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Friday, January 03, 2014, 10:05 (GMT+7)
Trust building in defence diplomacy

At the end of May 2013, at the Shangri-La Dialogue 12, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung mentioned “Strategic Trust” among countries. This issue was mentioned in an important forum in the context of complicated evolution in the region, hence drawing attention of many scholars and politicans in the world.

The meaning of “strategic trust” is about belief and cooperation between countries to minimize divergences, together build peace and stability in the region. To earn trust, countries of contradictions must together set up a roadmap to settle disputes between the two or more sides; first to carry out meeting at high-level, especially in defence field.... Relations among countries can only develop in depth when there is trust; because when there isn’t trust, there is no real cooperation and it’s hard to settle disputed and sensitive matters together.

In the globalization trend, there is a great demand for strengthening cooperation, especially in the field of defence and consolidating trust is of increasing importance. Building trust is the necessity to set up and promote cooperation. In practice, relations among countries and militaries, methods of building trust are always attached importance but the differences in interest, history, culture, politics, and code of values may cause distrust. Distrust may stem from prejudices of the past; different approach to interest or from the remainings of history. In such cases, it’s common that countries, subjects of international relations may not have complete trust toward others. In international arena, to exist and develop, countries must set up relations with others. However, to some extend, those relations are not sincere, hiding their strategic agendas... This may cause unequality in cooperation relations, especially in matters of interest. Besides, lack of information and communicative channels or misguided and distorted information... also limit mutual understanding, or even cause hostility among countries.

Trust building in international relation

Nowadays, in international relations, when planning and implementing foreign policy, a country always put their “national interests” on top priority. When establishing relation with another partner or international organization, a country would always consider what it can benefit first, and then its responsibilities to the partner; this is considered as a principle by many countries to decide the level of trust in relations with others. Another principle in the foreign policy of many countries is “independence, self-reliance, not to interfere in the other’s internal affairs”.

In international relation, though every nation finds it essential to have mutual trust building, it is not easy to do in reality; it must be built step by step, especially between countries with dispute and conflict record in the past. Only one side or the two have doubt, trust which have been built for years may end quickly, resulting in disorientation in cooperation, diplomatic tie being cut or even an armed conflict or war. In such situation in which there is an imbalance in military power as well as comprehensive strength, the smaller countries have reason to raise doubt about moves and activities of bigger ones. For this reason, bigger countries need to show their responsibility in building trust to wipe out scepticism of smaller ones.

Besides, trust building is also influenced by subjective perception which is affected by prejudice, misunderstanding caused mainly by insufficience of information and misuse of the information. Therefore, information and the skill to process exact information is an important factor in building trust. On the other hand, to some extent, trust is defined as narrowing the gap between words of “strengthening cooperation” and actions; the consistency between specific matter and general one toward real cooperation. Foreign relation is similar to the relation of person-to-person to create and maintain trust two basic things are needed: “credit” and the transparency in policy and action. Trust building in international relations is also considered as strengthening cooperation, exchanging activities to promote mutual understanding, to wipe out prejudice toward each other and create motives (internal) for enhancing trust and boosting cooperation. Another essential factor is to build a common control and surveillance mechanism to ensure the right implementation of both sides as committed. The sufficient and exact release of information (through words) or setting base for other’s  forecast about its own action (through activities) is also the main content of trust building.

Reality of trust building in the past time

At present, in the Southeast Region, there is a number of multilateral security  cooperation mechanisms with the participation armed forces both inside and outside the region, such as: ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM), ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting Plus (ADMM+)... in which ARF is seen as the most sufficent and important one. Since its inception, ARF has proposed a number of methods for building trust, including boosting military exchange, enhancing the transparency in military activities... Through ARF, involved countries have conducted both bilateral and mutilateral dialogues and consultance; established code of dialogue and cooperation, to make decision based on consensus principle and not to interfere in the other’s affair. In the fields of defence and security, through ARF’s methods such as exchanging information relating to defence policy, publicising the Defence White Paper, annoucing and inviting observers to major military exercises... involved countries have gradually consolidated mutual trust and expressed their transparency.

Since 2008 to date, the Ministry of National Defence of Vietnam has participated in ARF’s activities with increasing sufficiency, activeness and positiveness. By involving in ARF’s activities, the Vietnam People’s Army has improved its position; boosted friendly relation, cooperation, trust building and mutual understanding among participants. Futhermore, it has more conditions to learn about viewpoints, experience of its partners in defence and security especially in cadres training, scientific research, search and rescue which positively make contribution to maintaining peace, cooperation and development in the region and create favourable conditions for the cause of buidling and defending the Fatherland.

Joining some mutilateral military institutions like ADMM, ADMM+, ASEAN Chief of Defence Forces Informal Meeting (ACDFIM)..., the Ministry of National Defence has been positive in trust buiding and proposed many initiatives to tackle some major problems in the region. Notably, in 2010, as the host, the Misnistry of National Defence of Vietnam for the first time sucessfully initiated, held and chaired the ADMM+ with the participation of 10 member countries and 8 dialogue partners (Australia, China, India, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Russia and the USA). This is regarded as an important milestone as since the World War II, Defence Ministers from countries in the region and from most of major powers had a meeting not to discuss war but peace, cooperation and development in the region. The meeting is good chance for open and forthright discussion on regional security, on boosting and enhancing cooperation in areas of mutual security benefit, contributing to building trust, increasing the transparency, maintaining peace and stability in the region.

ADMM Plus, a regional forum initiated and first held by Vietnam

Besides, the Misnistry of National Defence of Vietnam has been actively and positively participated in the Shangri-La Dialogue since 2008 and has been highly appreciated for its responsibility and contribution through its initiatives on regional security. Asia-Pacific is a dynamic region in terms of economic development which concentrates interests of many countries in the region and the world, including major powers so there are both advantages and disadvantages in building trust and consensus among countries. In reality, there have been unreasonable claims on territory and even actions against international law on the East Sea for a long time raising concerns in the region. Therefore, trust building and consolidating require that countries, especially big ones when engaging in this region in general and in the East Sea in particular need to perform well their roles, show responsibilities in both words and actions and  constructive attitude for mutual development, not for their own cause. That is the decisive factor to the future of the relation of major powers with the region. As of the United State of America and China, these two powers need to build strategic trust to each other and to ASEAN countries through specific actions which are constructive and contributory to peace, stability and prosperity and solidarity in the region. ASEAN countries also need to build mutual trust towards a complete, united and powerful Community having effective cooperation with all countries in the world to create peace and prosperity in the region together; resolutely not to ally with any countries for one’s own interest.

Trust building among militaries in the region

In the coming time, ASEAN militaries need to be proactive in building trust, enhancing solidarity and cooperation by many flexible ways and mechanisms.

First, it is necessary to widen the relation among regional armed forces to make bond and interest correlation, promote mutual understanding, interaction and solidarity among militaries in the region. One of the feasible mode of cooperation is to promote acedamic cooperation to enhance mutual understanding about political system, political culture and other factors, setting base for widened and in-depth relations.

Second, to diversify cooperation modes such as: twinning, exchanging between branches, bodies and units of armed forces especially bordering ones; set up hotline and quick approach between defence leaders, commanders of Military Zones, provincal Border Guard (especially with countries sharing land border), Commanders of Navies of countries with adjacent sea, to exchange information and settle urgent matter in a timely manner. In the mean time, hold official visits of army leaders, inviting for participation in military exercises and exchanging leader delegation of armies in the region; establish mechanism for exchanging intelligence information; regularly hold defence and strategy dialogue and conference...diversify modes of cooperation from bilateral one to multilateral one.

Third, to enhance the transparency and publicising of defence policy making and enforcement of each country; not to misinform about defence policy of another country. Countries need to publicise Defence White Paper regularly which clearly states their defence policy, defence budget, weapons, equipment, strength, organization and missions of the armed forces...

Fourth, to set up frameworks and mechanisms for cooperation in which parties are correlated to decide on the limit or acceptable scope of behaviour or a mechanism for settling disputes, minimizing doubt. By signing cooperation and partner documents, parties can decide on contents, scope of cooperation as well as a mechanism for settling disputes; not to use or threaten to use force to settle disputes in international cooperation.

Sr. Col. Assoc.Prof. Nguyen Hong Quan, Ph.D

Deputy Director General of the Institute for Defense Strategy

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