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A Growing Force: Civil Society’s Role in Asian Regional Security

Eds. Rizal Sukma & James Gannon
To purchase: Brookings Institution Press



Executive Summary

Throughout the world, civil society organizations have quietly begun making important contributions to peace and security. This holds true even in East Asia, where state-centric approaches and the notion of national sovereignty hold greater sway than almost anywhere else. The five areas examined in this volume—health, human trafficking, climate change, disaster relief, and piracy—illuminate the variety of ways that nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and other civil society organizations are helping to make East Asia more secure. Take the following cases, for instance:


Civil society is clearly a growing force, especially on many of East Asia’s most pressing nontraditional security issues. However, the case studies in this volume also illustrate how its ability to contribute is constrained by a number of obstacles.

The diversity of the size and scope of the nonprofit sector in the countries across the region make collaboration difficult. The tendency in the region for giving to focus on traditional charity rather than support for NGOs severely limits financial resources for many groups and helps perpetuate the weak institutional capacity that limits NGOs’ potential contributions. In addition, government and societal resistance—or at least a failure to create an environment conducive to a vibrant civil society—has hampered NGOs’ ability to contribute to the public good. For instance, even after being lauded for their contributions in the health field and in responding to the Sichuan earthquake, 9 out of 10 Chinese civil society organizations still have to make do without official nonprofit status and the benefits that confers.

In light of this, A Growing Force identifies several steps that should be taken in countries around East Asia to strengthen civil society’s contributions to regional security:


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Contributors include Rizal Sukma (CSIS-Jakarta), Gui Yongtao (Peking University), Yanzhong Huang (Council on Foreign Relations), Jun Honna (Ritsumeikan University, Japan), Yukie Osa (Association for Aid and Relief, Japan), Chung Suh-Yong (Korea University), JN Mak (independent analyst, Malaysia), and James Gannon (JCIE/USA).