Spotlight

Beyond Boundaries in Southeast Asia

January 09, 2013

By Brian Finlay, Johan Bergenas, and Esha Mufti - Over the past 30 years, globalization has revolutionized international relations. The net positive result has been soaring economic growth and burgeoning prospects for peace and prosperity around the globe. Southeast Asia, in particular, has witnessed an average economic growth rate of more than 5 percent per year in the past decade. As a result of their economic and political advances, countries in the region have made significant strides in terms of national economic development. Southeast Asians today enjoy greater access to education, clean water, and health services than ever before. Moreover, in just 20 years, the region has halved the proportion of people living on less than a $1.25 per day.

Southeast Asian states have also managed better than most to rebound from the global economic crisis, and have already returned to pre-crisis medium-term growth prospects. Yet despite this remarkable progress, existing and emerging obstacles threaten the region's continued advancement. Most notable among these are growing energy shortfalls, maritime security challenges including piracy, and the trafficking in humans, drugs, and small arms. In response to Southeast Asia's rapid economic and demographic growth, for instance, the region's primary energy requirements are projected to triple between 2010 and 2030. As existing sources of energy become unable to compensate for burgeoning demand, Southeast Asia is likely to experience a significant gap between demand and output, with Indonesia and Vietnam likely facing the largest disparity.

Along similar lines, the burgeoning economies of these countries depend on safe passage through the Straits of Malacca for fuel imports to meet the domestic needs of industry, electricity production, and for growing use of motor vehicles. 

Lastly, transnational organized criminal groups operating in the region are involved in a range of illicit trafficking activities not limited by product type. These activities rely on complex, interconnected networks that leverage each other to update equipment and on corrupt government personnel and officials, including police and border security.

These perils not only affect the most vulnerable communities and peoples of the region, but together they can overwhelm legitimate state structures and disrupt the licit flow of goods upon which the region and the world have come to depend. In short, underdevelopment and soft-security challenges threaten to undermine many of the astonishing strides that Southeast Asian countries have made in the last two decades. These trends clearly demonstrate the need for additional work in order to promote increased societal security that safeguards and promotes development across the region.

To begin ameliorating these interconnected challenges, and do so in an environment where financial resources are increasingly scarce, we must aim to build the human, legal, technical, and financial capacity necessary to guard against them. To that end, an innovative approach that seeks to better leverage existing resources, identify new streams of assistance, and bridge the security/development divide will be critical to success.

Specifically, the "dual benefit" model to implementing international security mandates is widely recognized as having redefined the conversation on the interconnectedness between security and development challenges. The model aims to achieve realistic, sustainable programs that enable developing countries to better meet their international obligations, while simultaneously making progress toward addressing their most pressing domestic security and development needs. Two proven platforms for this dual-benefit approach are presented: UN Security Council Resolution 1373 (counterterrorism) and UN Security Council Resolution 1540 (nonproliferation).

The effectiveness of this initiative has been proven around the globe, including in the Caribbean and Central America. Similar steps are now being taken in eastern Africa. Developing an international security strategy based on mutual self-interest, rather than simply imposing legal mandates, will build near-term trust and yield long-term buy-in from partner states, thus ensuring sustainability.

This, in turn, will strengthen the counterterrorism and nonproliferation regimes. The report concludes with targeted recommendations toward building a holistic approach that bridges hard and softer security objectives with development needs worldwide.

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