Event ReportsPublished on Feb 15, 2013
Security concerns in Asia are largely related to non-traditional security threats such as terrorism, piracy, disaster management and transnational crime. These threats are becoming more and more traditional as countries have to deal with them on a daily basis.
Asia central to the stability and prosperity of the US
In the midst of intense debate on the US Asia Pivot, ORF organised an interaction with the US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence for South and Southeast Asia, Mr. Vikram Singh, to deliberate on several issues in the Asia-Pacific.

Security concerns in Asia are largely related to non-traditional security threats such as terrorism, piracy, disaster management and transnational crime. These threats are becoming more and more traditional as countries have to deal with them on a daily basis. Contingencies such as a rogue act by North Korea or a cross-straits crisis were unlikely and unwanted scenarios for which countries are enhancing their capabilities.

The participants discussed how Asia-Pacific is closely linked to the stability and more importantly to the prosperity of countries around the world, including the US, and how a primary aim of the US "Pivot to Asia" was to enhance trade with the growing markets of Asia. With China’s prosperity and stability important for global prosperity, the pivot was not about constraining or containing China as suggested by some analysts. The military component in the rebalancing strategy is a supporting element aimed at working effectively with partners towards common goals like countering terrorism and proliferation and responding to natural disasters. The right mix of capabilities was needed by the US to also deal with military contingencies. For instance, a North Korean contingency would require long-range strike and missile defence capabilities. It was noted that the overall US troop levels in Asia have actually declined in recent decades, but this does not reflect a lesser commitment from the US to peace and stability in Asia. Moreover, participants noted that the US has developed the ability to effectively move its troops to various parts of the globe.

Regarding North Korea’s rocket launch, it was noted that the launch could be a sign of the new leader attempting to assert his credibility. However, the launch, considered to be a demonstration of DPRK’s capability to threaten targets on American soil, has been seen as a justification for the US to maintain superiority of its defence capabilities and keep a close eye on North Korea. Furthermore, the launch enabled all Security Council members to vote in unanimity as China also supported the UNSC sanctions.

While discussing the US policy towards China, it was noted that Washington was working towards enhancing cooperation. Cooperation with Beijing and prosperity of China are central for the US as the economies of the two countries are interconnected and intertwined with each other. In such a situation, a negative growth of China will have adverse consequences on the global economy, thus impacting the American economy as well. Questions were discussed about how China will act as it develops: will it accept the existing global norms of behaviour? Will it demand special treatment internationally or in its neighbourhood? Will it employ economic coercion to achieve its strategic goals? These were some questions that worried the countries in the region and beyond.

Increasing defence budgets in the region were also discussed during the meeting. The increase in budgets was a reflection of countries attempting to strengthen themselves in order to defend their sovereignty. However, the increasing capabilities could also have the potential to increase the chances for miscalculations, especially in the context of the South China Sea where many nations operate in close proximity and amidst sovereignty disputes. Under such circumstances, the need for increasing interaction with each other becomes an imperative. This could be done by doing joint exercises, increasing the number of communication channels and establishing hotlines.

It was highlighted that as of now there does not exist any substantial security architecture in Asia. In this context, strengthening the unity of groups such as ASEAN will contribute towards establishing a robust regional architecture which could address security challenges in a cooperative manner.

Afghanistan and its future post the US withdrawal in 2014 were also discussed. Participants noted that the picture would be clear once the US decides on the troop numbers for the coming year through transition and for post-2014 presence. These troops will essentially remain in Afghanistan to train, advice and assist the Afghan security forces and to conduct counterterrorism operations if required.

The discussion also featured Indo-US defence trade and the associated hurdles faced by both countries. Problems were highlighted regarding the bureaucratic obstacles that encumber both India and the US. It was also noted that there is a divergence in practice of the defence industries of the two countries that can hinder joint development of defence equipment. American firms find it difficult to do business in India, which is a more critical issue to be considered along with the policy issues in seeking co-production and co-development. Other concerns that were put forth were India’s offsets policy and the 26 percent FDI cap in the defence sector. However, discussion revealed that even though concerns regarding transfer of technology and signing of certain agreements do exist, more avenues should be explored to further advance already robust defence trade.

The discussion was attended by the ORF faculty and other members of the strategic community and the views of all participants are reflected in this document.

(This report is prepared by Rahul Prakash, Junior Fellow, and Arvind John, Research Assistant, Observer Research Foundation)

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