Consequences of interstate tensions

Interstate rivalries have afflicted SEAsian states for centuries, with some historical animosities dating as far back as the 1500s. Whilst the presence of such bilateral tensions has in many cases hampered prospects of political, economic, and military cooperation, it is noteworthy that no serious armed conflict has broken out till date. States are generally aware of their interdependent fate and have been able to look beyond such tensions and partake in efforts of regional cooperation. As such, interstate tensions have had limited impacts on the economic and political aspects of collaboration. However, the lasting arms race in the region has been a worrying trend and pointed to deep-seated insecurities between countries, and can be argued as the most pertinent consequence of interstate rivalries. Persistent interstate tensions in SEA have resulted in an escalation of military tensions within the region as countries continue to build their military capacities as protection against potential threats from neighbouring countries. The existence of unresolved territorial disputes and conflicts over maritime borders that exist between states have contributed to the perceived necessity for weapons build up. Southeast Asian states from 1989 to 1996 have seen weapons delivery rose from 11.9% to 23%, with only the Middle East receiving more weapons by 1997. Whilst the build-up of arms can in part be traced to an increasing need to fight local insurrections, the composition of these military acquirements, in the form of fighter jets, submarines and naval units, reveal the military’s significance in protecting offshore territorial assets. Singapore, with one of the region’s largest defence budgets, also has no internal insurrections to fight against, identifying its military build-up as a result of deep-seated insecurities with regard to its Malay neighbours, particularly Indonesia which once pursued a Confrontation policy against it in 1963 and Malaysia from whence threats of armed retaliation have originated. Hence, although no outright conflict has ever broken out within independent SEA, the arms race reflects an innate distrust which is fuelled by interstate rivalries, and threatens to escalate any potential conflict within the region. Interstate tensions have also worked to limit regional military cooperation, which exacerbates the potential implications of the arms race. Actual military confrontation occurred in the 1960s over the formation of Malaysia, as Indonesia desired to subsume the states of Sabah and Sarawak into a Greater Indonesia scheme. The visit of the Israeli president Chaim Herzog to Singapore in 1986 raised Malaysian fears of Singapore’s military ambitions, resulting in a heightened nationalistic fervour and a threat to demolish the Causeway. Additionally, interstate tensions have also limited the scope of political cooperation and engendered frosty diplomatic relations as conflicting territorial claims and ideological differences have worked to polarise political leaders against each other. The Association of Southeast Asia (ASA) in 1961 was quickly undermined when the territorial dispute over Sabah caused a split between Malaysia and Philippines, two of its three founding members. Whilst Sabah was awarded to Malaysia, Philippines claimed that the region fell under the Sultanate of Sulu which rightfully belonged in the Mindanao region. Marcos eventually ended diplomatic relations with Malaysia. Whilst ties were resumed since 1969, Malaysia continues to reject Philippine requests to bring the matter to the ICJ. As such, continued interstate tensions have made it difficult for politicians to engage in full cooperative measures, as these disputes continue to serve as points of contention. Economically speaking, interstate tensions have also hindered prospects of development by proving an obstacle to access of the area’s rich resources. The ongoing debate over the Spratly island saw Philippines and Vietnam awarding different

Myanmar has refused to grant licenses for Thai fishing vessels into its waters. a Malaysia – Indonesia Joint Commission was formed to ‘intensify discussions’ to resolve the dispute over the islands. Logging licenses are similarly denied to the Thai. not all of the impacts of interstate tensions have been negative. By limiting the scope of cooperation and polarising governments. ASEAN has its limitations as an organization. the existence of interstate tensions have been limited in their impact on regional cooperation as countries are all too aware of the importance of preserving friendly relations on their domestic economy and policy. which aimed to limit external intervention in regional politics. acquiesced to participation in regional cooperation. Hence. and formation of the ASEAN Free Trade Area in 1992. we cannot forget about the numerous sources of interstate rivalries which have been swept under the carpet. Freedom and Neutrality in 1971. political. such measures of cooperation were in part taken in recognition that existing rivalries between countries. interstate tensions have prevented SEA from taking a united front towards economic development and harnessing the area’s resources for mutual benefit. undermining the ability to harness the rich oil reserves of the area. even if countries were not directly involved. incurring a large opportunity cost in terms of economic growth. fishing in the region has met with many obstacles due to the propensity of naval standoffs amongst states. However. ASEAN also led the diplomatic action against the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia in 1978. issues like Pedra Branca and the Sipidan-Ligitan Islands disputes were not settled by them. As such. Furthermore. animosities between states have hindered cooperation. Due to historical animosities and other rivalries. . many countries have. This motivated countries to engage in more active multilateral cooperation as they did not want the negative repercussions of such conflict to be spread to them. the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in 1976 which affirmed ASEAN’s commitment toward the peaceful settlement of disputes. In 1968. fearing that a communist controlled Indochina would pose a threat to Thailand. Evidently. However. Both parties were willing to settle the issue peacefully by summiting the dispute to be heard in the International Court of Justice in 1996. give rise to conflicts which severely undermined regional security and economies. like the establishment of the region as a Zone of Peace. No actual work has been executed due to intense conflict and the exclusivity of oil rights. An awareness of the dangers of such interstate tensions has worked to foster more cooperative attitudes as countries look to overcome these animosities and pursue mutual gains. This has resulted in a proliferation of illegal logging along the Thai-Myanmar border. with the passage of time. Ultimately. ASEAN’s conflict mechanisms like the High Council was not legally blinding and not used at all. and contributed to worsening tensions. multilateral cooperation has also been enhanced in recognition of the need to provide a platform for regional efforts at resolving disputes. Yet. Security cooperation within the ASEAN framework increased over time. could.contracts to different oil companies over their respective economic zones. and economic status of the region. if mismanaged. It had no military cooperation and could not control new members after 1992. ASEAN was formed in 1957 to promote amity between its members using the “ASEAN way” of soft diplomacy and negotiation. Furthermore. interstate tensions have had negative repercussions on the military. but by the ICJ. In 1991. recognising that usage of the military would compromise Suharto’s political position. the presence of interstate rivalries contributed to increased efforts at regionalism. and interstate tensions diminished in their impact. despite the trend of increasing amity between states. In conclusion. Furthermore. Evidently. Indonesia foreign minister Adam Malik persuaded Suharto not to take military action against Singapore after the later executed two Indonesian marines found guilty of sabotage during the Confrontation. owing to an awareness of their shared fate.