Peace and security must rest on dispute resolution

Peace and security must rest on dispute resolution
File photo of the city government of Tokyo's survey vessel sailing around a group of disputed islands known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China in the East China Sea.

SINGAPORE- Peace and security in the Asia-Pacific are essential if Asian countries are to achieve their full potential and realise the dream of an Asian century. But while almost everyone recognises this, few in Asia are willing to do what it takes to make it happen.

Ultimately peace and security in the region rests on the removal of differences and the resolution of disputes. Currently, however, it is fashionable - even statesman-like - to shelve disputes in the hope they can be resolved by wiser future generations. That is a cop-out tantamount to passing the buck to future generations.

A good example of the latter is the way commentators have urged China and Japan to shelve their territorial dispute in the East China Sea over the uninhabited rocks known as Senkaku Islands in Japan and the Diaoyus in China (and Taiwan).

Another fashionable cop-out is to argue the case for investment in so-called non- traditional security in the hope that dividends from such undertakings can be deployed to resolve traditional security problems. This too has not borne fruit. If Asian countries are to realise their full potential, they must make a determined effort now to address their differences and animosities so that political and territorial disputes can be peacefully resolved.

Non-violent change should be accepted even if it implies losses. There will be immediate winners and losers, of course, but ultimately the region as a whole will benefit from such peaceful dispute resolution. In this way, peace, security and stability in the region will become more durable. And Asia's continued economic rise will rest on a strong strategic foundation.

Constructing a peace and security architecture is a complex matter, of course. Fortunately there is no need to start from scratch. Several pillars of such a system already exist in an inchoate fashion. These include alliances, alignments, national military modernisations, regional multilateral forums, and international adjudication institutions. The requirement now is to recognise, integrate and further develop them.

Alliances and alignments are not Cold War relics. They continue to have important deterrent roles in contemporary national security strategies. But they must be defensive in nature.

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