Regional Security for the Asia-Pacific: Ends and Means

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In August 2007 former Australian Prime Minister and architect of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) process, Paul Keating, advocated that that organization take on a wider role to "move from its traditional focus on trade and economics to a much wider agenda of security and strategic issues". (1) This, he argued, because the world needed such a body with the leaders of the region's major countries meeting at a time when China is rising and "the challenge is to ease China into the world" rather than make the mistakes of the past and try to suppress its rising and legitimate aspirations. A year earlier there had been a call for a "Pacific NATO", (2) and sixteen years earlier still then Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans had called for a Council for Security Cooperation in Asia (CSCA) modelled on its European counterpart the Council for Security Cooperation in Europe, (3) and there are regular calls for some form of East Asia security system, (4) or for security sector reform. (5)

None of these initiatives has gone any further for different reasons, mostly to do with a lack of will, a worry that European models are not applicable to the Asia-Pacific region and a belief that any effective security regime would inevitably have an effect on sovereign autonomy, although the CSCA proposal ended up as the Track 2 Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia-Pacific (CSCAP). Despite the lack of progress however, there is clearly, at the least, a perception that regional security is lacking something, although there is perhaps disagreement over which region--Asia, the Asia-Pacific, Pacific-Asia, or East Asia--is lacking the security and what precisely needs to be done about it.

On the face of it, calls for a more formal regional security system are strange. Much of the "traditional" security aim has already been achieved. Consider the Asia-Pacific region 50 or 60 years ago. Then it was a region in which war was almost legitimate and always possible as a means of resolving inter-state disputes. It was a region, indeed, where the state was the only significant international actor. It was a period of more or less closed trading systems and it was a period before the processes of globalization had opened societies. It was also a period in which to a large extent power rather than rules determined the limits of action. This was a greatly different international environment from that of today. Most of the important factors which defined the region 50 years ago have disappeared. Most importantly, war is rapidly becoming an illegitimate element of state policy except as a last resort in cases of self-defence. (6) That being the case, security in the traditional sense--freedom from the threat or fear of war, protection from neighbours--is almost with us.

On the other hand, there are still states within the region that do not necessarily accept the "no war" norm and that do not conform to the regional "non-intervention" norm. And even if the problems from those few states are greatly overrated, a point I do not argue in this paper, the belief of state policy-makers is still overwhelmingly that their main task is to ensure the protection of their (often relatively new) state against these kinds of traditional threats and, as importantly, to protect the state against encroachments on its sovereignty. We also now have to face a "long war", or a state of "persistent conflict", in the "war against terror", which has been the salient feature of twenty-first century affairs and will be with us for some time yet. As well, there is the new(ish) security agenda encapsulated by the all-encompassing term "comprehensive security". (7)

Combine those factors with the understanding that security issues today cannot, by and large, be solved by states acting alone--transnational issues at least require international cooperation--and we move almost inevitably to the idea of cooperation in security issues and perhaps to more than that; possibly coordination, collaboration or even a form of integration. …


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