- Asia's Security Challenges
Popular images of the security situation in Asia include recent photographs in the New York Times of members of the Taiwan Special Forces lifting rubber boats above their heads on a beach and soldiers of the People's Republic of China (PRC) conducting military maneuvers across the Taiwan Strait. This imagery illustrates the central security concern in Asia in the mind of the general public—the potential military conflict between the People's Republic of China and Taiwan. Yet, as Wilfried Herrmann points out in this collection of essays, Asia has had many other security issues with which to contend. Ranging from economic development to piracy and superterrorism, Asia's Security Challenges presents a virtual Chinese banquet of these security issues with multiple dishes to sample.
As Henrich Seeman, Ambassador from the Federal Republic of Germany, notes in the short foreword, "the Asian-Pacific region changed from a region of permanent crisis to a major economic growth area of the world.... This [change] is mainly based on the stability of the region." But stability, Seeman argues, brings about a new range of security concerns. Chief among these is the security of the Sea Lanes of Communication, as much for positive purposes like trade and a variety of types of exchange as for negative ones like illegal immigration and drug trafficking.
Constructing a new paradigm in terms of a modified approach to security issues can help us to understand better the phenomenon of regional change. Herrmann's book contributes to this process through a discussion of major security challenges, regional security panoramas, and selected country profiles. The authors in this volume represent a wide spectrum of backgrounds, with contributors from academia, politics, and the military and such countries as Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, Singapore, Taiwan, and Indonesia. Perhaps the best way to discuss Asia's Security Challenges is to treat some of its contexts like our aforementioned Chinese dinner: sample some of the offerings and see how they taste.
Herrmann opens with an overview on the complexity of the Asian region that tries to help us understand some of its unique features. He identifies two major trends occurring in Asia: (1) a move toward political and economic regionalization and (2) the increasing dominance of economic goals and the limitations of politics: the political mentality that focuses on security is being "demilitarized" by a preoccupation with economic matters. He also recognizes key elements of change in the emergence of natural economic regions—areas defined by common resource [End Page 470] management, communication, and infrastructure concerns—and the dramatic decline in importance of national borders. As a result of these changes, Herrmann argues that in terms of future international relations, at least in Asia and the Pacific Rim, regions will become more internationalized and more interdependent.
I think Herrmann is correct in his assessment that these trends and key elements are important considerations in relation to Asian security matters, but I think he stumbles on some of the conclusions he draws from them. For example, after adding commentary on cultural issues—concerning diplomacy, religion, religious fanaticism, and education—to the mixing bowl, he suggests that countries like the PRC would be mistaken to pursue a policy of arms exportation. Clearly, this view reflects more a fear of the consequences of that policy than a concern with whether the policy is economically viable and profitable for the PRC.
To his credit, however, Herrmann provides nice overviews of other key issues such as drug trafficking, information technology, the media, ecology, human rights, AIDS, political corruption, and organized crime. These are followed by essays on selected issues, for instance a piece on migration as a challenge to Asian security by James Coughlin and Robert Burstall. This chapter "examines some of the security implications of population movements within, and emanating from, the Asian region." The typology that Coughlin and Burstall use is helpful; they see migration as a phenomenon that is both domestic and international, and they...