Ide­ol­ogy need not be an ob­sta­cle to se­cu­rity links

New Straits Times - - OPINION -

ri­o­rat­ing se­cu­rity en­vi­ron­ment in which Rus­sia and China are also en­hanc­ing their nu­clear ar­se­nals, and North Korea has de­vel­oped a nu­clear ca­pa­bil­ity.

The US will sus­tain and mod­ernise its nu­clear weaponry, while con­tin­u­ing to check nu­clear pro­lif­er­a­tion by other coun­tries un­der the Nu­clear Non-Pro­lif­er­a­tion Treaty. Nu­clear weapons now have an ex­panded role in US mil­i­tary doc­trine. Low-yield weapons will be de­vel­oped to pro­vide more flex­i­bil­ity.

Var­i­ous other de­vel­op­ments in­volv­ing the big pow­ers have also stressed the se­cu­rity en­vi­ron­ment fur­ther. China con­tin­ues to en­hance its mil­i­tary ca­pa­bil­i­ties in the South China Sea. Progress is slow on fi­nal­is­ing the Code of Con­duct. Ja­pan is re­view­ing Ar­ti­cle 9 of its con­sti­tu­tion. It has taken a strong po­si­tion in sup­port of free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion, and has in­creased its pro­file in South­east Asia as well. The US, Ja­pan, In­dia and Aus­tralia have re­vived the idea of a Quadri­lat­eral Se­cu­rity Dia­logue, first mooted in 2007. One of the pro­pos­als for the Quad of democ­ra­cies is for the three other coun­tries to join the US in con­duct­ing free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion and over­flights in the South China Sea.

An air­craft car­rier, the USS Carl Vin­son, vis­ited Viet­nam ear­lier this month (March 5-8). It is the first time since the end of the Viet­nam War more than 40 years ago that a US car­rier has vis­ited the coun­try. The Bri­tish an­ti­sub­ma­rine frigate HMS Suther­land is set to sail through the South China Sea this month. France and Ja­pan are plan­ning to hold joint mil­i­tary ex­er­cises in the “Indo-Pa­cific”.

The un­fold­ing sce­nario of mount­ing ri­valry and com­pe­ti­tion be­tween China on the one hand, and nu­mer­ous other pow­ers led by the US on the other, is un­likely to lead to war, ex­cept per­haps by ac­ci­dent. But, the sit­u­a­tion is ex­tremely un­healthy for the peace and sta­bil­ity of the Asia Pa­cific re­gion. When big pow­ers are on a col­li­sion course there is lit­tle lesser pow­ers can do to avert disas­ter. Even the UN, which was cre­ated to pre­vent war, is vir­tu­ally im­po­tent.

The in­fra­struc­ture for se­cu­rity co­op­er­a­tion con­vened by Asean will con­tinue to pro­vide mul­ti­ple bi­lat­eral, sub-re­gional and re­gional chan­nels and plat­forms for con­fi­dence build­ing and pre­ven­tive diplo­macy. The big pow­ers and their al­lies also have other di­rect as well as mul­ti­lat­eral chan­nels at the global level to mod­er­ate dif­fer­ences and pre­serve peace. But, much will de­pend ul­ti­mately on self-re­straint and readi­ness for prag­matic ac­com­mo­da­tion.

The best out­come would be for res­i­dent pow­ers to con­cede some space at the ta­ble for ris­ing pow­ers. Prospects may be­come brighter if ad­ver­sar­ial mil­i­tary al­liances could morph into more in­clu­sive and co­op­er­a­tive se­cu­rity ar­range­ments that bind friends and foes alike, in pur­suit of mu­tual peace. Such a col­lab­o­ra­tive struc­ture would be more in con­so­nance with a glob­alised world, where se­cu­rity is in­di­vis­i­ble and not zero sum. Ide­ol­ogy need not be an ob­sta­cle. Some of the US’s clos­est al­lies in West Asia are not democ­ra­cies.

The lat­est de­vel­op­ments on the Korean penin­sula have been noth­ing less than dra­matic. Events of po­ten­tially his­toric sig­nif­i­cance that were once con­sid­ered by many to be vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble are tak­ing place. North Korea has in­di­cated to the South that it is pre­pared to en­gage in talks with the US, and de­nu­cle­arise if the mil­i­tary threat to it is re­moved and its se­cu­rity can be as­sured.

Nu­clear and mis­sile tests will be sus­pended while diplo­macy is given a chance. Plans are also be­ing made for a sum­mit be­tween the pres­i­dents of the two Koreas next month, fol­lowed by a meet­ing be­tween Kim Jong-un and Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump. In the mean­time, the North has ap­par­ently said that it un­der­stands if the joint mil­i­tary drills be­tween the US and South Korea that had been sus­pended for the Win­ter Olympics can­not be post­poned again and have to pro­ceed.

If all pro­ceeds smoothly, and peace can be re­stored to the Korean penin­sula, an end to the 65year stand-off could at last be­come a re­al­ity. The se­cu­rity en­vi­ron­ment in North­east Asia would be rad­i­cally al­tered, and ma­jor strate­gic ad­just­ments would have to be made by the two Koreas, the US and Ja­pan. The great­est ben­e­fi­cia­ries would be the Demo­cratic Peo­ple’s Re­pub­lic of Korea and its peo­ple, who have en­dured so much suf­fer­ing for so long.

Com­bat­ing ter­ror­ism and vi­o­lent ex­trem­ism is high on the agenda of the Asia Pa­cific re­gional se­cu­rity ar­chi­tec­ture. Aus­tralia and Asean are staunch part­ners in this ef­fort. We con­front the same men­ace.

Asean is com­mit­ted to what it calls a whole-of-na­tion ef­fort in this en­deav­our. It in­volves the use of rel­e­vant eco­nomic, so­cial, po­lit­i­cal and se­cu­rity mea­sures to neu­tralise and elim­i­nate the threat at the na­tional, re­gional and in­ter­na­tional lev­els.

Most of the ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tions to­day in­volve Mus­lims. This has been the sit­u­a­tion since the be­gin­ning of this cen­tury fol­low­ing the tur­moil in West Asia. The archetypes are al-Qaeda and Daesh. But, this has not al­ways been the case. In­deed, in ear­lier pe­ri­ods, the land­scape of ter­ror­ism was dom­i­nated by move­ments in­volv­ing for ex­am­ple, the Ir­ish, the Tamils and com­mu­nists.

None of them, how­ever, have iden­ti­fied them­selves as closely with a re­li­gion as many of the ter­ror­ist groups in­volv­ing Mus­lims do. Daesh even claims it wants to es­tab­lish a Mus­lim caliphate.

Iden­ti­fy­ing ter­ror­ism with Is­lam the re­li­gion, how­ever, would be a griev­ous mis­take. There can­not be “Is­lamist ter­ror­ism”. It is in fact a di­rect con­tra­dic­tion in terms, as “Is­lam” means peace. Peace and ter­ror­ism do not go to­gether. Ter­ror­ist groups iden­tify them­selves with Is­lam only be­cause they seek to cor­rupt the teach­ings of Is­lam to serve their evil cause.

Is­lam is a guide, not only for the af­ter­life, but for con­duct in this life as well. As it emerged out of the cru­cible of con­flict and tribal war­fare, it there­fore pre­scribes rules of en­gage­ment. These rules are strik­ingly sim­i­lar to mod­ern in­ter­na­tional law and hu­man­i­tar­ian law. Is­lam al­lows for the tak­ing up of arms in de­fence of self, fam­ily and prog­eny, prop­erty and ter­ri­tory. This is why many Mus­lims in zones of con­flict like Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria and Mus­lims else­where, who are moved by the death and de­struc­tion they wit­ness, en­list to fight in the name of Is­lam.

Ter­ror­ists, who tar­get civil­ians, seize upon this per­mis­si­bil­ity to take up arms to com­mit ter­ror­ist acts in con­flict-af­fected ar­eas as well as in other coun­tries, es­pe­cially those they think are im­pli­cated in the at­tacks on Mus­lims. But, they com­mit their de­spi­ca­ble acts in vi­o­la­tion of the strict rules of con­duct and pro­hi­bi­tions in Is­lam. The re­li­gion for­bids the killing of chil­dren, women, the el­derly, the sick and those in places of wor­ship. It pro­hibits the de­struc­tion of in­hab­ited places, vil­lages, towns and cul­ti­vated fields. And, it asks that cap­tives be freed, the hun­gry be fed and the sick be vis­ited.

In com­bat­ing ter­ror­ism, it is, there­fore, vi­tal to counter the ter­ror­ists’ twisted nar­ra­tives. But, it is also vi­tal to ad­dress the root fac­tors that led to vi­o­lence in the con­flict zones and the ter­ror­ist acts com­mit­ted in other coun­tries.

Asean looks for­ward to work­ing with all its Dia­logue Part­ners to im­ple­ment our com­mon agenda for greater peace and prosperity in the re­gion. Aus­tralia is one of our most valu­able and com­mit­ted part­ners in this en­ter­prise.

We col­lab­o­rate on a broad spec­trum of im­por­tant ar­eas. We share many val­ues and prin­ci­ples. We con­front com­mon chal­lenges and we are com­mit­ted to the same goals. We all want the same rules­based or­der, grounded in in­ter­na­tional law and an open trad­ing sys­tem. We are all sim­i­larly ap­pre­hen­sive of strong pro­tec­tion­ism and the pur­suit of nar­row na­tional in­ter­est. We all be­lieve in mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism and ef­fec­tive in­sti­tu­tions for re­gional co­op­er­a­tion, based on dia­logue and mu­tual ac­com­mo­da­tion. And, we are all against the use of force, ex­cept as a last re­sort to re­spond to clearly ev­i­dent threats.

This dia­logue, the Spe­cial Sum­mit be­tween Aus­tralia and Asean, and the as­so­ci­ated meet­ings that will be held in Syd­ney are oc­cur­ring at an op­por­tune time. They rep­re­sent ideal op­por­tu­ni­ties to el­e­vate our close strate­gic part­ner­ship to the next level.

Iden­ti­fy­ing ter­ror­ism with Is­lam the re­li­gion, how­ever, would be a griev­ous mis­take. There can­not be “Is­lamist ter­ror­ism”. It is in fact a di­rect con­tra­dic­tion in terms, as “Is­lam” means peace.

Peace and ter­ror­ism do not go to­gether.


North Korean Pres­i­dent Kim Jong-un has in­di­cated that he is pre­pared to meet US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump for talks.

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