Aceh as a model of Asian-European security cooperation by Timo Kivimäki

30. Mar 2010


Aceh as a model of Asian-European security cooperation by Timo Kivimäki

Abstract: Aceh peace process has often been seen as a model case But it seems that one of the lessons of Aceh is the fact that peace processes have to offer ownership for the conflicting parties. This seems to contradict the idea of using the Aceh Model elsewhere. Furthermore, it seems that East Asian successful conflict prevention is based on norms that are alien to conflict resolution. Does this then mean that one should not promote conflict resolution at all in Asia? Is the Aceh Model then applicable elsewhere, and even if it was, should it be emulated? These are the questions that Prof. Timo Kivimäki ponders in his blog. This blog is an introduction to Kivimäki’s lecture at NIAS on the 8th of April, in which he will focus on the very issues of whether or not the Aceh success should and could be emulated. 

Aceh peace process has often been seen as a model for European contribution to peace, and Asian conflict resolution. It has been suggested as a solution formula for a dozen other conflicts. Thai Government sends its investigators to study the Aceh solution, and it will not be difficult to see the reason. Separatist conflict in Southern Thailand has many similar elements as the conflict in Aceh had, and a peaceful solution in Southern Thailand would also be important to the Thai government who has enough of problems with political instability. But the government is not the only conflicting party interested in the Aceh solution. I have personally witnessed a situation where my lecture in Hamburg on Aceh peace process attracted the attention of no less than 5 leaders of Malay Muslim resistance in Southern Thailand.

And Southern Thailand is not the only candidate for this kind of emulation. A member of the Indonesian Aceh negotiation panel went public in the ceremony of the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding, the peace treaty of Aceh, saying that after Aceh it is Papua’s turn. I have been playing with the idea of Papua emulation, too (see & and realized that also there, the other side is also interested in learning about Aceh. Also in Mindanao the Aceh solution has a lot of appeal, let alone in Sri Lanka. But the devil is in the details. Yes we would like to introduce an “Aceh solution” in all of the remaining conflicts of the world, but how do we do that? If one of the fundaments of success in Aceh was the fact that the Indonesian government allowed a solution that Acehnese people, including the rebels, could feel ownership of, then surely one cannot emulate the Aceh solution to another area and expect the same feeling of ownershipto emerge. Aceh’s own solution is no longer “own” for the Buddhist Thais and Ethnic Muslim Malays of Thailand.

However, scratching the surface a bit deeper instantly reveals aspects that make the Aceh peace look even more controversial. If one looks at peace processes in East Asia in a more systematic manner, one can see that Aceh peace process was the first since 1973 (Laos) that actually reduced casualties of peace to a level that makes it impossible to talk about a conflict any more. In this light Aceh peace process seems even more spectacular. But at the same time, one could claim that direct focusing on disputes and an explicit effort at resolving them is somehow against the relatively successful culture of conflict prevention in East Asia. East Asia, after the Chinese turn from revolutionism to responsible developmentalism and honoring of national sovereignty, has been preventing conflict by emphasizing the things that unite instead of focusing on disputes. Instead of resolving, East Asia has been shrinking disputes by increasing the perception of positive interdependence and common regional identity. And this strategy has worked. 95-98% of conflict fatalities have disappeared from East Asia after this reorientation took place. Thus, should we really start creating exceptions to this culture of conflict avoidance rather than conflict resolution? Should we go against the successful security regime of East Asia and start focusing on disputes again? I think it is clear that in Asia, where the main unsettled nuclear disputes continue risk a nuclear holocaust and where especially internal ethnic conflicts still cause a lot of suffering, despite the relative progress in East Asia, we need both, careful and harmonious nurturing of positive interdependence, addressing of grievances and poverty by means of focusing on economic development as well as a culture of conflict resolution. Similarly, we need lessons from the success of Aceh, even if learning from Aceh would lead us to solutions that are fundamentally local to areas where we try to introduce them. The task of scholarly work is not easy when one needs to solve the puzzles of lessons of Aceh, and when one has to combine the apparently contradictory approaches to disputes and conflict. But this is what has to be done. The political capital of the optimism caused by success in Aceh need to be utilized, and yet one must not think that solutions can be imposed to conflicting parties, regardless of how successful they have been. And one does need to find ways to focus on difficult issues also in East Asia, even though one has to be careful not to destroy the social capital of the practice of peace in that subregion. Apparent contradictions need to be seen as research puzzles that motivate new thinking rather than as obstacles that paralyze efforts to progress. These paradoxes and puzzles are the main challenge that I think peace research faces in East Asia. They are at least the starting point of my analysis of what can and what cannot be emulated in the Aceh Peace model, in my lecture at NIAS on the 8th of April.