Video: Waging Peace in Asia, Because 'No Region Has More to Lose' From War

Shivshankar Menon, Wang Jisi, and Kevin Rudd compare Europe and Asia when it comes to confronting and moving beyond historical issues. (4 min., 19 sec.)

For more than half a century, nations of the Asia-Pacific region have largely remained at peace with one another, which has made possible an era of unprecedented economic development. Despite Asia’s prosperity and economic integration, security tensions are multiplying and becoming more intense — a situation similar to that in Europe prior to World War I. And it is widely understood that Asia lacks regional institutions which are capable of managing these tensions effectively.

“Peace in the Asia Pacific must be actively secured,” former Indonesian Minister of Foreign Affairs Marty Natalegawa said Wednesday at Asia Society in New York. “It cannot simply be taken as a given that peace will continue to reign in our region. ... We need more bridge builders, people who are able to see the wider picture and place priorities on securing, maintaining, and waging peace at the forefront.”

Natalegawa was speaking on a panel that included former U.S. National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, former Indian National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon, and Wang Jisi, president of the Institute of International and Strategic Studies at Peking University and a member of the Foreign Policy Advisory Committee of China’s Foreign Ministry. All of the panelists belong to the Asia Society Policy Institute’s newly launched Policy Commission, which aims to help strengthen institutions and develop mechanisms for managing tensions and security threats across the Asia-Pacific region.

Asia Society Policy Institute President Kevin Rudd cited the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as an example of an institution that has some mechanisms in place to promote regional cooperation, while other institutions in the region are still lacking. "What ASEAN has developed over the years is a culture of meeting when a problem arises, and often at quite short notice," Rudd said. "That doesn’t exist yet within the East Asia Summit, and frankly it needs to evolve. The automatic response tends to be for various foreign affairs ministries to start issuing statements against each other."

Menon explained that it took two world wars for Europe to establish institutions that would connect leaders and secure peace — an experience that Asia cannot repeat. Menon said Asia's economic advances have turned the region into "a paradox." 

“Strangely enough, that same economic success enabled what is really the world’s biggest arms buildup in history,” Menon said. “We’ve seen the return of geopolitics, the return of contention and competition in the region, and regional hotspots. So it’s clearly necessary that we address these issues, because no region has more to lose if we don’t manage the politics and the contention properly.”

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About the Author

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Eric Fish was a Content Producer at Asia Society New York and is author of the book China's Millennials: The Want Generation.