Australia Plans for Sustainable, Collective Security in the “Asian Century”

Sydney, Australia
Sydney, Australia. Photo credit: Genevieve Neilson

In October, the Australian Government released its much-anticipated white paper entitled Australia in the Asian Century.  A collaborative work with public input and stakeholder engagement, the white paper aims to describe the rise of Asia and offers a strategic framework to guide Australia through the ‘Asian Century’ (or least as far as 2025). While much of the paper focuses largely on prospects for improving economic gains, education and cultural ties, I will examine the lone chapter on security entitled “Building sustainable security in the region.”  Australia takes a refreshingly broad view of security which includes traditional as well as nontraditional threats to collective, national and human security.  From the outset, the white paper demonstrates the Australian government’s commitment to focus on more than just hard power, seeking collaborative solutions and understanding the interconnectedness of regional and national issues.  As a public document, the white paper is a way for Australia to clarify its position on the rise of China and India, the increasing competition for natural resources, and the strategic rebalancing of the US in Asia.  

 By taking a comprehensive approach to security, Canberra seeks to mitigate new challenges brought on by the rise of Asia including competition over resources, military modernization by China, India and other middle powers of Asia, and empowerment of non-state actors. The significant focus devoted to transnational threats such as territorial disputes, weapons proliferation as well as human trafficking, terrorism, water and food security, energy security and the effects of climate change shows the importance of regional issues to Australia over domestic security concerns.  Indeed, Australia imparts its knowledge from encounters with water scarcity and resource management, trafficking, irregular migration and terrorism, to assist its neighbors in Asia.  The South Pacific, much like other parts of the Asia-Pacific region, will be at the forefront of effects of climate change; Australia has already worked with Pacific Island states to provide funding for environmental and sustainable development projects.

 The government’s most common answer to current and future threats is international cooperation through a rules-based order.  The primary foreign policy goals established by the white paper include: supporting regional security mechanisms, including equal participation of China and the US in international institutions; and broadening and deepening bilateral relationships.  According to the white paper, “Australia’s longstanding commitment to active middle-power diplomacy, with its focus on practical problem solving, effective implementation and building coalitions with others, will continue to drive [the country’s] approach.” 

 As a newly-elected non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council from 2013, Australia’s commitment to regional issues and a collective approach cannot be overstated.  In congruence with statements from US officials, Australia welcomes a rising China and hopes it will participate more fully in international institutions.  At the same time, Australia lobbied for the US and Russia to join the East Asia Summit, and sees the EAS as a “critical regional institution.”  The November meeting in Cambodia is likely to be a further launching pad for Australia’s goals.  Additionally, the white paper mentions Australia’s strong support of India’s desire for international engagement, particularly with Australia as a future chair of the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation in 2014-15 and the country’s participation in the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium.

 Finally, Australia’s aid program is a central way that the country supports human development and human security in Asia. In 2010, 58 percent of Australia’s “aid budget was expended in Asia, the second-highest proportion among all OECD Development Assistance Committee donors, after South Korea.”  With a booming economy that relies increasingly on the purchasing power of the burgeoning middle classes and construction and energy projects throughout Asia, Australia has the financial stability to promote human security projects that also build bilateral trust.  In 2010, Australia signed a 5-year agreement with the International Labor Organization to support programs that “promote sustainable development and fair work, such as improving conditions for factory workers in the garment industry in several Southeast Asian countries.”  With a proclaimed high level of transparency, the Australian government aims to be the world leader in aid effectiveness.  East Asia and the Pacific are Australia’s primary aid focus, and over the next four years Australia plans to become the largest bilateral grant donor to East Asia by increasing assistance by around 48 percent (from $1.32b in 2012-13 to $1.95 by 2015-16).  Australia has as much to gain as China or the US in supporting such development projects; building relationships and supporting developing countries improves Australia’s soft power and the purchasing of Australian goods and services.

 Geopolitical changes and economic advancement in Asia are driving global attention to the region.  Before this white paper was launched, however, Australians had already begun their ‘engagement’ with Asia; former Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating even wrote a book on the subject.  With the US ‘rebalancing’ to the Pacific, and all eyes on China during their November leadership transition, Australia appears to be towing the line of both powers to promote a sustainable and prosperous Asia-Pacific.  With improved communication technologies bringing their populations closer than ever before, the collective approach by Australia that seeks improvements in economic and security relationships, cultural exchanges, and protection of human security in more ways than one “Australia is located in the right place at the right time.”

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With Panetta’s Visit, US – NZ Defense Relationship Evolving Amid Pacific Rebalancing

Last Saturday, US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta left for his third trip to the Asia-Pacific this year, scheduling stops in Japan, China and New Zealand.  Panetta’s visits to Japan and China are attempts to smooth relations between the states, and the trip to New Zealand is a follow-up from the visit earlier this year to Washington, DC by NZ Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman.  The trip will be the first time in 30 years that a US Defense Secretary has visited New Zealand, and marks a change in regional strategic dynamics.  A critical part of the Obama Administration’s rebalancing in the Asia-Pacific includes repairing and deepening strategic relationships with New Zealand (among other smaller and medium-sized states) and to sustain opportunities for regular, high-level dialogue.  While New Zealand does not have a sizeable defense force to contribute to US-led operations, the small democracy is a valuable ally that can serve as an ‘honest broker’ and voice of legitimacy in the Asia-Pacific.

 Pivoting for the Pacific’s Sake? Not Likely.

Recently, New Zealand has received undue attention from American diplomats and cabinet secretaries because the US has much to gain politically and economically (if not militarily) from the bilateral relationship.  Whether the National or Labour Party is in government, New Zealand has a reputation both regionally and internationally as a state with a strong pacifist orientation that advocates for its values and the wellbeing of its Pacific neighbors.  As a founding member of and voice within the Pacific Islands Forum, New Zealand can be a significant agent for American interests during the leaders’ meetings.  Moreover, New Zealand’s promotion of US naval patrols, development assistance, trade relations, diplomatic connections and so forth would enable the US to exercise greater power projection in the region.

 The 1984 Labour government’s nuclear-free announcement reflected in part New Zealand’s continuous desire for an independent foreign policy based on “conflict avoidance and resolution, humanitarian assistance, human rights, and environmental defense.”  The declaration prohibiting American nuclear ships from their ports was a policy move that was necessitated by public opinion and new Labour supporters and representatives.  Since its proclamation, the nuclear-free policy has been largely nonpartisan. 

 While the strategic dimension of US-NZ relations faltered from the 1980’s, it never disappeared, and was supplemented by intelligence collaboration.  In addition to a strong commitment to special forces training and deployment (particularly the New Zealand Special Air Services), the intelligence-sharing between the US and New Zealand has remained significant since 1946. Despite disagreement with the US government over the invasion of Iraq, intelligence sharing remained consistent.  In fact, after 2001, New Zealand increased its intelligence budget by 30 percent while decreasing its overall defense budget.

 Maritime defense, domain awareness, and disaster rescue operations are essential areas of mutual concern for New Zealand and the US in the Pacific, particularly given the Christchurch earthquake, China’s soft loans to Pacific island nations, and overfishing.  For the first time in 28 years, the New Zealand Defence Force participated in the Exercise Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) in July-August, the largest international maritime exercise.  Interoperability is a key component of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy in the Pacific, and as Nathan Smith writes, the exercises served both diplomatic and more practical purposes for New Zealand and Australia.  Security concerns for New Zealand focus on the sea lines of communication due to heavy reliance on maritime trade; the country’s small blue-water navy is primarily geared for search and rescue and maritime interdiction.  Despite not being allowed to berth ships in Pearl Harbor due to the nuclear-free policy (in contrast to former foes Japan and Russia), Kiwi sailors did not seemed fussed, and took advantage of the nightlife offered by Honolulu.

 As we have seen through the signing of the Wellington and Washington Declarations, the current National Government is in agreement with the Obama Administration’s Pacific rebalancing.  Moreover, the close relationship between US Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell and NZ Ambassador to the US Michael Moore, and the work US Ambassador to NZ David Huebner has done in Wellington are examples of peoples and governments that seek mutual benefits and understanding.

 Improving understanding rather than compromising on ideals

A question that NZ Defence Minister Coleman will face in meeting with Secretary Panetta is how much more New Zealand will be able to commit to the bilateral relationship without sacrificing its ideals.  There will almost surely be a small demonstration in Wellington during Secretary Panetta’s visit about the TPP, or anti-US policies led by local anarchists from Aro Valley, as there is during most high profile visits.  However, in most cases it seems that the New Zealand government knows when and when not to compromise on foreign policy issues, with bipartisan support for free trade agreements.

 New Zealand can leverage an improved defense relationship with the US to secure better terms for the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) and other future trade agreements (including a potential US-NZ FTA as sought by New Zealand).  The latest negotiation terms for the TPP are not public; however controversial public issues being debated concern intellectual property rights and copyright law, both of which have been met by public protests and contestation from New Zealand and Australia.  If the US gets what it wants in terms of defense initiatives, it may soften some of the demands of the TTP and open a path to a US-NZ FTA.

 Setting the nuclear-free policy aside, both National and Labour governments have been fairly amicable to US defense relations.  So what more could New Zealand gain from a “stronger and deeper bilateral defense relationship” as set out in the Washington Declaration?  With both sides facilitating the establishment of “regular, senior-level, strategic policy dialogues between the US DoD and NZ Ministry of Defence and NZDF,” New Zealand can not only legitimate the US strategic involvement in the region but can continue to bolster its own authority.  Welcoming perhaps the strongest ally with shared values and democratic ideals can serve to boost Kiwi clout and spur domestic confidence.

 Development assistance in the Pacific is another area of mutual interest with opportunity for growth.  Australia provides half of all official development assistance to Papua New Guinea and Pacific island countries (AUD$1.17 billion) and New Zealand spends more than half of its country programs budget on Pacific island countries. At the latest Pacific Islands Forum, the US showed that it is ready to lift a portion of the development aid load in the Pacific; US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton announced $32M in new aid programs 18 years after ending such programs in the Pacific.

 As former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Secretary Panetta should be attuned to the value that New Zealand provides as a voice and ear in the Asia-Pacific.  One Kiwi commentator wrote that New Zealand should be weary of his arrival in the country, and that the US will ask too much from Kiwis.  However, the RIMPAC ship porting issue notwithstanding, strategic and diplomatic relations between the US and New Zealand have moved forward since 2007.  Leadership of both states are keen to return to an era of stronger defense ties to help guarantee their security and to enhance stability in the Pacific.  Having met already this year in Washington, DC, the meeting this week between defense bosses is likely more of a touch point to ensure regular high-level dialogue occurs.  With the Washington Declaration in place and successes to build on from the past year, the additional avenues for deepening defense cooperation may be limited but may be milestones nonetheless.

Huntsman on Pragmatic US Foreign Policy in a Competitive Age

On Monday September 17, the Asia Society and George Washington University’s Sigur Center for Asian Studies hosted the event “In Conversation with Jon Huntsman.”  Moderated by David Shambaugh, the discussion covered questions for former Governor Jon Huntsman about the US political process, public service, US foreign policy, and current affairs in Asia.  While many of the topics Huntsman discussed involved reminding the audience that the geopolitical and economic position of the US is sliding, he remained optimistic that America’s values are still the “envy of the world” and urged younger generations to participate in the domestic and international policy process.   While being realistic about the challenges that the US faces, Huntsman offered areas to improve the country’s global image.  Both at home and abroad, the US must seek collaboration with partners to correct issues such as mistrust that perpetuate a fearful narrative of competition.

 ‘Cleaning up’ the economy and politics

 At least three times, Huntsman mentioned crony capitalism, and emphasized that the US has a lot of “cleaning up to do.”  He offered solutions to help mitigate the “trust deficit” in the US, such as Congressional term limits, eliminating super pacs, and expanding participation in democracy by improving voter turnout.  For an effective foreign policy, according to Huntsman, Americans “need to be united on the home front.”  With a weak economy, the US has no leverage in international trade negotiations which seek fewer restrictions on trade barriers. 

 With the world lacking leadership, the Obama Administration has attempted to project its strategic turn to the Asia-Pacific.  However there will always be a concern that the US may be unable or unwilling to sustain its role in the region given the lack of a concerted world view.  In line with current government officials, Huntsman believes that the future of the US does not lie in Iraq and Afghanistan, but in Asia.  Huntsman proposed that the youth of today should have linkages with Asia in the same way that earlier generations had with Europe, participating in a shared culture and exchanges.  Seemingly optimistic, Huntsman said it boils down to the “people to people” relationships and connections to reinforce and strengthen US foreign policy.

 Working with rather than against China

 In the preamble to a question, the moderator invited discussion about how in recent times, the US has had to balance cooperation with competition – what Shambaugh calls “coopatition.”  Certainly, balancing cooperative efforts, not appearing to ‘hold China back’, and maintaining global and regional primacy is not an easy task.  Huntsman interprets  US-China dynamics pragmatically; when working with China on causes of mutual interest (such as China’s WTO accession), the US is able to manage the competitive dynamics of the relationship.  However, the US is failing to put at the forefront the issues on which the two powers can collaborate effectively. 

 The bilateral relationship between the US and China is understandably more similar to a global relationship; recognizing and changing the narrative will be a large undertaking given the lack of domestic American enthusiasm for China.  As the two leading global powers, when the governments of China and the US meet they must discuss a range of international issues such as the financial crisis in Europe, freedom of navigation, the Arab spring, and so forth.  There is a need to “humanize” US-China relations, and to move away from the “easy” fear factor narrative and “toward the opportunity factor.” 

 Overall, Jon Huntsman provided an honest, albeit moderated, conversation about the state of US foreign policy regarding China specifically and Asia more broadly.  Drawing on his experiences in different US administrations and most recently as Ambassador to China between 2009-2010, Huntsman offered unique insights, personal anecdotes and policy points like a candidate just off the campaign trail (or potentially still on that trail).  Perhaps he is still reflecting on his failed presidential campaign, including the debates in which  antagonistic opinions were rewarded while his more reasoned approaches to policy left the crowd cold.  If, as Huntsman claims, there are “impressive personalities coming forward in China” that hold pragmatic viewpoints, the American public should watch the leadership transition and hope that the US can engage its largest potential threat – or opportunity.

A Review of Water: Asia’s Next Battleground

In much of Asia, the growing middle class is driving up demand for freshwater supplies, water-intensive crops and resource-intensive goods that have been taken for granted  in the West. With only one-third of global water resources for three-fifths of the world’s population, efficient use and management of water is critical to social, political and economic stability in Asia. Climate change and increased demand are putting strain on the global water supply, and uncertainty of future reserves and access to existing stores are making water a disputed commodity.

In Water: Asia’s Next Battleground, Dr. Brahma Chellaney explores the geopolitical consequences of water management policies in Asia set against the landscape of a water-stressed continent. A fantastically detailed look into the domestic and international issues of several key states in Asia, the book demonstrates that the management of the increasingly scarce and necessary resource is invariably complex and can create tensions among neighbors. As potential solutions to an impending crisis, Chellaney calls for the establishment of Asian norms for transboundary water resources, inclusive and coherent basin organizations, and a holistic approach to planning, conservation and water quality. China is at the heart of the problems and solutions of the impending water crisis in Asia, with its reluctance to be a leader for multilateral arrangements, its focus on dam-building and neglect of the environment.

Poised to become the scarcest essential resource in the world, water scarcity affects internal and external security of states. Compared to all other regions, Asia has the least amount of freshwater per capita and one of the lowest levels of water productivity and efficiency. Chellaney defines water shortage as “an absolute deficiency where the level of available water cannot meet basic societal and economic needs”, and water stress as having “less than 1,000 cubic meters of water per capita”. The goal of water security is for every person to have dependable access to sufficient, safe and affordable water, while keeping the ecological systems intact and thriving. Asia is, according to Chellaney, negligent in its use and management of natural resources, and water is no exception. Inadequate supply, increasing pollution and diminishing natural wetlands are critical issues faced by the rapidly-developing states at a time when demand continues to rise.

Improvements in irrigation technologies and better widespread use of drip irrigation may improve Asia’s water security. While the rest of the world uses rainwater as its primary source for agriculture, Asia has a much higher percentage of cultivated land using irrigation than any other continent. Chellaney calls Asia “the global irrigation hub” and notes that the Asian method of irrigation is making the land less productive than rainwater-fed land. Throughout the book, Chellaney reiterates the need for more investment in drip irrigation, particularly in India, and steadily criticizes China’s South-North Water Diversion Project as another troubled megaproject. Large-scale irrigated farming has helped to reduce rural poverty and enabled greater agricultural self-sufficiency in many Asian countries. As top water-intensive crops, rice and cotton continue to be critical to Asian livelihoods. Despite food security underpinning the rise of Asian economies, the increasing population and their desire for water-intensive products are fueling rivalries and tensions.

The Tibetan Plateau and Brahmaputra River are examples of significant areas where access to water is being controversially modified. With control of the Tibetan Plateau, China has attempted to tap resources from each international river originating in the area; Chellaney suspects that a central part of the Great South-North Water Diversion Project in China is the diversion of the Brahmaputra River. As the essential river for Bangladesh and a critical basin for India, any plans to modify the flow or affect the ecosystem of the Brahmaputra River will impact millions of people. The increasing number of Chinese-led megaprojects exploiting rivers flowing from the Tibetan Plateau are worrying their neighbors and making water a divisive issue. Chellaney lambasts the Chinese government, run by individuals with engineering backgrounds, for perpetuating Mao’s idea of controlling nature rather than bending to it (ignoring potential environmental damage and disruption to wildlife) and for resettling entire villages and towns to make way for megaprojects. China has more dams in operation than all other countries combined, and has over 100 dam projects in dozens of countries. However China continues to publicly claim that is has no plans to divert the Brahmaputra River, and Indian suspicion of this claim is growing. Despite its unique position supplying river waters to the most individual countries, China does not have a water-sharing agreement with its neighbors or co-riparians and is instead embroiled in disputes with riparian neighbors; rather than joining the Mekong River Commission or other multilateral solutions, China’s preference for bilateral arrangements somewhat undermine the Commission and future efforts.

Much of the conflict – current and potential – over water access seems to be on racial and ethnic lines. Tensions among different ethnic groups within Bangladesh, Uzbekistan, Sri Lanka and India are made worse by water disputes. Chellaney’s case studies demonstrate limited ability of a purely supply-side strategy to meet the challenges brought on by water distribution. In each of these states, governance is poor and water disputes are associated with “deeper socioeconomic discontent, fueling a cycle of unending unrest and sporadic violence”. When citizens lose confidence in the ability of their government to be fair and impartial, new threats arise from an erosion of the rule of law. Chellaney offers a direction for relevant states in Asia to mitigate their water-sharing disputes and challenges, but the book would benefit from a more detailed prescription and less repetition of his outwardly anti-China rhetoric.

For both domestic and international disputes, Chellaney prescribes a holistic approach that is long-term, adequately integrates both demand management and supply-side approaches, focuses on quality as much as quantity of water, and utilizes input from diverse stakeholders and management at different levels. Cooperative relations are necessary to solving water disputes and protecting resources for the future; these relations can then broaden to include additional areas of cooperation. There must be trust among co-riparians, with competition for resources minimized to enable a foundation for a contemporary water-sharing agreement. While Asia could use another green revolution to institute more practices for efficient water use, another significant need is to build institutions to facilitate a water-sharing framework in transboundary basins. Strategic planning and resource management are key to supervising stocks of Asia’s water supply; however without unified norms and institutions accountability and structure will be lacking.