Date: Wed, 10 Jun 1998 19:17:02
Subject: [asia-apec 464] Alternative Security Conference
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (PAN Asia Pacific)
Security Conference Focus on the Global South, Alternative Security Program
From Focus on the Global South
10 June 1998
Focus on the Global South will host an international conference on
the theme "Alternative Regional Security; Asia's Prospects and
Dilemmas." The dates of the conference roughly parallel the ASEAN
Regional Forum Meeting, July 22-24, 1998. The site will be
at University of the Philippines in Manila.
THE SUBJECT OF SECURITY
What is security? The debate between the traditionalists and those
who would broaden the meaning of the term "security" is fairly well
known. Traditionalists prefer clarity in the discipline so that it
refers only to the nation-state and its external threats associated
with war and violence. Geopolitics and Realpolitik dominate the
analysis, the policy and the practice.
But after the Cold War and with the onset of Globalisation, an
increasing number of progressive scholars, activists and policy makers
have begun to realise the limitations of such a traditionalist and
ultimately militarist viewpoint. They argue that threats to security
above and below the nation state inclusive of, but not limited to, the
threat of armed conflict must be the basis on which to think about
security. Furthermore, they note that ironically, military policy has
often wrought direct harm to women, to families, and to local
populations, as in the case of Okinawa. In short, to understand
security, one must understand the sources of insecurity.
The word "security" holds different meanings for different groups.
Let us examine just a few examples to illustrate. In developing
countries, where leadership can be highly personalised particularly in
Asia, security has meant the maintenance and protection of status quo
power structures. Internal opposition has been considered a security
threat as a matter of definition, even when representing large
segments of the population, as in the case of Burma.
In contrast, ethnic minorities and the poor may see security as
freedom from indiscriminate oppression and aggression, preservation of
fundamental rights, freedom from destitute poverty, and protection of
a minimum social welfare net. This perspective also emphasises the
importance of environmental security or the vital preservation of
certain cultural values or traditions that are perceived as being
"Security" has become "fragmented" in the traditionalist's lexicon and
"liberated" in the progressive interpretation. It is clear that
competing visions of security abound. What we must also realise is
that security is a socially and politically constructed framework.
Indeed, why something even becomes a "security" issue from its usual
level of politicisation is a challenging question. Real threats and
perceived threats are not always the same. Ultimately, things become a
security issue when they are talked about as such by wielders of
power. This has drastic consequences for a region where political
structures often ignore the voices of the poor, the oppressed and the
To be sure, the challenge of an alternative security framework should
not be limited to engaging in a debate about priorities in the
international security agenda. Ultimately, to argue that governments
and militaries should be putting "the poor" on top of their security
agenda is unlikely and undesired. A tug of war for positioning in the
narrow framework of geopolitical regional security as it stands today
will more likely result in disappointment than substantive change.
The challenge is to shift the discourse, that is to rethink not only
what should be on the security agenda, but to reconsider how the
framework is structured, how decisions are implemented, and explore
the opportunity for new actors to play new roles. It is to critically
engage the current power structure at the policy level, and to offer
concrete alternatives to the present regional security paradigm.
SECURITY IN ASIA
Recent events show the range and complexity of security issues in
Asia. Nuclear explosions in South Asia have ignited an arms race
many believed ended with the Cold War. But less traditional
threats abound. The Asian financial crisis has demoted several
Asian economies from the status of "tiger" to beggar causing
enormous changes in places like Indonesia. The crisis has already
had deep social implications in the agricultural and labour sectors,
as well as the mainstream business sectors. This event demonstrates
several points. First, security is inter-related to notions of
gender, human rights, democratisation, and sustainable development.
While inter-state rivalry still endures, it is only one of several
security threats to the region. In addition, as the crisis in Asia
is fundamentally a crisis of globalisation, there must be strong
links made between globalisation and security.
As Dr. Richard Falk, keynote speaker of last year's conference argues:
[Globalisation] has, for one thing, undermined many aspects of
cultural identity through the dissemination of a consumerist ethos,
and it has jeopardized the world by allowing global economic
integration and protection of vulnerable societies, groups, and
individuals. There exists very little regulation compared with the
degree to which market forces have been regulated in most
constitutional democracies. Further, the trend toward privatization
of politics and economics has added great dangers to the global
environment and it has increased insensitivity by government to human
suffering resulting from poverty, genocidal behavior and severe abuses
of human rights. (from Peace and Policy, p6, Toda Institute, Summer,
Aside from the insecurity the financial crisis has forced on women,
children, workers, immigrants, and other marginalised groups, it also
has the potential to trigger regional violence. The Economist notes
"From Japan and South Korea to Malaysia and Indonesia, mounting
bankruptcies, growing unemployment and rising inflation are adding new
faultlines to old fractures. In such a fragile region, economic
self-confidence may not be the only casualty. The region's political
and military stability is also at risk." (Economist, "East Asia's New
Faultlines" p13, March 14, 1998).
The Economist lists the top ten flashpoints in Asia
Four Kurile Islands, occupied by Russia, claimed by Japan.
North Korea, isolated, hungry and still technically at war with
Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands, subject to rival claims by China, Taiwan,
Taiwan, considered a rebel province by China since the Kuomintang
fled there after losing the civil war in 1949.
Burma, controlled by a military junta which has ignored the
results of a 1990 election.
Cambodia, led by Hun Sen, who seized power from his co-prime
minister, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, in a bloody coup last July.
Spratly Islands variously claimed by China, the Philippines,
Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Brunei.
Mindanao, which Muslim rebels are still fighting to bring to
independence from the Philippines, despite a recent peace treaty.
East Timor, a former Portuguese colony invaded by Indonesia in
1975 and heavily repressed.
Bougainville, seeking independence from Papua New
There are literally dozens of other festering inter-state and
intra-state conflicts in the region including the renewed fight for
Kashmir between India and Pakistan. Many are over natural resources,
self determination, human rights, and democracy. A few are still
along historical and ideological faultlines. Some are varying
combinations of all of these.
In this sense, there is a chicken-and-egg dialectic between a
people-centred security and geopolitical security. It is these
tensions, complexities and contradictions that members of civil
society and policy makers must grapple with.
A conference is a process as well as an event. With this in mind
Focus aims to hold its second conference on Asia Pacific Security
Systems. The first meeting, held in Bangkok in 1997, stemmed from
the growing realisation that the present regional security system in
Asia Pacific is both fragile and incomplete. From a traditional
perspective, balance-of-power politics, Western fuelled arms races and
a unilateral US presence are the main structures. Panellists
discussed what the structures appropriate for a post-Cold War, New
World Order in Asia are might look like.
Conference participants noted that the concept of security has changed
from focussing only on nation-states to a broader concept that
includes gender, environmental, economic and cultural issues. In this
spirit, the conference formed the Alternative Security Network, a mix
of scholars, activists and policy specialists with expertise in Asia
Pacific issues. This network acts as an advisory body to the FOCUS
Alternative Security Program as well as acting as a critical voice in
regional security issues.
In light of the tumultuous events in Asia these past several months,
the rationale for a conference on security is pressing. While the
effects of this crisis have been staggering to the people in the
region, it has also presented groups with opportunity. Mainstream
institutions are starting to reconsider the status quo on concepts
such as sovereignty, non-intervention, legitimacy, unilateralism,
economic development models, and the relationship between regional and
global institutions. In this light, it is crucial that a security
conference take into strong consideration, the nexus of politics,
economics, and security, that is so unavoidable today.
For more information, please write to E.Kimura@focusweb.org and write
Alternative Security Conference in the subject line.
Focus on the Global South (FOCUS)
c/o CUSRI, Chulalongkorn University
Bangkok 10330 THAILAND
Tel: 662 218 7363/7364/7365
Fax: 662 255 9976
Web Page http://www.focusweb.org
Staff email addresses:
|Walden Bello|| W.Bello@focusweb.org|
|Kamal Malhotra|| K.Malhotra@focusweb.org|
|Chanida Chanyapate Bamford|| C.Bamford@focusweb.org|
|Junya Prompiam|| J.Prompiam@focusweb.org|
|Nicola Bullard|| N.Bullard@focusweb.org|
|Joy Obando|| Joy@focusweb.org|
|Ehito Kimura|| E.Kimura@focusweb.org|
|Focus Administration|| email@example.com |