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Growth of International Law and Pakistan

The following excerpt is from the essay "The Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty and the United Nations," published in 1965 by Mohammed Ahsen Chaudhri in his book Growth of Internationa Law and Pakistan: a Collection of Essays. The author was a Reader and Head of the Department of International Relations in the University of Karachi.

See Also: SEATO (South East Asian Treaty Organization)

Prospects of SEATO

What, one might ask, is the use of SEATO, if it cannot do much to help the cause of peace in Southeast Asia? The only advantage of SEATO, from the military point of view, is that it encourages joint consultations, joint exercises and supply of American aid to the members.

SEATO has already been trying during the past years to develop some identity of interest between its Asian members through cultural exchanges and economic co-operation. Special fellowships are granted to students, teachers and journalists for study and research in any of the SEATO country other than its own. Distinguished persons are invited on lecture tours at SEATO's expense. In the field of economic co-operation various projects have been sponsored, such as Community Development Project in Thailand, Pakistan and the Philippines, Cholera Institute in Thailand, Meteorological communication project to guarantee greater safety of air travel and reduction of danger to crops in Pakistan, SEATO Graduate School of Engineering in Bangkok, etc. These programmes are useful, but a regional organization such as SEATO is certainly not required to plan and to carry them out. Further, it is very doubtful that such programmes will create a community of interest between the SEATO countries or will develop a sense of identity of overall interest and a common desire to help protect it. The United Nations, it should be noted, has undertaken similar programs in different parts of the world. They are in many respects better, for there are no political strings attached to them.

One of the main purposes of SEATO, it could be argued, was to check the advance of Communism in Southeast Asia. This purpose it has partially achieved because no major conflict has taken place in the region since 1954. However, full credit for it does not go to SEATO. Peace in Southeast Asia exists in somewhat formal sense; it is an uneasy peace (as the situation in Laos, Vietnam and Kashmir indicates) which the United Nations is also capable of maintaining.

The heart of the matter is that without general Asian support, the prospects of SEATO as a regional arrangement are very dim. So long as disputes between the Asian states are not amicably settled, there will not grow between them any sentiments for regionalism. Many factors such as race, religion, culture, language already divide the region and consequently minimise the possibility of developing a common interest. Geographic barriers add to the problem of communication and transportation. Apart from these, the economies of the various Southeast Asian countries are competitive rather than complementary. All these factors speak against the possibility of regional unity and solidarity.

Further, the divergence of interest among the members is so great that it has crippled the organization. France, increasingly involved in the affairs of Europe hardly pays any attention to SEATO. The United States is more interested in wooing India on her side than to make SEATO effective. The Asian members - Pakistan, Thailand and the Philippines-are upset that a "neutral" country like India should receive American aid on almost the same scale as countries which have aligned themselves with the West.

Another major weakness of SEATO is that its members had different things in mind when they joined SEATO. They did not enter into identical commitments. Pakistan was concerned about the Indian aggression. Australia and Newzealand were anxious to secure American guarantees for the security of the Pacific. The United States, concerned only with Communist aggression, restricted the applicability of the alliance. In fact the United States' reservation was positively improper. It created distinction between different types of aggression which clearly infringes the spirit of the Charter.

The only obligation of a member in case of aggression is that of acting in accordance with its constitutional process. In other words each member determines when to act and what kind of action to take. So the pact does not provide for automatic collective sanctions against aggression. Moreover, the treaty is open to abuse in the Article 2 which provides for intervention to prevent subversion.

Furthermore, the fact that some countries are members of NATO are also members of ANZUS, CENTO and NATO has resulted in a system of multiple alliances which Woodrow Wilson believed to be the primary cause of war. This leads to another fear that nations, while depending more and more on regional arrangements, will depend less and less on the United Nations, and thus might ignore completely the universal international organization.

Looking at the situation in Laos and South-Vietnam, one begins to wonder whether SEATO has served any useful purpose. Admittedly not. SEATO is not well designed to deal with the problem of peace and security in the region. Nor, it may be added, SEATO is a suitable vehicle for giving economic and technical aid. It is now openly viewed by some of the members as an organization which has invited the resentment and hostility of the Communist powers. To say the least, SEATO is a weak organization and its usefulness, as compared with the United Nations, is strictly limited.

Source: Growth of International Law and Pakistan
By Mohammed Ahsan Chaudhri (1965). University of Karachi, Pakistan

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