Indo-Asia-Pacific View


Harry B. Harris, Jr. Admiral, USN U.S. PACIFIC COMMAND

Dear Readers,

Welcome to the latest edition of Indo-Asia-Pacific Defense FORUM, which focuses on sovereignty. Nations are gradually changing the way they view sovereignty as the Indo-Asia-Pacific continues to garner world attention.

Sovereignty has traditionally been defined as the right to self-governance without interference from outside entities. Increasing globalization is changing how nations apply the meaning of this concept. State leaders must continually balance maintaining domestic legitimacy with how they conceptualize the role of sovereignty.

Even though states may harbor varying concepts of sovereignty, all countries operate within the framework of international relations. Differences in how sovereignty is construed are generally constrained by the international system and the norms that underlie that system. International treaties bind states to give citizens rights that are globally agreed upon, while international laws dictate legal norms applicable to all nations.

In general, a more inclusive and flexible view of sovereignty has been evolving in the Indo-Asia-Pacific since the end of World War II. This notion has produced multilateral initiatives and institutions, such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which strives to bind the diverse region together and reinforce sovereignty generally through a more collective approach to security.

Nevertheless, outside forces exert pressure on such multilateral approaches. Foreign powers can circumvent such notions of sovereignty by forming economic partnerships with private companies in other countries within the region. Moreover, conflicts persist among nations. Countries stake overlapping claims of sovereignty.

As the world continues to confront terrorism, humanitarian crises such as natural disasters, and other security challenges, countries’ differing notions of sovereignty and nonintervention are increasingly colliding. Although nations are showing an increased willingness to participate in global governance initiatives, how nations structure domestic policy can affect how sovereignty is perceived.

This issue examines how competing perceptions of sovereignty and the state may drive many nations’ policies and actions, ranging from Sri Lanka’s approach to reconciliation to Pacific island nations’ climate-change tactics to China’s increasing use of economic and diplomatic levers to influence behaviors of nations across the region and world. As Indo-Asia-Pacific nations wrestle with evolving definitions of sovereignty, multilateral exercises and partnerships become increasingly important for achieving an equitable balance of power and securing regional stability and prosperity.

I hope that you find this edition insightful and thought-provoking, and I welcome your comments. Please contact the FORUM staff at with your perspectives.

All the best,

HarryHarrisSigHarry B. Harris, Jr.

Admiral, USN

Commander, U.S. Pacific Command