By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
April 4, 2008 - More than 60 military and government leaders from across Asia and the Pacific yesterday kicked off a six-week program that aims to help them work more effectively and cooperatively to promote regional security. The participants, mid-level leaders from 30 countries, converged at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies here for the Advanced Security Cooperation Course. The program is the flagship course among five offered at the center, which opened its doors in 1995 and operates under U.S. Pacific Command.
The course serves as a forum for participating "fellows" to explore together the challenges facing Asia and the Pacific, explained retired Army Brig. Gen. James T. Hirai, the center's deputy director.
These run the full spectrum, he said, from terrorism, ethnic conflict, poor governance, widening socioeconomic gaps, and natural disasters to longstanding acrimony between some regional neighbors and ever-increasing competition for energy sources.
The fellows, some out of their own countries for the first time and many experiencing their first interactions with their regional counterparts, are recognizing that to confront these threats, they need to do it together.
"When you look at all the challenges in Asia, you realize that many are transnational challenges -- challenges that don't respect borders," said Lee Endress, the center's academic dean. "So dealing with them requires collaboration, because no one nation can do it alone. ... We have to come together to do this."
That's a new revelation for some program participants, who begin to see beyond their own national perspectives through the program and now recognize security as a regional issue, Hirai said.
The curriculum emphasizes the "soft" aspects of national power -- which include political, economic and diplomatic elements -- as well as traditional military components. Fellows delve into the role of nongovernmental organizations, private-sector initiatives, the media and other entities that make up a comprehensive security strategy.
"Defense is an important aspect of security, but it's just one aspect," Hirai said. "We see our role here as broadening people's perspective so they have a greater understanding of the challenges facing the region and the importance of integrating the full range of capabilities toward meeting those challenges."
The discussions help some of the fellows recognize "stovepipes" within their own organizations that can limit their effectiveness. "The idea here is to promote inter-ministerial as well as international cooperation, and to break down stovepipes that stand in the way of that," Hirai said.
Lt. Col. Kim Yongchul of the South Korean army, who is beginning his second course at the center, said the instruction is giving him a new, broader perspective that he'll apply when he returns home. "This school emphasizes thinking out of the box and moving out of your comfort zone," he said. "It gives you a broader world view that you need to be a good leader."
Students looking for textbook solutions to the region's problems -- or for leading people to confront them -- will be disappointed, program manager Rouben Azizian said. "Some of the fellows come expecting us to teach them everything, but we don't do that," he said. "We have very advanced professors, but they don't dominate the instruction. They become colleagues, and as a result, we all learn from each other."
Scott Bush, one of just a few U.S. fellows in the program, said this interactive educational style transcends anything that could be delivered through standard classroom instruction.
"This program is not training. It's a way of thought, almost a way of living," he said. "What they do here is teach you to identify with other people, to rely on each other for information and ideas and to communicate. And when you get to the bottom of it, (one) of the root causes of problems is a lack of communication."
With the center's Comprehensive Crisis Management course already under his belt, Bush said he applies what he's learned here as a special agent in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Seattle field office. But Bush said those same lessons served equally well during his three deployments to Iraq as a Marine Corps reservist and will be just as valuable during his upcoming deployment to Afghanistan.
"There's a lot of really worthwhile teaching that takes place here," Bush said, "and interacting with people is the key."
Endress said he sees a metamorphosis among the fellows as they develop a new level of trust and confidence in each other and in themselves.
"After about the third week, you can see that the group has transformed," he said. "You pick up the buzz and know that something has happened here."
Barriers broken down here and new relationships forged will have a big payoff when the fellows -- many of them future leaders and decision makers in the region -- return home, Endress said. He noted that many of the 3,000-plus alumni of the center's programs already have moved into top leadership positions within more than 50 countries' militaries and governments.
"If you can develop high-level relationships here, then you have people in decision-making positions throughout the region who already know and trust each other," he said. "That's a big step forward. ... This program is all about building relationships, because it creates new opportunities for the level of collaboration and cooperation needed to deal with the challenges the region faces."
The Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies is among five Defense Department centers dedicated to regional security issues. The first and largest center is the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, based in Germany. Three other small centers are the Washington-D.C.-based Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies, the Near East South Asia Center and the Africa Center for Strategic Studies.