Today’s attack by North Korea is a vivid and violent reminder that the region’s authoritarian regimes have been enhancing their military capacities, obliging Asia’s democracies to follow suit.
But in bolstering their own militaries, “some of Asia’s most promising democracies are harming the very political stability that makes them prosperous and predictable,” warns Joshua Kurlantzick, a fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations.
The military’s resurgence “has proved disastrous for democracy in Asia,” he cautions:
In the Philippines, the military has allegedly been linked to hundreds of extrajudicial killings of left-wing activists over the past decade. (As the Army becomes more powerful, these types of abuses rarely get investigated; no senior military officer in the Philippines has been charged in conjunction with the killings.) And in Indonesia—where the armed forces dominated politics under Suharto but in the democratic era were stripped of much of their influence—the Army has used regional threats to start rebuilding its political power. …..
If states like North Korea or Pakistan begin to open up, Asia’s democracies might feel less need to build up their own arsenals, he writes. But, given the region’s political trajectory, that doesn’t seem likely.