Trade, Security, and National Strategy in the Asia Pacific
NBR Analysis vol. 7 , no. 3

Trade, Security, and National Strategy in the Asia Pacific

by Geza Feketekuty, Andrew MacIntyre, and Dwight H. Perkins
October 1, 1996

For some years now there has been intense debate over the significance of national strategy to the economic rise of East Asia. At the crux of the argument are theoretical disputes between mercantilist and liberal schools over the appropriate role of the state in promoting national economic welfare and security, as well as empirical disputes regarding the critical causal factors in the rapid economic growth of particular Asian countries. Initially focused on Japan and the first wave of Asian newly industrializing economies (NIEs), the debate has been broadened as extraordinary rates of sustained economic growth have come to prominence in other parts of East Asia.

This essay explores the experiences of a number of key Southeast Asian countries, focusing on their industrial and defense priorities and the extent to which these are integrated into broad overarching strategies for national advancement. The member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are quite diverse. Rather than attempt to examine the trade and security orientations of all seven ASEAN countries—a rather laborious empirical exercise in contrasts—this essay will focus on the four most comparable of these countries: Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, and the Philippines. Economically, all four have swung in the last decade or so from relying on a strategy of import-substitution-based industrialization supported by natural resource exports to adopt much more outward-looking and export-driven patterns of industrial growth. On the defense front a comparable trend has emerged: defense planners in all four countries no longer focus so heavily on internal security issues and have begun to pay serious attention to the external security environment. Furthermore, although their political systems vary in design, all four countries suffer (in varying degrees) from comparable institutional weaknesses.

Following the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam in the 1970s, Southeast Asia disappeared from American radar. With the partial exception of the fall of Ferdinand Marcos and the withdrawal of U.S. bases from the Philippines, developments in Southeast Asia have gone largely unnoticed here. And yet much that is of importance to the United States has been unfolding in the region over the past two decades. From being a region characterized by poverty and turmoil, Southeast Asia has emerged as an economically dynamic, politically stable, and diplomatically energetic region.

In exploring these themes, this essay is organized in four parts. The first looks at the relationship between national strategies, domestic political institutions, and the security environment. The second and third divide the recent history of Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, and the Philippines into two rough periods—the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s, and the mid-1980s to the present—for the purposes of highlighting the reorientation of their economic and defense policies. The final section offers some thoughts on the likely evolution of Southeast Asian national strategies over the next five to ten years.