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Geo-Political Situation in Asia & Pacific: Escalating the Conflict and Impact of U.S. War on Terror

by Tony WaworuntuTony Waworuntu

Tony Waworuntu is currently the joint executive secretary for Justice, International Affairs, Development and Service of CCA. He is a senior friend of GMKI (SCM Indonesia). This paper was presented during the WSCF Human Rights Workshop in Parapat Indonesia, September 2006.

Indeed it is a long and winding title, which seems to be impossible to deliberate within the time frame that has been given to me. The peace and security issues in all over the world, in the aftermath of September 11, 2001 has become more critical and dangerous. In the midst of the U.S. led war on terror, the world has become more terrorized, where killings, violence still behoove as “people’s daily bread”. This is quite obvious, that after the U.S. attacked Afghanistan and Iraq, and has identified some countries as the “axis of evil” there are growing instability, people’s insecurity, tensions and conflicts caused by different crises that has come to the forefront, particularly in Asia as the result of the War against Terror, issues that the Americans have failed to address.

The problem of people’s security in Asia has already been ongoing due to political, ideological, religious and ethnic conflicts in different places. This includes ongoing conflict between Taiwan and China where deep-rooted issues of sovereignty and self-determination are at the core of the problem. Insurgency, violence, and poverty in various places in Asia have resulted in increases in migration of people, in internally displaced people and refugees, both in economic and political senses.

The war on terrorism and the consequent U.S. intervention in South Asia and South East Asia are events of far-reaching implications for peace and security of the region. These developments pose a serious “security dilemma” not only for the major regional powers, China and Japan, but also for secondary powers like India, Pakistan, South Korea and Indonesia.

A change in the balance of power between China and Taiwan could destabilize the entire region. Towards her relationship with China the U.S. still kept the so-called” One China Policy” on the one hand, but on the other hand the U.S. always has been said that if China is going to takeover Taiwan with force then the U.S. will stand in frontline to protect Taiwan. This kind of approach, towards her relationship with China and Taiwan, is again for the sake of the U.S. economic interest. And with this ambiguity, the tensions and fears in the Taiwan Strait remain high and hostile.

As long as the tension remains high and the fears of the Taiwanese still strong, then the desire to be well-protected and modernized their defense system is also high and these exactly are the pushing factor for a big demand to buy arms and missiles from the U.S. The peace and stability in the region will largely depend on the maintenance of balance of power and construction of a region-wide framework of cooperation that could diffuse violence and conflict.

In fact, after the Cold War confrontation and nowadays under the War on Terror the United States has been putting some pressure to Japan to have a heavier military role than what Japan has ever had after Second World War. Following the 1996 redefinition of the U.S.-Japan security alliance, a new military arrangement titled the U.S.-Japan Defense Cooperation Guidelines was made in 1997. This bilateral arrangement obligates Japan to mobilize its public and private resources, personnel, facilities, and services as well as its military force to join American military operations to be conducted in “areas surrounding Japan”. North Korea was specifically mentioned by the designers of this arrangement as “clear and present danger” to “have important influence on Japan’s security,” a case that will trigger American military action in which Japan is to participate. But of course it is clear that a military conflict in Taiwan Strait is assumed as a possible trigger for U.S.-Japan joint military action though the Japanese and U.S. governments quibbled on this point considering China’s strong reaction.

One alarming critical development connected with this is that using the momentum of the alliance redefinition the Japanese ruling groups are now freeing the postwar Japanese State from its constitutional constraints. This has been changing the pacifist clause from a self-defense status to full-fledged war capable state with a large army deployable overseas; as it is now being deployed in Afghanistan and East Timor under the label of the U.N. Peace-Keeping forces in those countries. As the world is entering the U.S. led War on Terrorism, the U.S. hegemony and its military aspects more or less remains the same as it was in the Cold War era or even much more worsening.

In relation with the Peace and Security in Asia for the people’s life-as a matter of fact while facing the threats of the globalization process, the people’s security is much more relying on daily life than from the dread of a cataclysmic world events, such as world trade center attacks in New York or Bali bomb blasting, and the war in Lebanon very recently. Insecurity arises more from worries about food security, job security, income security, and environmental security. These are the emerging concerns of human security all over the world. But human security does not address the system of global exercise of violence pivoted on the U.S. military’s policy role. Integrating the positive aspects of human security with people’s security means comprehensive security of the people as individuals and as people’s collectives. Here people’s security shares with human security its concern with the whole ranges of people’s life, but considers the military element ingrained in the structure as a destabilizing factor. In short, people’s security calls for demilitarization. That’s why to prevail peace without justice in the world that would become impossible.

Whatever the North Korean motives were, through his landmark brinkmanship, Kim Jong Il has once again raised the stakes in nuclear bargaining to an unprecedented height, forced the natural audience in the neighboring countries in Northeast Asia to choose sides, and all but dared the United States to walk away from the negotiation table. By forcefully stressing that his government will not disarm unilaterally without reciprocal threat reduction and strategic cooperation on the part of the United States, he has all but dared Washington to come down to Pyongyang and take his arms away through either negotiation or force. What is likely to happen next? Will the U.S. play ball or opt to preempt North Korea’s full-scale nuclearization? If Washington decides to settle the outstanding issues through dialogue in a revamped agreed framework, can Pyongyang be trusted again after so many years of alleged deceit and clandestine violations of its obligations under the agreed framework, including its secret work on a prohibited uranium enrichment program? The answer is no, at least not in the medium term. Alternatively, if Washington opts for and “emergency measurement action” after this country has been labeled as part of “axis of evil,” what will be the price of the U.S. victory in an open-ended conflict in Korea and will it be geo-politically prudent and politically tolerable to accept such a risk? The answer is very high, imprudent but tolerable.

The most outstanding sign of our times is the suffering and cries of human persons and other living beings throughout the world, as their victimization proceeds in a systematic and unprecedented manner under the banner of the War on terror. At the beginning of the 21st century, all living beings in the cosmos are threatened with death and destruction. Their groaning echoes throughout the universe and is joined by the Spirit’s groaning.

The brutal atrocities committed in the course of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have revealed the true nature of the global empire, which has taken arbitrary, unilateral military actions against the people of these countries. The global empire’s obvious purpose is to expand its territorial borders in pursuit of regional hegemony and its control of oil as an economic resource, consolidating the interests of the neoliberal global market. These wars are also a new form of religious crusade, justified through religious language and theological claims.

The US is developing new systems of weapons of mass destruction and generating high-tech and nuclear weapons. This operation along with strategies for cyber warfare and the unrestrained use of nuclear weapons, including a nuclear first strike, is seriously eroding and imperiling the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Regime and disregarding the fundamental prohibition against nuclear first strikes.

The “war on terror” has led to a series of draconian laws and legally sanctioned repressive measures within the United States and in many other countries that effectively condone torture, arbitrary detention and deprivation of liberty, summary deportations, extraordinary rendition and violations of a wide range of other political and civil rights. This has effectively undermined both practice and principles of the human rights regime and the rule of law. One visible impact of empire has been the inviolability of human rights.

The very nature of the imperial project requires access to the world’s natural resources of oil, natural gas, minerals, water and forest resources. Empire is based on the appropriation of riches from the dominated countries for the benefit of the power centre. The empire is reaching out to establish unilateral control over natural resources around the world, even if this means going to war or destabilizing legitimately elected governments. Instruments such as the World Bank and other international financial mechanisms are being used to “liberalize” resource-extraction policies for the absolute benefit of the large transnational corporations serving the empire, with minimal benefits to the resource-endowed nations.

More people throughout the world are being forced to leave their homes because of wars, human rights violations, and dire poverty of environmental destruction.

Environmental protection and development are important issues. Since most Asian countries are still dependent on primary economic activities, this pressure is creating over-exploitation and depletion of land, water, forest and other ecosystems. The existence of mass poverty is accelerating the destruction of natural resources.

From rural to urban areas, from poor to emerging economies in the South, from countries of the South to countries of the North—migration has become a trend impacting most societies worldwide. The number of international migrants has increased to more than 175 million in 2005, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Today, one in fifty people on earth are living outside their home countries, while an estimated 25 million have been forcibly displaced within their own countries. At the same time that globalization is leading to freer movement of capital, goods and services, walls are going up to limit the movement of people across borders. As the “human side” of globalization, the phenomenon of migration means that virtually all societies are multicultural and multi-religious.

The plights of “uprooted people”—migrant workers, refugee and internally displaced people—still dominate the inter-agency debate to ensure that governments abide by international protocols and declarations. Two major areas need to be thoroughly discussed to prevent the flow of refugees and displaced people from their home countries and to provide assistance in receiving countries. A vulnerable economic situation in Asia and conflict between neighboring countries have forced authorities to take measures to forcibly return displaced people, ignoring whether their safety could be guaranteed.

Regarding issues on justice in Asia, the Human Rights issues still remains the priority of the people in Asia, where they are facing such human rights violations in their respective countries that need to be dealt with. Where as a result, many ordinary people have been unnecessarily subjected to threat, torture, imprisonment and loss of life, such as in the Philippines where many church’s workers, pastors and journalists have been killed by the military’s atrocities.

As conflicts still continuously takes place in Asia, even in some countries such as Sri Lanka, Pakistan, India, Indonesia this become more serious and have taken more lives of the people; therefore we need to continue our efforts to restore peace and resolve conflicts among the parties that are involved in those conflicts.

In the aftermath of September 11, the threat of political and religious violence has become matters of urgent debate. For countries like Malaysia and Indonesia, the church finds itself as a minority community having to respond to growing pressures for the formation of an Islamic State. The provisions for the freedom of religion as enshrined in the national constitutions are being greatly curtailed. Public discourse on matters pertaining to Islam has become highly sensitive. The threat of extremist groups has captured media attention recently.

While in Indonesia and Pakistan many churches have been subjected to physical threat and communal violence has erupted in some places in the name of religion.

We live in a threatened world. Conflicts on all levels, from local to global, evidence a world community rife with fear, suspicion, anger, hostility and inequality that threatens to engulf everyone, including the church, in violence. Some realities facing us today include:

These statistics, and many others like them, reveal a world awash in injustice, conflict and violence.

Many people in our world today also shout peace when there is no peace. They give others false hopes that things are improving through political promises, development programs that ignore the roots of violence and conflict and through economic structures that can not produce the roots of violence and conflict and through economic structures that can not produce the benefits promised. Other leaders not only nod their heads in agreement but also strongly affirm these false hopes and, with beautifully painted arguments we call whitewash, make that false peace look more plausible and probable. In truth, however, their words are like putting a pile of loose stones or bricks together and throwing some slushy whitewash upon them. When this promise of peace collapses and the whitewash runs into the gutter people will then ask, “what has become of all your promises of peace, and assurance of safety and prosperity; your smooth words and plausible arguments; your specious pretenses, and flattering prophecies?”

Structures that need to be beautified with whitewash are not built on a foundation of justice. Justice is the keyword and in reality, we do not build peace, but rather we build justice, and once justice exists in all our economic, political and social relationships, peace can and will emerge.

by Sandra Torrijos/Isis International Manila
by Sandra Torrijos/
Isis International Manila

In the original Hebrew and Greek, the words for justice are the same as those rendered “righteousness.” Justice had primarily to do with conduct in relation to others, especially with regard to the rights of others. In a larger sense justice is not only giving to others their rights, but involves the active duty of establishing their rights.

Justpeace is, therefore, a peace that emerges as the injustices of the world are transformed and rights are restored for all people. This peace goes beyond simple treaties or contracts. It goes beyond programs that simply help people live a bit more comfortable within systems and structures that are oppressive and unjust. It recognizes the history, the culture and the complexity of a conflict and it tries to address each of those creatively and courageously. Justpeace takes into consideration all forms of conflict and injustice, including economic violence, political violence, social violence, cultural violence, gender violence, ethnic violence, etc. Each of these forms of violence is created by injustice and to create a justpeace these injustices must be transformed.

To build justpeace, we must have movements that are rooted deeply in the marginalized communities and to be successful it is required that our movements not only address the issues of these communities but also provide means of participation suited to these communities, empower them, make them fully welcome and comfortable, and reflect their values and aspirations to the rest of the world.

It is not only a movement of protest, but a institutions, systems and structures from the bottom-up. Suffering does not know boundaries—religions, gender, national or ethnic. In suffering, people come together for they know that their survival depends on unity. As people committed to building justpeace, we too must come together without concern for religious movement of transformation—building counter affiliation, gender, nationality or ethnicity for that is what is demanded of us by those who are most victimized by violence. Our coming together with the marginalized without regard to our differences reflects our vision of a future global community of justpeace—the Reign of God.

To overcome the above mentioned problems and challenges, then, as a starting point, the WSCF Asia-Pacific together with all SCMs in this region can ensure that:

Chiang Mai, early autumn 2006