East Asia is undergoing a remarkable—and potentially destabilizing—transformation. Uncertainty about the region’s future has fueled a sense of competition among the great powers and exacerbated nationalist sentiments in a way that further complicates the ability of states to constructively manage their relations. Given Asia’s increasing weight in international affairs, these developments have profound implications not only for the region but for the entire international community.
Preventing the destabilization of the region seems to be shaping up to be one of the most important challenges in the 21st century. This task is becoming more complicated as the global order faces growing challenges from newly assertive powers, as the region becomes more interconnected, and as the number, diversity, and complexity of state and nonstate actors with the potential to shape the future of the region continues to expand. This makes it increasingly crucial to strengthen regional cooperation on security issues by building up an overlapping set of multilateral institutions and mechanisms that can more effectively facilitate deeper regional cooperation.
One important prerequisite for substantive security cooperation is a shared threat perception, but the diverse backgrounds and potentially competing national interests of the countries in the region tend to limit the degree of cooperation that can realistically be expected on military affairs and other issues typically categorized as traditional security issues. This is particularly true given the level of mistrust that characterize the relations of major regional powers such as China and Japan with their neighbors. Nevertheless, there are many shared interests in combating the transnational challenges that are growing in intensity and complexity throughout the region. This makes it likely that one of the most effective strategies for establishing regional security cooperation is to build habits of cooperation on such issues of common concern—such as global health, disaster relief, environmental degradation, and international crime—in the expectation that cooperation here will eventually spill over into other areas of regional security relations.
In thinking about how to build security cooperation, experts in the region have tended to focus almost exclusively on how states interact. However, evidence from around the world points to the fact that nongovernmental actors, particularly civil society organizations, are playing a growing role on security issues. This implies that they have important contributions to make in helping build regional cooperation in East Asia and in complementing and strengthening likeminded governmental initiatives.
The range of ways in which nongovernmental institutions can affect regional security cooperation is surprisingly broad. For example, the nature and expertise of civil society organizations tend to make them uniquely qualified to respond to cross border issues such as those related to communicable diseases, the flow of migrants and refugees, and environmental degradation. Also, networks of likeminded NGOs have proven particularly effective in helping develop and disseminate international norms, which have important implications for the treatment of various security issues in the region. In addition, NGOs are uniquely positioned to organize confidence-building measures that lay the groundwork for governmental cooperation, and in a broader sense, they often play a key role in providing the intellectual leadership and vision that gives birth to regional security cooperation.
For this reason, JCIE is organizing a three-year study to explore how nongovernmental initiatives can concretely contribute to regional security cooperation in East Asia. The project will make policy recommendations regarding what should be done to enhance nongovernmental contributions and how to more effectively link these with the initiatives of governments and regional and international institutions. This will be operated by a working group of mid-career experts on traditional and nontraditional security drawn from throughout the region. The working group is directed by Tadashi Yamamoto and guided by a group of prominent senior advisors chaired by Hitoshi Tanaka.
Approach and Objectives
In the first year of the study, the working group is undertaking an assessment of what is currently being done on the nongovernmental side that is relevant for regional security cooperation. For example, they will examine nongovernmental initiatives on shared regional security concerns such as humanitarian/disaster relief, terrorism, environmental degradation, migration/refugees, trafficking of drugs and people, piracy, and communicable diseases as well as collaborative initiatives such as Track II security policy networks.
Building on this, the working group will spend the second year exploring how nongovernmental initiatives can contribute to regional security cooperation and what is required to make nongovernmental participation effective. The working group will take up case studies of successful nongovernmental initiatives and try to identify why they have worked and what can be done to replicate their success. Our working hypothesis is that civil society organizations and networks can play crucial roles in regional security cooperation but they can only be effective through working with governments and other sectors of society. Therefore, special emphasis will be placed on analyzing what is needed to make cross-sectoral cooperation more effective in the East Asian context.
Then, in the final year of the study, the working group will focus on the role of collaborative networks of civil society organizations working on security issues and how they fit into overall efforts to strengthen regional security cooperation. This will be done by analyzing how these networks interact with governments, regional institutions (e.g., the East Asia Summit and the Asian Development Bank), international organizations that are active in East Asia (e.g., the World Bank and the World Health Organization), and other actors (e.g., private foundations and global civil society movements); identifying where they can be most effective, assessing their potential impact; and producing recommendations on how they can have a greater impact and where they can be leveraged to strengthen official regional institutions and mechanisms.
Working group members will share discussion papers and/or case studies at workshops in each of the first two years, and a major conference will be held in the third year. Reports will be published each year on the research findings.
- Produce recommendations for strengthening civil society contributions on regional security challenges by identifying key areas where civil society organizations are well positioned to make significant contributions, analyzing what is necessary for their efforts to succeed, and exploring what they should be doing on their own and/or in collaboration with governments, regional institutions, and international organizations.
- Recommend ways of expanding regional security cooperation by linking civil society organizations and networks with cooperative initiatives being undertaken by governments, regional institutions, and international organizations.
- Explore what needs to be done to expand the capacity of civil society organizations and networks to contribute to East Asian regional security cooperation and create an environment where governmental and nongovernmental actors can work together more effectively.
Inform key policymakers and opinion leaders about the importance of leveraging civil society in initiatives designed to strengthen regional security cooperation and engage them in discussions of how to make concrete progress in this area.