Accessibility links

Breaking News

'Enemies' of Development Threaten Asian Security - 2002-07-02

For most nations, the idea of national security has expanded since September to include unconventional threats from terrorist organizations. But the world's nations face other threats from older enemies, including poverty, hunger and natural disaster. Researchers are looking for ways to fight those battles.

Brad Glosserman of the Pacific Forum Center for Strategic and International Studies says in developing countries, security is about more than bombs and bullets. The forum is a private research organization.

"When you talk about security in Asia, what you talk about is a broader conception, which is usually called 'human' or 'comprehensive' security. The threats to the nation do not, by and large, come from beyond their borders but come from within them. Consequently, they are concerned about creating prosperity, creating growth and the stability that would flow from that," he said.

Mr. Glosserman adds that external threats to a nation often come from refugees fleeing poverty, civil war or environmental disasters.

Researcher Jim Rolfe of the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, which is funded by the U.S. defense department, sees many threats to security. He noted they range from terrorism to weapons proliferation. In the Asia-Pacific region, he said there are also other hazards.

"Especially in the Pacific, the real threats to security are environmental degradation, lack of economic resources, natural disasters and man-made disasters. Case in point, in Indonesia, it was the haze caused by the fires in 1997, which covered much of peninsular Malaysia and Singapore and parts of Indonesia, and that destroyed the livelihoods of many people. In the South Pacific, global warming leading to the oceans rising will mean, possibly, a couple of countries disappearing. These are human security issues," Mr. Rolfe said.

Those threatened island nations include Vanuatu and Kiribati.

Researcher Allen Clark of the East-West Center in Honolulu said endemic poverty also destabilizes the region. He noted that more than half of the world's population lives in Asia and the Pacific. Thirty-five percent of those people live in extreme poverty, which means they survive on an income of less than one dollar a day.

Mr. Clark said environmental and social problems are focused in the cities. Nine of the world's 17 largest cities are in the Asia-Pacific region, and they are expected to double in size in little more than two decades. The researcher sees a looming crisis in a shortage of drinking water, caused by excessive demand on underground aquifers and encroachment by seawater.

"Shanghai, Tokyo, certainly Bangkok, Jakarta, Manila, just about every large city that is built on the ocean has the same problem. In fact, Hawaii, where we are right now, it has the same problem. They have to be very, very careful because we already have some salt water encroachment in the new development area here on Oahu," he said.

The main Hawaiian island of Oahu has fewer than one million people. It faces a future water crisis on a smaller scale, but of a similar nature, to the crisis facing Asia.

Hawaii is headquarters for the U.S. Pacific Command, which is charged with maintaining U.S. security in the Asia-Pacific region. Officials note the region contains three of the world's hot spots: the Korean peninsula, the Taiwan Strait and the Pakistan-Indian border. A senior defense official said priorities in the region remain deterrence and readiness, but increasingly, the U.S. military is engaged in other work. In 1999, that work included "Operation Stabilize," an Australian-led peacekeeping force in the former Indonesian province of East Timor.

At the Pearl Harbor naval base, a crewman on a frigate called the USS Crommelin is waiting for deployment on a drug interdiction mission off the coast of Mexico. Lieutenant Michael Reagan said the ship was part of another anti-narcotics operation in the eastern Pacific, and an anti-smuggling operation in the Middle East.

"The anti-smuggling operation or maritime interdiction operations are specifically in support of the U.N. sanctions in the Arabian Gulf and the counter-drug operations in support of the war on drugs, which has been a long-standing goal of the United States. Those really are not new missions for us. If you look back at the history of the United States Navy, they have done a number of those types of missions, boarding and patrolling the coasts, and things like that," he said.

Officials have said with the ongoing war on terrorism, U.S. sailors can expect more such missions in the future. They can also expect involvement in other humanitarian efforts, which U.S. officials said will help to stabilize the region.