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Northeast Asian security dialogue: Here we go again

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COMMENTS

25 March 2008 12:46

Ahead of Kevin Rudd’s first Prime Ministerial to the US and China, this Sydney Morning Herald report suggests that the Bush Administration is keen to enlist the Australian Prime Minister in its now desperate bid to forge some permanent regional security structure out of the Six Party Talks on the North Korea nuclear issue.

But why, why, why would you want the region’s spoiler, Pyongyang, in the room every time you discussed a regional security issue, including the many matters that really aren’t the direct business of one of the most isolated regimes in the world?  (I note the Herald article suggests that the new forum might in time deal with issues in parts of Asia beyond the northeast.) The aspiration to craft such a forum is aired every six months or so, in media reports out of Washington and through hints in the public utterances of Condoleeza Rice and the Administration’s Asia team. I have been sceptical every time, and still am, not only of the likelihood of a permanent Northeast Asian security institution but of its desirability, especially if it were to be born out of a far-from-finalised Korean disarmament process.

By all means let’s socialise North Korea as a regional security player. But that is something the ASEAN Regional Forum (which North Korea joined some years ago) is good for. Likewise, it’s fine and right that Russia is in the Six Party talks (and the ARF). But these days Moscow should have no special claim to shape what happens in, say, the South China Sea.

If Condi and co. are still determined to leave behind a bit of permanent Asian security architecture, maybe they should start from first principles (not ‘what do we have?’ but ‘what do we need?’), much as Allan Gyngell did last year in this policy brief for the Lowy Institute. And maybe they should base their ideas of inclusion on the extent of countries’ interests in the issues and places at stake – by which measure Australia is very much a Northeast Asian player, and not just a country whose Prime Minister happens to be a China expert.

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