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Washington DC Peace & Security Forum

Washington DC Forum: Security Cooperation in Southeast Asia and Oceania

Summary report of roundtable on “Security Cooperation in Southeast Asia and Oceania: Constructing a Security Community in the Region,” held on April 25, 2012 in the Green Room of The Washington Times and hosted by the Peace and Security Affairs, DC Office, UPF International.

Participants included: Dr. Antonio Betancourt (moderator), Director, Peace & Security Affairs, DC Office, UPF International; Arnaud de Borchgrave, Director and Senior Advisor, Transnational Threats Project, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS); Sharon Squassoni, Director and Senior Fellow, Proliferation Prevention Program, CSIS (represented by Talitha Dowds, Program Coordinator & Research Associate, Proliferation Prevention Program); Prof. Pek Koon Heng, Assistant Professor and Director, ASEAN Studies Center, School of International Service, American University; Peter R. Huessy, President, GeoStrategic Analysis; Vikram Nehru, Senior Associate, Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; Dr. Mark P. Barry, Advisor to UPF’s Office of Peace & Security (participated via Skype); and William Selig, Deputy Director, Peace & Security Affairs, UPF International.

In his opening remarks, Dr. Betancourt explained the purpose of UPF. He said, “UPF is an organization devoted to the creation of a culture of peace and it is active in more than 100 nations. The results of our work this afternoon, with attributions, will be available and distributed via the Internet to Ambassadors for Peace and UPF chapters around the world. This constituency of Ambassadors for Peace represents senior leadership in many capacities in governments, legislative bodies, academia, the media and the business sector around the world.”

Next, Dr. Betancourt explained the purpose of the roundtable “is to discuss the prospects for a system of collective security for Southeast Asia and Oceania that should be able to deal with conventional and non-traditional security threats to its members ranging from local aggression to the rise of China, competing military buildups, international terrorism, interstate maritime disputes, piracy, security in the sea lanes of communication, cyberwarfare, natural disasters, transnational disease, and other challenges to state and human security.”

“From the 1950s through the 1970s, the United States sought to help Southeast Asia maintain its independence against a powerful force — international communism — using the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO), but it proved ineffective and failed to prevent the Vietnam War. Presently, despite the convergence of many challenges in Southeast Asia, The approach of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) is to resist action by individual nations, and instead, encourage nations to work together as a community. Using the NATO common security framework as a baseline model, our roundtable will examine different ways of how these countries may develop some form of a common security architecture, for instance, an adapted NATO-like security umbrella alliance for the Southeast Asia and Oceania region, and the U.S. role in constructing a security community in this area in light of President Barack Obama’s promise of a policy ‘pivot’ toward the Pacific region.”

Dr. Betancourt also made the point that in this age of information, societies are not the same as in the 1950s. In this environment there is demand for transparency. It is more difficult for governments to act belligerently. The intentions of governments are more exposed because of the age of information.

The Framework

According to The Japan Times, China’s total defense budget for 2012 was increased to $106 billion from $95.6 billion last year, an increase of 11.2 percent. This military buildup is causing great consternation among the nations of Southeast Asian and Oceania.

Considering Beijing’s rapidly rising defense expenditure, its expansive maritime sovereignty claims, its aggressive behavior pursuing them, its support for states such as North Korea and Pakistan, and its nontransparent military buildup, sovereign states in Southeast Asia and Oceania are questioning China’s true motives and objectives.

How to manage China’s rise and shape its behavior will be one of the biggest diplomatic challenges facing the region and the world in the coming years.

Points of information

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was formed in 1967 to promote trade, cultural development, and protection of regional peace and stability. The founding nations were Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand. It has since expanded to include Brunei, Vietnam, Laos, Burma, and Cambodia. ASEAN covers 3 percent of the total land area of Earth, and has a population of approximately 600 million people, which is about 9 percent of the world’s population.

The South East Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) (1955-1977) was an international organization for collective defense in Southeast Asia. SEATO was intended to be a Southeast Asian version of NATO. Members included Australia, France, New Zealand, Pakistan (including East Pakistan, now Bangladesh), the Philippines, Thailand, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), founded in 1949, is an intergovernmental military alliance with 28 member states across North America and Europe, the newest of which, Albania and Croatia, joined in April 2009. An additional 22 countries participate in NATO’s Partnership for Peace, with 15 other countries involved in dialogue programs.

The Looming Question

What are the prospects for a system of collective security for Southeast Asia and Oceania? Is ASEAN up to the job or should a new international intergovernmental organization like NATO be formed to provide a collective security for Southeast Asia and Oceania?

Arnaud de Borchgrave, Director and Senior Advisor, Transnational Threats Project, CSIS, 30-year veteran with Newsweek, and Editor-at-Large for The Washington Times, provided an overview of the major security concerns.De Borchgrave said: “Washington's political establishment is divided between those who see China as the next geopolitical threat that requires a major naval presence in the South China Sea and those, such as former U.S. National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, who are opposed to demonizing China as another Soviet Union.”

As a warning to China about its South China Sea ambitions, de Borchgrave said, “the United States is transferring 200 U.S. Marines to Darwin, on the northern coast of Australia, to be reinforced by 2,300 more by 2014, drawn from the 3rd Marine Division on Okinawa to form a Marine Expeditionary Unit.” Quoting President Obama on a visit to Australia last November who said, “I am making clear that the United States is stepping up its commitment to the entire Asia-Pacific region.” De Borchgrave says it makes more sense to bring China's leadership into a web of mutual interests with the United States rather than push towards a confrontation.

Vikram Nehru, Senior Associate, Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said that the US has encouraged a greater role for India in East and Southeast Asia. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, during her visit to India earlier this year, asked India “not just to look East, but to engage East and act East as well.” India has responded with a renewed focus on its “Look East Policy,” which has evolved from economic and trade linkages with various regional countries to a gradual strengthening of security ties. India’s ties with Japan, in particular, have been gaining momentum with both New Delhi and Tokyo making an effort in recent years to put Indo-Japanese ties into high gear. India’s role in East and Southeast Asia is only likely to grow in the future as China’s faster than expected economic and military rise forces New Delhi to reorder its strategic priorities.

Nehru said there are many reasons for the U.S. pivot, but a principal motivation was to protect the freedom of navigation in the Malacca Straits and the South China Sea. The Philippines have regularly protested to China that their naval and fishing vessels have intruded into its waters near the Sabina Shoal in the South China Sea. In early 2012, India’s Oil and Natural Gas Commission announced that it was resuming drilling in a hydrocarbon block in Vietnamese territorial waters disputed by China — while at the same time the China National Offshore Oil Corporation announced its intention to send out its first deep-water survey vessel to search for oil and gas prospects in the South China Sea.

With energy demand rising rapidly in China, Japan and South Korea, as well as the smaller economies of Southeast Asia, the passageway through the South China Sea is of increasing global strategic importance, as energy shipments from the Middle East must pass through the area. Moreover, the South China Sea itself holds gas and oil reserves of anywhere between 20-200 billion barrels of oil equivalent (in comparison, Saudi reserves are about 260 billion).

Nehru referred to three lingering problems in the South China Sea that have become a source of international tension and threaten peaceful passage through this waterway. First, there are competing claims between China, on the one hand, and Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan on the other, over the 200+ Spratly and Paracel Islands (as well as a competing claim between China and Indonesia over an area just north of the Natuna Islands). For the parties concerned, there is little alternative but to arrive at a negotiated settlement. This is the crux of the problem. According to Nehru, China wants bilateral negotiations, but the other countries prefer multilateral discussions through ASEAN.

Second, China’s interpretation of the rights of international navigation in the extended economic zone do not permit the passage of foreign military vessels conducting surveillance, reconnaissance and intelligence gathering, an interpretation that is not shared by the overwhelming majority of nations, including the US.

Finally, there are overlapping claims to the continental shelf made by China, Vietnam and the Philippines in response to a call to register such claims by the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.

Disputes over the South China Sea go back at least to 1973. The 2002 Declaration of the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (signed by ASEAN and China) imposed a freeze on claims. Although it has by and large stuck, actions to defend sovereign rights in these waters, especially by China, have escalated over the years. To defuse tension, the parties started negotiating a code of conduct in late 2010. This is a change in China’s stance, as it had previously objected to taking a multilateral approach.

Despite these negotiations, three developments suggest that tensions in the South China Sea will only rise: the increased technical capability of China’s armed forces to assertively protect the country’s claims; a rising level of nationalism and self-confidence within China; and the rebalancing of American foreign policy toward Asia, which has the capability of intervening if necessary.

What is needed now is careful diplomacy on all sides and a collaborative approach to resolving a range of common issues, including fisheries, climate change, disaster risk management and health pandemics. Adopting such a multi-track approach toward engagement between China, the US and Southeast Asia will ensure that points of tension such as the South China Sea are outweighed by the benefits of constructive partnerships in solving regional problems.

Nehru agreed with the other participants that a new collective security system for Southeast Asia and Oceania is not needed; instead, the ASEAN organization is adequate to deal with the challenges.

William Selig, Deputy Director of UPF International's Office of Peace and Security Affairs, referred to the recent news about territorial claims between the Philippines and China. There is a currently a standoff over the Scarborough Shoal, which both Asian countries claim. The resource rich and strategically located region, in fact, is claimed not only by those two powers, but also Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Cambodia.

He said that the “Philippine officials have asked China to bring their disputes to the UN for arbitration, a process that will require both side to delineate their claims, but Chinese officials insist on negotiating with other claimants individually.” The Chinese want to keep these issues in their backyard and not before the world court.

Dr. Peter R. Huessy, President, GeoStrategic Analysis, referenced two books by Robert D. Kaplan, senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security: first, Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power. Like the monsoon itself, a cyclical weather system that is both destructive and essential for growth and prosperity, the rise of these countries (including India, Pakistan, China, Indonesia, Burma, Oman, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Tanzania) represents a shift in the global balance that cannot be ignored. “The Indian Ocean area will be the true nexus of world power and conflict in the coming years,” says Kaplan, “it is here that the fight for democracy, energy independence, and religious freedom will be lost or won, and it is here that American foreign policy must concentrate if America is to remain dominant in an ever-changing world.”

Kaplan’s latest book is called The Revenge of Geography. He applies the lessons learned to the present crises in Europe, Russia, China, the Indian subcontinent, Turkey, Iran, and the Arab Middle East. Huessy said the future can be understood in the context of temperature, land allotment, and other physical certainties: China, able to feed only 23 percent of its people from land that is only 7 percent arable, has sought energy, minerals, and metals from such brutal regimes as Burma, Iran, and Zimbabwe, putting it in moral conflict with the United States. Afghanistan’s porous borders will keep it the principal invasion route into India, and a vital rear base for Pakistan, India’s main enemy. Iran will exploit the advantage of being the only country that straddles both energy-producing areas of the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea.

He said: The Chinese have a major interest in having access to the Strait of Malacca which links the Indian Ocean to the South China Sea. Malacca is the shortest sea route between Persian Gulf suppliers and the Asian markets (China, Japan, South Korea, and the Pacific Rim). Alternative overland pipelines can help but will not alleviate this problem. The ASEAN nations, too, have an interest in maritime security, as does the United States, especially given the Navy’s premier role in keeping ocean-going trade free from interference and the vital role international ocean-going commerce plays in the world’s economy. There is thus a mutual deal here that is possible: the US/ASEAN group works to keep piracy from becoming a serious problem in cooperation with the People's Republic of China in return for the PRC backing off of its unilateral attempts to seize control of the sea-based oil and gas resources of the region. This can be the basis for discussion. He said he sees China’s search for energy as one of the major fault lines of the next three decades and when added to a similar quest by India, this issue has the makings of ending up in a conflict no one wants, but which may be inevitable, especially also given Putin’s remarks that the oil and gas resources of the Caspian area are “Russia’s patrimony” without which says Putin, Russia cannot be a world power.

Dr. Betancourt, who served as executive editor of Global Affairs quarterly in the mid-1980s, emphasized the geostrategic value of the Sea Lanes of Communication in South East Asia and their critical importance to ASEAN stability. From an economic and strategic perspective, the Strait of Malacca is the main shipping lane between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. It links, he said, all of the major Asian economies such as South Korea, Japan, India, and China.” Thirty-two percent of the world’s oil trade and 27 percent of the world’s gas pass through the strait each year from the Persian Gulf to the Asian markets.

Dr. Pek Koon Heng, Director, ASEAN Studies Center, School of International Service, American University. Dr. Heng, who was born in Malaysia, shared her thoughts on the subject. While NATO was born shortly after World War II ended during the Cold War as a deterrent against communism, she explained, ASEAN’s purposes are apolitical and deal with cooperation in the economic, social, cultural, technical, and educational fields, as well as in the promotion of regional peace. NATO has been extremely successful in many actions through the years, but it is a system that is not workable in the Southeast Asian region. A NATO equivalent to block communism was tried in 1955, The South East Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO), but with no joint commands with standing forces, it eventually was dissolved in 1977.

Dr. Heng emphasized the importance of understanding the Asian mentality and way of doing things as fundamentally different from the European approach. ASEAN and the nations of the East Asia Summit (EAS) reflect the collective Asian way, which is less belligerent, less ready to act unilaterally as a single nation, but preferring to work toward regional consensus building. In the Indonesian language, these are the principles of “musyawarah” and “mufakat,” (deliberations and consensus). These basic guidelines for dialogue are more effective in policymaking than Western-style mechanisms of conflict resolution.

ASEAN and the East Asia Summit (EAS) prefer to avoid Cold War politics in dealing with China. Instead, Dr. Heng said the strategy is to focus on strengthening economic and cultural ties and ask all members to follow a policy of noninterference and respect for the sovereign rights of its neighbors. Certainly China has to take care of her own interests, but at the same time, by satisfying the mutual interests of the members rather than the individual interests of one nation over the others, then the entire community benefits.

“It is not in China’s interest to be confrontational,” she says. “We have to socialize China to make it act more responsibly. China can be convinced that by working to improve stability in the region, it will simultaneously be protecting her own interests. It is in China’s interest to engage and take a multilateral approach, and not impose its will on the other nations. The ASEAN and EAS can gently coach China to behave responsibly. Leading from behind, but not taking a strong leadership position, as in the past, will be the U.S. along with Japan, India and South Korea.”

ASEAN does not see a major external threat to the survival of the region as defined in Cold War terms, instead there are extremely important non-state or transnational threats that must be dealt with immediately and vigorously, including environmental issues, terrorism, narcotics, money laundering, arms smuggling, trafficking in women and children, and piracy.

“It’s important to point out,” Dr. Heng said, “NATO is a land-oriented organization while ASEAN is sea-oriented. In fact, the region is 80 percent sea, and only 20 percent land. ASEAN, therefore, must develop an innovative strategy for dealing with the common challenges they face.”

Her conclusion is that ASEAN with its US, Japanese, and Korean partners can deal with China. No new organization is needed. ASEAN’s strategy regarding China is to “socialize Beijing to the ASEAN way.”

While the participants agreed that ASEAN faces a difficult task to maintain regional peace and encourage economic growth, it does possess the necessary components and instruments. However, caution was expressed, especially because of China’s growth economically and militarily. Twenty years ago, ASEAN’s gross domestic product was equivalent to China’s. Today, China’s economy is more than three times as large. And China’s sustained military build-up has given it power projection capabilities that only a decade ago were non-existent.

De Borchgrave conveyed concern and described the situation as the “Finlandization” of Southeast Asia and Oceania. Reminding the participants during World War II when Finland capitulated to Germany, its adjacent and more powerful neighbor, de Borchgrave referenced a report by the Center for a New American Security. The South China Sea, says the report by Patrick M. Cronin and Robert D. Kaplan, “functions as the throat of the Western Pacific and Indian Oceans, a mass of connective economic tissue where global sea routes coalesce … the demographic hub of the 21st-century global economy… The South China Sea will be a geopolitical test case for the Finlandization process. Countries that border this sea, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, face Finlandization by China if U.S. naval and air power diminishes,” the report says.

Borrowing from the ideas of Dr. Heng and reaching a consensus with the other speakers, Dr. Betancourt summarized the concluding points of agreement. The best course of action in terms of a system of collective security for the Southeast Asia and Oceania community is to work with the ASEAN and EAS organizations. Already ASEAN is playing a guiding role and taking responsibility to maintain regional stability and freedom of navigation. Participants agreed that the best security system should represent the community of nations working within the existing framework. The “ASEAN way,” which favors non-intervention and a non-violent resolution of conflict through low-key consensus seeking, is more practical than the NATO model which was specifically created as a system of collective defense against the spread of communism during the Cold War.

Addendum submitted by Dr. Pek Koon Heng, Director, ASEAN Studies Center, School of International Service, American University, USA
June 27, 2012

ASEAN and Collective Security in Asia:

  1. From the beginning, ASEAN has never considered a military alliance based on collective security and has repeatedly asked its dialogue partners to respect that policy.  Even though its five founding states were facing the height of the Communist threat when ASEAN was founded in 1967, there was no mention of security in ASEAN’s founding principles (only political and economic cooperation).  In 2003, when ASEAN re-defined itself as an ASEAN Community consisting of three pillars (political-security, economic, socio-cultural) in the Bali Concord II, Indonesia made a proposal for the creation of a peacekeeping force that was roundly rejected by the other ASEAN states. There is simply no desire for collective security within ASEAN.
  2. The normative principles of ASEAN integration are based on the 1976 Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC) – that is, respect of sovereignty, non-interference, peaceful settlement of disputes, and the renunciation of the threat or use of force.  TAC is an agreement which the U.S. and other key dialogue partners have acceded to and agreed to abide by.  There is no compliance mechanism in TAC.  These norms of cooperation based on voluntary compliance have kept the peace (Pax ASEANA) in the region.
  3. There are different perceptions and understandings of security at play.  For the ASEAN countries, challenges posed by non-traditional security (such as the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997-1998, human security, food security, energy security, maritime security, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief) are more important than traditional state-based security.  Because of this greater emphasis on non-traditional security, the Southeast Asian region has no need for the establishment of a NATO-like collective security construct based on conventional threats to state sovereignty.
  4. U.S. security policy toward Southeast Asia – acceding to the TAC, joining the East Asia Summit, and in accordance with Secretary Clinton’s “six key lines of action” (strengthening bilateral security alliances; deepening working relationships with emerging powers, including China; engaging with regional multilateral institutions; expanding trade and investment; forging a broad-based military presence; and advancing democracy and human rights) – is focused on working very closely on issues of common concern.  Within these issues, there is a similar emphasis on non-traditional security threats (see for example the U.S. Navy’s publication of the CS21, a Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Sea Power, which underlines the importance of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief as well as combating piracy, terrorism and other non-state threats).  Thus even from the U.S. perspective, today’s key security challenges are not inter-state threats.  They are different from the challenges of the Cold War.  There is no existential threat to actors in the region (except perhaps from North Korea toward South Korea).  Therefore, for both the U.S. and ASEAN, the NATO paradigm is not useful for Southeast Asia due to this fundamental difference in threat assessment.
  5. Any move toward collective security would be harmful to relations with China, for all the ASEAN member- states as well as U.S. allies in the region.  For most of the ASEAN countries, the relationship with China is their second-most important relationship after their relationship with the U.S. (and for Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar, China as a trade and strategic partner is probably more important than the U.S.).  Japan and South Korea, too, have very complicated relations with China and have no wish to see this relationship complicated by the rise of collective security, which could be interpreted by China as an attempt of containment.

Therefore the best strategy for the major powers is to work through the existing regional architecture, which these states are already a part of (with the exception of the U.S. not being part of the ASEAN+3). The most important platform is the EAS, which deals with both political-security and economic cooperation.  After joining the organization in 2011 to prevent China from unduly influencing the EAS agenda (China’s voice had become too strong to be countered by the U.S. proxies of Japan and South Korea), the U.S. now appears to consider the EAS the most important organization.  The same countries (ASEAN member states, China, Japan, India, Australia, New Zealand, the U.S. and Russia) that meet in the EAS also meet in the ADMM+ (ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting Plus). The ADMM+, probably the most important security-focused grouping, is where the U.S. Department of Defense and other defense ministers meet for the purpose of concrete programs and proposals that include actual deliverables pertaining to security cooperation. The South China Sea, the most difficult issue facing Southeast Asia, China and the US, can be addressed in the ADMM+. The ASEAN Regional Forum is used for the broadest security issues, but this forum is more of a talk-shop where the most important discussions take place on the margins; while it is good for confidence-building, it may not enhance moves toward preventive diplomacy.

Since it is unrealistic to expect the emergence of a NATO-like organization of collective security, the U.S. is encouraged to work through the available regional organizations.  The significance of the ADMM+ and the EAS lies in the fact that these are platforms where all the major players are engaged, with ASEAN providing a near-neutral arena for everyone to come and discuss their problems.  The South China Sea issue and other contentious issues are being dealt with in these forums.  The EAS and ADMM+, which encourage dialogue with the purpose of attaining better understanding of different perspectives, are the best vehicles to promote security cooperation between the US and countries in Southeast/East Asia.

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