Director’s Introduction - Albert Santoli
Asia America Initiative is devoted to global peacebuilding, especially in the Asia Pacific region. In our field programs, such as the Philippines, we emphasize interfaith efforts between Muslims, Christians, and tribal peoples. In our Washington office, our intern research teams are comprised of students from many countries and cultures. At the conclusion of our summer session, AAI’s Washington interns that hail from Singapore, Malaysia, Korea, the Philippines, and the United States share their perspectives on the current global milieu and their hopes for the future.
Commentary Part 1 by Hish Omar
The United States, in my opinion, is currently in a position where it can really transition from being a world power to a global leader. Everyone expected President Obama to bring about a drastic change in US foreign policy, but so far the US approach has remained mostly unchanged. Except for a renewed call for dialogue—one that is backed by words, if not actions—the United States has demonstrated that it is unwilling to pay attention to the nuances of different global issues. In order for the United States to be perceived in a more positive light, it needs to start living up to the ideals that it espouses. Its perceived unquestioning patronage of Israel undermines its moral authority—all countries including Israel that need not be held accountable for their actions will always act in self-interest, regardless of the other parties that are affected.
A main problem with regard to international relations today is the inability of countries to listen. Perhaps this is because these relations have been shaped by a zero-sum, Us-versus-Them paradigm. What is lost then is the capacity for listening, of noticing that although it is important to remain true to the needs of your own side, you must also be aware that your actions can reverberate across multiple borders. This is especially true for world powers, as their footprints leave long-lasting, sometimes irreversible effects wherever they operate. The United States, Russia, China, and other current or upcoming world powers need to start listening and adjusting their policies accordingly, even as some of the younger ones test the limits of their growing influence.
In the region that encompasses Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan, the area of Baluchistan, despite its strategic importance, has not been paid enough attention. It is a large region that juts into all three of the countries that were mentioned. While it is mostly a desert region, it may turn out to be a key area for the confluence of geopolitical interests over the next few years due to its access to the ocean. The trouble here is that Baluchistan itself is unstable, with sectarian conflicts between Sunnis and Shias destabilizing the region on all three sides of the national borders. It is also an area rich with natural resources, but its instability renders these resources inaccessible to interested parties. The already-strained governments of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran should work to stabilize the region, but either cannot do so or are unwilling to expend the resources necessary due to conflicts on other fronts or personal motivations of political players.
All issues are complex. To suggest that any party on one side of a conflict can be blamed unequivocally is dangerous, because it renders complexity into dichotomous narratives that exclude the possibility for mutual understanding. Instead, it must be remembered that responsibility can be spread across multiple parties, because then each party will know that it has to play its part in undoing damage and rebuilding ties. In my opinion, the USA needs to let Israel be responsible for its own actions, cease military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and renew calls for dialogue while living up to its own democratic ideals. China needs to accept that in order for it to become a respected global leader, it should start assuming the responsibility and accountability that comes with a leadership role and not intimidate its neighbors.
I would recommend similar actions to other world powers, but for the less influential countries, like in the ones in the ASEAN region, my hope is that they will do the best that they can with all the resources that they have. They, too, have a stake in this global endeavor and it is easy to assign blame entirely to world powers. We are often complicit in perpetuating the very systems that we condemn. A more perfect union is often spoken of here in the United States, and I feel that it applies to international cooperation as well. It is by acknowledging that we are imperfect, that there are narratives different from ours but nonetheless real to the people they speak of, that we will be able to find the solutions that we need to move forward in this global age.
AAI Intern, Summer 2010