Second BIMSTEC Think Tanks Conference at the Vivekananda International Foundation
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On 27-28 November 2019, the Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF) hosted the Second Edition of the BIMSTEC Think-Tanks Conference in New Delhi. The BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) is a regional multilateral organisation founded in 1997 and comprises the seven littorals of the world’s largest bay viz. the Bay of Bengal. The littorals i.e. Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand have around 1.5 billion people, approximately 22% of the world population and a combined GDP of $ 2.7 trillion with a growth rate of approximately 6.5 %. The two-days conference had total 28 participants from all the BIMSTEC nations (excluding India) which includes three representatives of the BIMSTEC Secretariat, and participants from different think-tanks, academia, Armed forces.

Over the two days i.e. 27-28 November 2019, the conference consisted of five essential sessions: (i) ‘Internet and social media as a tool for radicalisation- the BIMSTEC experience and way forward’; (ii) ‘Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) in BIMSTEC’; (iii) ‘Environment and Climate Change: Preserving Mountains and Oceans Ecosystem’; (iv) ‘Restructuring Institutions: Cooperation and Capacity Building within BIMSTEC States’; and, (v) ‘Cyber Security: Need for Cooperation Between the BIMSTEC States to Counter-Cyber Security Threats’.

In his welcome address, the Director of the VIF, Dr Arvind Gupta emphasised on the need to develop the Maritime and Cyber laws among the BIMSTEC countries. Recommendations from the last year conference - the First Edition of the BIMSTEC Conference which was held at the VIF, New Delhi on 13-14 November 2018 - has helped to initiate more Track 2.0 Dialogues among the BIMSTEC countries.

In his address, the BIMSTEC Secretary-General Amb. Shahidul Islam has stated that the Counter-Terrorism and Transnational crime are threats to BIMSTEC member States, and many initiatives of working and expert groups helps to identify areas to further contain the security threats emerges in the Bay of Bengal region. Amb. Islam has urged that the way ahead for countering radicalisation is for the BIMSTEC member States is via using shared platforms and intelligence. The BIMSTEC nations must also emphasise on Maritime security in light of socio-economic development and constituted a working group for Maritime Security. The BIMSTEC leaders must understand about preserving biodiversity to avoid environmental degradation and to promote sustainable development. Amb Islam emphasised that cybersecurity is another major concern area to work on, mainly radicalisation and cybercrime, which also affects economies of the BIMSTEC member States. There is a need for us to work on the action plan, and recommendation from this conference shall be considered.

In his Inaugural Address, the Chairman of the India’s National Security Advisory Board, Amb. P S Raghavan, stated that the economic prospects of BIMSTEC are closely related to North-East India’s economy, and a robust approach is needed for integrating the North-Eastern parts of the region with other BIMSTEC member States. Referring to India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s various initiatives to ensure security in Indo-Pacific region, he emphasised that India is willing to lead the way in the Maritime security and disaster management. Amb Raghavan has also suggested that the BIMESTEC should discuss Indo-Pacific and the initiative should be taken by the strategic community to discuss the prospects of it. He supported the idea of including Indonesia in BIMSTEC which should be seriously considered due to its position connecting the Indian Ocean with the Pacific Ocean. On countering the 5G technology import from China, Amb Raghavan mentioned that the skill trainings are much needed the personnel to contain cyber security threats. In this area, India is leading the way with that as various sectors are looking to its Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector. Also, the BIMSTEC States shall cooperate on software building and support, to support 5G technology rather than being bogged down by the US-China technology conflict. The BIMSTEC created software would have immense potential to meet our technological needs.

Session (I): Internet and Social Media as a Tool for Radicalisation - The BIMSTEC Experience and Way Forward

The panel agreed upon the immediate need to address the growing problem of online radicalisation globally, mainly among BIMSTEC nations. To address the online radical narratives, violent extremism, and grass-root propaganda of extremism, it is essential to establish a body under the BIMSTEC flag. The key ingredient to address radicalisation is technology, in terms of spreading, innovation, and creating a pool of experts who would be able to use the technology to counter-extreme narratives. On mutual agreement over the women empowerment, the BIMSTEC nations must address the importance of women in counter-radicalisation. For instance, in India, Mothers and other female family members, sisters/wives, came out first to report the missing of their kids/brothers/husband and suspicion of them joining transnational terrorist groups, including Islamic State (IS). The role of civil society was also discussed in the session where the Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) could play a vital role in countering radicalisation by working together with the State to build counter-narrative.

The panellist of the session emphasised that to build effective counter-radicalisation policies, it is necessary to have good and valid data for research and other. There is a need fill the gap of data on social media and radicalisation, among the BIMSTEC States. The BIMSTEC States must define what radicalisation is and what we are measuring on the scale of psychology.

Session (II): Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) in BIMSTEC

The panel discussed that the Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) is not easy to bring about. Information sharing sounds easy in principle but there are challenges in terms of trust, technical and technological capacity. Effective understanding of all activities and movements on the sea are necessary in the BIMSTEC region. This would require inter-agency coherence- both domestically and internationally.

When it comes to connectivity in BIMSTEC, the issue of under-sea cables, fibre-optics becomes important. The BIMSTEC meetings, henceforth, should take up this issue specifically. The BIMSTEC member States need to examine if they are adopting best practices of each other when it comes to MDA and tackling maritime security challenges. The BIMSTEC can have a cohesive approach on this.

The Marine resources need to be included in the discussion of Maritime cooperation.

Session (III): Environment and Climate Change: Preserving Mountains and Oceans Ecosystem

Environment change is a common and 21st century agenda globally. With its commitment to stay carbon neutral, Bhutan has been playing a crucial role in environment protection. For the BIMSTEC, there is a need to strengthen the collaboration of research to further understand the impact of environment degradation and climate change. There is a need to identify the Marine protected areas and a will to manage them well. With a focus on environment protection, Bangladesh has declared the Climate Emergency.

A panellist from Nepal has stated that temperature rise due to carbon emission, has a similar issue with the oceans but the impact could be different. The Collective destiny for BIMSTEC countries due to this is interlinked. The rivers originate in a country, flow through another country, and the carbon emissions are done by some other country whereas the impact is felt by the entire region collectively.

The panel has agreed that all the recommendations emerged from this platform cannot work without research and development in science and technology. There is a need of sharing and interlinking of knowledge and data. Regarding the Bhutan and other countries, there is a big financial crunch. The contributions should there be made proportional to the economy of the BIMSTEC nations. Also, there is need for human resources. The BIMSTEC can initiate its own ‘Conference of the Parties’ (COP) wherein common agendas could be discussed.

Session (IV): Restructuring Institutions: Cooperation and Capacity Building within BIMSTEC States

The Chair of the session— Dr Sreeradha Datta from the VIF, has stated that all these years, there has been a lot of interaction between the policy makers and think tanks of the BIMSTEC States. There has been a top-down approach and the engagement has been at the elites’ level. The change in this approach would help in achieving the agendas. A panellist from Nepal has emphasised that while working on security discourse, it is important to link the dialogues through the history of dialogues and the participants. This is the institutional memory that needs to be nurtured.

In the second decade of the 21st century, the world is seeing a shift in geopolitics and the Indo-Pacific has become a critical area of conflict and cooperation, and here BIMSTEC can play a linking role. Given the geo-strategic developments, with rising China, Russia and India, the panellists agreed that along with, the BIMSTEC grouping can influence the geo-politics of the region positively.

Session (V): Cyber Security: Need for Cooperation Between the BIMSTEC States to Counter-Cyber Security Threats

The Chair of the session— Dr Kamlesh Bajaj, drew the attention to the ever-evolving threat of cyber security. Dr Bajaj has pointed to the high-speed connectivity and movement of data which is going to be a threat for all the governments alike. Moreover, these highly sophisticated cyber-tools which are easily available to the criminal, aggravates our problem. As we, the BIMSTEC States, move from “People-to-People” to “Machine-to-Machine” connectivity, our productivity is expected to rise but at the cost of cyber threats. The nature of the cyber-attacks is such that they cannot be prevented despite laws and regulations available in the nation.

The panellist from Bhutan— Ms Radhika Orari, narrated the nature of cyber security from the perspective of a small nation, yet to catch up with digitally advanced countries in real sense. Ms Orari emphasised on the human error as the most important catch in cyber related threats and attacks. To address the human error in cyber security, Bhutan has taken some significant steps to address this issue by setting up a “CyCity” for educating its digital users and training youngsters. Ms Orari insisted that the BIMSTEC nations must think of collaboration likewise the hacker community does to build state of art technical solution for the region wholly.

The representative from Bangladesh— Abu Shah Mohammad Yusuf, highlighted the notable penetration of cyber technologies in South Asia which renders the cyber space increasingly borderless. Mr Yusuf also stated that the new opportunities have come along with more challenges for the people of the region. The region is emerging as a hub for creation, innovation and development in technology sector as countries take up the digital path forward. Bangladesh, among others is major data driven economies of the region. Simultaneously, the nature of cyber threats has widened under the national security ambit.

The panel has agreed that there is a need for a BIMSTEC cyber security forum which should have meetings and discuss issues in a continuous way. Along with, a need of determined focus on capacity building, which is to include training teams, designing curriculums etc. and the focal points to be established between law enforcement agencies of the BIMSTEC member States.

Event Date 
November 27, 2019
November 28, 2019

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