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Common Security Can Calm Turbulent Sea

Originally published in Global Times | December 19, 2011 22:06

Joseph GersonIn an era of increased resource competition, the oil, natural gas and other minerals under the South China Sea's seabed, as well as control of their sea lanes, have become spectacular prizes sought by nations with competing territorial claims to them.  With the US, China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Japan and India all taking aggressive actions (military and/or economic and diplomatic), the dangers of miscalculation leading to disastrous armed conflict have arisen.

These shifting regional dynamics have generated external shocks to what has been the prevailing framework. The so-called pivot of the US from Iraq and Afghanistan to East Asia and its provocative actions have sparked tensions. At the same time, smaller claimant countries have expressed anxiety over changing dynamics resulting from China's rapid growth and increasing international reach.

Former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping's policy of joint development offers a framework for maintaining peace and harmony in the region, as does the paradigm of common security which facilitated an end to the Cold War.

Given the needs for and rights of all people to economic security, my hope is that all nations with claims to or interests in the South China Sea will adopt win-win approaches of common security resolving these dangerous tensions. The Sea's mineral resources can be used to equitably address the development needs of all the nations which claim rights to them. A multilateral security system can be created to ensure unhindered passage by all across the Sea's shipping lanes. 

The challenge before us is for statesmen and civil society to reframe the paradigm to one that relies on diplomacy to work for enduring human security. As Former US President Dwight Eisenhower, himself a war hero, told the US people, "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed." Military expenditures divert essential and limited national resources from bringing people out of poverty and addressing essential human needs.

We would all benefit from reduced military tensions and expenditures in order to reinforce development and ensure real security.

The author is director of Programs of the American Friends Service Committee's New England Regional Office.

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