Moscow’s policy isn’t about becoming a leader in the region but accumulating influence to use closer to home.
A new balance of power is solidifying in Syria. Iran, Turkey and Russia have all played a role in the conflict there – jockeying for position and even agreeing in September to set up zones of control. But Russia in particular has deftly managed the game up to this point, and it is emerging from the Syrian civil war with a strong hand. Ultimately, Russia’s goal is to parlay its position in the Middle East into advantages in areas that matter more to Moscow. To some degree, it has achieved this, but it’s still unclear whether its strategy will be successful enough to score Russia an advantage in the area it cares about the most: Ukraine.
The Wannacry virus that attacked computers around the world last week is one more reminder of the growing threat posed by vulnerabilities in cyberspace. Over 100,000 networks in over 150 countries were infected by the malware; the actual ransoms paid appear to have been limited, but the total cost of the attack – including, for example, the work hours lost – is not yet known. Experts believe that this is only the most recent in what will be a cascading series of attacks as information technologies burrow deeper into the fabric of daily life; security specialists already warn that the next malware attack is already insinuated into networks and is awaiting the signal to begin.
Cyber threats are climbing steadily up the list of Asia-Pacific security concerns. Experts reckon that cyber crime inflicted $81 billion in damage to the Asia Pacific region in 2015 and the number of such incidents is growing. Online radicalization and other content-related issues pose expanding threats to the region, challenging national narratives and in some cases undermining government legitimacy and credibility. The networks and technologies that are increasingly critical to the very functioning of societies are vulnerable and those vulnerabilities are being distributed as regional governments are more intimately connected and more deeply integrated in economic communities. One recent study concludes that an ASEAN digital revolution could propel the region into the top five digital economies in the world by 2025, adding as much as $1 trillion in regional GDP over a decade. This growth and prosperity are threatened by proliferating cyber threats.
The following blog features five questions we recently posed to the CSS’s Stephen Aris, who is the co-editor of Regional Organisations and Security: Conceptions and Practices.
The emergence of post-Cold War regional organizations and the gradual shift in our ideas of what constitutes ‘security’ are not a new phenomenon. So what specifically explains the timing of this publication?
Absolutely, the emergence of Regional Organizations (RO) is by no means a new phenomenon. However, what’s changed over the past decade or so is the role that these regional groupings play in international politics and security. For a variety of reasons, there is now a greater emphasis on the contextually-informed capabilities and supposed greater legitimacy that they can bring to international politics and security.
Until quite recently, the United Nations preferred to take a rather exclusive approach to managing international security, and did not seek to engage regional actors. Yet, faced with an ever growing demand for its services, it has begun to explore avenues for institutionalized engagement with ROs in order to help share the burden. The biggest success story to date has been its collaboration with the African Union (AU), which has resulted in mutually endorsed and hybrid peacekeeping missions between the two bodies.
Increased engagement with ROs comes at a time when a number of regional powers, such as Brazil and South Africa, are staking their claim for a more permanent status on the UN Security Council. Accordingly, engagement allows the UN to claim that it is seeking to better represent the contemporary international order within its existing structures, but without having to undertake the politically-challenging process of real reform of the UN system. Indeed, many regional powers have invested significant resources into developing ROs in order to amplify their voice and enhance their legitimacy as actors on the international stage.
It’s fair to say that, despite the existence of initiatives and organisations such as the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) and the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), Indian Ocean regional architecture is under-developed. This reflects a lack of shared interests relative to some other regions, including limited economic and strategic integration, great socio-economic disparities, and modest people-to-people links. Yet there’s benefit in seeking to address Indian Ocean transnational issues by regional means.
If asked how China, the United States, Japan and other Asian countries might engage with each other more constructively, it is doubtful that the first word that would come to mind would be “Mongolia.” And if then asked what mechanism Mongolia would use to further mutual comity and understanding, it is unlikely that ‘Khaan Quest’ would be mentioned. Yet there are compelling reasons to justify both answers. Military-to-military diplomacy is an important form of statecraft and its utility in Asia remains obvious.
This past summer marked the 10th anniversary of the Mongolian Armed Forces’ Khaan Quest exercises, which among other activities brings militaries from around the world to share their best practices in multinational peacekeeping operations (PKO). This focus may at first appear narrow, but for three reasons the impact of Khaan Quest is potentially positive and significant.
Reason #1: Khaan Quest has symbolic value in a historically fractured and suspicious region. Indeed, it is a symbol, in the words of Mongolian President Tsakhia Elbegdorj, of “mutual respect among nations . . . and a vivid example of how countries can collaborate despite differences in forms of government, social and economic systems.”