Asians Rethink Security Ties in the Post-Cold-War Era

Article excerpt

DESPITE its diversity, Asia is now seen as ripe for a European-style security arrangement to contain its potential post-cold-war conflicts.

The Clinton administration has endorsed moves for multilateral talks on security, and Japan opened "sub-regional" negotiations with Southeast Asia this year. The crisis over North Korea's apparent attempt to build an atomic bomb also has brought unusual consultations among nations in Northeast Asia.

"Old security concerns are fading. New issues are appearing. The desire to strengthen the regional dialogue ... is natural and understandable," United States Ambassador to Japan Michael Armacost said recently. "It is an idea whose time has come."

Other reasons for the new concern are China's boosting of its military budget, renewed violence in Cambodia, and a budding arms race in Southeast Asia that followed the US withdrawal from its military bases in the Philippines last year.

Any further US troop pullouts from the region, which presumably would leave a "power vacuum," have motivated many Asian leaders to open discussions with each other on shaping a new balance of power in the region.

A potential flashpoint are rival claims by many countries on several of the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. China's Navy took over six of Vietnam's islands in 1988, killing at least 70 people.

Since then, Indonesia has led the way to open multilateral talks on the Spratlys. "The region's military alliances and its military buildup are now yielding to dialogue," says Philippines Foreign Minister Roberto Romulo. "A long-term vision is needed for the region," he says.

Many Asian leaders want the US to take the lead in a new regional security arrangement - mainly to be assured that they will not face confrontations with one another, says Toyoo Gyohten, chairman of the Bank of Tokyo. Asia less secure

"When the cold war was over, we were extremely happy," he says. "But while Europe and the Western Hemisphere enjoy a high degree of political stability, Asia is more complex. What we are going to see in this part of the world is a coexistence of several world powers."

Most recent calls for an Asian security arrangment have come from countries on the edges of the region. The first call came in 1986 from then-Soviet-leader Mikhail Gorbachev. …