Divided Asia Stands

Why can't Asia unite even for the sake of its own security? For decades, Western experts have complained about the failure of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to learn the value of collective security from Europe's post-War experience. ASEAN's leaders have ignored the lessons offered first by the Common Market, and then the European Union. The benefits of these models are supposedly so obvious that it seems incomprehensible that ASEAN's leaders cannot see them.

East Asia's apparent disarray over a response to North Korea's nuclear démarche brings these complaints into the open once again. A North Korea with nuclear bombs surely poses a common threat to all Asians. Everybody, it is said, should help the US put Kim Jong Il in his place. The fact that North Korea's close neighbors seem unable to grasp this seems to confirm that Asian disunity is not just stupid, but chronic and willful.

But history and geography matter in assessing the nature of a threat. Different traditions in tactical and strategic thinking also matter--to say nothing of the unique way Europeans forged their current cooperative arrangements out of aggressive nation-states that shared a common civilization.

Nothing in Asia's history, however, remotely compares to Europe's half-century of division and veritable occupation by two rival superpowers. So it is no surprise that Asia's leaders do not look to Europe for solutions to their regional problems.