Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Pacific Partnership for Peace

Keeping the peace in Asia means working together, even with those you would rather not

Economic security and national security are two sides of the same coin. The strength and well-being of a nation’s economy has a direct impact on the nation’s security.

We often talk about one without including the other, if only because discussions on the economy are typically restricted to banks, corporations, and international trade, and national security restricted to military force and foreign policy. Reality, of course, is less distinct.

As Asia, specifically East and Southeast Asia, rise in wealth and status, economic interests will undoubtedly set neighbor against neighbor. Forums such as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and the East Asian Summit (EAS) will increasingly become important. But as these multilateral forums and summits primarily address economic concerns, only half of the issues will ever be discussed.

Voluntary organization

The Pacific Partnership for Peace, as I have called it, would act as a multinational security alliance. What the Trans-Pacific Partnership hopes to achieve in trade among member nations, the PPP would hope to achieve for security. The China’s rise in not only economic strength but military presence would alter the security and defense landscape in Asia. Of course China has always had a formidable military or at least one worth taking into consideration; but with its increased wealth and defense spending, China’s military capabilities will undoubtedly grow in the near future.

This scenario has been cause of great concern for many of its neighbors, many of whom who are wary of China’s rise and expanding influence. Countries like Vietnam and the Philippines are hesitant to accept China as a trusted friend, especially when one brings the South China Sea maritime and territorial disputes into the picture. The long and sometimes contentious history between Asian nations will certainly make any security alliance like PPP difficult to implement. However, circumstances and shared interests may make such an alliance necessary to maintain peace.

Hopes and aspirations

The goal of the PPP is not to ostracize any one party but to include all relevant parties in the discussion for peace and security. Working together, while potentially slow and messy, is a much better alternative than working against another. Confrontation via diplomacy is preferable to confrontation via force. What can be solved peacefully is beneficial to all parties involved, as opposed to the threat of military conflict. Idealistic? Maybe. But the failures of international organizations have not been due to overreach but the unwillingness of member states to act.

What the PPP aims to achieve is a security alliance where member states maintain an open dialogue. It is a forum where concerns can be shared and resolutions more easily reached than bringing matters to the UN or other large, less region specific and sensitive forums. But the PPP is not simply a forum for member states to air issues, otherwise the UN would suffice.

Practically, the PPP would work towards strengthening military and law enforcement ties between participant nations through improving logistics, standardizing training and equipment. This familiarization will hopefully bring member states closer together, improving military cooperation. You are less likely to fight your friends than your enemies, so it’s better to have friends than enemies.

The PPP would require member states to voluntarily submit some of their sovereignty in the hopes of preserving order and stability within the group. Where the UN fails in offering much and demanding little, the PPP will require its members to enter into agreement with each other—a social contract if you will—in the same way citizens voluntarily submit some of their rights to the government so as to live in an orderly society.

A social contract

Wars are typically seen as being fought over territory or on ideological grounds, but there is always an undercurrent of economic opportunism. Land conquered was not left idle. Instead it was populated and farmed, generating income for the people and the state. Even the Crusades evolved to become more than a war between Christians and Muslims, but the establishment and protection of trade routes and colonies.

It goes without saying that we would be better off solving our economic disputes at the tip of a pen than at the barrel of a rifle. War may appear to provide more absolute resolutions to disputes—the loser cannot argue when he or she is dead or severely marginalized—but such resolutions are hardly permanent. If wars permanently solved problems, then our planet would have been at peace long ago. The subject of war, however, is for another discussion.

If, however, the incentive to go to war is removed or drastically reduced, and the benefits of resolving economic disputes via diplomacy outweigh the financial and human cost of military engagements, countries would find themselves less willing to go to war. This is where I hope the PPP will shine. The Partnership will act as a social contract between members, acting to prohibit violent engagements without suffering swift and immediate consequences. Such consequences can be anything from fines and sanctions to military intervention.


Of course I can already hear arguments against the PPP. The most obvious being, “Why would any country surrender some of its sovereignty, and share its military strategies and technologies with neighbors who may, in the future, do it harm?”

Peace at what cost, indeed.

What I have proposed is merely an idea. Whether the PPP or anything similar will ever take off remains to be seen. However, peace is not an effortless endeavor requiring little sacrifice. But would it not be better if the sacrifices paid for peace was not in blood? The Asian continent has seen some of the bloodiest conflicts and wars in the 20th century—Imperial Japan and the Second World War, the Korean War, the Indochina Wars, China’s Cultural Revolution, Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, and a spate of border skirmishes and conflicts in between. Today, the fiery rhetoric and military display in the South China Sea doesn’t leave much to the imagination.

Perhaps the Pacific Partnership for Peace is necessary. Maybe it will not be called “PPP” but something else entirely. Peace demands sacrifice, but that sacrifice needn’t be in human lives. The easiest mistake we can make is to pretend we will not repeat history. History itself has shown us that people do not learn from their mistakes, but humanity has survived this long by at least adapting and overcoming obstacles. It is time we learn to adapt and overcome, and not be simply repeating what has been done before.

(Khanh Vu Duc is a Vietnamese Canadian lawyer in Ottawa, focusing on various areas of law. He researches on International Relations and International Law.)

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