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Message-ID: <1698@panap.po.my>
To: asia-apec@jca.ax.apc.org
Date: Wed, 10 Jun 1998 19:17:02
Subject: [asia-apec 464] Alternative Security Conference
From: panap@panap.po.my (PAN Asia Pacific)
Sender: owner-asia-apec@jca.ax.apc.org

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.


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 uprooted.

"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 marginalised.

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.


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, 1997)

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

  1. Four Kurile Islands, occupied by Russia, claimed by Japan.
  2. North Korea, isolated, hungry and still technically at war with South Korea.
  3. Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands, subject to rival claims by China, Taiwan, and Japan.
  4. Taiwan, considered a rebel province by China since the Kuomintang fled there after losing the civil war in 1949.
  5. Burma, controlled by a military junta which has ignored the results of a 1990 election.
  6. Cambodia, led by Hun Sen, who seized power from his co-prime minister, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, in a bloody coup last July.
  7. Spratly Islands variously claimed by China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Brunei.
  8. Mindanao, which Muslim rebels are still fighting to bring to independence from the Philippines, despite a recent peace treaty.
  9. East Timor, a former Portuguese colony invaded by Indonesia in 1975 and heavily repressed.
  10. Bougainville, seeking independence from Papua New Guinea.

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 admin@focusweb.org

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