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Langmore John - 20 luglio 1990
Security in the East Asian Pacific Region

By John Langmore

(Development 1990:3/4 Journal of SID)

John Langmore is a Member of Parliament, Member for Fraser in Canberra, Australia. This paper was presented in Plenary II of the SID East Asia and the Pacific Regional Conference, Jakarta, 18 20 July 1990.

ABSTRACT: John Langmore examines the concept of personal and

collectiv security as a central goal to sustainable development. He suggests that economic and strategic security are out balanced by the priority given to military expenditure. In looking at East Asia and the Pacific, Langmore argues that we need to make right "The tragedy" of accelerating military expenditure and establish disarmament as a crucial step towards a safe, economic and environmentally sound future. The first step he proposes is a Conference on Security and Cooperation in the East Asia and Pacific Region.

Redefining "security"

A central goal of sustainable development is personal and collective security. Security is a term which has been co opted by the military. Yet the concept of security naturally covers much more than protection from invasion, reduction of the threat of a nuclear holocaust or even domestic law and order. Security also has economic and environmental dimensions. Economic security includes an adequate income to provide for essentials such as food, clothing and housing and sufficient above that for recreation, old age and emergencies for the income earner and dependents. Environmental security is also sought by an increasing number of people. Environmental security requires that economic activity be within a context which ensures protection of the natural environment and minimization of pollution. War has a more destructive impact on the environment than any other human activity. Film of cities alter bombing raids. Hiroshima after the explosion of the atomic bomb. Vietnamese forests after incendiary bombing, or Ir

aqi villages after an artillery bombardment, are vivid reminders. So sustainable development encompasses economic and environmental, as well as military security.

The public cost of military spending

Yet economic and strategic security are often placed in conflict by the priority which is given to military expenditure. When countries rely on national military expenditure to protect themselves there can be a high economic and social cost, for military spending involves lost opportunities. Defence expenditure is competitive with all other consumption or investment whether public or private. When defence spending increases, either tax revenue must rise or other outlays such as education and health, public investment and agricultural extension must grow more slowly or be cut. At a time of fiscal restraint this conflict is intensified. In terms of economic and social goals military spending is a waste: Most military goods and services have no economic use either for consumption or for further production. Military expenditure is not aimed at increasing productivity or growth; instead it diverts financial and human resources from productive activity. In the context of a given budget stance, military spending is

most obviously in conflict with other forms of public consumption such as education and health services.

Military spending also worsens the balance of payments through imports of weapons; tends to reduce civilian research and development so undermining technological dynamism: and tends to reduce the rate of economic and employment growth. A given level of public outlays on civilian activity will generally lead to faster economic growth than would a comparable level of defence outlays.

Therefore the global growth in military expenditure until a year or two ago was a major tragedy. Between 1960 and 1986 world military expenditure increased at an annual rate of 3.4 percent to about US$ 850 billion of which almost US$ 200 billion was in the Third World. In developing countries taken together expenditure on the military is more than that for education and health combined.

Reviewing the East Asia & Pacific Region military outlays

There are wide differences in national military outlays. In 1989 the United States, the dominant military power in the East Asia Pacific region, spent just over 6 percent of its GDP on defence. The Soviet Union does not publish comparable statistics, though Gorbachev has announced the intention of doing so when the current reforms of the Soviet pricing system are in place. Soviet Union budget figures published in 1989 show detence at about 12 percent of national income: US estimates suggest the figure may be as high as 16 percent. Japan has the largest defence programme in the region, spending US$ 30 billion in 1989-90, 1 percent of GDP. However, if comparable definitions were used Japanese defence expenditure is considered to be closer to 1.7 percent of GDP. China has recently (1987) been spending Just under 2 percent, South Korea 5.7 percent, North Korea 9.3 percent, Australia 2.4 percent, Malaysia 4.6 percent, Singapore 5.6 percent, Thailand 3.7 percent, and Indonesia 1.9 percent.

Defence spending trends in the region also vary. Japan has been maintaining defence as a roughly constant proportion of GDP. In China it has been falling until this year when a 15 percent increase was announced in March. Defence expenditure may well have been rising as a proportion of national income in South Korea and fallillg slightly in North Korea. In Malaysia, Thailand and Australia there has recently been approximately maintenance of the proportion of the military burden in national income, while in Singapore it is rising. Withdrawal from Cambodia and the need to restructure the economy are leading to major reductions in Vietnamese defence spending. Vietnam does not publish comprehensive military expenditure figures but has announced cuts in its military forces, from an estimated 1.2 million in 1988 to less than 600,000 over the next two years. The striking feature of all those figures is that there is little indication that the ending of the cold war has yet made a significant difference to the strate

gic situation in this region.


During the last couple of years the global strategic situation has been transformed. The cold war is over. Several Eastern European countries have voted in non communist governments. The Soviet Union is in political and economic disarray. The United States and the Soviet Union have signed several significant arms control treaties. A vigorous debate is under way within the United States about how much to cut military expenditure--what should be the size of the peace dividend. Western Europe, including even Britain, is involved in the same process of cutting defence outlays. The influential International Institute for Strategic Studies says that the Warsaw Pact Organization is moribund, and that the bipolar world of eastwest confrontation now belongs to history. The NATO Alliance is not only having to re think its role as a security system but has to confront the question of whether its continued existence is justified.

US Secretary of State Baker set out the "architecture for a new era" for Europe in a speech in Berlin in December last year. Yet no "architecture for a new era" in the East Asia Pacific region has yet emerged.

Both superpowers are, however, involved in nonnegotiated force reductions in the Pacific. The US Defence Department said in April that the number of forward deployed personnel in the Pacific would be cut by about 15,000 from 135,000 during the next three years. Proportionately greater reductions in combat forces would be made during the following years. Reagan's goal of a 600 ship US Navy has long been abandoned, with three quarters of that figure now being a more likely total.

The Soviets have withdrawn two squadrons from Cam Ranh Bay and there are no longer any submarines or large warships at the base. Moscow and Beijing signed an agreement in April cutting the number of troops on their border. One hundred and twenty thousand of the half million troops Gorbachev announced would be cut trom the Soviet Union`s forces are to be from the Far East theatre. The Soviet Navy is expected to decommission a substantial number of surface ships and submarines during the next five years as they become obsolete. Although these reductions have not been negotiated it is likely that their mutuality has facilitated reductions by the other side.

Neverthelessf there are only a few signs of reduction in military spending in the region or of a collective approach to security in the East Asian Pacific region such as exists in Europe. In fact the Minister of Defence in Australia at least argues that the reductions by the Singaporeans may cause a power vacuum and the reductions in military spending now would therefore be premature. What can be done to reduce these fears?

Following Europe's example

Europe offers a precedent. A forum for negotiation of security measures has existed in Europe since 1973 - the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE). The CSCE includes all the states of Europe except Albania, plus Canada and the United States - a 35 nation forum. The original proposal for such a conference was made by the Soviet Union. The West agreed in 1972 to preliminary CSCE talks when the Soviets agreed to start preliminary talks on multilateral and balanced conventional force reductions.

The first formal CSCE conference was held in Helsinki between 1973 and 1975, producing a non binding political declaration outlining principles to guide relations between the states, provisions on commerce, industrial cooperation, science and technology, human rights and security. The most important and only obligatory confidence building measure in this declaration was the requirement that all countries give 21 days advance notice of military manoeuvres exceeding 25,000 troops. Invitations to observers to watch manoeuvres and more substantial notification requirements were also recommended. Regular reviews of the workings of this agreement were held before another major conference on disarmament in Europe was held in Stockholm.

The Stockholm Agreement in 1986 was a much more substantial accord than that settled at Helsinki. The agreement is politically binding and provides for notification of military activities involving more than 13,000 troops or 300 tanks; the extension of advance notification to 42 days; an exchange of annual calendars of notifiable military activities; mandatory invitations to observers to watch military activities; the right of on site inspection; and the declaration relating to the non use of force. Negotiations are currently under way in Vienna to extend the scope and nature of these confidence and security building measures

A conference on security and cooperation in the East Asia Pacific region?

In July 1986 Gorbachev floated a similar idea for the Pacific, "with the participation of all countries gravitating towards the ocean". He suggested Hiroshima as the location for such a meeting: "Why should not that town - the first victim of nuclear evil - become a distinctive Helsinki for Asia Pacific?". Gorbachev later recognized that European experience cannot automatically be transplanted to this region.

Yet the idea has great attractions. It would provide a context within which confidence building measures could be negotiated leading in due course to serious disarmament negotiations. The economic benefits to all countries which disarmament offers have already been described. There would be distinct benefits just from the increased transparency which confidence building measures create.

Why then has there been no movement on this proposal so far? There are many differences between Europe and East Asia and the Pacific. For example it is not even clear which countries should be included. Presumably all the East Asian (including South East Asian) countries, plus Australia and New Zealand would be members. The United States would logically be a member since it is the dominant military power in the region, but should the South Pacific Island States with their tiny forces be members? Latin America is a different region. Where is the cut off point between East Asia and South Asia; Thailand would obviously be a member, but perhaps not Burma? If participation was on this basis there would be about 15 members. This is less than half the number of participating countries in the CSCE - a distinct advantage.

A major difference is the pivotal role of the ocean in the East Asia Pacific region. The cultures of the 15 countries are much more diverse than in Europe and there is only a limited tradition of diplomatic negotiation about collective security. There are more disputes over territory in East Asia than in Europe. There are no neutral or non aligned countries as there are in Europe to provide less partisan participants though Indonesia and Malaysia are members of the non aligned movement. Yet none of those differences seem likely to be insuperable problems if there was political will to strenghten common security in East Asia and the Pacific.

Challenging super powers in the region

As the most powerful military country in the region the agreement of the United States would be necessary for the effective establishment of a Conference on Security and Cooperation in East Asia and the Pacific. Yet though the United States is actively in arms control and disarmament negotiations in Europe it remains opposed to similar activities in this region. Perhaps the major reason is the military asymmetry in the two areas. In Europe arms control was a means of redressing a military imbalance favouring the Soviet Union. Here it is the United State which has conventional military superiority. East Asia Pacific arms control would require bigger cuts by the US than the Soviet Union. The US Navy in particular has been adamantly opposed to naval arms control, arguing that this would undermine its operational flexibility and curtail its strategic options.

Of other countries in the region (in alphabetical order) Australia has been an advocate of confidence building measures. China has demonstrated willingness to accept confidence building measures with the Soviet Union. Indonesia`s advocacy of a South East Asian Nuclear Free Zone and a Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality is clearly support of a similar type of proposal for part of the region. The Japanese are opposed to negotiation of confidence building measures until their conflict over the Soviet held Northern Territories is settled though there are some Japanese who think that the importance of this conflict has been overemphasized. Malaysia has explicitly called for confidence building measures in the region. The predominant concern of North and South Korea is with each other, and relations between the two countries are still extremely limited.

Is the idea therefore utopian? Perhaps not. The current superpower rapprochement and the ending of the cold war breaks a 40 year old log jam. One of the lessons of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe is the importance of taking swift advantage of improvements in superpower relations. The Helsinki Accord was completed at the height of détente.

The Director ot the US Arms control and Disarmament Agency has said that the US is unlikely to lead in suggesting arms control in the Pacific but that "We really look to our allies in East Asia to take the lead in pursuing measures that are in the common interest". If he speaks with any authority then perhaps one or a small group of countries in this area could initiate proposals for preliminary discussions.

The Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation conference which was proposed by Australia and which met for the first time in Canberra last November provides a fresh precedent in the economic arena for such a security initiative. There is already some bilateral and multilateral military cooperation in the region through joint exercices, consultation and invitations to observers. A manageable way to begin would be through negotiation of sub regional agreements, for example in the Northern Pacific or between ASEAN and Vietnam following a Cambodian settlement, or on the Korean peninsula or in the Sino Mongolian Soviet triangle. The least demanding way of beginning would be to establish a mixed commission of both government and non government representatives. This would allow both Koreas to send delegates in the guise of academics, so ensuring their participation.

This East Asia and Pacific Society for International Development Conference could make a useful contribution if we agreed amongst ourselves about the value of such a forum and we each advocated support for this proposal in our own countries.

The goal of an Asian Pacific security conference should be to increase mutual trust between the countries in the region. The negotiation of confidence and security building measures would be the initial task. Confidence building measures aim to increase transparency about military activity between countries by communicating information, increasing accessibility through, for example, on site inspections, and by generally demonstrating that military activity does not have an aggressive intent. Successful negotiation and operation of such confidence building measures would create a firm basis for more substantial arms control and disarmament agreements.

There are already some confidence building measures negotiated elsewhere which have applicability to this region. An example are the agreements covering incidents at sea between the Soviet Union and other major states. Another is the Law of the Sea convention which provides for dispute resolution of overlapping maritime claims, though so far only three Asia Pacific states have ratified the treaty. In June 1989 the US and Soviet Union signed an agreement to prevent and resolve peace time incidents between their armed forces which applies wherever their forces are stationed. A significant step would be multilateralization of this type of agreement.

A call to SID members

People like ourselves who have a strong commitment to economic and social development and environmental conservation have the strongest motivation for the reduction of the military burden. We recognize the enormous cost in lost opportunities from military expenditure. It is therefore necessary for us to take an interest in these security issues and to give every encouragement we can to the introduction of confidence building measures as a prelude to effective disarmament. Perhaps we could discuss at this conference the most effective means for proposing a Conterence on Security and Cooperation in the East Asia Pacific region. In any case reductions in military expenditure do not need to wait until such a conference is in successful operation. Economic development and security would be enhanced if countries unilaterally reduced their military outlays. Our hosts, the Indonesians, have been setting us a fine example. Let us all urge our governments to follow them.

Dr Mahathir, the Malaysian Prime Minister, said recently: "We hope everyone will divert their research and energy to meet the needs of a world without a Cold War. The market for arms will shrink. It already has... The energy, funds and research capabilities will not be wasted for there are non-military applications aplenty!". This is a fertile time to advocate arms reductions. We must remember, more arms make our countries poorer, not safer.


This addres owes much to papers by Trevor Findlay and Andrew Mack of the Peace Research Centre and Stuart Harris of the Interational Relations Departmenn, all at the Australian National University and to the recently published book. The New Australian Militarism edited by Graeme Cheeseman and St. John Ketle, Pluto Press, Sydney. The figures quoted are from the International Institute for Strategic Studies, Military balance and the SIPRI Yearbook.

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