Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The Future of Asia : Changing Security Architecture

Over the past few years and especially since 2005 we are witnessing a transformation in the Asian Security architecture. If we divide the Asian continent into 'regions', we have, West Asia/Middle East, South Asia, South East Asia, East Asia, Central Asia and the South-West Pacific + Australia.

East Asian and South East Asian security has since the rise of China and the export driven regional based economic growth fused into a single East Asian region. The ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) formed the core of the security regime in South East Asia primarily to stand up to China (after the 1995 Taiwan crisis and the Spratley and Paracel Islands incident. The islands are disputed by five of the South East Asian countries and also claimed by China). ARF's partnership with the US, Australia, Japan is the classical realist game of using external powers to balance the local regional one, in this case China. After economic liberalization in India, PM Narasimha Rao's Look East Policy sought to make up for the lost time in South East Asia to fight increasing Chinese influence. For the ARF it meant adding yet another state, a local and benign one, to buy insurance against the Chinese.

Central Asia remains a game for Russia and China increasingly being played through the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). The United States is quite an isolated power in the region. As is India, with good bilateral relations with all the Central Asian states and reportedly a military base in Tajikistan. The United States would look to expand its presence in the region owing to the deep energy resources present. The SCO powers conducted a mammoth exercise in August 2007 and the China continues to keep India out of the SCO. The region of West Asia/Middle East, encompassing the Islamic world is in deep turmoil over the nature of regimes, the American occupation of Iraq and the Palestinian issue. South Asia is seen as a India-centric region despite Pakistan's protests and Chinese acquiescences to them.

The Hindu, reports that biggest-ever naval exercise in the Bay of Bengal, began today on Sept. 4 and will go on September 9. The war games in the international waters between Visakhapatnam and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands will have the participation of the United States, Japan, Australia and Singapore. The exercise comes at a significant time in the building of the new security order in Asia since the end of the cold war. After the cold war, the two important markers have been the rise of China, economically and militarily and the American reluctance to man the fringes of Asia (barring Japan and Taiwan) from communism. New realities since the rise of China would have prompted American assessment of their interest in the region and its relative neglect.

Due the sensitive nature of China-Japan relations, the Asian experience of Japanese colonialism and the specific clauses in the Japanese constitution, Japan cannot be the Asian face of the American military alliance. The end of cold war, the economic growth of India and lack of trust, presence of border disputes and strategic competition between India and China, tailors the immediate to short term national interest of both India and the United States of American perfectly. It is within such a context that the increasing warmth in relations with Japan and other US-allied powers ought to be seen.

The 4 nation naval exercise will mainly revolve around Indian and US warships. While Indian warships have exercised with the other countries before, including the trilateral exercise with US and Japan off Yokosuka near Tokyo Bay in April 2007, this will be the first such intensive combat manoeuvres with Australian warships.

In the month of August when Shinzo Abe in his address to the Indian Parliament, "advocated a quadrilateral grouping comprising India, Japan, Australia and the US, which aims at strategic and economic cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region. Abe said the network would result in a region called “Arc of Freedom and Prosperity” along the outer rim of the Eurasian continent as Japan and India pursue common interests."

It is interesting to watch the changing pattern of India-Japan security relations with the increasing Japanese assertiveness on security issues as well the increasing warmth in Indo-US relations after the coming of the Bush administration in Washington. The ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), a consultative consensus based security regime has seen regular consultations over the past few years among Japan-Australia-India and the United States. It is no secret that the high levels of India-US relations has never been achieved earlier in any era and lasted for so long.

How Does India fit in?

This author's view is that Chinese policy towards India over the past 15 years slowly pushed and continue to push the Indians into the American embrace. Border disputes remain unresolved 45 years after the war. Interestingly, China has settled all its borders with other countries including Russia. Secondly, the Chinese continue to periodically indulge in polemics over the status of Arunachal Pradesh (the disputed region in the East) as well as castigating any positive US-India developments as bad for the region. The all weather Sino-Pakistan relationship which bothers India has continued and this remains one of the key outstanding issues that Beijing does not address.

India desires a security dialogue with the Chinese on multiple issues among nuclear and maritime security, however, the Chinese continue to stonewall such efforts. In effect for a long time, the Indians have made efforts and hoped that the Chinese would address their security concerns but to no avail. Owing to these developments, it was but inevitable that with time, economic growth, India would be pushed to the American camp the only power with capabilities to counter China. As to how the Indians will utilize this opportunity if the current developments move linearly is a matter of mere conjecture and for the future to reveal.


The idea of the Asian-NATO has been derided by the Aussies who say they are satisfied with the post-2nd world war security architecture in Asia. But that maybe more to do with keeping its relationship with Beijing safe. On the Indian front, the Australians wants to boost bilateral military cooperation. The Australian defence minister Brendan Nelson's visited India in July for talks on sharing counter-terrorism, maritime security and other "classified" information. Soon after in the month of August, the Aussie Navy chief was in town to take the bilateral defence agenda forward. The current developments show that either the Australians are finally shedding its long-standing suspicion of India's growing naval role in Indian Ocean Region or the American prodding has been getting stronger. The new Chinese capability exhibited with the successful testing of the anti-satellite weapon on January 11 have been dubbed "disruptive" in Australia's new defence strategy blueprint while India finds favourable mention.

This piece does not wish to suggest that such an alliance is already in operation nor that it would imitate the pattern similar to what existed in Europe before the great wars. But such close cooperation and deeper engagement among the democratic powers (read anti-China) does foretell significant pointers to the coming age and politics in Asia.

Chinese Choices

It is my conviction that India remains the key rising power for China in the Asian landmass. If the Chinese were too agree to even an immediate to short term compromise by addressing Indian Security concerns as well as its rising power ambitions, the Asian Quadrilateral would not fructify. This commentary from the People's Daily, is not really the perfect right step, considering the language it uses, of India spreading 'tentacles' in South East Asia and 'chasing' strategic alliances in Africa, but it signifies a change in the Chinese attitude towards the nuclear deal. And if we consider what the Chinese are themselves upto in South East Asia and Africa, we could use the proverb, the kettle calling the pot black! However, considering the earlier coverage of the domestic Indian debate on the nuclear deal, the above cited Chinese commentary is a giant step forward for the People's Daily which is seen as reflecting governmental opinions. This piece significantly stays away from the rhetorical paranoia that the Chinese consistently employ when they talk of India-US relations. Paradoxically, while Indo-US relations threaten the Chinese but their own relations with Pakistan should not threaten the Indians and 'should be seen as normal state to state relations".

The caveat is that the current spate of developments are merely evidences pointing to the flux in the Asian security environment. Security analysts are not the best pundits to predict the future and a lot of the coming times is dependent upon the choices of each country but what can be asserted here is that given the existing conditions and current pattern, the democratic countries appear to be moving in the the anti-China direction. Finally, as long as the Chinese do not address Indian security concerns, the Indians are going to sit in the American camp.

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