17 January 2000
17 Jan 2000 | 9 am
36th Storey, PSA Building, 460 Alexandra Road, Singapore 119963
Ladies and Gentlemen
I am pleased to be with you this morning to open the IDSS Millennium Conference on “Security Challenges and Responses in the 21st Century”.
The End of the 20th Century
At the turn of the century, we can take heart that the countries in our region have made significant advances in economic development and living standards. There are also grounds for optimism that regional peace and stability will be preserved. Sino-US relations entered the 21st century on a positive note with the historic agreement between the US and China on China’s entry into the WTO. China’s participation in the WTO has ramifications which go beyond international trade. It ties one of the most important and powerful countries into the global system with all the attendant privileges and obligations. Other international organisations, notably the United Nations, play increasingly important roles in enhancing world economic and political order. But it is not a uniformly positive and optimistic picture. The world continues to be plagued by conflicts and tensions – including here in Asia.
The World in the 21st Century
What does the new century hold for us? The defining trend in the world today is globalisation. The twin forces of trade liberalisation and technology have rapidly shrunk the world into a global marketplace. Globalisation is a pervasive and profound phenomenon that is quickly and dramatically transforming the socio-economic landscape.
Globalisation promises opportunities for economic growth, more jobs and a higher standard of living for the population of rich and poor countries alike. But globalisation also presents new and complex challenges. The currency crisis in Asia starkly illustrated how the integration of markets has made the global economic system more volatile and unstable.
While the effects of globalisation in the economic and financial spheres are more evident, the security implications of globalisation are less well understood. Nevertheless, two trends are becoming clearer.
First, the interconnectedness of markets means that any instability in one part of the world will have faster and more far-reaching knock-on effects on other countries in the global system. The Asian financial crisis has opened our eyes to this interdependence among states. But it offers only a glimpse of the challenges that will come with the forces of economic and technological integration.
Second, we will face challenges that will be multi-faceted and more complex, and cannot be handled by any single nation alone. The same forces that bring us closer together in the marketplace have made us more vulnerable to the effects of all sorts of problems beyond our borders – economic, financial, ecological, criminal and terrorist. The security dimension of such issues will become an increasingly important element which will require multi-national efforts to tackle.
The question is: Do we have an adequate security architecture in our region to meet the security challenges in the 21st century? The growing economic interdependence has made the pursuit of conflict much more costly, but this does not guarantee peace and stability. In fact, uncertainties and challenges abound. How will the US, China and Japan position themselves in the region and interact with one another? The issues in the Korean Peninsula, Spratlys and Taiwan Straits will not be easily resolved and could continue to generate tensions every once in a while.
At the same time, new challenges will emerge that are multi-faceted and transborder in nature. For instance, the competition for resources is likely to grow sharper as economic growth in the region regains momentum.
Resource scarcities could trigger future conflicts over access to or ownership of vital resources or exacerbate existing disputes. An increasingly borderless world could mean that technologies for Weapons of Mass Destruction will proliferate more easily. Reactions to the pressures of globalisation could take the form of heightened ethno-nationalist sentiments and lead to destabilising effects.
Responses to the Challenges
The emphasis of Asia-Pacific countries for the past few decades has been on economic development and economic cooperation. But there can be no economic development without security, just as there will be no security without economic development. There has to be equal emphasis on both economic development and the strengthening of the security architecture.
There is also a need to strengthen the nexus between economics and security.
Just as the Asian financial crisis highlighted the need for international co-operation to enhance stability in the global financial system, more international cooperation is needed to ensure regional peace and stability in the new century. The challenges facing us are complex and need multilateral efforts to tackle. It is vital that countries in the region participate fully to build a regional security architecture, underpinned by international law, that is capable of responding to these challenges.
The trend towards security co-operation in the Asia-Pacific has already been established. Bilateral cooperation between regional countries has been growing both in depth and scope. Some multilateral security structures, including forums for region-wide security dialogue such as the ASEAN Regional Forum, are in place. A number of confidence-building measures have been implemented.
But more can be done. Existing multilateral processes such as the ARF can be strengthened to play a bigger role in the prevention of new disputes and conflicts in the region. To do so, there must be a willingness among regional countries to discuss and identify the common challenges facing the region and to explore ways of pre-empting problems. We should also make greater efforts to promote adherence to international norms of behaviour and to international treaty regimes, such as those prohibiting the acquisition of Weapons of Mass Destruction and governing safe passage through international straits and seas, like the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
At the same time, we would do well to develop the channels for dialogue, both at the bilateral and multilateral level. This would enhance the scope and depth of confidence-building in this region, and foster co-ordinated responses to transnational security challenges such as terrorism and piracy. One possibility is to promote more multilateral dialogues among regional defence and military officials.
Security co-operation in the Asia-Pacific needs to keep abreast of the changes in the regional landscape. To deal with the new and diverse challenges that will face our region in the new millennium, a qualitatively new form of international cooperation may be needed that demands the establishment of new norms and agreed rules of cooperation among states.
At the same time, we need to recognise that the Asia-Pacific region is in many ways a very diverse region in terms of the level of development, culture, values and historical background. Any form of co-operation can be effective only with the commitment of the regional countries involved.
Hence, the biggest challenge is to define an appropriate framework for security cooperation in the 21st century that takes into account the diversity of the region, and yet is effective in tackling the common challenges arising from a fast evolving security landscape.
IDSS Millennium Conference
This Millennium Conference organised by the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies is thus timely. It provides an excellent opportunity for security experts, policy-makers and analysts to meet and share ideas in their personal capacities. There will not be ready-made or easy solutions to the vast array of complex issues, but I am confident that the deliberations of this rich mix of participants will give us new perspectives and ideas for enhancing regional peace and stability.
Ladies and Gentlemen. At the dawn of a new century, let us work together to achieve peace and prosperity for our region and our people.
We will need to be active, imaginative and committed to cooperation.
Working together is the only way ahead. Only then can our region develop to its fullest potential.
It now gives me great pleasure to declare the Conference open.
I congratulate the organiser, and wish all participants a rewarding time at the Conference.
Last updated on 07/05/2019