Originally Published 2006-06-23 07:23:50 Published on Jun 23, 2006
Asia has been the fountain of the greatest and some of the most ancient civilizations and religions of the world and possesses enormous human and natural resources. However, in modern history, the continent has seldom been at the centre-stage of world politics. Indeed, unlike Africans, for example, Asian citizens have never really had a feeling of oneness.
Asian Security: Need for a Collective Approach
Asia has been the fountain of the greatest and some of the most ancient civilizations and religions of the world and possesses enormous human and natural resources. However, in modern history, the continent has seldom been at the centre-stage of world politics. Indeed, unlike Africans, for example, Asian citizens have never really had a feeling of oneness. When an African is asked where he is from, he seldom says that he is a Kenyan, Nigerian or Ugandan - he invariably replies that he is from Africa. Though it was first promoted during Jawaharlal Nehru's time, the concept of Asia as a continent with many commonalties and similar aspirations has gained prominence only in the last 10 to 15 years.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> In common western perceptions, Asia tended to include only East Asia and was limited to the area east of the Indo-Myanmar border. South Asia, the Central Asian Republics and West Asia have only recently emerged as important regions. With China emerging gradually as a major world power, Japan dominating the international economy out of all proportion with its size and population, the continuing economic miracle of the East Asian dragons and South East Asian tigers despite a bout of currency flu, and India and Pakistan emerging as states with nuclear weapons, Asia stands poised for a giant leap forward at the threshold of the 21st century. In fact, some analysts have already declared that this will be the Asian century. <br /> <br /> </font> <font size="2" class="greytext1"> <strong>Asian Pre-eminence <br /> <br /> </strong> The future security of Asia cannot be considered in isolation and has to be considered within the ambit of the larger issue of global security due to the many complex linkages that have emerged since the end of the Second World War, including major military and economic alliances. Today the globe itself is shrinking. It is not possible for a major event to take place without an impact on the foreign and security policies of every major nation. We are living in a world that is globalised and is getting increasingly integrated. Large-scale inter-state wars are becoming less and less likely because of the 'balance of terror' provided by nuclear weapons and the overarching reach of the ongoing revolution in military affairs. At the same time, the geo-strategic environment is one of uncertainty and new forms of asymmetric warfare such as global terrorism are undermining military might.</font> </p> <p align="justify" class="greytext1"> <font size="2" class="greytext1"> </font> </p> <p align="justify" class="greytext1"> <font size="2" class="greytext1">Since the end of the Cold war, there is today only one major power - the United States (US). In a perceptive essay, Charles Krauthammer had called the period following the collapse of the Soviet Union the 'unipolar moment'. Five other powers are inter-acting with the US at various levels to ensure a stable world order. These include Russia, the European Union, China, Japan and India. It is necessary for these five powers to improve communications among themselves, apart from the bilateral communications with the US. Similarly, there is a need for better communications among the Asian powers.Out of the six major actors in the world, four belong to Asia and a fifth (the US) is fully engaged (some may say stretched) in Asia and the contiguous oceans.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> In the emerging world order, the strands of global security are interwoven in a very complex manner across all continents. The present unipolar world order is likely to be gradually diffused. It will take time but the process of change that is now underway will ultimately result in the emergence of a polycentric world order. <br /> <br /> The Asian continent is likely to emerge as the epicentre of the evolving polycentric world. It can be reasonably expected that in the next 25 to 50 years, Asia will become the centre of gravity of the globe in the economic, strategic and political fields. In terms of human and intellectual resources, the contribution of the Asian population that is approximately 56 percent of the world total is growing rapidly. In terms of resources and commerce, Asia has a large share and, by the middle of the 21st century, most new wealth is expected to be created in Asia. The growing economic clout of the Asian nations will give them a larger number of security options, including some viable options within Asia, so that Asian nations are less dependent on the Western security umbrella and guarantees. However, at present, when Asian security is discussed, it has to be discussed in a global context. <br /> <br /> </font> <font size="2" class="greytext1"> <strong>Cooperative Framework <br /> <br /> </strong> The factors that unite Asia include intra-regional contiguity among Russia, India and China; cultural and civilisational commonalties; inter-dependence for energy and common environmental problems; and, increasing inter-regional trade and intra-regional investment. <br /> <br /> These factors suggest the need for a co-operative security framework. On the other hand, there are also a number of common challenges that confront Asia, both in the military and the non-military field. These include threats from across the borders, the proliferation of small arms, narco-trafficking, population migration and poor water management among others. On the military side, concerns regarding weapons of mass destruction, the proliferation of missiles, large conventional forces ranged against each other on land, sea and air, characterize Asia. On the non-military side, four 'Es', that is, economy, energy, ecology and ethnicity, bring Asia together both in terms of challenges as well as opportunities. <br /> <br /> While the countries of South Asia are plagued by the challenges of regional security, the countries of Southeast Asia are more concerned with balancing the growing influence of China and non-military challenges rather than conventional sources of insecurity. <br /> <br /> Similarly, the countries of East Asia are more concerned with the interplay between nations in what is called the 'Pacific Quadrilateral of Nations'. The fact that China is not democratic is also a major concern for evolving a viable Asian security structure. The natural process for the empowerment of the people is via the empowerment of the nation state and the democratization of the nation state. However, that does not mean that a deduction can be drawn that the differences between the various regions of Asia are so pronounced that the Asian countries cannot sit together and talk convincingly about an overall Asian security framework. <br /> &nbsp; <br /> The received wisdom is that Asia is too large and too varied for an Asia-wide security system, that there are very distinct sub-regions within Asia with their own security problems and that complexity; size and diversity appear to preclude the effective implementation of an Asia-wide security system. However, the time has come for the serious consideration of this concept. Some commentators have suggested that an Asian security system could be built on four levels. These are, firstly, an international balance of power, inclusive of the US; secondly, regional groupings with members overlapping in more than one region; thirdly, bilateral ties could be strengthened without jeopardising regional security; lastly, all aspects of security in Asia should be effectively coordinated with the UN system.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> The concept of the balance of power needs to be reviewed in the post-Cold War world. While it cannot be denied that there has to be some kind of a balance for a stable world order to prevail, whether the balance of power approach is likely to remain applicable to the Asian continent in this century, needs to be deliberated in greater detail. Apart from the complexities and diversities of the different regions of Asia, there is the problem of the historical experience and the attitude of certain powers, even contempt, for the concept of balance of power. History reveals that the balance of power is always manipulated by outside powers that invariably seek domination. The possibility of establishing an economic co-operation framework as a means to replace the balance of power needs to be explored. The western model of security, as mooted by the UN Secretary General, Mr. Kofi Annan, is not supreme; an allowance has to be made for pluralistic societies to co-exist.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> It is certainly possible to establish complementarities in the approach to Asian security as regards intra-state and trans-state security problems. The ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) is a good example of a regional security framework. In recent years it has been gradually proceeding from limiting its activities to confidence building to becoming indirectly involved in conflict resolution. <br /> <br /> Though Asian security must inevitably be linked with and looked at in terms of the UN framework, this should be done only after the UN system itself has gone through a process of reform and is sufficiently empowered to act as a viable and independent global security framework. Some analysts are of the view that it will not be possible to reform the UN system in an optimal manner in the near future because of certain deeply ingrained prejudices. This view appears to be overly pessimistic as it is premised on the assumption that the western powers, particularly the US and China, will never give up the balance of power approach. It is now becoming clear that realization is gradually dawning that the balance of power approach is no longer suitable for ensuring a secure and stable world order. Once this problem is resolved, UN reform will naturally follow.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> A consensus is emerging among Asian countries regarding the need to better appreciate each other's culture so that a better understanding could develop, leading to the ability to conduct an unambiguous dialogue. It is now widely accepted that without cultural understanding, the issue of Asian security cannot be effectively tackled. Diversities should not be a guiding principle, or even the single most important inhibiting factor. Commonalties have to be explored for resolving problems left over by history. <br /> <br /> Economic development and human development are strong binding factors in Asia. It would be necessary to look at a framework that supports the idea of the continuation of the concept of nation states while exploring commonalties for establishing security, trade and cultural linkages. In a huge and diverse landmass like Asia, the empowerment of the state through military, economic or cultural grouping and politics needs to be supplemented by the empowerment of the people as a vital factor to ensure security. <br /> <br /> </font> <font size="2" class="greytext1"> <strong>Nuclear Issues <br /> <br /> </strong> No discussion of Asian security can be complete without taking into account the impact of nuclear weapons as six of the eight nuclear powers in the world are either Asian countries or have deep linkages with Asian security. The dominant view among Asian security experts today is that no country has the right to possess nuclear weapons and deny these to others. Time-bound, total nuclear disarmament is an idea whose time has come and it should be the endeavour of all Asian countries to work unitedly for the achievement of this goal. The START-II process is perceived to be too slow to meet the aspirations of non-nuclear weapons states. <br /> <br /> There is a consensus among Asian countries that the early elimination of nuclear weapons is unlikely to come about without a pro-active part being played by the non-nuclear weapon states because, in the perception of the nuclear weapons states, nuclear deterrence has become even more relevant in the post-Cold War world. There is now a move to target even non-nuclear forces, primarily to deal with the emerging threat from chemical and biological weapons. At the end of the Cold War, while it can be said that deterrence did not fail, it cannot be categorically stated that deterrence succeeded in preventing a major nuclear war.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> In the context of nuclear weapons, the Asian countries must consider radically different and alternative approaches to Asian and world security. Morality, ethics and spiritual values cannot and should not be ignored. Security must be built on mutual trust and mutual accommodation. Substantial confidence building measures need to be put in place. In fact, a stable security environment can exist in Asia only if India and China are part of a co-operative security framework. The concept of proportionality in the reduction of nuclear weapons, introduced by the Chinese, should not be dismissed out of hand. The capping of Indian and Pakistani nuclear weapons is unavoidably linked with the phased elimination of nuclear weapons of all nuclear weapons states. Indian analysts are of the view that India should be prepared to enter into a process of putting a cap on its nuclear weapons only when all the five nuclear weapons states roughly come down to India's level of nuclear weapons holdings. <br /> <br /> Some security experts, particularly those form the SAARC countries, advocate the concept of a nuclear free zone in South Asia. They feel that this can be ensured by India and Pakistan agreeing to roll back, dismantle and do away with nuclear weapons. Others recommend that a similar concept of a nuclear weapons free Asia also needs to be considered. In the Middle East also there are moves towards the establishment of a zone free of all weapons of mass destruction. However, at present India has no option but to see the nuclear issue in both the regional as well as the global context. India's nuclear tests of May 1998 were to a large extent in response to the discriminatory international nuclear regime. India can consider the elimination of its nuclear weapons only when the prevalent nuclear apartheid ends.&nbsp; <br /> The US is moving ahead with its testing and resurrection of the 'Star Wars' programme despite international opposition. This will result in land and space-based ABMs, Laser and particle beam weapons and will threaten the ICBMs of Russia and China. As Russia and China are unlikely to be able to match the US theatre missile defence programme, these two countries may now have a greater stake in the early elimination of nuclear weapons. If the US takes a lead in the movement towards nuclear disarmament, other countries like France, the UK, India and Pakistan will readily follow. However, a nuclear weapons free zone, limited only to Asia among the nuclear weapons states, is an unworkable idea in the context of Asia's security. <br /> <br /> </font> <font size="2" class="greytext1"> <strong>European Example <br /> <br /> </strong> Europe is a willing member of international economic and financial systems and prefers to manage security jointly with its partners. A balance of power approach is no longer central to European security. The European nations have shed centuries of hatred and conflict and have already graduated to a system of peaceful competition and cooperative security with open borders, free movement of people, capital and goods. A number of European countries are tolerant of US presence in Europe, including military presence, but would resent domination by the Germans or the French. Hegemony by a distant power appears to be more acceptable than hegemony by a neighbour.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> Europe is likely to remain an active partner in an US-dominated trans-Atlantic alliance. Immediate prospects of an independent western European foreign policy and an emerging strategic role are limited. The emergence of a common currency in the European Union has been a seminal event on the geo-strategic firmament. It may not be seen today in the context of competing with the power of the US, but it is likely to happen in the future. The gradual evolution of a self-confident Europe with an independent foreign policy can only lead to greater balance in the world order. <br /> <br /> Most experts and policy makers agree that the initiation of a process of collective dialogue would go a long way towards establishing cooperative Asian security. The real denominator of collective effort or collective security in Asia is economics.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> China and the US provide a good example. Trade and economic relations between them have grown, whereas the contradictions are slowly fading away. Economic co-operation is the first step towards solving existing problems and arriving at a collective security framework. The positive dynamics generated by economic co-operation can be expected to contribute to the resolution of long-standing boundary and territorial disputes more than any other single factor. However, this cannot be assumed without reservation. From the dominant discourse on the relationship between economics and security, it is not clear whether greater economic inter-dependence is more conducive to peace. This is borne out by the West Asian example where large-scale economic inter-dependence has not led to lasting peace. <br /> <br /> If the US were to play a benign role in ensuring Asian security, much as it did in Europe, its involvement in promoting broad-based, non-polarised Asian security equilibrium through a co-operative framework would hasten the process and act as a stimulant. However, the present domination of the world by the US is seen as a major de-stabilising factor by many Asian nations. Therefore, most of them welcomed the 'strategic triangle' between China, India and Russia proposed by Mr. Primakov, the former Russian Prime Minister, even though the concept of a strategic triangle has a balance of power connotation that is now considered inappropriate. Yet, there is consensus that without meaningful US participation, Asia would find it difficult to put in place a workable collective security framework. Unless the US and China move away from their present attitude of unilateralism, the concept of a collective Asian security system would not work. <br /> <br /> The present unipolar concentration of power in the US undoubtedly needs to be moderated to some extent with whatever methods and modalities can be commanded. At the same time, any formal alliance or arrangement such as the 'strategic triangle' between India, Russia and China must be rejected. Though there is a need to build better understanding with Russia and China and other Asian countries so as to enhance security in Asia, as also to solve bilateral problems, this must be done without formal alliances. At the same time, it is inevitable that there has to be meaningful co-operation between India, Russia and China if the concept of collective cooperative Asian security in the 21st century is to take shape in this vast continent.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> A contrary view is that there is no point in making attempts to curb US power since it is neither possible nor entirely desirable. <br /> <br /> What needs to be done is to explore the possibility of developing a cooperative security framework where the regional and Indian, Russian, and Chinese national aspirations can be accommodated amicably with US power. In this quest, all philosophical, ideological and institutional problems and obstructions have to be eventually resolved and removed through a process of dialogue. It will take a great deal of patience, time and skillful negotiations to put in place, but a co-operative security framework is the only viable structure for Asian security. <br /> <br /> </font> <font size="2" class="greytext1"> <em>Gurmeet Kanwal: The author is Director, Security Studies, and Senior Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi. E-mail ID: [email protected])&nbsp; <br /> <br /> Source: Asian Tribune <br /> </em> <br /> <br /> <em>* Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Observer Research Foundation.</em> <br />
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