Prospects for Regional Security in Asia

The convergence of economic interests, shared transnational threats perpetuated by globalization and balancing powers are drivers of regional security cooperation in Asia.  As recent events in the South China Sea have illustrated, how to deal with these issues and the conceptualization of threats to state security has differed across Asia.  Therefore, rather than caving to external pressures and trying to be like the European Union or NATO, a regional security framework for Asia would need to be organic and based on the distinct experiences, interests and values of Asian states.  In order to be successful, regional security mechanisms in Asia must: take a pragmatic, bottom-up approach to regionalism; involve China and the US as strategic players; and, establish a clear division of labor among existing political and security entities to promote maximum efficiency.

Increasingly states in Asia are incorporating non-traditional security issues such as energy security, human security, threats caused by climate change and other transnational issues into their traditional state military-centered security institutions.  Attaining security, according to Alan Collins (2003) involves effectively managing threats and having sufficient access to resources to maintain relative peace and stability.  For example, part of China’s energy security strategy is to control the supply chain by gaining equity positions in the oil sector using national oil corporations.

In the wide regional landscape of Asia, states have the goal of political interdependence and territorial integrity, but in part their lack of agreement regarding what constitutes a threat has led to the stalling of deeper regional security cooperation.  Security cooperation in Asia combines power-political and institutional approaches to encompass joint actions to advance a common security goal.  Security architecture, meanwhile describes a broader security environment in which distinct mechanisms and processes interact with the aim of ensuring regional stability.

There is no indication that states in Asia will initiate a new comprehensive regional security architecture.  Europeans frequently criticize the multitude of regional institutions and loosely structured arrangements in Asia; outsiders have argued that Asia must follow a European model to succeed in promoting functional cooperation and real integration.  For Asia, a more likely path is to take a pragmatic, step-by-step, bottom-up approach to regionalism instead of an idealist, comprehensive, top-down pan-Asian ‘vision’ approach similar to Europe.  Given the delicate nature of security and historical animosities built over time, a pragmatic approach such as the institution of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization are a way forward for regional security.  Originally started to combat terrorism, separatism and extremism in Central Asia, the SCO has added observers and dialogue partners in addition to additional issues of drug trafficking and economic issues.  The SCO brings together countries which did not previously consult together.

Any approach to regional security in Asia must take into consideration the United States and China as leading regional powers.  The US alliance system is the most important feature of security in Asia and is the central stabilizing factor.  Both the US and China prefer a bilateral structure over multilateral institutions as the most efficient way to organize state security policy, and for the US because of geographic concerns.  The ‘hub and spoke’ pattern enables the central power to have more influence over its junior partners.  Further deepening bilateral security relations is part of the US Asia-Pacific Strategic Engagement Initiative.  Moreover the rise of China and India has led states to reconsider regional security dimensions; as China continues to flex its strategic muscles in the South China Sea and continues with a charm offensive in the Pacific, Asian states will need to gauge future bilateral and multilateral relations.  The incorporation of the US into the East Asia Summit and China into ASEAN + 3 are examples of regional security cooperation extension.

With overlapping membership and areas of capability, the “current alphabet soup of groupings” (Bisley, 2009) has not met the demand for institutionalized security cooperation.  As Jim Rolfe (2008) highlights, relations within and between these organizations are complicated.  Therefore there is a significant need to set out a clear division of labor among political and institutional entities.  The desire for APEC to include a security dimension demonstrates the changing attitudes to security cooperation.  A regional security architecture is needed to facilitate regional order, and the broad range of multilateral mechanisms – including platforms such as the Shangri-La Dialogue, ASEAN Defense Minister’s Meeting, the EAS, ARF and others – need to be catalogued and work together in a more constructive way.  With an active secretariat, historical longevity and due to the fact that it is not led by China, Japan or the US, ASEAN is the premiere regional grouping; it would however need to change its membership rules and the ASEAN way in order to take a central role in security maintenance in Asia.

Because of the changing regional landscape in Asia, the prospects for security cooperation rely primarily on the attitudes of regional powers.  China, India, the US and Japan approach state and regional security based upon their own interests.  These powers have already demonstrated their desire to take part in multilateral institutions alongside deepening of bilateral relationships and alliances.  There is genuine interest in Asia in the ability of cooperative elements of existing security architecture to reduce strategic uncertainties, improve policy coordination and collaborate on nontraditional security problems.  While the drivers for regional cooperation are evident, nationalism (including increased military modernization), historical animosity, and balance of power thinking remain as impediments to a concerted architecture.  Therefore, when considering regional security architecture in Asia, policymakers must take into account the achievement of relative international strategic stability in the post-Cold War period for such a diverse region.  A forced architecture from non-Asian states (such as former Australian PM Kevin Rudd’s Australian-led Asia-Pacific community) has already been rejected, and is a clear sign that like ASEAN, movements must be made from within Asia.

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New US Strategy to Modernize, Coordinate & Secure Global Supply Chain

“In an anarchic world with no central authority, the United States has the ability to either physically force other countries into compliance with violence, or the country can seek co-operative partnerships to reach its goals – partnerships in which it can wield significant influence because it is a great power. The United States has chosen the latter.” (Grillot, Cruise and D’Erman, VJ 2010)

International trade can provide stability in access to goods as well as acting as an engine for growth. As technology improves, the global supply chain becomes more advanced and more actors become involved. The threat of more frequent natural disasters and the potential for terrorism or transnational criminal activities facilitated by global transportation networks, there is an ever-greater need to ensure the security and efficiency of supply chains. This past week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, US Secretary for Homeland Security Janet Napolitano unveiled the latest National Strategy for Global Supply Chain Security (the Strategy). The launch of this updated policy is timely given President Obama’s desire to boost American manufacturing, new bilateral trade pacts with Colombia and Korea and the impending Trans-Pacific Partnership. This post seeks to shed light on the policy and briefly demonstrate the importance of ensuring an operational global supply chain security regime.

Each year 12 million containers are shipped into the US alone. (US Dept. of Transportation, 2009) It is no wonder, then that the Strategy has two primary goals: promote the efficient and secure movement of goods, and foster a resilient supply chain. Security will be integrated as a key component of supply chain operations, but not in such as way as to slow down shipments. For this goal, the US seeks to:

  • Resolve threats early to expedite the flow of legitimate commerce.
  • Improve verification and detection capabilities.
  • Enhance security of infrastructure and conveyances in order to protect the supply chain and critical nodes, through limiting access to cargo, infrastructure, conveyances, and information to those with legitimate and relevant roles and responsibilities.
  • Maximize the flow of legitimate trade by modernizing supply chain infrastructure and pro­cesses to meet future market opportunities; developing new mechanisms to facilitate low risk cargo; simplifying our trade compliance processes; and refining incentives to encourage enhanced stakeholder collaboration.

Furthermore, disruptions to the global supply chain due to natural disasters or disease can have staggering consequences. Therefore to improve its sustainability, the government aims to:

  • Mitigate systemic vulnerability to a supply chain disruption prior to a potential event by using risk management principles to identify and protect key assets, infrastructure, and support sys­tems; and promoting the implementation of sustainable operational processes and appropriate redundancy for those assets.
  • Promote trade resumption policies and practices that will provide for a coordinated restoration of the movement of goods following a potential disruption by developing and implementing national and global guidelines, standards, policies, and programs.

 As with other public government strategies, the Strategy “provides strategic guidance to departments and agencies within the United States Government and identifies our priorities to stakeholders with whom we hope to collaborate going forward.” With the focus on the “worldwide network of transportation, postal, and shipping pathways; assets and infrastructure by which goods are moved from the point of manufacture until they reach an end consumer; and supporting communications infrastructure and systems,” the policy to “strengthen the global supply chain” naturally relies upon external actors (including other states, multinational corporations and multilateral bodies, to name a few) to be successful. As the opening quote suggests, the US does not plan to facilitate detailed actions on its own. Rather, the government is encouraging feedback and involvement “from host governments, industry partners and other stakeholders” to produce the best initiatives and actions to secure the global supply chain.

 There are already frameworks and initiatives in place to facilitate global supply chain security, affecting actors differently. The Container Security Initiative and the SAFE Frameworks of the World Customs Organization (WCO) have been critical to these efforts. However, needing to follow or fulfill requirements of different states can become costly and strenuous for businesses of different sizes. On 1 January 2012, a new version of the Harmonized System Nomenclature entered into force by the WCO as “the world’s global standard for classifying over 98% of goods in international trade”. The WCO is the ideal mechanism for dialogue and implementation of security concepts and standards; the SAFE Framework provides such standards to synchronize varying initiatives. Mutual recognition of security regimes, then, “could become a reality in the future”.

 Compliance with regulations falls on the responsibility of the stakeholders (at various levels in the international trade sector), who therefore they must bear much of the cost.* This increased financial burden can have several impacts upon actors and the economies in general. First, those with more financial resources will be in a more favorable position to comply with requirements over those with less experience or resources. Second, investors may turn away from those countries that are less integrated into the “international transport structures for supply chain security. Third, the lack of funding by the WCO and other international organizations for implementation may lead to marginalization or decreased competitiveness of those less able to incur the necessary costs. Keeping current with customs regulations, fees and security requirements can become burdensome; however the Strategy and its ultimate initiatives aim to speed up rather than slow down global trade, and is anything but inward-looking.

In May 2011, New Zealand and the United States signed a joint statement on global supplychain security cooperation. The Asia-Pacific region has a significant role in international commerce and within the supply chain. The two states saw the agreement as a way forward for further collaboration on similar issues. In fact, through Project Global Shield (launched in 2010), New Zealand, the US and close to 60 other countries “share information with each other to ensure that chemicals entering their countries are being used in safe and legal ways, leading to successful interdictions of a number of suspicious shipments and providing promising investigative leads on the smuggling of precursor chemicals into Afghanistan and Pakistan”.

Overall, “container transit is far from being completely ‘visible’ and safe”.* There will always be challenges to security, or threats to shipments from nature. That the US took its time in developing a cohesive Strategy and plans to continue collaboration and dialogue with stakeholders is a positive move. The Strategy acknowledges cooperation is needed, which is a good perspective for policymakers to have. The aim has been for containers to be inspected and cleared for dangerous and unlawful contents before they get close to US borders, so effective and secure networks will be essential.

For further reading:

Frank Altemöller. “Towards an international regime of supply chain security: an international relations perspective.” World Customs Journal. Volume 5, Number 2. [http://www.worldcustomsjournal.org/media/wcj/-2011/2/Altemoeller.pdf]