By Mercy Kuo
Trans-Pacific View author Mercy Kuo regularly engages subject-matter experts, policy practitioners, and strategic thinkers across the globe for their diverse insights into U.S. Asia policy. This conversation with Dr. Anis Bajrektarevic – chairperson and professor in international law and global political studies, Vienna, Austria and editor of the New York-based scientific journal Geopolitics, History, and International Relations – is the 98th in “The Trans-Pacific View Insight Series.”
Q1: Compare and contract regional security architectures in Asia and Europe.
While all other major theaters have had pan-continental settings in place already for many decades, such as the Organization of American States – OAS (American continent); African Union – AU (Africa); Council of Europe and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe – OSCE (Europe), Asia is rather different. What becomes apparent, at first glance, is the absence of any pan-Asian security/ multilateral structure. Prevailing security structures are bilateral and mostly asymmetric. They range from the clearly defined and enduring non-aggression security treaties, through less formal arrangements, up to the Ad hoc cooperation accords on specific issues.
The presence of the multilateral regional settings is limited to a very few spots in the largest continent, and even then, they are rarely mandated with security issues in their declared scope of work.
Another striking feature is that most of the existing bilateral structures have an Asian state on one side, and an either peripheral or external protégé country on the other side which makes them nearly, per definition, asymmetric. The examples are numerous: the US–Japan, US– S. Korea, US–Singapore, Russia–India, Australia–East Timor, Russia–North Korea, Japan –Malaysia, China–Pakistan, US–Pakistan, China–Cambodia, US–Saudi Arabia, Russia –Iran, China–Burma, India–Maldives, Iran–Syria, N. Korea–Pakistan, etc.
Q2: With Brexit in the UK and the “America First” foreign policy of the US, please give us your take on the future of NATO.
The West is apparently in a serious decline. The UK has been sliding down for 100 years, absorbing it by a skilful set of planetary contrasts. The US has been melting ever since the end of WWII. In 1945, Americans had 54% of global manufacturing output, today it is hardly a 1/3 of it.
NATO is a relict of Cold War instrumentarium. Currently, confrontational nostalgia is what keeps it afloat. Atlantistic world is overcommitted and overstretched. London and Washington understand that NATO increasingly becomes part of a problem not a solution, for their own future. Europe goes along with it. Simply, the Old Continent is not a wealthy club anymore. It is a theater with a memory of its wealthy past. The EU has to learn how to deescalate and compromise. This is in its best interest, for the sake of its only viable future.
Q3: Is an Asian version of NATO plausible?
Why does the world’s largest continent must consider creation of a comprehensive pan-Asian institution? Not a military pact a’la NATO (since NATO is only an instrument of American military presence in Europe) but a true multi-vector and multilateral instrument. Prevailing security structures in Asia are bilateral and mostly asymmetric, while Europe enjoys multilateral, balanced and symmetric setups (the American and African continents too).
In my forthcoming book No Asian century, I go as far as to claim that irrespective of the impressive economic growth, no Asian century will emerge without creation of such an institution. Asia today is a huge running water without clear river banks – a rising economic success, social volcano and political hazard.
Q4: Identify three ongoing geopolitical risks that Asia and Europe share.
For most of the 19th and a good part of 20th century, a central question of Europe and Euro-Atlantic was how many ‘Germanys’ Europe can digest – one big, über-performing and omnipresent, or several Germanophone states in a dynamic equilibrium with itself and the rest. This and the so-called the grand accommodation – Germany with Russia or France with Russia – remains a central security dilemma for many decades to come.
On the other flank of the world, the entire Asian architecture was based on an assumption of a weak center; fragmented, backword and soft mainland China. What we are witnessing now is awaking of China – reminiscence of an imperial Germany in the heart of Europe.
Q5: What common linkages underpin U.S. transatlantic and transpacific relations, and how should the U.S. administration capitalize on them?
Chinese grab for fossil fuels or its military competition for naval control is not a challenge but rather a boost for the US Asia-Pacific –even an overall posture. Calibrating the contraction of its overseas projection and commitments – managing the decline of an empire – the US does not fail to note that nowadays half of the world’s merchant tonnage passes though the South China Sea. Therefore, the US will exploit any regional territorial dispute and other frictions to its own security benefit, including the costs sharing of its military presence with the local partners, as to maintain its pivotal position on the maritime edge of Asia that arches from the Persian Gulf to the Indian Ocean, Malacca, the South and East China Sea up to the northwest–central Pacific.
A real challenge is always to optimize the (moral, political and financial) costs in meeting national strategic objectives. In this case, it would be a resolute Beijing’s turn towards green technology, coupled with the firm buildup of Asian multilateralism. Without a grand rapprochement to the champions of multilateralism in Asia, which are Indonesia, India and Japan, there is no environment for China to seriously evolve and emerge as a formidable, lasting and trusted global leader.
Consequently, what China needs in Asia is not a naval race of 1908, but the Helsinki process of 1975. In return, what Asia needs from China and Japan is the ‘ASEAN-ization’, not the ‘Pakistanization’ of its continent.