Multilateralism: The path to stability and security in Asia

An Ambassador in Belgrade once said: “There is only one organisation which allows Ambassadors the chance to meet formally once a week, it’s unique; no one other organisation does it.” That organisation spans 57 countries across the globe: The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) covers over a billion people and is the world’s largest regional security organisation.

The OSCE is truly unique; it spans divisions of international politics and acts as a platform for peace, democracy and stability. It creates a space that allows states to meet on equal terms, from where participants can work towards tangible consensus. This neutral foundation allows the OSCE to span complex divides and build bridges over torrents of dispute.

The OSCE is tremendously successful at what it does and has been quietly building relationships that help build confidence in multilateralism, so that dialogue develops between states and other agents. In testimony to the effectiveness of OSCE interventions, where an OSCE Mission has been deployed into an area, that area has not returned to conflict.

The OSCE has been tremendously successful and played a huge role in striving towards peace and security, but with the “Europe” bit in the name you might wonder what this has to do with the rest of the world, especially China, a country the Young Fabians are exploring in-depth this year.

The OSCE was born out of a desire to prevent conflict between the Cold War powers, build stability and create economic prosperity. The OSCE was founded as the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE), which in turn emerged from the 1975 Helsinki Final Act. At the time this was seen as a tremendous success by all signatories and the OSCE has strived to continue that success.

Many of the themes that were relevant during the Cold War are as sharp and pertinent today in various regions of the world, especially the Asia Pacific region. Power, politics, economics, territory, energy security and national pride are just as vibrant and precarious now as global power balances ebb and flow. It is also fair to say that even outside of the OSCE region the skill, expertise and lessons learned have a timeless value. As geopolitics evolve there will come a point where it makes sense to replicate the utility and effectiveness of an organisation like the OSCE to other regions of the World.

In response to the emergence of China as a global superpower, Japan is moving away from the post-Second World War peace settlement. Japan is developing a more outward-facing strategic view which will result in a more dynamic military with a different shape to it. In addition regional allies such as the USA and Australia are increasing their regional workload. History and especially the vivid echo of WWII still has the capacity to provoke and shape Chinese responses to regional dynamics, hence confrontations between states in the area have been rising. Tensions over issues such as war memorials, the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands and natural resources in the South China Sea are potential flash points that could trigger conflict.

Figures are always a potential turn off but just consider the scale of what is at risk. In 2013 the East Asia Pacific Region produced 40% of global GDP. Trade between China and the EU is worth over €1 billion a day, with bilateral trade reaching €428.1 billion in 2013. Trade between the UK and China was worth £42.5 billion for the first 11 months of 2013 and is growing rapidly each year. In Joseph Nye’s East Asian Security publication: 'The Case for Deep Engagement', he states that “Politics and economics are connected. International economic systems rest upon international order.” Conflict in the Asia Pacific region would be disastrous for the UK and the global economy. Therefore, creating an Asia Pacific Security Organisation modelled on the OSCE would be invaluable in building and sustaining regional confidence, stability and security.

China wants to be treated seriously. It’s the second largest economy in the world and wants to move on from just being seen as an economic power. It’s not just a matter of a growing economy seeking a voice; China's need to be taken seriously runs much deeper. The country is working hard to become a global superpower with a political, military and cultural influence that reflects its economic stature. Unless steps are taken to deal with the change in the geopolitical landscape, the risks to peace, stability and prosperity are very real.

The UK should work with China and the other regional players to set up an Asia Pacific Security Organisation modelled on the OSCE. Its experience as a founding member of the OSCE and its relationship with China and other nations within the region place the UK in a strong position which could facilitate the development of an Asian security network. The risks of doing nothing are too grave, not just for the UK, but for the world.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the OSCE.

The Young Fabians are embarking on a year-long programme designed to develop our members knowledge and understanding of China, and the political, economic, social and cultural trends that are shaping it. We will look specifically at the bilateral relationship between the UK and China and consider how it might be strengthened in the future. Learn more here

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