With several countries facing severe threats to supplies of basic goods, some governments have abjured the language of open markets, and are advocating a more protective approach.
The world has changed overnight with the war in Ukraine. As European nations and the US are expected to make respective gigantic shifts in the re-armaments and foreign policies – what impact and influence it will carry on the countries in Asia?
In the ANN (Asian News Network) webinar that was held on Thursday, March 31, 2022, at 1330 hours New Delhi time zone, on the subject “Europe’s Geopolitical Seismic Shift: What does it mean for Asia?” The panelists that led the webinar were Ashok Sajjanhar, Executive Council member, Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, and former Ambassador to Kazakhstan, Sweden, and Latvia, New Delhi.
Others were Hideshi Tokuchi, President, Research Institute for Peace and Security, and former Vice-Minister of Defense for International Affairs, Tokyo; Gilang Kembara, Researcher, Centre for Strategic and International Studies, and took part in the establishment of China-SE Asia Research Centre on the South China Sea, Jakarta; and Panitan Wattanayagorn, Chairman, Thai Prime Minister’s Security Advisory Committee, Bangkok.
Though Asian nations will separately step up their security interests but will work with like-minded countries to strengthen rule-based international pacts to thwart the repeat of the “invasion” of Ukraine, according to regional security and defense experts.
“This is very much felt by us. It reminded many small countries of the nightmare of Great Power rivalries, of small countries being invaded by great powerful forces, borders can be shifted and changed in a matter of days, defense expenditure could be increased overnight, doubling in a matter of days, – in fact a nightmare for regional balances that many countries in Asia, Asean included, have been trying to achieve,” said Dr. Panitan Wattanayagorn.
Hideshi Tokuchi, President of Japan’s Research Institute for Peace and Security, said his country is now reviewing its national security law. He described the Russian “aggression” as a serious challenge to the rules-based international order which has been the cornerstone of security and prosperity.
Ashok Sajjanhar from Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses and former Indian ambassador to Kazakhstan, Sweden, and Latvia, predicted a major shakeup of the global security apparatus. This will take place under the “diminished” power of Russia. “Its trust-worthliness and credibility have also suffered hugely not just for Mr. Putin but the Russian state as such.”
He also said the “no limit” alliance between Russia and China is now under severe test.
Gilang Kembara from Indonesia’s Centre for Strategic and International Studies said some countries might well take sides as in the case of Myanmar, which is in the midst of instability from internal conflicts. If the latter is to leave ASEAN, it could join the Shanghai Cooperation or look more toward Russia.
Dr Julian Voje, Head of Policy, Munich Security Conference, speaking in a personal capacity as all others, in his keynote remarks, dismissed any notion of a geopolitical seismic shift. “It’s not about the West against Russia – There is no repeat of the Cold War.
But rather, he said, all countries have to see if they want to support the international rule-based order. “It’s not about neutrality or which team we want to join. But actually about which kind of world you want to live in, especially for smaller countries.”
“Do you want to live in a world which is safe and secure so that another country will not invade you?” asked Voje, adding that the new “World Order” should be explicitly one which excel in healthy competition and cooperation. The latter would include climate change, food security, space debris and arms treaties.
“A rule-based order for the common good,” he advocated.
But Voje admitted that the Germans, prior to the Ukraine invasion, caved themselves in a safe and wealthy “island” – geopolitical speaking, as well as their mindset.
“We live in a pacifist and idealistic world….being totally dependent on functioning European Union and liberal international rules-based order,” he added.
Yet, since the 1990s four main drivers of change took place:
- Technological changes including the internet, cyber threats, disinformation – all of which changed the entire international political setup and undermined the “threat” perception.
- Loss of forecasting ability whether it be Brexit, Afghanistan, Covid-19
- Loss of trust such as former US President Thump’s EU policy and dismantling of international treaties and trust between states and societies
- Global power shifts with those of China and Russia being most prominent.
Voje said Germany has now caught up with these drivers which influenced its mindset. The country will step up defense and security spending in years ahead and will work to formulate a national security strategy. “The seismic shift has become so obvious and so real that there is no turning back.”
India’s Ashok staked his country’s position on the Ukraine invasion based on “historical privileged and strategic partnership with Russia” alongside the concern on growing Russian-Chinese ties over the years. Lately, India has come to publicly define territorial integrity and sovereignty of all countries should be respected per UN Charter – which had been violated.
Hideshi outlined five lessons from the War in Ukraine thus far:
- Erosion of democracy undermines the viability of rule-based international order.
- Economic sanctions have not brought an end to the war and will be less effective to deter China.
- No country can defend sovereignty all by itself. Alliance is critically important.
- The international community expects strong leadership of the US. But what the US can do alone is more constrained than before. Division of the American society holds back its power. US allies must help it to keep engaging in world affairs.
- Nuclear strategy becomes a focal point. The possibility of nuclear exchange seems low but there is a growing risk of misunderstanding, particularly on the Russian side.
He said that Japan, will have to invest much more in its own national defense, focusing not just on China but also on Russia and N Korea as well. It must focus much more on intelligence, missile defense, cyber defense, and CBRN defense capability.
Hideshi called for the strengthening of the Japan-US alliance, especially Japan’s operational support to US forces to provide Japanese seaports and airports for their use in regional contingencies.
Last but not least, Japan has to contribute to the enhancement of the international legal order as a major beneficiary of the stability generated by the rule-based order.
Indonesia’s Girang expressed dismay at increasing Indonesia’s domestic politicization and political populism in foreign policy initiatives. Indonesia stopped short of condemning the Ukraine invasion when in the past it was precise in its non-alignment role.
Although he suggested that Russia has little to offer Southeast Asia except for defense equipment, “it does its way to promote ideology to Asian states and we have seen regress to democracy especially in SE Asia…..with Putin’s world view, playing into the spirit of illiberal values.”
Thailand’s Panitan said the Ukraine invasion will not help to ease tensions between China and the US. It will also have effects on Taiwan and N Korea. Increasing spending in the coming years will complicate regional politics of certain countries affecting also stability and security of SE Asia, in particular, he added.
He said Thailand is also in the midst of drafting a new national security strategy which, he hinted, might have to prepare the country for power competition.
Panitan suggested that the Ukraine invasion may help Asians to become more united. Its pragmatic approach may come under good use allowing its members to reach out and reconnect with all allies and conduct different treaties or forge strategic partnerships.
In all, he suggested that many of the apparatus – be it Quad, AKUS, or even Apec may have to go back to the drawing board. “There is a real need to redesign new regional politics based on a new framework of regional architecture.”
He said Thailand is very much unique in many circumstances in many conflicts. It has good relations with all parties including the US. China is its number one trading partner while relations with Russia have been long and historical as well as with Ukraine.
“Thailand has to uphold international norm….and is concerned with independent and territorial integrity. We are interested to work with the majority of the world to uphold this principle.”
“It’s too bad and so sad that Ukraine, key in regional balance in Europe didn’t play that card well. Too bad we have lost so many lives and SE Asia will take many lessons learned and adjust their policies accordingly,” Panitan said.
All participants agreed that the US will need to lead the New World order although it will have to be a new kind of leadership. Yet on one condition – as long as it is not Trump!