Mon, 21 Jul 2003

Nurturing security cooperation between Asia, Europe

Bantarto Bandoro, Editor, The Indonesian Quarterly Centre For Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Jakarta,

Indonesia is to host the fifth Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) Foreign Ministers meeting on July 24 and July 25 to address a variety of international security issues. The meeting will take place at a time when the countries in the region are tightening their national security due to the threat of terrorism.

Asia and Europe will face more severe security challenges, stemming either internally or externally from their respective regions. ASEM partners are aware of the fact that the challenges cannot be dealt with effectively -- because they may come out of a rapidly increasing innovation in communication and information technology -- unless they, politically and strategically, collaborate to produce a more coherent strategy.

Recent developments in certain parts of the world are of obvious concern to ASEM partners and have thus brought security issues to the forefront of the international agenda. Accordingly, the Bali meeting is expected to focus on how to generate ASEM in such a way that it could be instrumental in dealing with the consequences of global security issues. A more constructive approach to solving common security issues is perhaps needed if ASEM is to survive in a globalized world and represent the interests of global stability.

There are many actual and potential political and security issues that warrant closer cooperation between Asia and Europe, such as nuclear proliferation and transnational organized crime. The meeting, therefore, aims to set a new foundation for strengthening political and security cooperation.

However, it is also undeniable that political and security ties linking Asia and Europe are weaker than economic ties. This is in large part due to the very different security environment of the two regions and to the different degrees of interaction between the major powers.

If the Bali meeting is to produce stronger grounds for developing more effective security cooperation among member countries in the future, it has to view current security issues from a fresh angle, concentrating on how Asia and Europe might cooperate more effectively in dealing with a series of international security issues.

New security issues -- such as the threat of terrorism, international drug trafficking, people-smuggling, money laundering, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the UN's security role -- should be discussed during ASEM's fifth meeting. None of these issues discriminate between national or regional boundaries.

Developments in other areas also have both direct and indirect bearing on the security and stability of all the partners of ASEM. It is important, therefore, that transregional security cooperation between our two regions be developed and prove its credibility and reliability in meeting the challenge of events. The core of transregional security cooperation is definitely a dialog subject.

Given the increasing importance of current political and security issues, and because Indonesia is the host of the meeting and thus in a position to table new common security issues, the Bali meeting should gear ASEM in such a way that it could lend itself as a vehicle for security dialog between Asia and Europe at different levels. ASEM, therefore, should encourage, coordinate and support the participation of both governmental and non-governmental institutions in the security dialog.

To further facilitate and enhance the security dialog between the two regions, the Bali meeting must provide thoughts on how the ASEM partners could explore ways and means to promote cooperation and dialog between the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Though the core, scope and spectrum of interests of these two regional forums are substantially different, there is no reason they should not collaborate, politically, due to the indiscriminate effects of global security issues such as terrorism, drug trafficking and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

There is no doubt that, due to the emergence of new sources of global security threats, both Asia and Europe face multiple and increasingly complex challenges. To meet the challenges successfully, and in turn commend their solutions to others, Asia and Europe must initiate major steps collectively or toward each other.

In its fourth Asia-Europe Summit in Copenhagen in 2002, ASEM issued a joint declaration on cooperation against international terrorism, stating, among other things, that acts of international terrorism constitute one of the most serious threats to international peace and security. Since the Bali meeting will be conducted in the midst of the global fight against terrorism, it is important that such an issue is again discussed at greater length at such a meeting.

But this is not to suggest that terrorism is the only major security issue ASEM has to deal with. Other common security issues should also be touched by transregional security cooperation.

The Bali meeting is important in itself as it will send out messages that the two regions should now put themselves in a longer-term perspective, meaning that both regions share the responsibility to prevent, through collective efforts, the possibility of the arrival of new security turbulences. It is perhaps imperative that Asia and Europe work together to continually address security issues with urgency.