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Asia Pacific in the Global System

Introduction

            David Capie, in his article “Between a hegemon and a hard place: the ‘war on terror’ and the Southeast Asian-US relations”, argued that in spite of the increasing recognition of the United States as the world’s most powerful country in terms of military might and an increasingly assertive US role in the region, Southeast Asia nations, specifically Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, seemed indecisive when it comes to the war on terror. Specifically, Capie argued that ASEAN member-nations “have not responded to the war on terrorism by simply bandwagoning with the United States” (2004, p. 224) “[nor] have the region’s Islamic states rejected cooperation with the United States in a way that might be predicted by a balance of power r civilisation analysis” (2004, p. 224). Furthermore, the article examined why these three Southeast Asian nations have responded as such.

Discussion

            The author argued that the reason why Southeast Asian leaders seemed indecisive is because they are still trying to find a balance between the “stability and security of their own societies and regimes” (David 2004, p. 224) and the “balance of power across the region as a whole” (David 2004, p. 224). This cautiousness in Southeast Asian leaders seemed to be justified. Acharya cautioned these leaders about whether to cooperate with the United States on the war on terrorism: “Fighting terrorism is necessary to maintaining security. But Asia must be on guard that in doing so it doesn’t add to regional instability or discord, or undermine the process of democratisation” (2004, p. 26). As Capie emphasised Southeast Asian leaders are in an unenviable delicate balancing act.

            In the first part of the article, Capie outlined the reasons why the United States today is the world’s single superpower. Although I think this portion is not necessary to drive the author’s arguments home, it added drama on the author’s arguments. It did emphasise the importance of the article’s title: America is truly a hegemony. America, being a hegemony, has the ultimate clout in forcing Southeast Asian nations to choose sides – as President Bush said, “No nation can be neutral in the struggle” (Capie 2004, p. 225). As such, nations, not only Southeast Asian nations, are expected to most likely bandwagon with the hegemon state.

            With the delicate balancing act performed by the leaders of Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, it is surprising to observe that the region is progressing democratically. Neville pointed out that in these countries, including Thailand, “human rights are increasingly respected, accountability and transparency in government [are] better guaranteed, and media freedoms [are] more entrenched” (2004). But, like everything, the region is yet far from perfect. Allegations arise – for example – “under the guise of combating terror regional elements of the Indonesian armed forces (TNI) have adopted a more aggressive approach to insurgencies in Aceh and west Papua” (Neville 2004). Neville further suggested that the War on Terror might even escalate violence in the troubled parts of the region.

            Central to the arguments of these three authors – Capie, Neville and Acharya – is the definition of the word terrorist. Neville argued that the term is rich in political implications, used in random manner without regard for the social consequences of such a use of language (2004). Acharya said that the War on Terrorism has been overly belabored that euphemisms abound: “one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter” (2006, p. x). Another common factor in their arguments is that what happened in the 11th of September 2001 was, in the words of President Megawati of Indonesia, “barbaric and indiscriminate acts against innocent civilians (Capie 2004, pp. 227-228).

            Lastly, David Capie argued that what transpired in the Southeast Asian region is just but a reflection of “a larger international dilemma [on] how can states cope with the United States’ unprecedented preponderance of power and its single-minded focus on the war on terror?” (2004, p. 242). Perhaps, how the rest of the world can learn from the Southeast Asian region in its resolution of this dilemma. It might have been interesting if Capie posited possible resolutions to this issue. After all and I am sure, the leaders of the different nations composing the region are also at loss at what to do.

Conclusion

            Considering all these, Acharya said that the War on Terror spearheaded by the United States is not without benefits. He said that “the war against terrorism has strengthened bilateral security cooperation between the U.S. and Asian countries such as the Philippines, India, Singapore and Pakistan” (2004, p. 26).

            Truly, the danger that groups intent on destabilizing the region and sowing terror is obvious. Unless the leaders of Southeast Asia unite and take a single stand on the War on Terror, valuable efforts will be wasted on the debate on why these leaders appear to be dilly-dallying. President George W. Bush is right: in this fight “No nation can be neutral.” Each nation much act decisively.

References

Acharya, A. 2004. ‘Fight Terrorism-But Carefully’, Far Eastern Economic Review, vol. 167, no. 36, p. 26.

Acharya, A. 2006, ‘India and Southeast Asia in the Age of Terror: Building Partnerships for Peace’, Contemporary Southeast Asia, vol. 28, no. 2, pp. 297-322.

Capie, D. 2004, ‘Between a hegemon and a hard place: the ‘war o terror’ and Southeast Asian-US relations’, The Pacific Review, pp. 223-245.

Wright-Neville, D. 2004, ‘Losing the Democratic Moment? Southeast Asia and the War on Terror’, Monash University.

 

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