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Political regimes in Southeast Asia and the War on Terror

Rodan, G. (2009) Political regimes in Southeast Asia and the War on Terror. In: Grenfell, D. and James, P., (eds.) Rethinking Insecurity, War and Violence: Beyond Savage Globalization? Routledge, New York, pp. 125-137.

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The US-led “War on Terror” has been depicted as necessary to protect not only human security but a set of values and way of life that are said to be under attack. Given that Southeast Asia has been referred to as the “second front” in the war against terror, there would appear to be much at stake in this region. Can we understand the struggles here as symptomatic of a clash between resurgent tribal and traditional values and ascendant modern, progressive values accompanying social, political, and economic revolutions across the region? And precisely where do democratic values fit within such a dichotomy?

This chapter examines developments in Singapore and Malaysia: two cases where authoritarian regimes have not only survived but flourished under conditions of modernization and globalization. This immediately throws into question the simple tribal—modern dichotomy referred to above. In these countries the advent of the War on Terror has provided opportunities for authoritarian rule. In particular, it has availed authorities of a timely new rationalization for, and bolstering of repressive apparatuses of the state that have traditionally been directed as much, if not more, at political threats. If the end of the Cold War finally put paid to the rationale of the communist threat, the notion of an “Asian way” as a defense for repressive state powers also lost political currency following the 1997 Asian financial crisis when it became too closely associated with corruption. Yet the consolidation of authoritarian rule in the context of the War on Terror has coincided with increased rhetorical and practical support for regimes in Singapore and Malaysia from the US administration. To be sure, though, these regimes have their differences which are important to the precise impact and conduct of the War on Terror.

Publication Type: Book Chapter
Murdoch Affiliation: Asia Research Centre
Publisher: Routledge
Copyright: © 2009 Damian Grenfell and Paul James
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