Asia Society-Australasia Centre
August 3, 1999
In the century long history of the Australian federation and the associated evolution of an independent Australian foreign and defence policy, our regional strategic environment over the last quarter century has probably never been more benign.
Since the fall of Saigon in 1975, with the exception of the Sino-Vietnamese border war , Vietnam's occupation of Cambodia and the ensuing civil war in Cambodia itself, neither East Asia nor the West Pacific has seen large scale military conflict.
This absence of military conflict has in no way small way contributed to the region's golden age of economic growth - one which only came to its conclusion (hopefully a temporary one) with the regional financial crisis of July 1997.
We cannot overstate the extent to which strategic stability and security have underpinned more than two decades of regional prosperity - prosperity from which this country has in no small part benefited.
There is, however, a temptation with the passage of years to believe that it will always be thus. And for those too young to remember anything else, that it may always have been thus - that this is the permanent and natural order of things.
The truth, of course, is that for this region, it is neither the norm nor the aberration.
Certainly if we look to the past, to the period prior to 1975, the region offers a litany of large scale civil war, wars of national liberation as well as the general conflagration that was World War II.
And when we turn to the future, informed by this history and shaped in part by a number of the problems left over from history, we need also to be circumspect.
Because I believe there is nothing intrinsically permanent about the peace, stability, and security that has characterised our region in the recent past. These are things that have been earned and which must continue to be earned.
If we expand our scope and include South Asia as well, the greater region is host to more than half of the world's seven major unresolved territorial conflicts - Timor, Kashmir, Taiwan, The South China Sea and Korea within the region; the Persian Gulf, Palestine and the Balkans beyond it.
Furthermore, three of these four unresolved regional conflicts involve nation states already in possession of weapons of mass destruction.
Indonesia and East Timor constitute the exception and it is to be hoped by all that the UN sponsored ballot scheduled for 30 August resolves this issue peacefully once and for all. For if it does not, it will present profound foreign policy and strategic policy dilemmas for Australia well into the future.
In Kashmir, a long standing conflict has been rendered more dangerous by the recent detonation of Indian and Pakistani nuclear devices.