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Monday, June 21, 2004

'Kanazawa Process' pays off

KANAZAWA, Ishikawa Prefecture -- The "Kanazawa Process," a unique initiative sponsored by the United Nations for promoting peace and stability in Northeast Asia, is now celebrating its 10th anniversary. During the decade, this region and the wider world have been radically transformed.

Although the Cold War is over in the international context, it still rages in some regions, including Northeast Asia. That is why an institutional framework for dialogue, cooperation and reconciliation is vital to Northeast Asia to help build regional stability.

No region can prosper if it is racked by serious interstate problems and conflicts. National-security interests need to be balanced with regional-security interests, because without regional stability, no state can truly secure its interests.

Regional processes in Northeast Asia are weak, if not nonexistent. The Kanazawa Process seeks to fill that void.

From its inception, the Kanazawa Process has depended entirely on funding by Japanese local governments and nongovernmental organizations. This is the first instance in the world of local governments promoting peace and stability not just outside their communities but also outside national boundaries to encompass an entire region.

The Kanazawa Process has been sustained through the support and commitment of the governments of Ishikawa Prefecture and its capital, Kanazawa.

At its latest symposium, which concluded June 9, the Kanazawa Process discussed several proposals to broaden or institutionalize its policy-relevant activities, including developing a comprehensive road map for peace and prosperity in Northeast Asia and setting up in Ishikawa Prefecture a promotional center affiliated with the U.N. Regional Center for Peace and Disarmament in Asia and the Pacific. The U.N. Regional Center, headquartered in New York, is headed by Tsutomu Ishiguri, the founding father of the Kanazawa Process.

There was unanimity in the view that the Kanazawa Process had succeeded in establishing a comprehensive Northeast Asian security dialogue without building a formal institution. A question that arose at the symposium was whether the time had come to expand the activities of the process and, if so, whether an institutional framework is needed to be created to make this process more than a dialogue mechanism.

One proposal is to establish working groups to deal with specific regional challenges, such as on energy, environment, human security, maritime security and weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Such working groups could serve as a practical step to broaden the activities of the Kanazawa Process without creating a formal institution.

Given that "track 2" dialogue is now an integral part of the regional order, the Kanazawa Process could continue to stretch the regional-security envelope by working imaginatively to help bridge the national differences on festering territorial, reunification or sovereignty-related disputes, as well as on the growing challenges posed by the spread of terrorism, nuclear proliferation and human-security problems.

For example, North Korea's clandestine nuclear program is just one aspect of the problem related to WMD in Northeast Asia. Another aspect is state-sponsored proliferation of nuclear and missile technologies to other nations by more than one state in this region. Strategic reasons, profit motives, leverage building and containment of an adversary drive such proliferation. Since such proliferation across national frontiers happens covertly, in contravention of international norms and national commitments, it is a destabilizing element in international relations.

The potent mix of nationalism, territorial problems, WMD-related issues in Northeast Asia underscores the need for a mechanism like the Kanazawa Process to help build interaction and cooperation in the region. The new complex range of dangers, opportunities and responsibilities in a more integrated and interdependent world is most obvious in Northeast Asia.

Northeast Asia, in fact, demonstrates that the world in this information age needs to be wired not just electronically but also politically, socially and culturally. The process of global integration demands institutional mechanisms at the regional level to help narrow existing schisms.

There are a number of major problems in Northeast Asia that can be sorted out only through institutionally based cooperation between and among the states. Take the case of human migration.

Growing transborder migration in the region demands regional mechanisms for promoting rehabilitation and settlement. Such migration involves not only North Koreans seeking safe passage to South Korea, Japan, Russia and other nations, but also Chinese settlers in the Russian Far East and other migrants in Japan and South Korea. Northeast Asia needs a multilateral mechanism to address all migration-related issues, including asylum seekers, refugees, human trafficking, arms and drug smuggling, and AIDS.

Regional processes in Northeast Asia are also necessary to promote diplomatic and unofficial contact, regional dialogue, confidence building and crisis management, humanitarian assistance, human security, maritime safety, people-to-people exchanges, ecological protection, antiterrorist and anticrime operations, and food security.

As a pioneering initiative, the Kanazawa Process has sought to address such regional needs through an agenda for peace, stability and prosperity in Northeast Asia.

Regional processes matter because of the obvious need to regulate competing national interests for the sake of regional stability. Regional processes are also useful instruments in shaping the behavior of states, particularly nations that seek to challenge the status quo and the prevailing international norms.

In seeking to deal with regional challenges, the Kanazawa Process faces challenges of its own. If it is to assume a bigger or more formal role, states in Northeast Asia will have to extend more active assistance and cooperation. Despite its unique sponsorship character, the Kanazawa Process needs broader funding to allow it to play an expanded role and build a formal institutional structure.

The Kanazawa Process holds promise of broadening and strengthening its work. Its efforts may encourage other complementary regional processes to emerge in Northeast Asia.

Brahma Chellaney, a professor of strategic studies at the privately funded Center for Policy Research, is a participant in the Kanazawa Process.

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