文章 Articles

Toward sustainable security

For Asia and Australasia, a change in thinking could lead to an era of progress in developing a socially just, environmentally sustainable regional order, write Chris Abbott and Sophie Marsden.

Article image

As in much of the world, the current security discourse in Asia and Australasia is dominated by what might be called the “control paradigm”, based on the premise that insecurity can be controlled through military force or balance of power politics and containment. The most obvious global example is the so-called “war on terror”, which aims to “keep the lid” on terrorism, without addressing the root causes.

Such approaches to national, regional and international security are flawed -– particularly if not complemented by diplomatic efforts -- and are distracting the world’s politicians from developing sustainable solutions to non-traditional threats.

There is an alternative approach, that of “sustainable security”. The central premise of sustainable security is that you cannot control all the consequences of insecurity, but must work to resolve the causes: “fighting the symptoms” will not work, so policies must instead “cure the disease” through an integrated analysis of security threats and a preventative approach to responses.

Sustainable security focuses on the interconnected, long-term drivers of insecurity, including:

     * Climate change -- loss of infrastructure, resource scarcity and the mass displacement of peoples;

     * Competition over resources, including food, water and energy;

     * Marginalisation of the majority world -- the political, economic and cultural marginalisation of the vast majority of the world’s population.

     * Global militarisation -- the increased use of military force 

Asia is a region in transition, and transition creates uncertainty. The political, economic and societal landscape is shifting and, at the same time, climate change and other long-term emerging threats to security will require regional responses. All of these trends are present in the Asian security dynamic.

The sustainable security analysis makes a distinction between these trends and other security threats (for example, terrorism or organised crime). It promotes a comprehensive, systemic approach, taking into account the interaction of different trends which are generally analysed in isolation by others. It also places particular attention on how the current behaviour of international actors and western governments is contributing to, rather than reducing, insecurity.

Sustainable security takes global justice and equity as the key requirements of any sustainable response, together with progress towards reform of the global systems of trade, aid and debt relief; a rapid move away from carbon-based economies; substantial steps towards nuclear disarmament and the control of biological and chemical weapons; and a shift in defence spending to the non-military elements of security. This links long-term global drivers to the immediate security pre-occupations of ordinary people. 

Sustainable security is inherently preventative in that it addresses the likely causes of conflict and instability before the ill-effects are felt. It builds on elements of previous attempts to reframe thinking on security to include the concepts of common, comprehensive, human, just and non-traditional security. Many of these approaches have long been recognised in Asia, though national security policies continue to be dominated by the “control paradigm”.

While there are many immediate security concerns in the region, there are three principal drivers of insecurity over the medium- to long-term: maintaining state integrity, particularly against internal instability; a regional power shift; and environmental and humanitarian disasters. The economic downturn of recent months may aggravate some of these sources of insecurity, since economic growth in Asia has been a major factor in mitigating conflict.

While the United States may remain the ultimate guarantor of security for many for some time, it is undeniable that it is experiencing a relative decline in economic and military power and is heavily bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan. The exact implications of waning US influence in the region are not yet clear, but the shifting power dynamic is itself a potential source of uncertainty and instability. 

Among the most serious challenges facing Asia are the numerous environmental and humanitarian disasters to affect the region. In the last few years, there have been three major environmental disasters in Asia: the December 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and resulting tsunami which devastated costal regions in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and Thailand; the catastrophic Cyclone Nargis in Burma in May 2008; and, in the same month, the terrible earthquake and aftershocks that hit Sichuan province in China. 

These three disasters alone caused nearly half a million deaths, with massive destruction to property and infrastructure. But, in addition, the region is hit by many smaller tropical storms, earthquakes, landslides and floods every year, each one killing hundreds and displacing many tens of thousands.

Events such as these place massive demands on governments, threatening internal stability and potentially displacing peoples across borders, adding to pressure on neighbouring countries. They are often made worse by inadequate or slow responses, which can turn an environmental disaster into a humanitarian catastrophe. There has already been much comparison of the differing responses of the Chinese and Burmese governments in May 2008. The Chinese authorities were quick to put rescue plans into action and commit 130,000 troops to a massive relief effort. Had the Chinese government response not been so prompt and efficient, many more would have died.

In contrast, the Burmese junta failed to recognise the scale of the emergency, and, at first, refused to accept foreign aid. It is likely that this government failure caused further unnecessary deaths and suffering. 

Such disasters may occur more frequently with climate change over the coming decades. The latest findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggest that coastal areas will be hit by more frequent tropical storms and increased flooding, particularly the heavily populated megadelta regions in south, east and south-east Asia. They are also predicting a shift in rainfall patterns and a decrease in freshwater availability in most of Asia (particularly for those states dependent on Himalayan glacier melt water).

In addition, serious food and water security problems can be expected in Australia and New Zealand within the next twenty years. With Tuvalu and other Pacific islands set to disappear under rising sea levels and Bangladesh likely to lose a third of its land mass to flooding, perhaps the biggest problem for the region will be managing huge numbers of environmental refugees. New Zealand has agreed to accept the Tuvaluan population once the island becomes uninhabitable, but India has accelerated the building of a 2,500-mile [4,000-kilometre] security fence along its border with Bangladesh. The problem of environmental refugees will hit Asia hard and regional responses should be developed with some urgency.

Many of the drivers of insecurity outlined above can be addressed and mechanisms put in place to resolve the long-term causes, but there are impediments. These include the regional focus on sovereignty, the lack of inclusive and effective regional security architecture and the absence of a powerful, neutral country to take the lead.

Many of the post-colonial countries in the region are understandably reluctant to compromise their own sovereignty in any way, even if this creates difficulties in addressing pan-regional issues. Often national security takes precedence over regional stability and global security. Furthermore, there are still many unresolved historical grievances that make cooperation difficult and feed unhelpful political rhetoric. 

Co-operation is made more difficult by the lack of an inclusive regional security architecture with the strength to implement a new security agenda. Asian integration and intra-regional cooperation would surely help to address the long-term drivers of insecurity in the region. The Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) does encourage such regional communication and has been successful in many respects, but its makeup is perhaps too localised to have any wider impact (despite the ASEAN Regional Forum, ASEAN Security Community and ASEAN+3 processes). This lack of effective security architecture means that policy responses will continue to be formed at national level, even though regional cooperation is vital to address these sustainably.

If the blockages to change were addressed, mechanisms could be developed to prevent the growth of insecurity and conflict in the longer term. Specific initiatives could include:

     *Climate change: Countries in the region that are not signatories to the Kyoto Protocol need to recognise that they too have a responsibility to stabilise then   cut their greenhouse gas emissions and accept that economic development cannot come at the expense of social and environmental stability. The United States and other developed countries must negotiate a fair post-Kyoto agreement that includes radically reducing their own emissions.

     * Regional architecture: International institutions such as the United Nations and European Union, and other influential players both within and outside the region, should support the development of a strong, inclusive regional security architecture. 

     *Power shift: President Barack Obama’s new administration should accept the rise of China and move from balance-of-power politics to policies of engagement and trust-building, particularly in the areas of trade, environmental protection and regional security.

     *Taking the initiative: Given the lack of one powerful, respected and neutral country, Asian civil society organisations might draw together an independent, high-level panel of respected individuals, including security experts and elder statesmen, to promote a sustainable security framework for Asia and Australasia, with a particular focus on preventative diplomacy and educating publics and governments on the seriousness of the threats the region faces.

Over the next five to ten years, a radical shift towards sustainable approaches to security will be hugely important. If there is no change in thinking, security policies will continue to be based on the mistaken assumption that environmental problems can be marginalised. A change in thinking could lead to an era of substantial progress in developing a socially just and environmentally sustainable regional order for Asia and Australasia.

Chris Abbott is the deputy director of Oxford Research Group (ORG).

Sophie Marsden is an ORG research assistant.

This article is an edited version of the report Tigers and Dragons: Sustainable Security in Asia and Australasia, published by the Oxford Research Group (ORG) and the Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA), following a consultation that ORG and SIIA held in Singapore in September 2008.

Homepage photo by uncultured

Now more than ever…

chinadialogue is at the heart of the battle for truth on climate change and its challenges at this critical time.

Our readers are valued by us and now, for the first time, we are asking for your support to help maintain the rigorous, honest reporting and analysis on climate change that you value in a 'post-truth' era.

Support chinadialogue

发表评论 Post a comment

评论通过管理员审核后翻译成中文或英文。 最大字符 1200。

Comments are translated into either Chinese or English after being moderated. Maximum characters 1200.

评论 comments

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



Local efforts are useless

This is much like the 'supply chain' theory: if each individual part pursues its' own interests, the result for the whole will not be the best. You can say that the climate issue works like this too: local efforts are useless. But how can we make every citizen view the issue through an understanding of 'the whole'? Are we expecting some powerful and neutral country to emerge and solve all the problems? This is like the supply chain's 'core industy'. However, depending on the core industry to keep order is the supply chain's organisational pattern, so when talking about environmental problems - can't the way that local order takes shape help us to consider other patterns?

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



What about changing from "push" to "pull"

As the comment one mentioned supply chain, it makes me come up with the "push–pull strategy",a business term originated in the logistic and supply chain management. It is the same with environment protection. Would it be pushed by acts of governments or by the actual needs of people around the world? I think it is high time to appeal more close eye on global climate issues, especailly in China. Actions such as battery recycling and water or elctricity saving are far from enough. The environment security is a global issue that needs the masses to renew their concept of it and keep pace with the times.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



A good concept, but hard to implement.

"Fighting the symptoms" and "curing the disease" are not new concepts in China, but how many diseases can really be cured? Although the concept is a good one, it is not easily realised. Current conditions and the narrowness of our leaders' views are all dependent factors, especially the latter. If they overly value national security and undervalue global security or you could say, future security, they will not expend the effort required to treat environmental problems at their root.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



The situation will become ever more critical

With the degradation of the environment, notably scarcity of resources and rising sea levels, conflict between countries will increase. There are many Far Eastern countries with complex relations, and varying cultural perspectives. If contradictions arise between countries which are hostile towards one another I'm afraid that they will be very difficult to resolve. In light of this, making these countries now agree on tackling climate change together isn't easy either. I fear that relying on them to manage between themselves will not work either. Who can take the lead? The UN, or America, or another country? It seems that there isn't an obvious answer yet.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



We must update our thinking

I agree with comment 3. At the moment, the majority of people and government officials are behind the times, they are far from keeping up with the speed at which environmental problems are escalating. First we have to make people understand environmental problems conceptually, and only then can we make them give true importance to environmental problems and make appropriate efforts to solve them. This is something which urgently needs to be done.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



Grab a small slice of cake, or protect the whole?

I agree with comment 1. I think that environmental problems and other related problems depend to a large extent on the viewpoint of countries. If every country aimed to seize the resources and profits of their own territories, they naturally wouldn't want to give up their piece of cake for other more 'immaterial' things. But this is actually very short sighted. They only care about seizing the small piece of land -- or cake -- but forget the whole! An eye for an eye, and the world will soon be blind.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



Maybe I am just being picky

First, thanks to the authors for a very constructive and insightful article. The authors are certainly both experts in security, but there may be something that I want to point out when it comes to climate change.

1. a common mistake. There is almost no Asian countries that have not yet signed the Kyoto Protocol, unless the authors are talking about countries like Afghanistan, Iraq or Palestinian Authority that have a tiny climate change contribution. There is a difference between signing and ratification of the Kyoto Protocol. The former is optional, indicating an intention to ratify the Protocol and the latter means you are committed to the target. The United States signed but never ratified, and we hope President Obama also intends to change this too. If the authors are actually talking about ratification, all Asian countries that signed the Kyoto Protocol did ratify it except Kazakhstan. China ratified in August 2002 and so did India. Also, although I am sure the authors didn't mean it, but by saying "The United States and other developed countries must negotiate a fair post-Kyoto agreement" it seems like the negotiation is only among developed countries.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous


谈判仅仅在发达国家之间进行,而发展中国家只应接受为他们安排的结果。2. 只要简单地比较图卢瓦和孟加拉国的人口规模(1.1万比15866.5万)以及新西兰和印度的人口密度(14.9比336每平方公里),就会觉得新西兰和印度政府对比鲜明的反应似乎是不公平的。最重要的是,新西兰是对气候变化负有主要责任的国家之一,而印度则是正承担着不成比例之大的气候变化的恶果的发展中国家之一。当然和中国一样,印度自身也正在成为影响气候变化的贡献者之一,所以他们也应该在未来的气候协定中承担起应付的责任。3. 我同意可持续安全的基本原理,但是“治标”和“治本”都是实现地区安全和全球安全的重要元素。将一物至于另一物之上是不会成功的,也无法被接受,正如我们在处理气候变化时,既着眼于减缓,也着眼于适应。

part 2

negotiation is only among developed countries, and developing countries should just accept whatever comes out for them.

2. The contrasting responses between New Zealand and Indian government seems unfair if one just simply compared the population size between Tuvalu and Bangladesh (11,000 against 158,665,000) as well as the population density between New Zealand and India (14.9 against 336 per sq km). And most important of all, New Zealand is an annex 1 country among which has the majority of responsibility for climate change, while India is among developing countries that will bear the disproportionate share of the consequences. Of course same as China, India itself is becoming a major contributor to climate change too, so they should take their due responsibility too in a future cliamte agreement.

3. I agree with the rationale of sustainable security, but "fighting the symptoms" and “cure the disease” are both important element to realise regional and global security. Take one thing over another will not succeed, nor be accepted, it is similar to that we have focus on both mitigation as well as adaptation in tackling climate change.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous


5.这和我先前说提到的亚洲安全思考有联系。我对目前亚洲安全思考被“控制范式 “ 或则 “干涉主义的范式 ”所占领的说法不肯定。因为“反恐战争”不是亚洲主使的,而是在亚洲里展开。还有,亚洲最有保障的地方不是那些应用“控制范式”而是那些被“控制范式 ”所影响的。

6.在安全战略思考的领域里, 我是个门外汉,可是也许在你说提到的区域安全结构或则可持续的安全体制里,上海合作组织能扮演一个角色。

part 3

4. Either the regional security architecture or a sustainable security framework for Asia and Australasia has to respect their history and culture, rather than just being imposed on based on whoever else's previous experience. It is also better leave them to construct it by themselves and for themselves, without much external support, especially support with a purpose. Insecurity usually comes not because of lack of interests, but too much interests.

5. This links to the previous point, I am not sure that the current security discourse in Asia is dominated by the so called“control paradigm” or "intervene paradigm". The “war on terror” is not by the Asia but on the Asia, and the most insured area in Asia is not the those applied the “control paradigm” but those WERE applied with the “control paradigm”.

6. I am a total layman in the security discussion, but maybe Shanghai Cooperation Organization could have a chance to play as the regional security architecture or a facilitate the sustainable security framework you are talking about?

Tao Wang