Asia Security Initiative Launch, Remarks by Jonathan Fanton
May 29, 2009 | Speech | Asia Security Initiative, International Peace & Security

It is a great honor for me to be here in Singapore, and I welcome this distinguished gathering of friends, new and old, to what is an historic occasion for the MacArthur Foundation.

Today we announce a deepening of our commitment to Asia through a seven-year, $68 million Asia Security Initiative. MacArthur will support a network of policy research institutions working to develop new ideas for fostering peace and security in the Asia-Pacific and a new mid-career fellowship program, the Asia Security Emerging Leaders Program, to nurture a new generation of leaders.

In this era of great economic, political, technological and social change, China, India and other Asian nations have become regional and global leaders in trade, politics and culture. The MacArthur Foundation has invested in the Asia Security Initiative because, in this day of shifting relations between states and growing transnational challenges, the nations of the Asia-Pacific are thinking anew about how our societies can develop new ideas, new frameworks and, perhaps, new regional institutions to foster peace and security. With the MacArthur Foundation’s support, the 27 institutions here with us today will lead advances in security policy research, forge productive relationships among scholars and practitioners within the region and around the world, and bring these new ideas and frameworks to policy-makers and the public.

MacArthur is just over thirty years old. In our first years, most of our work was in America. But soon we realized that the issues we cared deeply about — human rights, international justice, reproductive health, conservation, migration, and peace and security — were not local or national, but part of an increasingly inter-connected global system. Today we are a global institution, working in 60 nations around the world, with offices in five.

And we came to Asia — to India, where we are active in reproductive health and efforts to reduce maternal mortality; to Nepal, Bhutan, Cambodia, Vietnam and the islands of the South Pacific, where we conserve areas of high biodiversity; to China, where we have supported the Energy Foundation, working on conservation in Yunnan and made exploratory grants in the fields of environmental policy, the rule of law, and population studies. In MacArthur’s history, we have made about 500 grants to Asian institutions.

For 25 years, MacArthur has invested in training, research, and policy engagement to reduce the danger posed by weapons of mass destruction. We supported research and track-two diplomacy between U.S. and Soviet officials and nuclear scientists, which led, among other things, to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. We helped develop the conceptual framework for Cooperative Threat Reduction programs that helped Russia and other former Soviet states reduce stockpiles and secure nuclear weapons and fissile materials. And, through our Science, Technology, and Security Initiative, we have created a new generation of scientists also engaged in the study and development of security policy on issues like nonproliferation.

MacArthur has chosen Asia as a new pillar of our international peace and security work because we know that the world we seek — a world that is more just, humane and peaceful — can only be achieved through the active cooperation of all Asia-Pacific societies. Great power politics and the threats posed by weapons of mass destruction remain. But policymakers must deal with these persistent challenges at the same time they confront emerging challenges. In the 21st Century — some say, the Asian Century — policy debates about the rise and fall of great powers are held in the same high councils as discussions of resource scarcity and climate change. Ministers not only count warheads, they also measure carbon emissions.

Asia’s economic might has propelled the region to the center of the global security debate. Even in this economic downturn, it is clear that the Asia-Pacific region is and will remain the world’s most dynamic engine. In 1990, almost a third of the people in East and Southeast Asia survived on less than one dollar a day; by the last measure, only one-tenth did. By 2050, the Chinese and Indian economies are both projected to be larger than the U.S. economy. The countries of the Pacific Rim are leading the way in technological innovation — an Apple iPod contains a microchip developed by American and Indian programmers, manufactured in Taiwan, tested in Korea, and installed in China.

But as technological and economic relationships have benefited many and drawn Asia-Pacific nations closer together, threats to the security of the people of the Asia-Pacific persist. Consider the following: 11 of the Fortune 500 companies are headquartered in Seoul, one of the world’s most vibrant cities. Only 30 miles away a narrow demilitarized zone separates 1 million armed North Korean troops from 600,000 South Korean troops and 30,000 U.S. troops. Just this week, in the wake of a nuclear test, tensions have risen and North Korea has threatened attacks.

The Korean Peninsula is by no means the only place the future of peace and prosperity will be hard won. Across the Taiwan Straits, there has been progress toward a lasting peace, but many steps remain to be taken before that peace is secured. Attacks in Mumbai last year threatened to lead to conflict between India and Pakistan, both nuclear powers.

The success of our governments in preventing conflict between and among states will go far in determining our common future of peace and prosperity. This agenda is an important and challenging one, and there are some who would stop there. But there are new sources of stress that promise crisis and violence not only among nations, but within them, if our governments fail to cooperate. These internal challenges are introducing new uncertainties, and unpredictability breeds conflict.

The demand for resources is growing in each Asian country, putting increasing pressure on the environment and on age-old patterns of life. Water is needed for irrigation, burgeoning cities, industry, fisheries, wild-life preserves, and more. In Southeast Asia, the Mekong River is a lifeline for agriculture, commerce, and travel in Vietnam, Cambodia, Bangladesh, and China. As demand for the limited resources provided by the Mekong grows, the potential for conflict over these resources also increases, and the regional cooperation necessary to overcome this emerging challenge is not yet adequately developed.

Internal conflict is as destabilizing as conflict between states. More than 2,500 Indians are estimated to have perished in terrorist incidents in 2008. In Sri Lanka, a quarter-century of civil war has come to an end, but ethnic rivalries and uneven economic development will remain points of tension, and a humanitarian crisis has become acute, with up to 300,000 people displaced.

Cooperation, conversation, and collaboration within and among nations can help our nations learn from each other’s experiences with violent internal conflict, manage shared resources, and promote regional stability and security. Yet the regional cooperation necessary to overcome these emerging internal challenges is relatively underdeveloped. Over the next seven years, the Asia Security Initiative network will provide its ideas on where to begin and how to develop new policies and frameworks that foster peace and security.

The Initiative is focusing on three critical issues: Strengthening regional security cooperation, Preventing conflict in Northeast Asia, and Building international cooperation to respond to internal challenges.

In each area, a cluster of research centers, coordinated by a core institution, will collaborate to conduct analysis and suggest new ways forward. Each grantee will take on a research question critical to the development of solutions on a particular challenge. For example, to prevent conflict in Northeast Asia, we have funded projects at Tsinghua University, Shanghai Jiaotong University and National Chengchi University that will develop action plans to improve relations across the Taiwan Straits; we have supported researchers at Seoul National University and elsewhere that also will seek opportunities for better relations between Korea and China; and we have sponsored thinking at the Ilmin International Relations Institute at Korea University to strengthen the region’s capacity to respond to an abrupt change in North Korea’s government or policies.

The work of each cluster will be coordinated by a core institution, selected through an exhaustive two-year search to identify regional leaders in the field of security studies. We are honored to have the heads of each core institution here today. In a few moments, they will outline the policy research questions their cluster will address. Let me give a brief overview:

  • Peking University will oversee the Regional Security Cooperation cluster, advising policymakers on how to make better use of multilateral institutions, bilateral relationships, and alliances to prevent conflict, manage differences, and foster peace and security.
  • Seoul’s East Asia Institute will co-ordinate the cluster on Northeast Asia, developing plans for international cooperation to decrease tensions over North Korea and Taiwan and among Northeast Asian nations.
  • Singapore’s own S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies will convene our Internal Challenges cluster which will concentrate on the need for international cooperation to help manage emerging challenges most governments see primarily as domestic concerns — competition over scarce resources, the effects of natural disasters, and violent internal conflict.

The 27 institutions participating in the Initiative have received support to help them address their most important capacity needs, including for new research positions and improved communications with the public and policy makers. This support will help each participant in the Asia Security Initiative network increase its ability to work with its counterparts to make policy recommendations to Asia-Pacific governments in the interests of peace and security.

The internet provides an opportunity to infuse that conversation with the latest research findings. We must seize it. Today MacArthur is launching a web portal to showcase the work accomplished through the Asia Security Initiative — a link among scholars, between scholars and policy makers, and to the general public.

This web portal includes a blog dedicated to Asian security issues. Through a global competition, we have selected five bloggers from across the Asia-Pacific to serve as anchor writers. Participants in the Asia Security Initiative network will also post their latest thinking on this blog, and the public is invited to contribute through the site’s “Letters to the Editor” feature. The Asia Security Initiative bloggers have just begun posting. We hope you will read their contributions, and give them and us your ideas, questions and critical comments.

This web portal will allow the public and government to consult virtually with experts from across the Asia-Pacific. Policy-makers will have the benefit of innovative ideas that will help them respond to the most pressing questions they face. And, with the power of the Internet, they will know not only, as the American saying goes, how a new idea plays in Peoria; they will know how it plays in Penang and Perth.

MacArthur is also committed to building capacity for the future. The success of this initiative over the long-term will be determined not only by our support for the leaders in Asian security studies here with us today, but also by our commitment to training a new generation. In 2010, MacArthur will start a program of year-long fellowships for mid-career leaders in academia, government, non-government organizations, the private sector and media to undertake policy research on Asian security issues. These fellows will be identified through an open application process and will be placed at the three Asia Security Initiative core institutions.

Just before his death, American President Franklin Roosevelt wrote: “More than an end to war, we want an end to the beginnings of all wars.” That lofty goal inspires us still. In launching this initiative, MacArthur hopes to draw neighbors together in conversation, to invigorate the search for better policies, and to develop a robust network of scholars and experts committed to security through international cooperation. Our societies have achieved a great deal together. Now is the time to protect what has been won and, together, plan for shared prosperity and lasting peace.

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