Three approaches to one goal

Felix Soh and Derwin Pereira report on the region’s hot topic – security challenges


THE Asean Regional Forum, which is scheduled to hold its inaugural session in July this year, will make it less likely for economic and political differences to lead to conflict in the Asia-Pacific region.

The strong pitch for the ARF by Defence Minister Dr Yeo Ning Hong was one of the approaches to ensuring regional peace and security that were presented by the three keynote speakers at the 2nd Asia Pacific Defence Conference which opened yesterday.

The other two approaches: A “no-force option” mooted by a former US government official and a call by a Japanese defence expert to preserve the US-Japan security alliance.

About 250 top government officials and senior executives from the defence industry are attending the three-day conference at Marina Mandarin hotel to examine issues affecting the region’s security.

It is organised by the Institute for International Research and co-sponsored by Aviation Week & Space Technology Magazine.

* Asean Regional Forum is key

In the conference’s opening address, Security challenges facing the Asia-Pacific as we approach the 21st Century, Dr Yeo said that although the future for the region looked bright, there were some potential hot spots like the dispute over the Spratly islands and North Korea’s nuclear programme.

Said the minister: “It is critical that nations set up and maintain processes of communication and co-operation, both formal and informal, so that we are constantly engaged in constructive dialogue and exchanges, enhancing mutual understanding and confidence.”

He cautioned: “If we fail in this, we put peace and security in jeopardy.”

He pointed out that the Asia-Pacific region did not have an established multi-lateral security framework, such as Nato, to
provide the institutional setting to resolve differences.

“The first step,” he said, “is to engage constructively in multi-lateral dialogue so that it is less likely that economic and political differences will lead to conflict.”

An important move in this direction, he added, was the Asean Regional Forum.

Launched at the Asean ministerial meeting in Singapore in July last year, the ARF is a caucus (sub-group) that engages its 18 members in consultation and dialogue on security issues. It will meet for the first time in Bangkok in July.

The members are the six Asean countries, the seven dialogue countries (Australia, Canada, the EU, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea and the US) and China, Russia, Vietnam, Laos and Papua New Guinea.

Said Dr Yeo: “It is vital that any regional security framework be flexible and open enough to accommodate and address the concerns of all the countries involved.

“The continued peace and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region depend greatly on how well we succeed in maintaining channels of communication so that we understand one another better and confidence is enhanced.”

* ‘No-force’ option

Espousing his “no-force option” in his characteristic forceful and energetic fashion was Mr James R. Lilley, the former US Assistant Secretary of Defence for International Security.

“First, let us work ourselves out of the use of force to settle disputes,” he said.

“Second, to do this, we must render any consideration in the use of force inoperable with credible deterrence in potentially dangerous areas like Korea, the Taiwan Straits, South China Sea and Cambodia.”

He said it was necessary to gain a commitment from all countries engaged in the area to agree on a governmental level to a ‘no-force’ option”. This meant that no existing territorial arrangements can be changed by use of military force.

Mr Lilley said that the projected number of troops was at roughly 100,000 men through the year 2000.

“This would be able to handle any projected challenge over the next 10 years to maintain the power balance in areas which are potential flashpoints,” he noted.

He mentioned the volatile Korean Peninsula as an area where the “no-force” option has been successful: “The American military presence there ensures that Kim Il Sung does not undertake adventurous military action.”

* Preserving US-Japan alliance

It would be for the good of the region that Japan retained its security alliance with the US.

Elaborating on this thesis, Professor Shinichi Ogawa of the National Institute for Defence Studies in Tokyo said: “Whatever East Asian security framework emerges, it is doomed to stumble if East Asian countries failed to involve the US.”

He added: “Among the major powers involved in the Far East, the US is the only country that enjoys wide support and trust from all regional members.

“Thus, whatever change and modification there are in the current East Asian security structure, a newly-shaped security framework without active American involvement would be inherently unstable.”

So, by maintaining a viable US-Japanese security relationship, Japan would be the key player in keeping the US committed in East Asia, he said.

Under the US-Japan Mutual Security Treaty, the US is allowed to keep bases on Japanese soil as the basis of US military power projection, facilitating its presence and active involvement in Asian affairs.


DR YEO NING HONG Defence Minister,Singapore It is critical that nations set up and maintain processes of communication and co-operation, both formal and informal, so that we are constantly engaged in constructive dialogue and exchanges, enhancing mutual understanding and confidence. If we fail in this, we put peace and security in jeopardy.

JAMES R. LILLEY Ex-Asst Sec of Defence Let Asians be Asians and Americans be Americans. Surely we have enough to get along and win.

PROF SHINICHI OGAWA National Institute for Defence Studies, Japan The US-Japan trade problems have gone far beyond the problems of dollars. They are now translated into troublesome controversy over national cultures, ways of life and political processes. The outlook for near-term settlement of the dispute is bleak. More likely is the rise of nationalism and hostility on both sides.

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