Prospects for Conflict in Southeast Asia

During August, apart from the general disappointment caused by Abe Shinzo’s 70th Anniversary speech, Southeast Asian countries have competed in proposing impressive defense budgets or purchasing new military equipment. This has resulted in peace building efforts from the region to take successive steps backwards. All in all, it was a month of strong power politics aimed towards overwhelming the opponent.

These increased tensions soon reached Canberra as the Australian Defense Minister, Kevin Andrews  expressed his concern regarding the recent trend of militarization that might lead to future instability. He stated, “competing claims for territory and natural resources in the South China Sea will continue to be a source of tension in the region”. Earlier in Kuala Lumpur, ASEAN representatives released a Joint Communiqué after the 48th ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting, in which they considered the South China Sea issues as being responsible for “eroding trust and confidence” and “undermining regional peace, security and stability”. Although all Southeast Asian actors seem to be aware of the long term negative consequences determined by maintaining a tense situation, none of them have shown any initiative to promote solutions for a peaceful resolution.

More importantly, they have managed to create a security dilemma by being highly interested in developing the classical hard power capabilities. Thus, Japan and the Philippines have already unveiled proposals with the highest ever spending for military reinforcements in the prospective 2016 defense budgets. According to Asahi Shimbun’s journalist Isamu Nikaido, the Japanese Ministry of Defense plans to request ¥5.091 trillion (approximately $41 billion) to “strengthen surveillance capabilities by the Self-Defense Forces and bolster the defenses of outlying islands”. Meanwhile, the Filipinos proposed a budget of P115.8 billion ($2.5 billion) in order to modernize its army, as stated in the Volume II of the 2016 National Expenditure Program.

Other strategic initiatives prioritized the acquisition of maritime or aerial equipment. Focus Taiwan described the ambitious plans of the Taiwanese Ministry of National Defense to launch an $89.32 million project for designing its own submarines. On August 25, Airbus Helicopters announced the delivery of four EC725s to the Royal Thai Air Force, while the following two will be dispatched next year. The Japanese were also reported to have made important investments by adding a new Izumo-class helicopter carrier to their naval asset. Japan has also committed to give three patrol ships to the Vietnam Fisheries Resources Surveillance Department, “as part of its non-refundable aid to the Southeast Asian country to ensure maritime safety”, according to a TuoiTre News’ article from August 6th. The first one, named Hayato, already shipped to Hanoi last month and the other two are expected to be received later this year.

Looking back at how much the Southeast Asian countries are spending in order to develop their military technology, one can assume that this trend of arming up will not bring the long awaited peace. Moreover, we might even witness a further worsening of regional cooperation and bilateral relations. To avoid such an unwanted conflict resolution, it is necessary to take a moment and learn from our recent history that no aggressive intention has ever determined peace. Additionally, we must never forget that the outcomes of wars are much more costly than those needed for securing a harmonious and non-violent environment.

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