The war in Ukraine is a wake-up call for us not to take any peace that we enjoy for granted. Certainly we, in Asia , cannot take peace for granted. The fallout from Afghanistan , the coup in Myanmar , tensions in the South China Sea , border conflicts between China and India , missile tests on the Korean peninsula , local skirmishes involving non-state armed groups from South Asia to Southeast Asia – these are just some of the potential sources of conflicts we have been living with in Asia. Given this background, it is timely for Asians to explore what tools we are investing in to prevent, mitigate and resolve current and future conflicts in Asia. Indonesia ‘consulting’ G20 members over Russia’s role amid boycott calls So far, the response of many Asian governments to such potential conflicts has been to increase military spending. Defence spending in the region grew 52.7 per cent between 2010 and 2020, based on data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). The Ukraine war is likely to fuel further increases in military spending in Asia. In the wake of the Russia-Ukraine crisis, former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe also suggested Tokyo should consider hosting US nuclear weapons. An arms race does not help in promoting harmony and resolving conflict. Instead, it increases the risk of miscalculations and misunderstandings, deepens mistrust between countries, and magnifies the costs of confrontation. History is full of examples of military build-ups aggravating tensions, rather than providing solutions to conflicts. Realistically though, countries in Asia are unlikely to decrease their military spending and use of hard power tactics in the short-term. Asians should therefore review the balance in their investments for peace. In particular, more investments in conflict management are needed to complement the hard deterrents that could have potentially devastating impacts. By addressing tensions at their source, fewer resources might also need to be spent on defence and, more importantly, on the costly economic, social and humanitarian fallout from violent escalations and armed conflict. First, Asia can invest more in diplomatic tools, such as the use of “Good Offices” and mediation as well as confidence building, to address potential conflicts. This is in line with the United Nations (UN) Charter, which states: “The parties to any dispute, the continuance of which is likely to endanger the maintenance of international peace and security, shall, first of all, seek a solution by negotiation, inquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, resort to regional agencies or arrangements, or other peaceful means of their own choice.” Such diplomatic tools are not new in Asia. Historically in local communities in this region, parties went to a respected and trusted clan elder, who would in a neutral and impartial manner, help them find common ground and solutions to address their conflicts. China’s Ukraine stance raises awkward questions on territorial integrity, Singapore PM says Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Cambodia have all used the International Court of Justice as a trusted third party to resolve disputes. There have also been recent calls for China to mediate the war in Ukraine. There have been moves in Singapore and elsewhere in Asia to encourage the use of mediation to manage civil and commercial disputes. A similar push for mediation should be made in the diplomatic context. This can be done by building up more Asian mediators and institutions that work on conflict management in this area. In this context, Indonesia’s efforts to create a Southeast Asian Network of Women Peace Negotiators and Mediators is to be applauded. Countries should also put aside their differences to strengthen the Asean Institute for Peace and Reconciliation as well as the Asean Secretary-General’s mandate to provide “good offices” where needed. US plans trade meetings with Asean leaders as it retools Indo-Pacific strategy Second, Asia can invest in managing tensions at all stages of the conflict curve. For example, in the early stages, a neutral institution can engage the disputants in confidential trust building activities, work with them to forge positive agendas to balance the overall dynamics in their relationship, and bridge gaps to prevent the conflict escalating. Where there is a mutually hurting stalemate, a third person can facilitate dialogue between the disputants to anticipate and manage a crisis, and stave off unintended “misencounters”. They can also put creative ideas on the table to provide the disputants with a face-saving way out. Discreet backchannelling to strengthen communication channels between the disputants and to avoid megaphone diplomacy, bringing parties to the negotiating table, and acting directly as a mediator are options an impartial party can use when tensions are high. Conflict management activities are critical even after a ceasefire agreement is in place. A neutral party can work at the political-level and community-level to encourage buy-ins and holistic implementations of the agreement. A neutral party can identify gaps and solutions with the parties to ensure new gains are not eroded by misunderstandings and lack of resources, and rebuild trust between the disputants as they shift to a new normal. In short, a third country or impartial player can support disputants in restoring diplomacy, rebuilding trust, and updating the architecture to increase the disputants’ sense of security at various stages of the conflict. China warns of Ukraine-style ‘tragedy’ for Asia in US Indo-Pacific plan Third, Asia can invest in a culture of peace – in our community, nation, region and globally. Currently, some Asians shy away from peacemaking work due to fears of political complications. There is also an inclination to fund downstream development and rehabilitation activities, and avoid upstream projects that manage conflict at its source. This funding model needs to change – by financing more conflict management initiatives, less work may be needed in managing the consequent costs of conflict. We also need to continue raising awareness so all who enjoy peace in this region become active stewards in promoting harmony for others. In this context, countries in Asia can learn more from each other’s experiences in peace processes. For example, the former Lead Negotiator for the Philippine Government, Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, worked hard to find common ground with representatives of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. In addition, we can learn from other seasoned mediators in the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Advisory Board on Mediation like Noeleen Heyzer of Singapore, Marty Natalegawa of Indonesia, and Radhika Coomaraswamy of Sri Lanka. Asean – as an organisation – is clearly creating a regional culture of trust, which enables its 10 member states to manage interstate tensions at various stages of the conflict curve, while generating a culture of peace through the Asean Community. Asean’s investments in diplomatic tools, such as the use of the Asean Special Envoy should also be encouraged. That said, much more needs to be done beyond Asean to manage interstate and intrastate tensions that continue to trouble Asia. Hence, Asia should work harder to prevent, mitigate and resolve current and future conflict. Yet, how should we distribute our main investments in peace? Where should the priorities be? With so much money being spent on the military in Asia, it would also be wise for countries in this region to invest more in conflict management tools that could prevent devastating conflicts, like in Ukraine. Ukraine has taught us there is much to lose for everyone when violent escalation and armed conflict erupts. This article was first published by the Asian Peace Programme, an initiative to promote peace in Asia, housed in the NUS Asia Research Institute.