Under-Institutionalization in Asia


This is an article proposal for the Asian Studies Conference Japan. A friend works there; its a good outfit. You should take a look.

Proposal: “It is a commonplace in research on international security and economics in Asia to call for greater, thicker institutionalization similar to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe or the European Union. Not just East Asia, but most of the continent is comparatively poorly institutionalized. The Six Party talks on North Korea collapsed rather than evolve into a hoped-for ‘Northeast Asian Concert.’ The Association of South East Asian Nations is weak, having failed to coordinate well against either the Asian Financial Crisis or the Great Recession. ASEAN spin-offs like the ASEAN Regional Forum or Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) have done little. In South Asia, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation has essentially been sidelined by, rather than help to alleviate, the Indo-Pakistan competition. In the Middle East, the Gulf Cooperation Council is a self-protection club for monarchs, not a multilateral forum for dispute resolution or integration. This paper investigates today why even Africa is today even more institutionalized than Asia, especially East Asia. Repeated calls for thicker institutions fail for reasons local elites are loathe to admit. Deep divisions over territory, religion, ideology, and memory divide states across Asia. Territorial issues like Dokdo/Takeshima, Kashmir, or the West Bank are similar across the continent. Historical issues like the conflicts over Japanese colonialism or Israeli behavior are similar as well.  Accelerating democratization will only worsen these divides as entrepreneurial politicians fire populism for electoral and legitimacy gain. Despite regular academic calls to institutionalize Asian security, this – much less security communities as we see in Europe and the Western Hemisphere – is unlikely.”

I could cut out the bit on SE Asia, South Asia, and the Middle East, and only focus on NE Asia. But it strikes me that security institutionalization across ALL of Asia is pretty bad.

I am pretty pessimistic on institutionalization out here. Those who say that Asia’s future is Europe’s past seem right to me. East Asians just don’t seem ready to really build a serious multilateral forum. They just don’t like each other enough. It is pretty politically incorrect to say that, but things like the EU, NAFTA, or the OSCE require a modicum of good will and shared values among the participants. Simply trading for greater profit is not enough. SK and Japan, and Taiwan and China trade, but they still loathe each other. As long as my Korean students tell me they are ready to go to war over Dokdo (!) and they watch Japanobic movies like this, then you can forget an Asian or East Asian Union. South Asia too isn’t ready; the Indo-Pakistan conflict – including its talibanic addendum in Afghanistan – paralyzes everything. And it hardly needs to be said that regional integration is utopian in the ME.

It took the Europeans 3-4 centuries of bloody brutal conflict before they agreed to seek security through integration and cooperation rather than domination. You’d think after Asia’s violent 20th century, they would have learned that too. I guess not. As another western scholar out here said to me in extreme irony, ‘they’re just one more good war away.’ Sad but true, perhaps?

4 thoughts on “Under-Institutionalization in Asia

  1. Pingback: China, Japan, and these Fights over Islands « Asian Security Blog

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  3. Pingback: My First Post at the Lowy Institute: 3 Non-Predictions for 2014 | Robert Kelly — Asian Security Blog

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