Introduction: Partnership or Polarization? Southeast Asian Security between India and China.

AuthorLaksmana, Evan A.

Can Southeast Asian states address their security needs by cooperating with China and India? How should they evaluate such cooperation? Could China and India put aside their geopolitical rivalry and work together, or would Southeast Asian states need to engage with them individually? These are the questions which are addressed in this special issue of ContemporarySoutheast Asia. To do so, we begin by introducing an analytical framework that underpins the calculus Southeast Asian states often use when assessing potential security partners, including China and India. We focus on how they think about four key elements: cost, complexity, credibility and capacity. We developed this "4-C Calculus" framework from the wider literature on security cooperation and defence diplomacy that has multiplied over the past two decades.Second, we invited regional scholars to examine five major security issues that Southeast Asia has had to grapple with in recent years: health and pandemic security; the post-coup crisis in Myanmar; defence industrial development; maritime security; and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) governance. The six authors we gathered are experts from and working on Southeast Asia, China and India. We started with the premise of evaluating Southeast Asia's security needs, rather than those of China and India. These five security problems cut across traditional and non-traditional security domains and are considered long-term challenges for the region as a whole, not just individual Southeast Asian states. (1) They are also "strategic" in that they are part of the broader concerns and responsibilities of not only the armed forces but also a range of other domestic actors, from ministries of foreign affairs and health to state-owned enterprises and coastguards.The security problems we address are those for which China and India--individually or together--could offer potential solutions. The two Indo-Pacific powerhouses would certainly make for potentially constructive security partners, especially as Southeast Asian states are now considering different partnerships as geopolitical competition among the major powers escalates. Although China is widely perceived as a crucial, if not the primary, economic partner of Southeast Asian states, its security role is seldom understood. Studies on China's defence diplomacy are few and far between, and those that have been produced tend to focus on military cooperative activities, such as education exchanges, joint exercises and arms sales. (2) We know surprisingly little, however, about China's security partnership potential more broadly. The same can also be said for India's security cooperation with Southeast Asia; it has strong potential but, after two decades of engagement, has so far been found lacking in strategic impact. (3) Theoretically, China and India could also work together to help address some of Southeast Asia's security needs. But considering that China-India relations are deteriorating, it remains unclear whether by engaging both together, rather than individually, Southeast Asian states would foster improved cooperation or engender greater polarization in the region.This introduction is divided into several sections. We begin by explaining the 4-C Calculus framework that we have developed from the existing literature on international security. This framework poses a set of questions that states must evaluate when considering potential security partnerships. However, as we shall see, the authors of the five articles in this special issue have modified and appropriated each of the 4-C elements into their respective empirical contexts. The second section describes problems of policy surrounding the five security themes. We briefly summarize the authors' key arguments based on how they apply our framework to their analysis. Finally, we end with a broad set of conceptual and policy implications that arose in this special issue.Security Partnerships: The 4-C Calculus FrameworkThe study of international security cooperation has been a central feature of the field of International Relations (IR) for decades. However, the current literature has been developed around paradigmatic debates over cooperation using neoliberal institutionalist theories, while it tends to focus on security dilemmas between rivals or during crises. (4) Recent policy work on security cooperation, particularly those drawn from the examples of the United Kingdom and the United States, focuses on whether (and how) defence diplomacy and engagement can influence favourable outcomes. (5) Only recently have scholars revisited the lack of a rigorous conceptual foundation for "international cooperation". (6) Perhaps because it is less puzzling to scholars, relatively little has been written about the conceptual underpinnings of security cooperation between non-rival states. A study of when and how such states think about entering into cooperative relationships with partners could yield interesting insights for theory and policy. In particular, how weaker states seek to address shared security challenges with more powerful states could provide a deeper understanding of regional relations and whether security concerns can be addressed effectively.We define security cooperation as the explicit coordination of policies, including, but not exclusively, joint action over security-related problems involving the key security actors of two or more states. In short, security cooperation takes place when states try to improve their own security through joint initiatives. (7) To be clear, scholars of Asian security have studied the way regional states develop and implement security cooperation concepts--collective, comprehensive, common and cooperative--as well as notions of a security community. (8) But these concepts tend to focus on multilateral approaches to regional security rather than on how policymakers think about security partnerships and cooperation. Furthermore, these concepts are often examined and interpreted as activities to enhance international legitimacy, (9) not as practical policy guides to address a set of shared security problems with potential partners. None of those concepts clearly specify how smaller states formulate, think about and implement security cooperation with larger partners.We focus on how states think about engagement when considering potential partners. In many ways, this line of inquiry fits within the existing literature on international security cooperation which seeks to explain why and how states develop interests and perceptions that permit them to enter security cooperation. (10) We begin with the premise that security cooperation involves a spectrum of factors, from simple communication between officials, at one end, to highly integrated joint commands with interchangeable assets, at the other end. (11) Much of the security cooperation involving Southeast Asian states and their partners takes place in the middle of this spectrum. The form of their preferred security cooperation is a "strategic partnership", which is a structured collaboration that responds to security challenges. (12) These goal-driven relationships also tend to be informal in nature and entail low-commitment costs, so they fit within the comfort zone of how many Southeast Asian states want to engage with security problems, especially when it comes to involving larger regional powers such as China and India. Perhaps, this is why East Asia's security cooperation landscape has been fragmented and weakly institutionalized, consisting of overlapping formal and informal forums. (13)However, just because most Southeast Asian states "hedge" between larger powers, where they seek autonomy by signalling ambiguity, that does not mean they lack a strategic calculus when thinking about addressing their security problems with potential partners. (14) We offer four policy concepts that middle and smaller states, such as those found in Southeast Asia, consider when weighing up security cooperation platforms and partners: cost, complexity, capacity and credibility. This 4-C Calculus framework poses specific questions as to whether certain partnerships under certain arrangements can effectively and efficiently address shared security problems. (15) In other words, states seek an overall "strategic fit" when choosing security partners. (16)Nothing in this conceptual framework suggests that states must engage in a particular sequential analysis of the different elements or that considerations of these elements must be coherent. There is likely to be a significant degree of overlap between the different elements when policymakers consider their security partnership options. As we shall see throughout the special issue, different analysts modify how the four concepts could best be used to examine specific cases. Our framework is neither conceptually rigid nor limiting in its application.Cost CalculusWhen weighing security cooperation costs, states ideally adopt a portfolio approach. How many resources--financial, diplomatic and political--should they expend on which partnership to obtain which benefits? This should be straightforward as far as financial commitments are concerned, while non-financial costs are often more complicated. This is particularly the case when the selection of one partner could exclude others (the "autonomy cost"). Although this is more difficult to assess than the "sovereignty cost", where certain arrangements, such as hosting foreign military bases in exchange for security guarantees, reduces the sovereignty of one party. Such costs are often more readily identifiable prior to the formation of a security partnership.On the one hand, for states with limited resources, a diversity of partners is often an important indicator of their strategic autonomy. On the other hand, the greater the number of security partners, the more likely it is that there will be language problems...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT