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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2006, Vol, 6 No. 1 .


Searching for Peace in Asia Pacific: An Overview of Conflict Prevention and Peacebuilding Activities
Annelies Heijmans, Nicola Simmonds, and Hans van de Veen (eds)

London: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2004, 848pp, PB 18.50, ISBN 1-58826-239-1

The critical task of comparing different case studies and critically synthesizing the accumulated knowledge and information has not been sufficiently undertaken in the literature that is concerned with various aspects of conflict prevention, conflict resolution and peacebuilding. This collective volume represents an attempt to address the aforementioned deficiency, since it contains an impressive collection of thirty-three contributions and offers a holistic examination of the intrastate and interstate conflicts and tensions in the Asia-Pacific region, which includes the sub-regions of Northeast Asia, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands. Collective volumes often face the dangers of being incoherent and conducting unsuitable comparisons. Given the large number of the examined recent, ongoing and potential conflicts and the considerable cultural and political diversity of the region itself, this book succeeds significantly in overcoming these possible problems. It does so because, apart from presenting the conflicts, the basic actors and the dominant issues, it primarily focuses on multi-track diplomacy and peacebuilding activities of civil society organizations. Although official policies of conflict resolution and prevention are described, the aim of the book is to examine more in detail the ?unofficial approaches to violent conflicts? (3). This specific emphasis is put because of the literature gap on this particular aspect and probably because the authors of the book believe that the root causes of the conflicts are better addressed through grassroots initiatives and processes that involve not only elites, but broader parts of the conflict-torn societies, a theoretical assumption that can be traced throughout the volume.

The chapters of the first part of the book delineate the general picture and the distinct features of the region. Asia-Pacific has the biggest number of major armed -intrastate- conflicts than any other region in the world. However, there are some unresolved interstate tensions as well, two of which can be viewed as direct legacies of the Cold War period (China-Taiwan, North-South Korea). Moreover, authoritarian governments have constituted the majority in the region. Even those countries that experience democratic transition, such as Indonesia, Cambodia and the Philippines, have not so far succeeded decisively in producing institutions capable of accommodating demands of ethnic self-determination, devolution of power and democratic participation (18-19, 85-86). Aspects of bilateral and multilateral security cooperation (e.g. Association of Southeast Asian Nations) are also analyzed in the first part, as well as the impact of international developments in the region. Particular emphasis is put on the post-9/11 period and the US policy of war on terror. Bello?s chapter lucidly and critically describes the principles and concrete policies of the Bush administration (esp. 77-80), whereas Wright-Neville points out that war on terror has been used by certain states in the region as a pretext for violence against ?cultural and religious organizations? (55). Overall, the first part succeeds in outlining the core causes and issues of the regional conflicts and contextualizing them within broader episodes and processes. One line of criticism could be that with regards to the critical issue of the relationship between democratization and conflict, more emphasis should be put on internal dynamics and processes rather that on the role of international actors.

The second part of the volume focuses on the major conflicts in Asia-Pacific. A regional introduction is offered for each of the three sub-regions, although one could point out that the chapter on Southeast Asia could delineate broader trends and features, instead of focusing particularly on the problem of small arms proliferation. Apart from this, the similar structure that is followed in the various chapters on individual conflicts maintains the clarity of the book?s focus and facilitates the comparison and the drawing of certain conclusions. Special emphasis is put on the official management of the conflicts and on the specific efforts of domestic and international NGOs, civil associations and grassroots initiatives, which is the main interest of this book as indicated above. One of the strengths of this book is that the team of the authors includes academics as well as practitioners, who come from diverse national backgrounds. This often permits them to criticize the Western conventional wisdom, especially among policy-making circles, with regards to various aspects of conflict intervention. Instead, they underline the importance of local and traditional peacebuilding mechanisms in addressing the root causes of the conflicts (see for example 108, 451, 535). Finally, in the third part of the book there is included an extremely helpful directory of 350 organizations, mainly NGOs and research institutes, that cope with issues of conflict and peacebuilding in Asia-Pacific.

Overall, this book represents an outstanding contribution to the literature of conflict prevention and peacebuilding. It will be particularly helpful to those scholars and practitioners who are interested in how civil society organizations can empower local societies in coping with conflict and promoting positive peace.


Thomas Goumenos, PhD candidate, Panteion University of Social and Political Sciences, Athens



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