Tuesday 14 Aug 2018 | 19:06 | SYDNEY
Tuesday 14 Aug 2018 | 19:06 | SYDNEY

Shangri-La observations


Rory Medcalf


30 May 2009 16:28

The Shangri-La Dialogue, held in Singapore by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, has great value as a public forum for key figures in Asian security. Much of what they say is predictable, but question-and-answer sessions create scope for new insights, surprises and of course sidesteps. Here are some notable points from the first morning’s sessions:

  • US Secretary of Defence Bob Gates gave Japan and South Korea what can only be assumed to be a public reassurance that they can trust in US extended nuclear deterrence in the face of possible confrontation with North Korea following this week’s nuclear test. The US, he said, was ‘a partner fully prepared and able to carry out all – I repeat, all – of our alliance obligations’.
  • But he also warned that if North Korea continued on its current path it could provoke ‘some kind of arms race in North Asia’, although at present the possibility of Japan’s building nuclear weapons was remote.
  • Gareth Evans, among other things the co-chair of an Australian-Japanese sponsored nuclear disarmament commission, asked Japanese Defence Minister Yasukazu Hamada whether it was now time to qualify the US extended deterrent to Japan so that it applied only to nuclear threats, not chemical, biological or conventional, against which US and Japanese conventional deterrence should be sufficient. Mr Hamada did not exactly answer.
  • Then the tables were turned and American scholar Ralph Cossa asked Chinese Lieutenant General Ma Xiaotian when and how China might join the global nuclear disarmament process begun by President Obama with his recent Prague speech and new US-Russia negotiations. Again, the answer was less than direct. China, noted General Ma, had a much smaller arsenal than Russia or the US and so did not ‘qualify’ for current reduction talks, and furthermore had long had a no-first-use doctrine. Nothing new here.
  • On the good news front, Secretary Gates offered praise for Pakistan’s recent progress in at last mobilising serious military power against Taliban forces, and commended the ‘sophistication and care’ with which India has handled its Pakistan diplomacy after the Mumbai terrorist attacks. New Delhi, he implied, is doing fairly much all it can to assure Islamabad that India is not a threat, so that Pakistan can confidently redeploy its army against the enemy within.
  • Oh, and a surprise statistic. New Zealand, according to its Defence Minister Wayne Mapp, has the world’s fifth-largest EEZ. Maybe they too could do with a bigger navy …