Security in the time zone shared by Western Australia and 60 per cent of the world's population is the concern here of Former Defence Minister, now Australia's Ambassador Designate to the United States of America, Professor Kim Beazley. Professor Beazley is also Professorial Fellow of Political Science and International Relations at The University of Western Australia.
Examining security issues in the Asia-Pacific region from Perth slightly adjusts an Australian geopolitical perspective. Viewed from any Australian perspective, the most salient features are common. How does Australia and the region adjust to the geopolitical consequences of the rapid and simultaneous rise, post-cold war, of a substantial group of major economic, and therefore inevitably military, powers. China and India are well attested, to which can be added Vietnam and Indonesia. Older powers in Japan and South Korea are not receding in capacity and smaller powers, Malaysia and Singapore, are not to be dismissed.
What is historically unique is that the rise of these powers has occurred without the resolution of a plethora of maritime and some land-border disagreements. Prosperity allows defence planners to switch from internal issues to those of the neighbourhood. At this point, Australia has on the table one proposed management tool in Kevin Rudd's suggested Asia/Pacific community.
Deliberations at the ‘In the Zone' conference provide a chance to air the issue with Ministers and senior regional figures present, prior to the Singapore APEC Leaders' Meeting scheduled a week later. Thus far, disagreements in the zone have been fairly well managed. Further, the zone's South East Asian component has seen some effective collaboration in two important areas of regional security - counter-terrorism and anti-piracy activities in the maritime zone. These have not been so successful as to obviate the need for broader managing institutions in a rapidly changing geostrategic environment.
What is different in an Australian observation from a Western perspective is the Indian Ocean. As a strategic entity the ocean was a popular location for policy focus in the 1970s. Then it was drawn into the vortex of superpower competition during the cold war. It went off the boil as that conflict subsided. It is back now as the transmission belt for energy security, trade and maritime security for many of the globe's rising nations.
As a direct result of Prime Ministerial intervention in the latter stages of drafting Force 2030, the Australian Government's new Defence White Paper brought the Indian Ocean into focus. As I understand it Rudd was responsible for drafting a dramatic paragraph which reads:
"The Indian Ocean will have greater strategic significance in the period to 2030. It will become an increasingly important global trading thoroughfare, particularly for energy supplies between Asia and the Middle East. There are a number of significant inter-state and intra-state conflicts along its periphery that have the potential to draw in other powers. Over time, and in response to these factors, as well as transnational security issues such as piracy, the Indian Ocean is likely to host a larger (particularly naval) presence. A number of major naval powers are likely to increasingly compete for strategic advantage in this crucial maritime region. Over the period to 2030 the Indian Ocean will join the Pacific Ocean in terms of its centrality to our maritime strategy and defence planning."
Kevin Rudd in turn was influenced by an article in the March/April edition of Foreign Affairs, written by Robert Kaplan, a Senior Fellow at the Center for a New American Security, entitled ‘Center Stage for the 21st Century'. Kaplan points out that 90 per cent of global commerce and 65 per cent of all oil travels by sea, 70 per cent of the total traffic in petroleum products passes through the Indian Ocean. Forty per cent of world trade plies the South East Asian archipelago at the ocean's eastern reaches.
Kaplan also has an interesting perspective on the geography of the struggle in the Islamic world. He describes it as an arc across the northern Indian Ocean and its hinterland, anchored
As the nations with interests in this region grow prosperous, in security terms they go maritime. India has a massive navy of 155 ships, shortly to be joined by nuclear submarines and three new aircraft carriers. In terms of unit numbers, if not capabilities, the Chinese will probably surpass the United States in the next 20 years. When I was Defence Minister the United States navy had 600 ships. The number now is 279. We see major port developments being undertaken by a landlocked China in Burma and a response from other powers can be expected.
None of this need foreshadow mercantilist armed rivalry. What it suggests is a complex security environment requiring discovery, definition and management. ‘In the Zone's' security session should permit a lively contribution to this task.
This opinion piece was published in a special report, "In the Zone: Crisis, Opportunity and the New World Order", The Australian newspaper, November 7 - 8, 2009...