Six Southeast Asian countries on Thursday kicked off an information and intelligence-sharing initiative aimed at helping them to respond more quickly and accurately to cross-border security threats.
Indonesian Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu and senior defense officials from Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines were on hand for the soft launch of the “Our Eyes Initiative” after a day of hashing out the operation details.
“As the ASEAN region is facing real threats, the soft launch of Our Eyes will hopefully provide the right impetus for defense leadership in the fight against terrorism and radicalism in the region,” Ryamizard said.
Ryamizard added that cooperation among the six nations could eventually be expanded to other security areas and include other ASEAN members.
By exchanging information, participating ASEAN member-states will be faster and more accurate in tackling terrorist threats, he said.
“Given that each country has a different way of handling threats, synergy and coordination are needed to obtain strategic information,” he added.
Indonesia proposed the “mini-Interpol” in October at the ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting in the Philippines, shortly after that country defeated militants linked to the Islamic State (IS) who occupied the southern Philippine city of Marawi. Fleeing combatants could seek refuge in other countries, Ryamizard warned at the time.
Malaysian and Indonesian nationals were among foreign fighters killed in Marawi, but others are known to have escaped the five-month battle.
Nations in the region are also wary of foreign fighters returning home from Syria and Iraq now that IS has been defeated there.
The concept for “Our Eyes” comes from the “Five Eyes” intel-sharing pact among Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States.
John Blaxland, an intelligence analyst from Australian National University, said ASEAN nations have had a “high level of distrust” around intelligence cooperation and called the multilateral initiative “ a significant development.”
“ASEAN has long struggled with getting beyond superficiality when it comes to collaboration on security matters,” Reuters news agency quoted him as saying.
The United States also agreed to provide sophisticated tools to support the effort, Ryamizard said earlier this week after meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis in Jakarta.
Malaysian Deputy Defense Minister Mohammad Johari welcomed the new effort.
“As we face the various security threats and challenges – complex and trans-boundary in nature – it imposes upon us the need to formulate a new collective perspective that is agreeable and workable in our region,” he said in remarks delivered at the launch.
“We should embark on holistic approaches between the governments using hard power and soft power methods so that we could eliminate the threat of Daesh and other forms of terrorism in our region,” he said, using an alternate name for IS.
He noted that Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines had launched trilateral maritime and air patrols in 2017 in an effort to end piracy, maritime kidnappings and other illegal activity in the Sulu Sea, which lies between the three countries.
Earlier this month, the Philippine and Indonesian militaries agreed to boost cooperation to monitor cross-border movements of their respective nationals, such as by establishing a hotline to alert one another about security and terrorist threats along their shared frontier.