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Reader riposte: More action, not more acronyms

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COMMENTS

10 June 2008 08:39

Brendan Howe writes:

What is needed is not another ingredient in the current alphabet soup of regional international organization, but rather improvement in the effectiveness or sustenance levels of those already constituted. The big questions are which organizations should be improved, how should this be done, and for the achievement of which concrete goals?

I agree with Rory that of the various contenders, the East Asian Summit perhaps offers the best arena within which Australia could achieve substantial and positive results. The concept of 'open regionalism' upon which APEC is built means that despite being set up as a forum for facilitating economic growth, cooperation, trade and investment in the Asia-Pacific, it is essentially open to membership for all.  Its membership already comprises 21 economic jurisdictions, 41% of the world's population, approximately 55% of world GDP and about 49% of world trade. Essentially, APEC is too large, too unwieldy and too unfocused to perform the identity-forming and identity-driven tasks required for the creation of an organizationally constructed collective security environment.  Its strong economic focus in part necessitated by its economy- rather than state-driven membership, and the voluntary nature of commitments made under its framework, make it an unsuitable mechanism for the promotion of security spillover. Indeed, Barry Buzan and Gerald Segal feel that APEC is ‘unlikely to become more than an unwieldy Pacific summit beloved by sherpas and journalists,’ and that ‘APEC can be viewed as an attempt to avoid confronting the consequences of the ending of the Cold War.’ Other commentators make references to the tendency for leaders at the summits to agree on which shirt to wear, but little else. Adding India would merely make APEC even more unwieldy.

Although the ARF shows some promise, moving from confidence-building measures to tentative steps towards preventative diplomacy, it has also been unable to fill the identity role required by liberal organizational peace-building, or to deal with the serious security challenges of the Northeast Asian subset, including security threats, conflicts and contradictions; an increasing gap in the level of economic development between high growth areas (Japan, South Korea, the coastal areas of China) and problem areas (North Korea, the Russian Far East, Mongolia and some parts of China); and system barriers to the development of full-sale microeconomic ties. Despite organizing three seminars on preventive diplomacy, the ARF has made little progress in this area in the face of Chinese opposition. China also appears at best lukewarm to the idea of multilateral approaches to security. The culture and process of the organization have their roots in Southeast Asia, which not only can alienate Northeast Asian regimes, but also, given the ASEAN emphasis on consensus, may not be appropriate or productive on the larger stage. Furthermore, ASEAN, a collection of small to mid-range powers, simply lacks the resources for such a colossal undertaking. The ARF may simply be overstretching itself, and in doing so, going the route of APEC, by becoming too inclusive, with too diverse and numerous a membership for relevance. It already encompasses the 10 Members of ASEAN plus the 10 ASEAN dialogue partners (Australia, Canada, China, the EU, India, Japan, New Zealand, ROK, Russia and the United States), one ASEAN observer (PNG)  as well as the DPRK, Mongolia, Pakistan, East Timor, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

The 16 members of the East Asian Summit, 10 from ASEAN plus China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia, and New Zealand appear to be a more focused grouping, with a better balance of capabilities and interests. The middle powers, Australia, Japan, and perhaps South Korea and even ASEAN as an actor could play significant roles within such a community. All members of this group need to give thought to the salience of membership for the US (and perhaps other candidates such as Russia and Pakistan) – each potential candidate for expansion should be ranked according to whether its membership is essential in order for the EAS to carry out its objectives, desirable but not essential, undesirable, or inappropriate. These are the specifics upon which Rudd and his advisors should focus rather than any vague 'grand design.'

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