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Security Cooperation in East Asia

Structures, Trends and Limitations

SWP Research Paper 2015/RP 04, 27.05.2015, 40 Seiten Forschungsgebiete

The East Asia region is facing a plethora of traditional and nontraditional security problems: conventional and nuclear armament, territorial disputes, resource conflicts, major power rivalries, natural catastrophes, piracy and more. China plays a special role: The country's economic rise, its military modernization and its foreign policy stance have led various countries in the Asia-Pacific region to perceive it as a threat.

East Asia is home to a complex web of multilateral organizations, the most important of which are formed around the ten ASEAN member states. But all these formats are based on the consensus principle, and their focus lies on nontraditional, »soft« security issues. Although the central actors – the US, China and Japan – are active in these organizations, they prefer bilateral forms of security cooperation. The »allies and friends« of the US, for their part, are increasingly intensifying security cooperation among themselves. Japan is particularly active in this regard. Military contacts between the US and China are also being expanded, which helps reduce the risk of miscalculation.

Europe plays virtually no role in the hard security issues of the region or in the bilateral and trilateral formats dealing with security cooperation. If the EU wants to be accepted as a foreign and security policy actor in East Asia in future, then it must at the very least demonstrate continuous high-level political commitment. Active EU involvement in conflict prevention and management would also be needed. The EU should continue to support ASEAN and its affiliated organizations – but it should be aware of the limitations of these formats when it comes to dealing with traditional security issues.