Can in­se­cu­rity in Asia be man­aged?

Mint Asia ST - - Views Otherviews - W.P.S. Sidhu

Since

the end of World War II, Asi­aPa­cific has been the lo­cale of di­rect and in­di­rect mil­i­tary con­fronta­tion (in Korea and Indo-china, re­spec­tively) between the two su­per­pow­ers; ex­pe­ri­enced un­prece­dented eco­nomic growth, which did not translate into closer in­te­gra­tion (par­tic­u­larly among the As­so­ci­a­tion of South­east Asian Na­tions or Asean); wit­nessed the eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal rise of two an­cient pow­ers (China and In­dia); and, con­se­quently, ex­pe­ri­enced sev­eral wars in­ter­spersed with an un­easy peace.

In con­trast in Europe, su­per­power mil­i­tary con­fronta­tion was avoided dur­ing the Cold War and did not lead to war; eco­nomic growth was fa­cil­i­tated by the gen­er­ous Marshall Plan, which led to the es­tab­lish­ment of in­sti­tu­tions that pro­moted in­te­gra­tion and co­op­er­a­tion; and re­sulted in a long and pros­per­ous peace in the re­gion. Con­se­quently, Europe also emerged as a sig­nif­i­cant global player and—with the ex­cep­tion of Yu­goslavia—was able to peace­fully man­age the col­lapse of the Soviet Union and the emer­gence of in­de­pen­dent states. There are sev­eral rea­sons why the Asian ex­pe­ri­ence was dif­fer­ent from that of Europe, though both were equally af­fected by World War II.

The post-war roots of in­se­cu­rity in Asia were driven by the fail­ure to cre­ate in­sti­tu­tions that could ac­com­mo­date for­mer en­e­mies, no­tably Ja­pan and China as well as Korea and South­East Asia. Ja­pan’s in­abil­ity to ei­ther apol­o­gize for its wartime role and atroc­i­ties or rec­on­cile with its en­e­mies meant any re­gional ar­range­ment, de­spite the best US ef­forts, was a non­starter. Con­se­quently, Wash­ing­ton and the re­gion had to con­tend with a se­ries of bi­lat­eral pacts.

Sim­i­larly, the con­tes­ta­tion between China and In­dia first ev­i­dent in the 1950, fol­low­ing Bei­jing’s an­nex­a­tion of Ti­bet, meant ef­forts to cre­ate a co­op­er­a­tive pact in Ban­dung also came to naught. What­ever hope there was of a re­gional in­sti­tu­tion cen­tered around China and In­dia evap­o­rated fol­low­ing the 1962 war.

While Asean did even­tu­ally emerge, its role as a re­gional or­ga­ni­za­tion was con­strained by two fac­tors: first, its un­abashed anti-com­mu­nist stance dur­ing the Cold War and, sec­ond, its in­abil­ity to in­clude the re­gional hege­mons, no­tably, China and In­dia. Although this clearly al­lowed Asean to ex­ist, it also lim­ited its scope and ap­peal to just a small part of Asia.

Against this back­ground, a re­cent re­port by an in­de­pen­dent com­mis­sion on re­gional se­cu­rity ar­chi­tec­ture es­tab­lished by the Asia So­ci­ety Pol­icy In­sti­tute, which in­cluded Thomas Donilon, for­mer US na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, Igor Ivanov, for­mer Rus­sian for­eign min­is­ter, Shivshankar Menon, for­mer In­dian na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, and Wang Jisi, for­mer Chi­nese for­eign min­is­ter, is note­wor­thy. Ti­tled Pre­serv­ing The Long Peace In Asia, the re­port iden­ti­fies the chal­lenges fac­ing the re­gion and sug­gests ways to build an ef­fec­tive se­cu­rity pact. It warns ten­sions between the US and China are caus­ing a rip­ple ef­fect among Asian na­tions. While many still look to the US for se­cu­rity, they are in­creas­ingly de­pen­dent on China. Thus, as their eco­nomic and se­cu­rity in­ter­ests di­verge, the na­tions are be­ing com­pelled to choose between the US and China “in un­com­fort­able ways”.

There are at least four chal­lenges fac­ing Asia’s re­gional ar­chi­tec­ture. Th­ese are the fast-paced po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic tran­si­tions and the need to man­age them flex­i­bly; the grow­ing strate­gic com­pe­ti­tion among key ac­tors; the risk of in­sta­bil­ity or even con­flict on ac­count of the in­abil­ity to bridge the trust deficit that per­me­ates key bi­lat­eral re­la­tion­ships; and the rapid pro­lif­er­a­tion of state-of-the-art mil­i­tary and dual-use tech­nolo­gies, which in com­bi­na­tion with the grow­ing mis­trust, are “al­ter­ing mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions in a man­ner that fur­ther en­hances risk” of con­flict.

Given this suite of chal­lenges, the re­port iden­ti­fies five func­tions re­gional in­sti­tu­tions need to per­form, in­clud­ing “play a bind­ing role,” “mit­i­gate against his­tor­i­cal mis­trust,” “fa­cil­i­tate bet­ter man­age­ment of crises and dis­putes”, “ra­tio­nal­ize and align the in­sti­tu­tions and mech­a­nisms” and have flex­i­bil­ity in set­ting a for­ward-look­ing agenda.

Pre­dictably, none of the or­ga­ni­za­tions ful­fil all th­ese func­tions. How­ever, in­stead of sug­gest­ing the es­tab­lish­ment of a new or­ga­ni­za­tion ab ini­tio, the re­port calls for strength­en­ing the East Asia Sum­mit (EAS)—A group­ing that in­cludes Asean mem­bers plus Aus­tralia, China, In­dia, New Zealand, South Korea, Rus­sia, and the US. It sug­gests re­tain­ing the in­for­mal na­ture of the EAS for now but calls for greater in­sti­tu­tion­al­iza­tion and an op­er­a­tional role in pre­ven­tive diplo­macy, cri­sis man­age­ment, and con­fi­dence-build­ing mea­sures.

The re­port is com­mend­able and the pro­pos­als log­i­cal. But given the state of re­la­tions among the prin­ci­pal ac­tors, the po­lit­i­cal drive is miss­ing.

Re­spond to this col­umn at oth­erviews@livemint.com

Post-war roots of in­se­cu­rity in Asia were driven by the fail­ure to cre­ate in­sti­tu­tions that could ac­com­mo­date for­mer en­e­mies

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