enough to be with us in the war on terrorism... you have to trumpet it.”6 U.S. involvement in the war on terrorism in Southeast Asia has ranged from financial support to combat operations. Through assistance, the U.S. has sought to enlist Southeast Asian countries in combating terrorism on the “second front.” This notion is conceptually compelling because it implies that Southeast Asia is hospitable to terrorists.7 The first U.S. policy program in the region gave the Philippine government $100 million in training assistance, military equipment, and maintenance support for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).8 In 2002, 660 U.S. Special Forces were deployed in the southern Philippines to combat the Abu Sayyaf group.9 The Philippine and U.S. governments labeled the military operation in Mindanao as a training exercise in order to circumvent the Philippine Constitution’s banning of foreign forces on Philippine territory—this despite the fact that the U.S. forces were armed and authorized to return fire if attacked.10

5. David Capie, “Between a Hegemon and a Hard Place: The ‘War on Terror’ and Southeast Asian-U.S. Relations,” Pacific Review 17:2 (June 2004), p. 225.

6. Raymond Bonner, “Thailand Tiptoes in Step with the American Antiterror Effort,” New York Times, June 7, 2003, cited in Capie, “Between a Hegemon and a Hard Place,” p. 225.

7. Angel M. Rabasa, “Southeast Asia: The Second Front?” Asia Program Special Report: Fighting Terrorism on the Southeast Asian Front, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (2003), p. 11, http://www.wilsoncenter.org/topics/pubs/Asia%20Report%20112.pdf, accessed March 23, 2008.

8. Barry Desker and Kumar Ramakrishna, “Forging an Indirect Strategy in Southeast Asia,” Washington Quarterly 25:2 (Spring 2002), p. 169.

9. Joshua Kurlantzick, “Tilting at Dominos: America and al-Qaeda in Southeast Asia,” Current History 101:659 (December 2002), p. 423.

10. Jonathan T. Chow, “ASEAN Counterterrorism Cooperation since 9/11,” Asian Survey 45:2 (April 2005), p. 311.

F E B R I CA / S E C u R I T I Z I N G T E R R O R I S M • 5 7 3 The U.S. also intensified its bilateral relationship with Singapore. Since Bush and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong signed the Strategic Framework Agreement in July 2005, defense relations between the two countries progressed, with new areas of cooperation across military, technology, and policy areas.

In the case of Indonesia, the U.S. quickly tried to ensure the country’s commitment to the global “war on terror.” Officials pledged a restoration of military aid and a total of US$657.4 million in financial aid, comprising $400,000 to educate Indonesian civilians on defense matters; $10 million for police training; $130 million to help finance legal and judicial reform; $10 million to assist refugees in Maluku; $5 million to rebuild destroyed schools and other infrastructure in Aceh; $2 million to assist East Timorese who have chosen to stay in Indonesia; $400 million to promote trade and investment, especially in the oil and gas sector; as well as a duty-free status worth $100 million for 11 Indonesian products under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP).11 The U.S. securitization move has had a profound effect on Southeast Asia’s security. In November 2001, Southeast Asian states promulgated the ASEAN Declaration on Joint Action to Counterterrorism. The declaration committed the ASEAN member states to prevent and suppress all forms of terrorist acts, to review and strengthen national mechanisms to combat terrorism, as well as to reinforce cooperation at bilateral, regional, and international levels.12 As a statement of intent and acknowledgement, the declaration signified the conduct of the “war on terror” in Southeast Asia; nonetheless, there was great division among the states over the role of the U.S. in counterterrorism efforts and a major disagreement on how to combat terrorism.13

–  –  –

Singapore’s response to the September 11 terrorist attack has been the most forceful among all countries in Southeast Asia. Singapore enthusiastically stated its support for the U.S. “war on terror” and rapidly investigated the 11. “U.S. Showers Indonesia with Promises,” Jakarta Post, http://www.thejakartapost.com/ news/2001/09/20/us-showers-indonesia-promises.html, accessed March 24, 2008.

12. “2001 ASEAN Declaration on Joint Action to Counter-terrorism,” November 5, 2001, http://www.aseansec.org/5620.html, accessed March 24, 2008.

13. Chow, “ASEAN Counterterrorism Cooperation,” p. 306.

574 • A S I A N S u R v E Y 5 0 : 3 possible existence of terrorist networks within Singaporean territory. There are two important aspects to Singapore’s policy responses to the “war on terror”: fighting terrorism on the domestic front and supporting the U.S.


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