Posted by- Neelam Mathews
Nov 17, 2011
Today, the global significance of the Asia-Pacific region is universally recognized –in some quarters, the times that we live in are referred to as – the “Asia-Pacific Century”. India undertook a strategic shift, when in 1991 we first enunciated our ‘Look East’ policy.
Being naturally interested in matters military and maritime, two aspects particularly strike me as I reflect upon the region. The first is that the region has a distinct maritime footprint, not only because the dispersed Asia-Pacific nations are linked via the oceans, but also because the sea is a lifeline for economic growth in the region. The Asia Pacific is home to numerous major shipping lanes which service regional as well as global trade. Disruption of traffic flow on these routes could thus have a severe impact on the global economy.
The second aspect relates to defense spending. The statistics are staggering by any account. In 2010, the Asia Pacific accounted for more than 63% of global defense spending. Even excluding the US from these figures, because their defesce budget exceeds many a national budget, the countries of the region accounted for more than 35% of the non-US-global defense spending, with rising trends.
These trends of defense expenditure require to be viewed in the backdrop of the agreements for cooperative engagements that have existed between nations, in the region, over the past half century or so. …………….Such agreements may have long served the requirements as they existed, but it may now be a necessity to review these commitments in the context of newer and future challenges. These challenges vary from economic matters to security issues such as territorial disputes, terrorism, nuclear proliferation by state as well as non state actors, energy security, piracy, Humanitarian Assistance and disaster relief and climate change.
Diversity is the hallmark of this region. …. The Asia-Pacific region is the most ‘disaster prone’ area in the world, with nearly half of all natural disasters occurring in this area. … Such adversity requires the countries of the region to come together and build cooperative HADR capacities to overcome the vagaries of nature.
On the brighter side, by 2020, seven of the world's ten leading economies are likely to be in the Asia-Pacific region. …..We are seeing certain edginess in the relations between the countries of this region. The potential for conflict in the South China Sea and the instability of the Korean Peninsula have heightened the awareness of policymakers, scholars and analysts to the region’s shortcomings in terms of institutional arrangements to resolve potential crises. The South China Sea, in particular, is an area of significant concern. The leaders of the world’s two most successful surviving communist parties met in Beijing last month. Chairman of Chinese Communist Party hosted his Vietnamese counterpart for official talks, with the two sides agreeing to work together to solve their territorial dispute in the South China Sea. The developments in the South China Sea and the outcomes will have major implications not only for the countries in the region, but for the world at large, as many nations have considerable economic interests in the region.
With that as the backdrop, it is appropriate that we brain storm on the structure and content of the security architecture that would offer a ‘best fit’ to promote peace and stability, owing to the peculiarities of the region. Precisely for this reason, readymade solutions do not exist and that it may not also be feasible to borrow an existing arrangement functioning in another region to be applied in the Asia – Pacific.
A scan of the multitude of threats that exist, makes it apparent that unilateralism, as a strategy, may be inadequate and that multilateral cooperative mechanisms are the way forward. Therefore, there exists a compelling need to assess the threats faced and the opportunities that exist to leverage, for ensuring peace and stability in the region. As most would agree, many contemporary issues that impinge upon the peace and stability of the region are beyond the capacity of any one country to handle single-handedly and therefore require, cooperative and collective action. The ongoing deliberations regarding multilateral effort under the aegis of the United Nations in combating Piracy could also be a model to deliberate if it can be applied in the region.
On piracy, as we all are aware, there is more to fighting Piracy than just military action. To quote the UN Secretary General “Piracy is not a waterborne disease.” It, indeed, is a spill over of governance deficit, myriad socio-economic issues and lawlessness for which a collective initiative seems to be the only way forward. In order to tackle all these issues, global level responses may be optimal, but problems which are primarily regional in scope and character are best dealt at a regional level, considering the limitations of time, commitment of attention and resources at the global level. Multilateral engagements comprising a holistic representation of the stakeholder nations is the desired way-ahead.
What makes the process hard is that Asia–Pacific includes states which experience deep political differences in their relations. Hence, according to me, addressing the underlying security issues must begin with Confidence Building Measures. Drawing from the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia, we could develop CBMs across economic, environmental, human and military-political dimensions for countering new challenges and threats.
The requirement of an effective security architecture is essential because, Asia’s economic growth and its population size, its productive capacity and its demand, its technological leadership and the geopolitical importance of its major actors are all contributing to the shift of the global center of gravity towards Asia.