Ideology need not be an obstacle to security links
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.