Tokyo Strategic Session: An ASEAN Regional Forum Model for Middle East?


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I’m working on some writing this morning at the Hotel Okura in Tokyo — where I stayed the last time I came over when accompanying George Soros on a trip to kick the tires of the health of Japan’s civil society.
On my last morning here on that last trip, in the Orchid Room at breakfast I ran into and winked at (but didn’t speak to) Asst. Secretary of State for East Asia Affairs Christopher Hill — who was then on yet another near breakthrough in the Six Party Talks with North Korea. Condoleezza Rice arrived the day I left — though she was supposed to be here the day before — and I always wondered if there was a chance the delay was because of the fear that she might bump into George Soros in the well-trafficked lobby of the Okura and not know how to manage an encounter with the world’s real transformational diplomat.
But I am excited today because I’ll be meeting again Yukio Satoh — Director of the Japan Institute of International Affairs and former Japan Ambassador to the United Nations.
Satoh is one of the more interesting and sensible strategic minds in Japan today and long ago when a senior foreign ministry official, he was the background architect and animator of the ASEAN Regional Forum, a modest but important vehicle for the great and small powers around Asia to discuss and occasionally resolve their security disputes.
I’ve been thinking that an ASEAN Regional Forum like model is what the Middle East needs in the not too distant future to softly align together the security interests of Israel and the moderate Sunni governments — and eventually all players in the Middle East.
The Center for Strategic and International Studies and the JIIA are sponsoring the conference. I’ll report more later.
— Steve Clemons


9 comments on “Tokyo Strategic Session: An ASEAN Regional Forum Model for Middle East?

  1. JohnH says:

    The hegemonists among us–virtually the entire foreign policy and national security mafia–argue that having one dominant power makes everyone better off. Instead of the chaos inherent in nations constantly fighting amongst themselves, hegemonists claim that they have studies to prove that peace, no matter how brutal the enforcing regime, is always better than war. And so they justify US hegemony. Moreover they argue that the US, being an exceptional hegemonist, applies its power with wisdom and benevolence. No matter that the examples they give generally come from the Cold War era (i.e. the Marshall Plan) when there was competition for the hearts and minds of people.
    Well, I wonder what the people of Burma think of the hegemony of their ruling class. Or what the 1st century Jews and Christians thought of Roman hegemony, Russians under Stalin, Europeans under the Nazis… As for US exceptionalism, we see it at work today in Iraq, where we have presided over the deaths of perhaps a million people and the displacement of millions more. Here in the US, are we better off with the Republican party dominating all branches of government, letting corruption flourish unchecked? I think not.
    But the hegemonists see the solution as putting a regional architecture in place to further US dominance, arguing that peace and prosperity cannot flourish without the US in charge. Countries in the region, having seen the West at work–first with colonialism, then with US’ ‘saddam’ dictatorships, now with the devastation of Iraq and Afghanistan–are almost certainly not thrilled with the prospect and must increasingly prefer to develop their own arrangements to protect their own “vital strategic interests.”


  2. Carroll says:

    I don’t think it behooves the US to “set up” any more “alliances” for or between Israel or anyone else in the ME.
    Aand between the Israelis and the Sunnis? Against the Shittes? Is that the idea? Gawd!..from the frying pan into the fire.
    For some reason the policy wonks and politicans and every little wanna be important and involved former and ex would be somebody, all seem blissfully unaware of all the countries flipping us the finger these days on our meddling.
    How many times does US supreme interference have to result in failure for them to get it? Huh?
    Show me one single foreign country or allaince the US is successfully “running” without a major problem from that country’s own population and other countries that doesn’t result in instability.
    From Americans, who are paying for all this, to the Orwellington, DC make work circut…butt the hell out. If you want a role in “arranging the world”, go apply to the UN for a job.


  3. Helena Cobban says:

    A propos of Nir’s comment, it’s worth remembering The Arabist’s great mnemnonic for the regimes Bush keeps referring to as “moderate Arab governments”: Sunni Arab Dictatorships Described as Moderates… Just spell it out.
    (Time was, back in the 1980s, that even ol’ Saddam himself was described by Rumsfeld and Co as a “moderate”. He also, certainly, fit the rest of the description.)


  4. FYI says:

    In regards to an ASEAN like organization for the Middle East: there is an existing organization, Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) whose membership includes Islamic State of Afghanistan, Azerbaijan Republic, Islamic Republic of Iran, Republic of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Islamic Republic of Pakistan, Republic of Tajikistan, Republic of Turkey, Turkmenistan and Republic of Uzbekistan.
    If you Americans are interested in helping you will start there.
    But I do not think you are capable of doing so – for you only Israel & Oil counts.


  5. nir rosen says:

    who are the moderate sunni governments? egypt, jordan and saudi arabia who torture their citizens and deny them basic rights? saudi arabia which punishes women for getting raped and promotes the ideology which spawned september 11? jordan and egypt, two dictatorships who thwart democracy and are backed by the US and israel for that very reason? because were there true democracies in the middle east you would find the overwhelming majority of the sunnis and shiites of the region, extremely hostile to israel, not to mention the united states. but including israel in this list is appropriate, since it too viciously suppresses the rights of a millions of people, the indigenous ones who were there before the zionists arrived.


  6. JohnH says:

    Why reinvent the wheel? Don’t you already have the Gulf Cooperation Council? Why not let it expand organically to include Iran, Turkey and other Arab states?
    Or is the goal here to create an overlapping organization that would reinforce US and Israeli hegemony on the economic and social affairs of the region?


  7. Mr.Murder says:

    I’ve previously mentioned Japan investing in America. Nucor Yamato here in Arkansas, where Clinton first invited them to locate, and even in red states(Alabama and Nebraska).
    Cheney’s former House Staffer does marketing for Toyata at a Senior position. Nissan led the way in that aspect as well.
    Soros is there helping garner goodwill venture capital.
    Follow the Money.
    You’re correct in stating he’s the premiere world ambassador at this time. I’d loved to have heard Mr.Soros own feelings on the loss of fellow Hungarian, on the passing of Rep.Lantos this past week.
    Men of amazing fiscal and civic capacities, made kindred in having come through the decades after facing what could arguably be called the greatest threats to Western civilization since the Dark Ages. It honestly makes the recent unpleasantness seem pallid in comparison, comparable to background noise.
    Only it isn’t. They’re just different volume settings ,of the same frequencies. Motivated by the same kind of social underpinnings, ethnic misunderstandings, geopolitical and eco-strategic pressures placed upon society, in an increasingly flat and compressed world community.
    The ability to address these demands with an emphasis upon creative efficiency is what will help us turn the corner. It is past an event horizon. The time for new action and departure from old assumptions, instead of the fall back upon nationalist tradition or normative default lines.The idea that we can simply agree to disagree, et al, is an outmoded setting.
    An item within those cultures I’d strongly consider addressing there is the increasing frequency of gluten related problems arising within the food staples. IMO we’ve got a series of genetically modified crops highlighting what would otherwise be considered benign allergies within the body’s internal chemistry.
    It’s becoming much more common, it isn’t like man changed that quickly, but the food additives and crop modifications have. It’s time to stop considering the rise of what was once anomalies to be ‘under the radar’ and it could have serious macroeconomic implications on futures, pricing, and interior policy here and abroad.
    Someone like Mr.Soros could understand that to best help address it in ways that make the world financial sector listen and act.


  8. Steve Clemons says:

    Helena — thanks for your comment. The comparison of past efforts with one that might work eventually would be a great article I think. I don’t know the past history of this in the Middle East. I think that the sequencing issues of membership are complicated, and you may be right. But the ARF model had a low bar for membership but still had sequencing realities it had to deal with — and the tilt was towards inclusion of all parties on the whole. While I’m aware that Hamas, Hezbollah and others are part of the mix you are suggesting — I think that there may be sequencing opportunities here. It’s definitely something we should be discussing….and look forward to doing so with you when I get back from Asia and the Middle East.
    best, steve clemons


  9. Helena Cobban says:

    Steve, many people have proposed various forms of “regional forums” in the Middle East going back to the 1970s (or perhaps further.) In 1991, I worked quite hard pushing the idea of a Helsinki-type, multi-basket forum. It’s not going to happen before there’s a complete settlement of the remaining tracks of the Arab-Israeli conflict, primarily because to all the Arabs real “normalization” with Israel is something to be attained in sync with, or after, that settlement– but certainly not before.
    So it’s nice to keep such ideas alive and brainstorm on them a bit. But why restrict the project to Israel and to Sunni Arab governments that are (mis-)described– by the Bushites, but certainly not by their own citizens– as “moderate”? In the right context, which would certainly include having a final settlement of the Israeli-Arab conflict, both Turkey and Iran would have a tremendous amount to add to the mix. One of the successful attributes of regional bodies like ASEAN or the Helsinki conference is precisely their inclusivity.
    The kind of partisan forum you define looks much more divisive and polarizaing than helpful.


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