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The Washington Quarterly 24.1 (2000) 7-17

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From Wheels to Webs:
Reconstructing Asia-Pacific Security Arrangements

Dennis C. Blair and John T. Hanley Jr.

The United States has approached security relations in Asia as a hub-and-spoke arrangement--with the United States at the center of bilateral ties among nations that, in turn, have limited bilateral, if any, military interactions and security arrangements with each other. U.S. bilateral treaties and security partnerships, backed by capable, forward-stationed and forward-deployed armed forces, remain the indispensable framework for deterring aggression and promoting peaceful development in the region. In recent years, the challenge for U.S. policy in Asia has been convincing Asian nations that we would remain engaged as we drew down our armed forces and brought troops home from other parts of the world. The question now is how the United States will develop and implement security arrangements in the Asia-Pacific region to handle the challenges of the twenty-first century.

We face many challenges to security and peaceful development in the region. Those that affect the armed forces include the following:

  • Unresolved wars in Korea, across the Taiwan Strait, and in Kashmir have flared on occasion, but overall have been contained for more than 50 years.

  • Major powers--China, India, and Russia--are dissatisfied with their current international status and seek greater roles in regional security. Japan is also defining a new security policy as a new generation comes to power.

  • Communal violence driven by separatist movements and historic grievances in places such as Indonesia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Fiji, and the Solomon Islands threatens those citizens caught in its path, fosters terrorism, causes the migration of refugees, and creates humanitarian disasters that can lead to international responses, such as in East Timor. [End Page 7]

  • Transnational concerns, including weapons proliferation, terrorism, illegal drug trafficking, and piracy represent problems that require regional cooperation to address effectively.

Overall, current U.S. security arrangements in Asia provide the capability for U.S. forces to maintain deterrence. The United States can reinforce allies successfully to defeat aggression. This capability maintains peace, allowing time for economic and social developments to build the political foundations needed for enduring peaceful solutions. Even if we succeed in managing the unresolved disputes of the region without conflict, the emergence of dissatisfied major powers will stand in the path of regional security if current attitudes persist. Communal violence and transnational concerns will become an arena for expanding military rivalries rather than the focus for building regional security cooperation.

Developing Security Communities

The prevalent way of thinking about international relations throughout the Asia-Pacific region is in balance-of-power terms. Leaders in China, India, Russia, and other states talk of a multipolar world where major states are rivals, continually maneuvering to create balances. This is the world of Bismarck and nineteenth-century Europe.

An alternative approach, offering the prospect of a brighter future in Asia and better suited to the concerns of the twenty-first century, is one in which states cooperate in areas of shared interest such as peaceful development, diplomacy promotion, and use of negotiation to resolve disagreements. In essence, it would be preferable to promote "security communities." Karl Deutsch coined the term "security community" in 1957 to mean a group of states whose members "share dependable expectations of peaceful change" in their mutual relations and rule out the use of force as a means of resolving their differences. 1

Territorial disputes in the region involve remote and often inhospitable bits of land borders, as well as small islands with nearby marine and hydrocarbon resources. Investment needed to extract energy resources and develop similarly capital-intensive commercial enterprises will only come with political accommodation. There is far more to be gained from cooperation on peacekeeping, terrorism, international crime, environmental degradation, fishing, wealth distribution, and other challenges to peaceful development than from engaging in these disputes. Diplomacy, financial incentives, and market forces will yield far more lucrative results than military posturing and aggression. [End Page 8]

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