A Maritime Security Regime for Northeast Asia

By Valencia, Mark J. | Asian Perspective, October 1, 2008 | Go to article overview

A Maritime Security Regime for Northeast Asia


Valencia, Mark J., Asian Perspective


The Six Party Talks can be the crucible for forging a regional security mechanism in Northeast Asia. This mechanism should originally focus on maritime security. The rationale includes the region's geography, competing maritime and island claims, the resultant maritime military buildup and changing priorities, increasing frequency of dangerous incidents, and the existence of a foundation for conflict avoidance and resource sharing. The Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea could serve as a model for a similar Declaration for Northeast Asian Seas that may ultimately include guidelines for activities in others' Exclusive Economic Zones.

Key words: Northeast Asia, multilateral security - East Asia, maritime security, territorial disputes

Conceptual and Practical Context

The Functional Approach to Conflict Resolution

The first step toward the peaceful settlement of conflict is the creation of a sense of community.1 The creation of such a community presupposes at least the mitigation and minimization of conflict, so that shared interests and common needs outweigh the factors that separate the parties. A functional approach can help the growth of positive and constructive common work and of common habits and interests, decreasing the significance of artificial boundaries and barriers or the lack thereof by overlaying them with a web of common activities and administrative agencies. The challenge then for Northeast Asia is to develop a variety of arrangements that will demonstrate that a habit of dialogue and working together can build common-and eventually cooperative- security. Tactical learning-in which behavior toward cooperation changes-must be replaced by complex learning in which values and beliefs about reaching goals through cooperation change. In this context, cooperation in the maritime spheres satisfies the conceptual criteria and can be a means of building confidence, reducing tension, and eliminating points of conflict. It can also have positive spillover effects on relations between nations.

With progress in the Six Party Talks (6PT) regarding the Korea conundrum, analysts and politicians alike are again thinking and talking about a new security architecture for Northeast Asia.2 At the 2006 ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Regional Forum meeting in Kuala Lumpur, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called for a "robust dialogue on Northeast Asian security" that could help overcome historical tensions, increase security, and create a "better basis for enhanced prosperity throughout the region."3 In February 2007, the parties to the 6PT agreed to negotiate a "peace regime" in "an appropriate separate forum."4 In January 2008, Rice expressed her belief that the Six Party Talks can be used for "larger purposes" such as "forging a regional security mechanism."5 New Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is an enthusiastic supporter of the concept- if it includes Australia.6

The general hope is that the process of managing transition on the Korean peninsula can create new patterns of cooperation and thus lay the foundation for a 21st century security architecture in the region. However, some-perhaps many-in ASEAN see the proposal as diluting the ASEAN Regional Forum's position as the only region-wide overarching security mechanism.7 Thus, starting "small and specific" in Northeast Asia might be more politically palatable to all concerned. In this context, some prominent analysts are urging Japan and the United States to build international institutions initially focused on "concrete issues such as resource sharing, environment and particular security issues," e.g., maritime conflict, that could gradually develop into larger institutions.8

Inspiring Examples from Maritime Agreements

In building mutual security, there are several significant reasons to focus initially on the maritime sphere. Much of Northeast Asia is essentially maritime, encompassing peninsulas, archipelagos, disputed islands, strategic straits, and sea lanes. …

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