11th Asian Security Conference on "The Changing Face of Conflict and Strategy in Asia"

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  • Rapporteur’s Report on Session VI

    February 04, 2009
    Towards an Asian Security Architecture
    Prepared by Dr Abanti Bhattacharya and Dr Priyanka Singh

    This concluding session focussed on the prospects of building Asian security architecture. There were four presentations: Rise of Asia and the International Order by Dr Sujit Dutta, Balance of Power and the Role of Major Powers by Professor Varun Sahni, US and Asian Security Architecture by Professor Steve Hoffman, and South Asia and Asian Security Architecture by Professor S.D. Muni. The papers mainly focussed on the two contrasting approaches to building security architecture in Asia: one, balance of power approach involving major and key minor powers in Asia, and two prospects for co-operative security framework.

    Like the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis which brought an end to over-enthusiasm on the impending ‘Asian century’, the current financial downturn has brought fresh questions on the possibility of the rise of Asia. Dr. Sujit Dutta’s paper titled The `Rise of Asia’ and the International Order essentially brought this pessimism over the rise of Asia and he argued that Asia’s rise could be tortuous and is dependent on its ability to overcome five major deficits- economic, governance, secular ethos, collective security institutions and cooperative partnerships among the major powers. He argued that many of these deficits existed irrespective of the economic downturn and what the economic crisis actually did was to speed up the process of the deficits. His paper therefore admitted neither to the optimists view forwarded by Kishore Mahbubani, Farid Zakaria on the rise of Asia nor did it support the pessimistic view of Bill Emmot and others. He rather contended that rising common interest in shaping a world security and political order that is appropriate for globalization could ensure a stable peace. Since the rise of Asia is essentially centred on the future track of India and China, much will depend on how these two giant states and economies cope with the domestic and external challenges that they confront, now made more acute by the global economic downturn. He ended with the assertion that rise of Asia is only possible if collective security system is envisaged by the major powers in the region.

    Professor Varun Sahni’s paper titled, “Balance Of Power and the Role of Major Powers” focussed on the major powers in Asia today, and speculated about their respective strategies. The paper raised several significant questions: China is rising, but can its rise be sustained over the next two decades in the face of its many internal contradictions? India is emerging, but will that emergence be shackled by India’s unique blend of incapacity and indecision with regard to its own neighbourhood? Japan is normalising, but would that process of normalisation be able to withstand Japan’s (perhaps irretrievable) demographic decline? Russia is resurgent, but will its resurgence continue to be determined by the level of global hydrocarbon prices? The US is a permanent presence in Asia, or is it? The US is also preponderant globally, but for how long can its preponderance persist in the face of domestic mismanagement and rising rivals? He gave options of creating axes of power and a continental directoire for building security architecture in Asia. He also forwarded a third option if the two other options fail; that of the construction of a regional cooperative security framework in Asia. He contended that this third option, even though it would be a tortuous and contentious one, would still be well worth the effort if it were to reduce the size of arsenals in Asia, enmesh Chinese and American capabilities in Asia within a larger cooperative process and lead to the evolution of a new and authentic Asian identity.

    Professor Steven Hoffmann focussed his presentation on the 2008 National Intelligence Council analysis (NIC) Report tilted ‘Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World’. He observed that greater Asian regionalism would come by 2025 and would have global implications. There would be three quasi blocks of the North America, Europe and East Asia and these would pose a problem. He stated that emerging multipolar system would be more unstable than unipolar or bipolar systems. There would also be diffusion of power from state to non-state actors. The BRIC countries are unlikely to challenge the international system and allow the US to be a regional balancer but would certainly bring new stakes and rules of the game.

    Professor S D Muni argued that instead of ‘an Asian’ security architecture, several security architectures can be envisaged in Asia. He contends that Asian power structure is still evolving and that there are great illusions prevailing in Asia that outside power/s would deliver security to the region. He outlined three major challenges toward building Asian security architecture: 1) Internal conflicts, 2) Intra- Asian conflict, and 3) Spillover of the great power politics. He said that great powers would continue to have a role in Asia but their role needs to be redefined. Denying the option of cooperative security for Asia as it is a Western idea, he argued that any architecture in Asia must have two components: cooperative human security and developmental path to security.

    The discussant, Dr. Abanti Bhattacharya, said that rise of Asia has been a debatable issue in international arena and the present financial downturn has raised fresh questions on the emerging security architecture in Asia. Though there is no dispute that the international distribution of power is indeed shifting to the East, Asia is not offering any alternative system of governance or new development paradigm. In fact, the global economy is closely integrated and countries are functioning within the existing Western liberal international order. The present financial crisis clearly indicates how Chinese economy is entwined with the US and the global financial crisis could paradoxically bring about a harmonious phase in the U.S.-China relationship. In other words, the rise of Asia may be a misnomer as the rise of Asia essentially hinges on the West. She further observed that under the impact of global economic downturn it would be worthwhile to probe whether balancing remains the dominant behavioral pattern, or regionalism and multilateralism, assumes priori attention. Though China has adopted liberal approaches toward regional cooperation, these approaches mainly remain tied towards augmenting its soft power capability and building up of comprehensive national power and grand strategy. Since the core idea of China’s grand strategy is to acquire a great power status and prevent other powers from challenging it, its multilateral approaches are characterized by great power politics and power competition. She contended that China would continue to give importance to balance of power and bilateral mode of managing inter-state relations than multilateral security approach. As such the future of Asian security architecture is less promising.

    There was vibrant participation from the floor during the question-answer session. It was emphasized that the rise of China is creating continent-wide security interdependence. However China is still far from becoming the dominating factor in shaping international order. It was argued that Russia’s arms transfer policy has made it a critical player in Asian affairs. India is one of the middle powers and its greatest challenge is its neighbourhood policy. India has not come out with a concrete regional policy as yet. China on the other hand has offered feasible alternative structure. One of the participants said that the idea of ‘Think Asia’ in terms of Asian solidarity needs to be fostered. It was also felt that given the fact that both India and China are unable to significantly impact the international order, US will continue to have a role in Asia. Notwithstanding the skepticism on the issue, the idea of regional structure should be kept alive. One of the participants asserted that regional identity is essential to build a regional structure. Asian identity needs to be re-constructed in the context of globalization. The Asian security structure should envisage the continent as interconnected and interdependent.

    The discussion concluded with the Chair’s observation that the session had two clear opposite positions on the rise of Asia and the emerging security architecture, one taking a pessimistic view and the other opting for a more optimistic outlook. Highlighting Amitabh Acharya’s thinking on regionalism and building security architecture in Asia, the Chair asserted that a regional understanding of world politics should pay more attention to and demonstrate how regions resist and socialize power -- at both global and regional levels -- rather than simply focusing on how powers construct regions.