Asia-Pacific: balance of interests or a military standoff?

Moscow has been hosting yearly conferences on international security for the past five years and this year the sixth in the series was held from 26 to 27 April 2017. This scribe was honoured to represent Pakistan at the conference. The symposium addresses the most pressing problems of global and regional security. This year it was organised in the backdrop of the ensuing war in Syria, Yemen, Libya and Afghanistan.

The core issue at the plenary session was the fight against international terrorism, security issues in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region, the role of the military departments in enhancing security in various regions of the world. Counterterrorism and counter radicalism in the Middle East, security of information space, BMD implications, and security in Central Asia were in the spotlight of separate discussion sessions of the Forum.

The Pakistani delegation was led by the Defence Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif. 29 other countries were also represented by their defence ministers. The Conference commenced with the Secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation Army reading out the welcome address of President Vladimir Putin, speeches by the Russian Defence Minister General Sergey Shoygu, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and the UN’s Under Secretary General Jeffrey Feltman reading out the welcome address of UN Secretary General António Guterres.

Opening plenary session discussed global security and the challenges of the 21st century. Pakistan’s defence minister Khawaja Asif, while highlighting the challenges Pakistan is facing and the achievements made in the war on terror, did not squander the opportunity to take a swipe at India regarding its tyranny against the Muslims of Indian Occupied Kashmir and the steps India is taking to destabilise Pakistan. Indian defence minister Arun Jaitley was squirming in his seat when the “K” word was mentioned and Indian machinations were highlighted.

Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai did not spare the opportunity to blame Pakistan for all of Afghan woes.

Other discussions centred on European Security: prospects and trends, Middle East: modern objectives of counterterrorism and counter radicalism.

During the debate, Israeli and Arab interlocutors crossed verbal swords. Security of information space and freedom of access: contradictory interrelation, BMD: implications for global and regional security, Security in Central Asia: Afghan factor. This scribe was afforded the opportunity to express his opinion in this session. This was a fiery debate with the Indian speaker Nandan Unnikrishnan getting the short end of the stick from Ambassador Zamir Kabulov, the moderator and Special Representative of the Russian President for Afghanistan ticking the Indian off for kowtowing to the US.

The first day of the conference concluded with a formal reception hosted by the Russian Defence Minister. Traditional Russian was exquisite while the performances by various troupes of the Russian Armed Forces impressed the visitors with their talent in music, song and dance. The host, General Sergey Shoygu stole the show, when in his welcome address, prayed that the Armed Forces of the world should be out of a job when peace returns.

Russia is taking the forefront in resolving long standing issues in the world. This has caused friction between the US and Russia as in different theatres of war, they are supporting opposing sides. In Syria, Russian forces have been at the forefront in destroying and defeating the ISIS while the US is bent upon decimating the Bashar al-Assad regime. In Afghanistan, Russia, China and Pakistan have picked up the gauntlet to help restore peace in the war-ravaged country but the US, despite being invited to Moscow to participate in the peace talks declined the offer. To rub salt in the wounds, the US blames Russia of arming the Taliban and on the eve of the latest round of Moscow talks, dropped the “Mother of all bombs” in Afghanistan.

The second day of the conference commenced with a statement by Sergey Naryshkin, Director of the Foreign Intelligence Service of the Russian Federation. The plenary session comprised a discourse on Asia-Pacific: balance of interests or a military standoff?

Major General Shao Yuanming, China’s Deputy Chief of the Joint Staff under the Chinese Military Commission did not mince words while expressing his opinion on the subject. And that China is a peace loving nation and does not harbour any hegemonic designs against any country. He highlighted the Chinese position on global security and the challenges in the world and Asia Pacific. The decline of global economy has led to security challenges. China’s role in bridging the gap between the under developed and developed countries was highlighted. The desire of certain countries in exploiting the security challenges to their own advantage and spread their influence was condemned by him. Chinese contribution to peacefully resolving all challenges was reiterated. Since no single country can tackle all the problems, China called for a collective approach to resolving disputes and disagreements peacefully. China put forward the proposal of the denuclearisation on the Korean Peninsula while the US should stop conducting military exercises with South Korea in the region.

China’s proposal of the New Silk Road or the One Belt One Road mega project is likely to benefit the whole world rather than China alone.

The discourse comprised the aspects of an assessment of regional security threats, safety of maritime routes, military alliances and balance of military force, multilateral formats for security interaction and military to military dialogue as a factor of stability.

The concluding session focused on the regional aspects of military to military engagements. This session comprised discussions on problems of
regional security and possible solutions.

Significance of military to military engagements in preventing major incidents; forms and modalities of military cooperation were highlighted.

The Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation must be appreciated for its efforts in drawing attention to the shaping a polycentric international system while underscoring objectives and countermeasures of international terrorism as a global threat. Approaches to conflict settlement and role of military forces in international relations were brought out in a cogent manner.

While discussing European Security, the transformation of Euro-Atlantic security institutions and current status and prospects ahead of NATO-Russia interaction came into focus. The dialogue on Middle East spotlighted the strength, sponsors and goals of radical groups. This included the best practices, results and effectiveness of military counterterrorist operations. Political dialogue in Syria as a stage of post-conflict settlement and threats of terrorism merging with weapons of mass destruction received the attention of academics participating in the conference.

Afghanistan and Central Asian security touched upon terrorist threat in the region; mainly the ISIS and Taliban came into sharp focus. The role of media and information technology in the realm of safety of military related information and the endeavour to finding solutions to dissensions in information and communication domain were conversed.

It is befitting to close this piece on the VI Moscow Conference on International Security with a Chinese proverb: “Those who rely on moral values will prosper but those who rely only on force will fail.”