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The goal of a South Land Connections project could be to engage those members of various communities who have a commitment to advancing others' welfare in 'South Lands' in the Indian / Pacific Oceans in promoting understanding of opportunities and challenges facing the civil institutions in various countries, and encouraging mutual advice and support amongst those institutions. This would be in addition to, rather than as an alternative to, traditional programs to promote the welfare of individuals.
Many countries in Australia's region (the so-called' arc of instability) seem to be in serious difficulties - largely because of the interaction of economic failures and political instability. In the medium to long term this poses a risk to Australia. For example:
SE Asia is a mess - undergoing a multi-dimensional economic and political crisis. The effect on Australia could be dire - but few even understand. Consider Indonesia's Islamic Defender's Front - recently implicated in jihad to massacre Christians. It believes Americans should be scared away. The authorities can do little to control such organizations. There is a sense of drift about Indonesia's government. It could end up permanently balkanised. However this is only part of regional malaise - due to economic slowdown; foreign investment that goes only to China; internal shocks (eg in the Philippines - which have led to lawlessness, and insurgency - related to the failure of development). In Malaysia the opposition party has called for an Islamic state and jihad against America. Burma, Cambodia and Laos are complete basket-cases. ASEAN can do nothing because of the problems in Indonesia - though its main members remain committed to involvement in the world. But the economic dangers are so acute that SE Asia could enter a long period of stagnation. (Sheridan G. 'Looking out our back door', Australian, 8-9/12/01)
Solomon islands lacks many basic services and could go broke. The economy contracted 18% last year and 15% this year. Fiji (which had experienced problems) has seen a rule of law restored, but the Solomons hasn't. Risks of a failed state in Australia's vicinity include providing a base for drugs, weapons and people smuggling. Most sources of foreign revenue have ceased operating. The only bakery ceased operations at gunpoint recently (Callick R. 'Canberra alarmed as disaster looms in Solomons', Financial Review, 5/12/01)
Australia's defence system needs to be redesigned. It was only barely adequate in East Timor. This is not to say that it should just focus on people smuggling or terrorism. But defence is no longer synonymous with defence against conventional military forces. It does not just require the ability to deliver lethal force - but also to deal with the cultural, economic and political dimensions involved. Current weaknesses to Australia's north increase the risk of unconventional attacks - and reduce the risk of conventional attacks (Dupont A. 'Old response can't work against new threats', Australian, 7/11/01)
Australia's commitment to the war against terrorism ignores many possibly greater risks in its immediate neighbourhood (Barker G. 'The arc of instability', FR, 1/8/02)
While the issues are complex, the basic problem is that these countries (and others elsewhere in the world) have been exposed to a process of globalisation based on Western principles and have simply failed to cope.
Symptoms: The Asian financial crisis was one symptom of this failure (which reflected the fact that in many Asian cultures a return on investor's capital is not seen as a priority economic goal). Islamist extremism is another (which partly reflects a culturally induced economic constraint, and the unrelenting economic, political and cultural pressure from West) - see Competing Civilizations.
In order to overcome such problems one option is to appropriately adjust the current global economic framework - and a means whereby that option could be explored is outlined in A New Manhattan Project for Global Peace, Prosperity and Security.
However in the absence of any agreement about a practical alternative global economic framework, it is essential that these countries gain the ability to cope with their present environment.
In part the latter requires changes in the systems of government in distressed countries - and there are many means to try to promote this (eg through aid, diplomatic pressure, UN programs, IMF etc) which run into a whole raft of political issues.
However the competencies of civil institutions are also critical - both as elements in the economic and governance process, and particularly in developing responsible ideas that feed into the political system. Failed states (eg as Afghanistan was) have failed partly because there are too few competent and responsible civil institutions - a situation that allows extremists to have a free hand.
'Civil Institutions' might include organizations in areas such as:
- Education (schools, universities, colleges, training)
- Business associations;
- Research institutes
- Local government
It would be possible to create a network of groups in various 'South Lands' consisting of members of those communities who have an ethical concern for the welfare of others. Such groups could focus on promoting the effectiveness of civil institutions in addition to traditional concerns for promoting the welfare of individuals.
South Lands might (narrowly and without considering Africa or South America) include countries such as:
- Cook Islands;
- New Caledonia;
- New Zealand;
- Papua New Guinea;
- Solomon Island;
Australia has recently started promoting a Virtual Colombo plan (see Foreign and Regional Aid via the Internet). This has an educational focus.
A South Land Connections project might be started by grafted into the Virtual Colombo plan as a means for post-educational follow up (mentoring) of those employed in civil institutions, and then extended into identifying research and network building relevant to civil institutions. There will presumably be existing programs for supporting civil institutions of all sorts, and a major contribution might be made by simply drawing this information together systematically (eg on web-sites) and having a network of people dedicated to encouraging them to be used and enhanced.
Needless to say such a program would need to be well done, centre on people who are credible citizens and are well up-to-date as well as culturally sensitive.
A SW Pacific Dialogue has been established at Indonesia's initiative amongst countries in Australia's region with objectives similar to those suggested for a South Land's Connections project (Callick R. 'Regional stability focus of new forum', FR, 4/10/02).
August 2002 (based on February 2002 draft)