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


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.

Thailand coining the definition of non-democracy by Anya Palm

Defining democracy is, if not an impossible, then an immensely difficult task. However, defining what it is not is easy, very easy:  Amongst other things, it is NOT democracy to gather a mass rally and declare that the sitting government must dissolve within 24 hours, or else…

Nevertheless, this explicit threat is exactly what was brought to the political table in Thailand’s capital, Bangkok, this week. Under a rally. For democracy.

During the weekend, about 100, 000 red-shirted supporters of Thailand’s former Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, gathered in the streets of Bangkok to demand the dissolvement of the House. Sunday the redshirts gave the government, led by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, the mentioned ultimatum: Resign or we will take over the city and create havoc, till you do. 

Monday the prime minister declined and today Bangkok is swarmed with protesters, whose sole goal it is to get the situation in the city so much out of control, that the PM has no choice but to change his mind.

Quite a dangerous approach which can escalate into ugliness fast. And not a very democratic approach either.

That said, however, there is some reason to the red demand:  

Since Thaksin Shinawatra was toppled over in a coup d’etat in September 2006, there have been no less than four different changes of government. Only one has been elected in democratic fashion: Red-shirt-affiliated party PDD, which was democratically elected in 2007.

The rest of them, including current Prime Minister Abhisit, have been put in power as a result of political pressure.

Now the logic is to use force this once and after that putting up an election and let the Thai people vote for themselves.

 It sounds a bit farfetched, but it is believable. Thaksin Shinawatra and the redshirts have never, ever lost an election and are not afraid of putting it to the test.

So – despite ultimatum and malplaced threats of havoc – by Monday afternoon, the protesters were still within the realm of reason.

And then they went nuts.

And explanation could be that in order to show the world that Prime Minister Abhisit is not capable of controlling his own capital, the redshirts would need for the situation to escalate drastically. In other words: The redshirts needed blood to be spilled to be taken seriously. Therefore fear of violent clashes, bombings or shootings has been indeed very real in these last tense days. But surprisingly, this was not the way, the redshirts went crazy.

They went crazy like this: They decided to collect blood from their supporters and splatter it in front of the Government house.

“The Prime Minister will have to walk on people’s blood when they enter the Government House to work,” said a rally leader, explaining the symbolic value of the decision.

But the problem is that this is not at all what this symbolizes. Collecting one thousand liters of blood from civilians is not only insane for medical reasons, for health reasons, for rodent reasons or for the ridiculously grossness of such an act.

It is insane, because blood is one of the strongest symbols of them all and it symbolizes LIFE. Spilling it on the streets is…symbolically very confusing. But if it is any foreboding of what is going to come, sadly Thai people have good reason to shy away from partaking in the democratic process, along with reds and yellows.

 Because as basic as it may sound, upon the events in Bangkok this week, there seems to be a need to throw in another omni-usable definition of what democracy is not:

Spilling blood. Symbolic, through havoc or in general: Democratic leaders should not be going around asking their followers to spill blood. They should be doing whatever is in their power to prevent it, at any cost, at any time.  


Anya Palm, free lance journalist based in Bangkok


See also Anya Palm’s articles in Information,, and in Reason









Powerful men who like the word “no”

In May 2008, a massive cyclone hit Myanmar. An estimated 1,5 million people were affected and the victims were in dire need of help. However, all foreign aid workers’ visas were rejected and the aid planes, filled with water and food for the people, were stopped in Rangoon and asked to turn back.

In March 2009, the North Korean leadership told five American aid groups to leave the country without any particular reason given and closed down the border to South Korea. As this was the time of the North Korean missile launch, speculations are that this is the reason for the sudden shut-down.

In October 2008, Malaysia’s government froze all immigrant workers and launched a campaign seeking out all immigrants – legal or illegal – and tossed them back to their countries. Around 300,000 people suddenly found themselves kicked back to poverty in Bangladesh and Indonesia in particular. 

These rejections are just a couple of examples. On a smaller scale, authoritarian governments, which outnumber democratic governments by far in Asia, uses the word “no” in cases that affects thousands of people every day. In land cases, in political asylum cases, in refugee cases and in aid collaboration, local news sources report on rejection of important matters so frequently it is not even news anymore.

This constitutes an obvious problem, which is difficult to deal with. Both because it seems to require negotiation methods that are yet unknown – all prior attempts seem unsuccessful when these situations can suddenly occur – and because there may be very little willingness to change the attitude.

This entry is not about that, though. This entry is about what powerful men with fear of new ways and a first impulse to say “no” can cost us all.

It is about a very old fragment of an ape-skull found in Krabi, Thailand.  

The ape-skull – or actually the ape-fossil –was found in 1996 and estimated to be about 35 million years old.  Last November, it was verified that this little piece of jaw with almost all its lower teeth intact was in fact 35 million years old. It was also revealed that the bone belonged to an anthropoid – the forefather of the humans – and that the anthropoid was a higher developed monkey weighing around seven kilos. The found shattered the theory that anthropoids originated in Africa, which scientists have argued so far. According to this verified piece of evidence, apes did in fact originate in Asia and then wandered to Africa, not the other way around.

Anyway, upon finding the jaw in 1996, Myanmar’s skeptical junta decided to revoke a previous “no” and starting in 1997 let foreign paleoanthropologists come in and work in the country.

Over the next ten years, scientists have found over 50 anthropoid fossils of varying size and species, but all from the same period – the Eocene period, 55-33 million years ago – as the Thailand ape.

This is an astronomical high number of finds, when taken into consideration how rare fossils of that period is today and how it was pretty much established that these fossils did not exists at all. Turns out now, that there is overwhelming evidence hidden in particular Myanmar and China, that what we believed until now is flat out wrong. Apes did not originate in Africa.

While the rejection of aid and its consequences are obvious and horrifying, there may be even bigger consequences of authoritarian governments ominous power and their fondness of saying no to pretty much anything they do not fully understand (like science).

This example of a sudden yes from Tan Shwe and company changed the history. What else have we not yet discovered, because we are not allowed to?  


Anya Palm, freelance journalist