Dr.Brewster speaks on 'Traditional and Non-Traditional Security Challenges in the Indian Ocean’ at INSSSL

Prepared by Lucy Stronach, Research Assistant at INSSSL


On Tuesday the 23rd of March 2019, various academics, diplomats, military officers and distinguished guests met for a security salon on ‘Traditional and Non-Traditional Security Challenges in the Indian Ocean’. The Number(ex10th)security salon was organised by the Institute of National Security Studies Sri Lanka (INSSSL) and hosted at the Ministry of Defence, attended by guest speaker Dr. David Brewster, Senior Fellow at the National Security College, Australian National University. 

After a warm welcome from the Director General of INSSSL, Asanga Abeyagoonasekera,I said  Include Australia-France report which was released three weeks ago on Environmt Security of Indian Ocean which has come top with a risk map and Brewsters contribution on the the second section was appreciated and Sri Lanka being an Island prone to many environment security challenges should try to engage in such future initiatives.  

 Dr. Brewster opened his presentation by introducing two broad areas of discussion: growing major power competition and environmental security challenges in the Indian Ocean.

For the first section of his discussion, Dr. Brewster mentioned the changing environment of the world from a unipolar to multipolar system. The implication on various states was mentioned, including growing Chinese presence, extended rivalries, a decline of US predominance, and a change of networks and power structures for the many middle powers in the Indo-Pacific region.

After these insights, Dr. Brewster moved to the second area of discussion, primarily regarding non-traditional security challenges in the region. “The Indian Ocean is one of the world’s least governed maritime spaces in the world”, said Dr. Brewster, and hence a range of transnational and environmental security threats have, and will continue to, emerge. According to Dr. Brewster, climate change, population growth and violent extremism are just some of the threats that exist or will be amplified in the coming decades. 

His discussion had specific focus on overfishing, which he considered to be one of the most problematic issues of the region. Sri Lanka, who relies on fish for 57% of animal protein, needs to be aware of threats that may cause significant food and economic insecurity. Climate change (specifically acidification of waters, marine heatwaves and life dead zones), Chinese vessels being pushed further into foreign waters, and illegal fishing are likely to increase conflict and competition in the region. 

Dr. Brewster then explained how many of these significant threats are interconnected and have a ‘cascading influence’. Threats can work to amplify each other, exacerbate themselves and may even create new issues. Examples include synergies between the activities of criminal and terrorist groups, the successive consequences of transnational threats (such as the decline of Somali fishing grounds leading to piracy), the threat of combination events (such as the Japanese earthquake and tsunami of 2011 causing the meltdown of the Fukushima nuclear facility), the complexity of actors in this sphere, and the unpredictable consequences of singular events (such as the 2004 tsunami leading to the settlement of separatist conflict in Aceh). 

Before concluding, Dr. Brewster gave the audience three key takeaways: the Indo-Pacific is coming into a period of strategic competition and instability; non-traditional/environmental security threats are just as, if not more important, than traditional threats; and non-traditional and traditional security threats cannot be thought of separately, as there is significant potential for interaction and escalation between the two. 

The floor was then opened to questions from attendees with a focus on how states can work to mitigate these aforementioned threats. Dr. Brewster gave salient examples such as the planning procedures of key actors in foreign aid during natural disasters. He mentioned that Australia needs to promote longstanding norms in the region and should perhaps focus military efforts away from the Middle East and to the Indo-Pacific.