Governance and Human Security in the Asia-Pacific

The Asia-Pacific has been slow to establish a system of regional governance, but economic interdependence and the transnational nature of security threats now demand a collective response. A “glue” is needed to hold the parties together, and Senior Fellow Akiko Fukushima contends that the concept of “human security” could serve as such an adhesive. This paper was originally prepared for a workshop on "Regional Architecture and Frameworks for Cooperation in the Asia-Pacific," held on January 8–9, 2015, at the National University of Singapore. It is reprinted here with the permission of the organizers.

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1. Cracks in Global Governance

    Seventy years ago, such global governance institutions as the United Nations, World Bank, and IMF were created. They have certainly contributed to preventing a Third World War and in enabling global economic and financial growth. The global environment has undergone an immense evolution since then, though, and the concerns of the international community are focused not just on war but on a whole array of issues, from insurgencies, terrorism, cybersecurity, space, and epidemics to climate change. Structurally, the world has witnessed a tectonic shift in power distribution, from a bipolar to unipolar and to a new type of multi-polar arrangement. We do not yet know who will lead the new global order. Rising powers are reluctant to lead unless this serves their national interests. And declining powers are losing the capacity they once had to lead.

    Security incidents are far less predictable than ever. Crises appear out of the blue, no matter how hard we gather information in advance. Who could have predicted the Ukraine crisis, the Ebola epidemic, and the sudden surge of the Islamic State at the beginning of 2014?

    Have global governance institutions adapted to these changes? Have they maintained their raison d’être, legitimacy, and utility, some 70 years since their creation? They have certainly tried to adapt. The World Trade Organization, the successor to GATT, has tried to conclude a new global trade agreement to address issues in a more interdependent global economy, but it has so far been unsuccessful. This has led to a spawning of FTAs and EPAs of numerous kinds.

    We have witnessed a surge of minilateral and informal multilateral networks among political and economic powers to fill the lacuna of governance. In the wake of the global financial crisis, for example, a G20 leaders’ summit was convened, and its scope of discussion has expanded to include not only economic issues but also those relating to energy and climate change. These informal “clubs” can assuage immediate uncertainties, but can they become the standard bearer of global governance from a longer perspective? They tend to have strong momentum in its initial phase but gradually lose steam over time, as they have neither a firm grounding in shared values and norms nor common perceptions of global public goods in ways that inspire confidence and sustain cooperation. These ad hoc groups, at best, merely provide patchwork governance.

    How, then, can we enhance global governance? Can regional governance become a substitute for global governance or, at the very least, become a functioning part of global governance? Given its shortcomings, global governance must be strengthened and adapted to today’s prevailing circumstances, being supported by regional and national governance.

    2. Regional Governance in the Asia-Pacific

      What is the state of regional governance in the Asia-Pacific? The Asia-Pacific was once known as an infertile ground for regional institutions. However, there has been a sea change after the creation of APEC and the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF). In the past two decades, the region has given birth to a myriad of regional groupings with different acronyms—the so-called alphabet soup—which form a multilayered regional architecture centered on ASEAN, including APEC, ARF, ASEAN plus Three, the East Asia Summit, and ADMM plus. In addition, we have an inventory of Track 2 meetings, such as CSCAP, Shangri-La Dialogue, to name just a few.

      Are these institutions serving effectively as regional governance structures? They have surely contributed to regional dialogue, promoting conversation and leading to some practical cooperation, mainly with financial crisis management (such as the Chiang Mai Initiative) and in nontraditional security areas, such as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) exercises through ADMM plus and ARF and piracy control in the Strait of Malacca through the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combatting Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP). These forums have failed to address core regional issues, however, such as territorial disputes, competitive arms buildup, cyber threats, national rivalries, and civil war.

      This raises a question: Do we need regional governance at all in the Asia-Pacific? In contrast to member states of other areas that yield their sovereignty for regional cooperation and integration, nations in this region strongly cling to their sovereignty and are keen to maximize their national interests. This does not lend itself to regional governance. Given the growing interdependence of the global community, however, we need to juggle our independence and interdependence if the region is to prosper in the future. Two factors—namely, economic interdependence and the transnational nature of threats prevalent in the Asia-Pacific—naturally compel us to cooperate, since they demand a collective response. Multilateralism thus matters in the Asia-Pacific more than ever. If we agree on the need for regional governance, how should we go about achieving it?

      3. Human Security as a Guiding Principle

      In building a functioning structure for regional governance, we need regional institutions, concepts, and leaders. Whatever route we take in achieving regional governance, we will need a glue to bind us together. Can human security be such an adhesive? Since human security was conceived and introduced to policy debate by Asians, such as Pakistani economist Mahbub ul Haq and Indian economist Amartya Sen, who authored the seminal 1994 UNDP Human Development Report, it would be a natural glue in terms of its Asian pedigree. However, human security has not only advocates but also skeptics and opponents in the region.

      Those promoting the concept originally included Japan, Canada, and Thailand, although they varied in their broad or narrow definition of the term. Japan stood on the broader end of the spectrum, identifying human security as a means to achieve “freedom from want.” It has operationalized the concept through its development assistance since the December 1998 policy speech by Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, who cited the concept in announcing assistance for countries hard hit by the Asian financial crisis the year before. Japan has embraced human security as a core component of its foreign policy, particularly in terms of ODA, as corroborated in such policy documents as the 2003 ODA Charter, the forthcoming 2015 ODA Charter (to be renamed the Development Cooperation Charter), and the 2013 National Security Strategy. Japan, since the report by the Commission on Human Security, has further broadened its interpretation to include “freedom from fear,” expanding its peace-building assistance from strictly the post-conflict phase to cover the period during a conflict, as exemplified by JICA’s assistance to the peace process in Mindanao. The December 2013 National Security Strategy noted the nexus between development and security, which will be further elaborated in the forthcoming 2015 ODA Charter (Development Cooperation Charter). This will allow Japan to be even more proactive in addressing both “freedoms” while deemphasizing the “freedom from fear” in relative terms.

      Canada, on the other hand, has stood by its narrow definition of human security, emphasizing the “freedom from fear” and leading efforts to set norms for landmines, the International Criminal Court, child soldiers, the responsibility to protect, and so on. The big divide between Japan and Canada lies in whether human security should include the use of force to intervene, including in humanitarian crises. The views of the two countries have converged over the years, though, and now both include the two freedoms. Canada, however, under the Conservative government, has stopped using the phrase since 2006. Conceptually, though, Canada promotes the ideas that human security embraces.

      Thailand espoused both the broad and narrow configurations of human security. It established the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security and was active in supporting the Human Security Network internationally. Thailand was a strong advocate of developing and applying the concept globally, regionally, and domestically. However, in 2005 with the change of government, Thailand dropped its commitment to human security and no longer uses the concept or the phrase.

      Mongolia, on the other hand, introduced human security as a priority policy area in 2000 and has adopted a “good governance for human security” initiative to enhance domestic human security. It remains a strong promoter of the concept, so today, Japan and Mongolia are the two countries that remain the key promoters of the human security concept and retain the phrase in the Asia-Pacific.

      The region’s strong opponent to human security was China, who criticized the concept as a Western import. However, since the SARS incident, China has slowly accommodated it, renaming it “humankind safety” in Chinese and shifting the focus from the individual to the state. With this interpretation, it no longer opposes the intermittent inclusion of the term in regional policy texts. The other nations in the region are skeptics to varying degrees.

      After the Chinese acquiescence to the use of the term, “human security” has appeared in the final report of the East Asia Study Group and is used repeatedly in policy documents in ASEAN-centered regional institutions. However it seems ASEAN prefers to frame broader security threats covered by human security in terms of “nontraditional security,” which, according to Canadian scholar Paul Evans, is “a conceptual cousin” of human security.

      Can and will regional organizations embrace human security as a binding glue in the future? Whether the concept is phrased as human security or nontraditional security, the region shares an anxiety over the broad issues covered by these terms. The region is keenly aware that threats envisioned by these phrases are transnational and demand cooperation.

      If regional governance falls short of addressing core economic and security issues, it can at least cooperate on issues that may seem marginal but will nonetheless cause hardship and suffering to people in the region should they occur. Viruses and pollutants do not own passports and simply ignore immigration controls in landing in different countries and waters.

      Human security is no longer simply a mantra, as a common understanding of the concept was agreed upon in a UN resolution in 2012. We are now at a phase where we need to operationalize the concept—including both freedoms—and enable people to live with dignity. The phrase should be used not just as part of the foreign policy lexicon but applied domestically as well. Today, despite our varying degrees of acceptance of the notion of human security, we all agree that threats to our security and safety are no longer limited to traditional interstate warfare. We also agree that these broad and emerging threats are interconnected and frequently affect innocent third parties. This situation demands a concept or a guiding framework for a comprehensive and integrated approach to deal with these unpredictable threats.

      Human security—or another new phrase containing the same ideas—can help us to understand a potential crisis; take interconnected, comprehensive action, rather than deal with a situation in a piecemeal fashion; and eventually create empathy, if not trust, among the players in a region.

      What we need today in achieving good governance is the wisdom to come up with a new label for an approach that acknowledges the blurring of the demarcation between traditional and nontraditional security issues and that can overcome the lack of support in the Asia-Pacific for the phrase “human security.”

      福島 安紀子/Akiko Fukushima

      Akiko Fukushima

      • SENIOR FELLOW

      Areas of Expertise

      • International relations theory
      • international security