Tue, 11 Oct 1994

ASEAN urged to form common security system

JAKARTA (JP): A prominent former army general has called for the establishment of a common regional security system in southeast Asia to diffuse potential problems in the rapidly growing region.

"Political, social and cultural cooperation alone cannot automatically resolve the problems of defense and security," said Gen. (ret) Soemitro here yesterday.

Addressing the regional security of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in the new world order, Soemitro said that matters concerning security were the most sensitive issues among neighboring countries.

The former commander of the Internal Security Agency was addressing a two-day seminar organized by the Indonesian Students Association for International Studies.

ASEAN Secretary General, Ajit Singh, in his opening address said that to enhance regional security ASEAN states created an innovative mechanism called the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF).

"The ARF is a reflection of ASEAN's desire to preserve the peace and stability in the region and to ensure that potential threats and tensions are diffused," Ajit Singh said.

ASEAN was founded by Thailand, Singapore, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia and, since its formation in 1967, has succeeded in subduing tensions in a previously fractured region.

The group expanded to include Brunei 11-years ago and next year may also move to include Vietnam.

"How else would we have had these 27 years of uninterrupted peace?" Ajit Singh asked in reference to ASEAN's existence.


Despite ASEAN's accomplishments, Soemitro was more critical in his approach when stating that diplomacy alone would not settle the issue.

"Suspicion cannot be eliminated by declarations," he said.

Just in the past three days, Malaysia's exhibition of its newly formed Rapid Deployment Force at the Langkawi island has reportedly upset its three closest neighbors.

ASEAN members at present do not have a common defense pact except for those established bilaterally.

According to Soemitro the preliminary steps in any regional security framework would be a measure of confidence building.

"Mistrust is a residual concoction of the Superpowers from the Cold War era and must be eliminated immediately," he said.

Once the groundwork of trust has been set, the nations then need to establish a rapport between the armed forces of the individual countries.

This can be achieved through exchange of intelligence and officer training followed by joint military exercises, he said. Soemitro also stressed the importance of developing a common military doctrine among regional armed forces.

"When security and defense along with political, economic and cultural cooperation have been firmly established, there won't be any room for suspicion. We will then have a firm basis for resolving any problems that arise," Soemitro said.

Though Soemitro strongly advocates the creation of a common regional security system, he rejects any notion it may be a military pact/alliance.

"The essential difference is that it does not include foreign powers," he noted, adding that it is not directed at against any one country in or outside the region.


Ninok Leksono, whose doctoral thesis at the University of Indonesia examined the regional arms race in south east Asia, presented a similar argument yesterday that he called "comprehensive security."

He explained that the concept meant consolidating national development in a spectrum of areas ranging from ideology and politics to economics and defense.

"It works under the premise that the primary threat in south east Asia is not external, but internal," he said.(mds)