Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The “Neo-Cold War” in the Indian Ocean Region


By Kagusthan Ariaratnam

This article was originally published on “The Modern Diplomacy” on October 15, 2018.

Addressing an event last week at London's Oxford University, Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said some people are seeing "imaginary Chinese Naval bases in Sri Lanka. Whereas the Hambantota Port (in southern Sri Lanka) is a commercial joint venture between our Ports Authority and China Merchants - a company listed in the Hong Kong Stock Exchange."

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe has denied US’ claims that China might build a “forward military base” at Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port which has been leased out to Beijing by Colombo. Sri Lanka failed to pay a Chinese loan of $1.4 billion and had to lease the China-developed port to Beijing for 99 years. Both New Delhi and Washington had in the past expressed concerns that Beijing could use the harbor for military purposes.

The USA, China, and India are the major powers playing their key role in the “Neo-Cold War” in Central Asian landmass and the strategic sea lanes of the world in the Indian Ocean where 90% of the world trade is being transported everyday including oil. It is this extension of the shadowy Cold War race that can be viewed as the reason for the recent comment made by the US Vice President Mike Pence that China is using “debt diplomacy” to expand its global footprint and Hambantota “may soon become a forward military base for China’s expanding navy”.

According to some analysts, the deep-water port, which is near a main shipping route between Asia and Europe, is likely to play a major role in China's Belt and Road Initiative.

indian ocean

In his book “Monsoon” Robert D. Kaplan (2010), a senior fellow at the Centre for a New American Security notes the following:
[…] the Indian Ocean will turn into the heart of a new geopolitical map, shifting from a unilateral world power to multilateral power cooperation. This transition is caused by the changing economic and military conditions of the USA, China and India. The Indian Ocean will play a big role in the 21st century’s confrontation for geopolitical power. The greater Indian Ocean region covers an arc of Islam, from the Sahara Desert to the Indonesian archipelago. Its western reaches include Somalia, Yemen, Iran, and Pakistan -- constituting a network of dynamic trade as well as a network of global terrorism, piracy, and drug trafficking […]
Two third of the global maritime trade passes through a handful of relatively narrow shipping lanes, among which five geographic “chokepoints” or narrow channels that are gateway to and from Indian ocean: (1) Strait of Hormuz (2) Bab el-Mandab Passage (3) Palk Strait (4) Malacca and Singapore Straits and (5) Sunda Strait.

While Lutz Kleveman (2003), argues that the Central Asia is increasingly becoming the most important geostrategic region for the future commodities, Michael Richardson (2004) on the other hand explains that the global economy depends on the free flow of shipping through the strategic international straits, waterways, and canals in the Indian Ocean.

According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) report published in 2017, “world chokepoints for maritime transit of oil are a critical part of global energy security. About 63% of the world's oil production moves on maritime routes. The Strait of Hormuz and the Strait of Malacca are the world's most important strategic chokepoints by volume of oil transit” (p.1). These channels are critically important to the world trade because so much of it passes through them. For instance, half of the world’s oil production is moved by tankers through these maritime routes. The blockage of a chokepoint, even for a day, can lead to substantial increases in total energy costs and thus these chokepoints are critical part of global energy security. Hence, whoever control these chokepoints, waterways, and sea routes in the Indian Ocean maritime domain will reshape the region as an emerging global power.

In a recent analysis of globalization and its impact on Central Asia and Indian Ocean region, researcher Daniel Alphonsus (2015), notes that the twists and turns of political, economic and military turbulence were significant to all great players’ grand strategies:
(1) the One Belt, One Road (OBOR), China’s anticipated strategy to increase connectivity and trade between Eurasian nations, a part of which is the future Maritime Silk Road (MSR), aimed at furthering collaboration between south east Asia, Oceania and East Africa; (2) Project Mausam, India’s struggle to reconnect with its ancient trading partners along the Indian Ocean, broadly viewed as its answer to the MSR; and (3) the Indo-Pacific Economic Corridor, the USA’s effort to better connect south and south east Asian nations. (p.3)
India the superpower of the subcontinent, has long feared China's role in building outposts around its periphery. In a recent essay, an Indian commentator Brahma Chellaney wrote that the fusion of China's economic and military interests "risk turning Sri Lanka into India's Cuba" - a reference to how the Soviet Union courted Fidel Castro's Cuba right on the United States' doorstep. Located at the Indian Ocean’s crossroads gives Sri Lanka the strategic and economic weight in both MSR and Project Mausam plans. MSR highlights Sri Lanka’s position on the east-west sea route, while Project Mausam’s aim to create an “Indian Ocean World” places Sri Lanka at the center of the twenty-first century’s defining economic, strategic and institutional frameworks. Furthermore, alongside the MSR, China is building an energy pipeline through Pakistan to secure Arabian petroleum, which is a measure intended to bypass the Indian Ocean and the Strait of Malacca altogether.

A recent study done by a panel of experts and reported by the New York Times reveal that how the power has increasingly shifted towards China from the traditional US led world order in the past five years among small nation states in the region. The critical role played by the strategic sea ports China has been building in the rims of Indian Ocean including Port of Gwadar in Pakistan, Port of Hambantota in Sri Lanka, Port of Kyaukpyu in Myanmar and Port of Chittagong in Bangladesh clearly validates the argument that how these small states are being used as proxies in this power projection.

This ongoing political, economic and military rivalry between these global powers who are seeking sphere of influence in one of the world’s most important geostrategic regions is the beginning of a “Neo-Cold War” that Joseph Troupe refers as the post-Soviet era geopolitical conflict resulting from the multipolar New world order.


Alphonsus, D. (2018, June 30). Cartopolitics and Sri Lanka: Rereading and Repainting Twenty-  First Century Asia. Retrieved from

Chellaney, B. (2015, August 13). Sri Lanka election to decide whether to bow to China. Retrieved from

Fisher, M., & Carlsen, A. (2018, March 09). How China Is Challenging American Dominance in Asia. Retrieved from

Grare, F. (2008, July). Along the road: Gwadar and China’s power projection. Retrieved October 13, 2018, from

Kaplan, R. D. (2010, November 19). Monsoon - By Robert D. Kaplan. Retrieved from

Kleveman, L. (2004). The new great game: Blood and oil in Central Asia. London: Atlantic.

Press Information Bureau Government of India Ministry of Culture (2014, June 21). Project ‘Mausam’ Launched by Secretary, Ministry of Culture. Retrieved October 13, 2018, from

Richardson, M. (2007). A Time bomb for global trade: Maritime-related terrorism in an age of   weapons of mass destruction. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

Sri Lanka rejects US claims, says no Chinese military base at port. (2018, October 11). Retrieved from   claims-says-no-chinese-military-base-at-port/articleshow/66163389.cms

U.S. Energy Information Administration - EIA - Independent Statistics and Analysis. (2017). Retrieved from

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Impending Threat of Islamic Radicalization: A look at Assimilation

By Kagusthan Ariaratnam & Ammna Nasser

This article was originally published by “NATO Association of Canada” on January 22, 2018.

Youth radicalization has acquired renewed momentum in the current age of ISIS (Daesh). Repeated victories reported by the Iraqi and Syrian security forces is pushing Daesh to rethink survival strategies to live and fight another day. The group is keen on expanding itself beyond the Iraqi and Syrian battlefield, and is desperately attempting to infiltrate the rest of the Middle East, Asia, and Europe. Members of the organization continue to disguise themselves as civilians, blending into mainstream society, where they have achieved unprecedented success in planning, preparing, and executing major attacks worldwide. A significant proportion of alleged assailants happen to be youth, some as young as 12. Furthermore, Daesh is also transforming its operational headquarters from a physical space to a virtual platform that is far removed from Iraq and Syria. A key peril of international terrorism, it is against this backdrop that one must acknowledge the national, regional, and global security implications that emanate from Daesh-affiliated threats.

Similar to Al Qaeda, the Mujahedeen, and the Taliban, Daesh represents and acts as an ideological enterprise which seeks to radicalize Muslim youth within the Middle East and beyond. These ideologues exploit, corrupt, and utilize young minds for their pernicious cause, and extensively promote their ideological mindset among the current and next generations of Muslims. However, Daesh is hardly unique in targeting the youth, especially when we speak of the large-scale indoctrination and training of young men. It is paralleled by Al Qaeda, which also sought to radicalize the youth into pledging the organization’s toxic mantra pertaining to Islamic extremism.

There are a series of imperative dynamics which nonetheless distinguish Daesh from other groups with similar aspirations. Primarily, ‘lone wolf’ attacks, which are inherently inspired but not necessarily orchestrated by the terrorist organization itself; largely a consequence of widespread accessibility to cleverly articulated propaganda promoted via Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. However, while the role of social media is critical in Daesh’s captivation of today’s youth who are congenitally addicted to technology, the internet, as reported by the Homeland Security Institute, is merely a tool through which radicalization is accelerated. Youth radicalization in itself is also a process rapidly unfolding offline, in a real-world context.

Globally, terrorist activity among the youth has emerged from a rather heterogeneous population, who are seduced into any form extremism for a variety of reasons. A study published by Bizina and Gray (2014) in the Global Security Studies journal brought forth a crucial underlying cause for radicalization: economic, social, and political marginalization which, when taken together, cultivate a sense of purposelessness and lack of hope for the future. Nevertheless, it is imperative to note that economic, social, and political marginalization on their own do not make everyone susceptible to radicalization. Several people remain poor, voiceless, and frustrated in the West. It is safe to conclude, however, that violence aimed at threatening the core of society are still not commonplace.

Daesh has strategically coined perspectives founded on ‘Islamic ideals’ to inform a pseudo-spiritually inspired congregation, thereby legitimizing economic, social, and political grievances by acting as a catalyst for change, promising empowerment along the way and paradise in the end. However, as Christian Picciolini, a reformed white nationalist, said: “People become extremists not necessarily because of the ideology. The ideology is simply a vehicle to be violent. I believe that people become radicalized, or extremist, because they’re searching for three very fundamental human needs, which are intertwined: identity, community and a sense of purpose.” Picciolini’s statement is applicable to much of the Muslim youth in the West, who face relative deprivation compounded by deliberate political and social exclusion in North America and Europe, rendering them invisible and hence susceptible to Daesh’s ideology.

It is worthy to pay attention to the broader social structure in which young Muslims and their families are embedded. Even in present day Western Europe, third generation Muslims are often clearly identified as immigrants, which often disables them from fully integrating in the host country’s society. Despite a plethora of policies in place to ensure the assimilation of immigrants, they are often not fully accepted or welcome in the social structure of white Europeans. The Muslim community (or any other ‘immigrant’ populace for that matter) is forced to create a “parallel society,” as Bizina and Gray describe, which can be observed in France, the UK, and Germany, naming only a few. When they construct a sub-sect in Western European countries, they continue to practice their daily traditions, religion and uphold values from where they have migrated, often residing in poor neighborhoods. Young educated Muslims are confronted by an identity crisis, caused by the stark differences experienced between the private and public sphere. They are deeply tied to their respective communities when home and are therefore unable to experience what it does mean to be European when outside their vicinity, merely a consequence of their ethnicity. As young Muslim men and women strive to find their identity, confusion breeds vulnerability, and this serves as a leading cause for them to fall prey to Islamic fundamentalism, especially when preached by a charismatic persona. The Boston bombings are a classic case in point. The Kyrgyz-American Tsarnaev brothers turned to radical ideology to demonstrate their anger, frustration, and explicit hatred toward a country which failed to provide them financial and social support in a desperate situation. Pledging to the Jihad equipped them with much-needed empowerment to demonstrate their personal grievances.

The nature of terrorism is inherently political; they campaign and terrorize to captivate attention in whatever way possible, even if death is a certain outcome. Terrorist campaigns are often a response to further deprivation and marginalization of individuals. In France, for instance, officially enshrined hostility pertaining to the public display of any faith is deemed a deliberate attack on Islam by many Muslim people. In contrast to France’s quest for secularism, mainstream Islam does embrace a public representation of the religion through wearing a black veil or breaking a fast in the middle of the day. The banning of the hijab is akin to curbing a Muslim woman’s desire for self-expression which, when pitted against the crux of France’s democratic values of equality and universality, can be deemed biased. In 2008, for example, the French court denied a woman of Moroccan descent French citizenship, as reported by the Guardian. The court’s justification was that her veil was acting as a barrier to her prospective ability to assimilate in France. While Vincent Peillon, France’s former education Minister, has argued in favor of secularism as a mechanism to bring the society together as one, the effect has been paradoxical. It has left many feeling disenfranchised, and has often paved the path for Islamic extremists such as Daesh to ‘help’ the marginalized.

As we seek a solution, one cannot emphasize the importance of inclusiveness. As outlined by the Security Council Counter Terrorism Committee, all civil society groups (i.e. women, religious, cultural, social and educational leaders, the youth) must work together to promote social inclusion and cohesion. Their efforts must focus on ensuring ongoing dialogue addressing the significance of understanding and promoting an environment of coexistence. Families from various ethnic and religious backgrounds should strive to create a balance between their child’s cultural-self and mainstream-society-self. Alternative perspectives pertaining to integrity, human rights, and tolerance must be promoted by local cultural and religious leaders through creative mechanisms such as art and poetry, for instance. Moreover, it is also critical to involve the voice of all youth in the decision-making architecture at a local, national, regional and international level, explicitly addressing their grievances and fully acknowledging their ideas of action regarding countering violent extremism.


Ahmado, N. (2017, November 22). Experts Say Extremism Can Be Fought by Involving Civil Societies. Retrieved December 13, 2017, from

Bizina, M. & Gray, D.H “Radicalization of Youth as a Growing Concern for Counter-Terrorism Policy” Global Security Studies, Winter 2014, Volume 5, Issue 1. Retrieved December 13, 2017, from

Charlie Hebdo: The Tension Between France And Its Muslim Population. (n.d.). Retrieved  December 13, 2017, from

Christmann, K. (2012, January 01). Preventing Religious Radicalisation and Violent Extremism: A Systematic Review of the Research Evidence. Retrieved December 13, 2017, from

Crowell, M. (2017, September 28). What Went Wrong With France's Deradicalization Program? Retrieved December 13, 2017, from   

Norman, J. M., & Mikhael, D. (2017, August 28). Analysis | Youth radicalization is on the rise.   Here’s what we know about why. Retrieved December 13, 2017, from

The Internet as a Terrorist Tool for Recruitment and Radicalization of Youth. (n.d.). Retrieved December 13, 2017, from

UN Security Council Counter Terrorism Committee (n.d) Countering violent extremism. Retrieved December 13, 2017, from

Photo: Representation of the ‘Black Standard’ Flag used by ISIS/ISIL. Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, via Wikipedia. Public Domain.