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Is Asean Relevant to the Regional Security of Southeast Asia?

Is ASEAN relevant to the regional security of Southeast Asia? | 16 pages, including cover page3,176 words (excluding footnotes, endnotes, bibliography)| Yes, ASEAN is still relevant to the regional security of Southeast Asia. I will attempt to justify my case by elaborating how the 3 key political accords and the ASEAN way has helped shared ASEAN to what it is today. I will also provide a brief summary of ASEAN’s achievements and challenges till date. Finally, I will highlight the main initiatives that ASEAN has taken to overcome future challenges to ensure its continued relevancy to the regional security of Southeast Asia.

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Background The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was established on 8 August 1967 in Bangkok by the five original Member Countries, namely, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand. Since then, membership has expanded to include Brunei Darussalam, Vietnam, Lao, Myanmar and Cambodia. The founding of ASEAN followed the end of Indonesia’s ‘Confrontation’ against Malaysia and Singapore, which had proved costly for Indonesia’s economic development and regional stability.

Thus, preventing a repetition of such inter-state confrontation and developing a mechanism for the pacific settlement of disputes were the major considerations behind ASEAN’s formation. Other reasons for the formation of ASEAN include (a) shared threat perceptions of communist insurgency arising from internal social, economic and political conditions and (b) the desire of the members to enhance economic cooperation for mutual gain especially through collective bargaining with its major trading partners.

The early declarations and statements from summits show that the group was founded primarily to provide a framework for regional political and economic cooperation. Today, ASEAN has developed an organizational structure that looks not only into the political and economic issues in the region but also social development issues. However, the journey was not an easy one. The first decade of ASEAN’s existence was relatively unproductive but much effort was spent developing and refining the concepts that form the basis of its work and methods of cooperation.

This has allowed and contributed to regional confidence building, fostering trust and goodwill and developing the habit of working together informally and openly. Threatening changes in the regional environment – such as the perceived weakening of the American commitment to its local allies and the re-emergence of China as a political force – were enough to keep ASEAN united. 3 key political measures established by ASEAN In order to facilitate ASEAN progress without external interference and to enhance regional peace and stability, several major key political accords were established.

Foremost among these are (1) The Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality (ZOPFAN) of 1971, (2) The Treaty of Amity and Co-operation in Southeast Asia (TAC) of 1976 and (3) The Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon Free Zone (SEANWFZ) of 1995. ZOPFAN It commits all ASEAN members to “exert efforts to secure the recognition of and respect for Southeast Asia as a Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality, free from any manner of interference by outside powers,” and to “make concerted efforts to broaden the areas of cooperation, which would contribute to their strength, solidarity and closer relationship. ZOPFAN recognizes “the right of every state, large or small, to lead its national existence free from outside interference in its internal affairs as this interference will adversely affect its freedom, independence and integrity”. The ZOPFAN Declaration is the expression of ASEAN’s unwillingness to allow the major countries in the East Asian region: China, Japan, the Soviet Union and the United States of America unfettered involvement in Southeast Asia, of extending ASEAN’s responsibility for security as far outwards as possible and of preventing intervention and subversion by foreign powers to gain foothold in the region.

ASEAN has struggled relentlessly for the recognition and respect of the major powers for Southeast Asia as a non-nuclear zone of peace, freedom and neutrality while intensifying co-operation among themselves as a prerequisite to contributing to their “strength, solidarity and closer relationship” in the effort. TAC The purpose of the Treaty is to promote perpetual peace, everlasting amity and cooperation among the peoples of Southeast Asia which would contribute to their strength, solidarity, and closer relationship.

The treaty enshrines the following principles: mutual respect for one another’s sovereignty; noninterference in internal affairs; the peaceful settlement of intraregional disputes; and effective cooperation. The treaty also provides for a code of conduct for the peaceful settlement of disputes. And it mandates the establishment of a high council made up of ministerial representatives from the parties as a dispute-settlement mechanism. By amending the treaty in 1987 to allow non-Southeast Asian states to accede to it, ASEAN extended those principles to encompass such states’ conduct in the region.

The Manila Declaration on the South China Sea of 1992 commended all parties concerned “to apply the principles contained in the TAC as the basis for establishing a code of international conduct over the South China Sea. ” Finally, the ARF, at its inaugural meeting in 1994, “endorsed the purposes and principles of the TAC as a code of conduct governing relations between states and a unique diplomatic instrument for regional confidence-building, preventive diplomacy, and political and security co-operation. Several states outside Southeast Asia namely, China, India, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea and the Russian Federation have also acceded to the TAC. More countries are actively considering accession. SEANWFZ The establishment of a SEANWFZ, as an essential component of ZOPFAN will contribute towards strengthening the security of states within the Zone and towards enhancing international peace and security as a whole.

It reaffirms the importance of the United Nations’ Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) in preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons and in contributing towards international peace and security. The SEANWFZ Treaty provides for a Protocol for accession by the five Nuclear Weapon States (NWS), namely, China, France, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States. However, consultations between ASEAN and NWS are still underway to address certain provisions of concern to the NWS. The ASEAN Way According to Donald E.

Weatherbee, in the ASEAN way, conflict avoidance set the basis for the acceptance of common behavioral norms among member states through (a) Mutual respect for sovereign authority; and (b) Non-violence or use of force. Basically, conflict resolution is based on informal friendly negotiations in a structurally loose setting between disputance states. This serve to achieve 2 strategic goals : (a) Not to allow bilateral disputes to disrupt into a regional conflict and the functioning of ASEAN itself and (b) Not to let ties between ASEAN states and non-ASEAN states negatively affect intra-ASEAN relations.

The ASEAN Way encourages decision-making through consultation and consensus building. When consultation cannot create consensus, the ASEAN states agree to disagree and pursue their individual interest. The ASEAN Way also encourages its member to cooperate around contentious issues. All of these features, namely non-interference, informality, minimal institutionalization, consultation and consensus, non-use of force and non-confrontation have constituted what is called the ASEAN Way.

Many scholars have argued that the principle of non-interference has blunted ASEAN efforts in handling the problem of Myanmar, human rights abuses and haze pollution in the region. Issues Tackled Through the ASEAN Way ASEAN countries have been successful in preventing the spread of communism and there has been no major conflict and no war (since 1967) among members in SEA. ASEAN has also been successful in promoting peace and security thru various forums and also establish multi-lateral military exercises among the member-states.

According to Amitav Acharya, the development of a collective identity in ASEAN involves the creation and manipulation of symbols. The prominent ASEAN symbols in the arena of conflict-management are the so-called “ASEAN Spirit” and the “ASEAN Way. ” These symbols have been invoked on countless occasions to reduce bilateral tensions among the ASEAN members. Irrespective if the disputes were resolved or pacified, the ASEAN way was adopted in the following bilateral issues: a. The Philippines’ Sabah Claim. b. Pulau Ligitan and Sipadan (Indonesia-Malaysia) – ICJ, Hague. c. Pedra Branca (Singapore-Malaysia) – ICJ, Hague. d.

The South China Sea Conflict Zone (Potential Energy Resevoir, Rich Fisheries Source, strategic sea route, etc). The 1992 Declaration on South China Sea through peaceful resolution between ASEAN & PRC. e. Indonesia-Aceh- Papua Ethnic Conflict. f. Muslim Separatism in Philippines. g. Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia (1978-1991) to rid Cambodia of the Pol Pol regime. Although the conflict dominated activities of ASEAN for a decade, the resolution of the Cambodian Conflict in 1991 made it possible for ASEAN to achieve goals of reuniting the 10 countries so that the countries within SEA would not be a source of conflict in the future.

Challenges that has impede ASEAN’s Development Notwithstanding the successes ASEAN had in mitigating some of its bilateral disputes, there are also challenges that ASEAN has to grapple with in the past and present: a. Asian Financial Crisis 1997 – ASEAN was unable to react and resulted in Thailand and Indonesia having to negotiate directly with IMF. This incident also lead to the loss of Indonesia leadership (Suharto) who was forced to step down in May 1998 in the wake of widespread rioting that followed sharp price increases caused by a drastic devaluation of the rupiah. . Forest fires in Indonesia/ Haze crisis of 1997 – Indonesia’s government has been slow in addressing the haze issue and even though legislation outlawing the use of fire for land clearance has been established, the rate of prosecuting law breakers in remote areas is still slow, if not stagnant. The concept of state sovereignty impedes ASEAN from being able to take any form of action to coerce Indonesia to act responsibly. The 2002 ASEAN agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution clearly illustrated this as Indonesia has yet to ratify it. c.

Myanmar – It faced a high record of human rights violations as the military rulers refused to recognize the victory of the National League for Democracy in 1990 under Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Till date, Suu Kyi still remains under house arrest. The Myanmar issue has been a contentious issue and has complicated ASEAN relations with US and EU. (General unease amongst ASEAN members on its impact on its image). d. East Timor Crisis – When the East Timorese voted for an independent state in 1999, Indonesia reacted with active support for the violent anti-independence militia resulting in massive human rights violations.

The ASEAN states felt compelled to remain quiet because they did not dare to interfere with Indonesia’s internal affairs. Only efforts by Australia that led to the intervention force in East Timor (INTERFET) brought about the slowing down of the conflict. According to “The Straits Time” newspaper article on 3 Mar 2009, the ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan has also highlighted that the ASEAN’s non-interference policy restricts ASEAN as it limits the group’s options for preventive diplomacy and conflict resolution.

How ASEAN progress will depend on the readiness of member states and the pressure people will put on the governments of member states. Measures by ASEAN to overcome challenges In order to overcome the present and future challenges, ASEAN need to look and move ahead to make itself relevant to the current environment and political situation. Although there are various mechanisms and frameworks of cooperation, I have highlighted 3 initiatives that I believe have significant influence to how ASEAN shape up to be to ensure its continued relevancy in the region. ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF)

ASEAN’s most ambitious attempt to expand its regional influence is embodied in the ARF. In recognition of security interdependence in the Asia-Pacific and wider region of USA and Europe, ASEAN established the ARF in 1994. Its conflict management roles are guided by: (1) fostering constructive dialogue and consultation on political and security issues of common interest and concern, (2) making significant contribution to efforts towards regional confidence-building and preventive diplomacy, (3) working towards strengthening and enhancement of political security cooperation within the region as means of ensuring peace and stability.

ARF pursues a 3-staged approach in conflict management: Stage I – promotion of confidence-building measures (CBMs), Stage II – development of preventive-diplomacy (PD) mechanisms, Stage III – development of conflict resolution mechanisms. The ARF discusses major regional security issues, including the relationship amongst the major powers (tripartite US – China – Japan relations), non-proliferation, counter-terrorism, religious/ ethnic tensions (Asia) and transnational crime etc. ASEAN’s leadership of ARF meant that for the first time, a regional organisation would “lead” the major powers.

ARF personifies the importance of Southeast Asia in the international arena and provides a platform for member-states to pursue multilateralism. The ARF has been useful in elevating the level of confidence among its participants through regular dialogue, mutual accommodation, co-operative activities and networking. ASEAN Community At its Ninth Summit in October 2003, ASEAN announced its intention to create an ASEAN Community based on three intertwined and mutually reinforcing pillars: ASEAN Security Community (ASC), ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) and ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC).

A year later ASEAN established the Vientiane Action Programme to realize this goal. Over the past two decades, ASEAN has experienced many changes (the end of the Cold War, globalization, the rise of China and India, the Asian financial crisis, etc) that have created an impact on the process of ASEAN community building. This in turn has forced ASEAN to adjust its inward stand to that of a more responsive community to cope with the increasing political and economic competition in a globalised world.

As such, the future of the region and of ASEAN will be, to a considerable extent, dependent on the degree of success of community building. The ASC is expected to maintain and strengthen peace, security and stability and enhance ASEAN’s capacity for self-management of regional security. It includes maritime cooperation and fight against terrorism. The AEC is to develop a single market and production base that is stable, prosperous, highly competitive and economically integrated with effective facilitation for trade and investment in which there is free flow of goods, services investment, skilled labours, and freer flow of capital.

The ASCC is for a Southeast Asia bonded together in partnership as “a community of caring and sharing societies”. The ASCC Plan of Action contains four core elements: (1) Building a community of caring societies, (2) managing the social impact of economic integration, (3) Enhancing environmental sustainability, and (4) strengthening the foundations of regional social cohesion towards an ASEAN Community. In 2005, member countries agreed to establish an ASEAN Charter, which would serve as the legal and institutional framework for the regional organization and the ASEAN Community.

Although it will not take on any supranational functions, with its ambitious goals, the ASEAN Community is believed to have far-reaching and important impacts on the lives of the people in Southeast Asia. ASEAN Charter The ASEAN Charter was adopted at the 13th ASEAN Summit in November 2007. On December 15, 2008, the members of ASEAN met in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta to launch a charter, signed in November 2007, with the aim of moving closer to “an EU-style community”. The charter turns ASEAN into a legal entity and aims to create a single free-trade area for the region encompassing 500 million people.

It has strengthened ASEAN’s conflict/ dispute management mechanism to give it more ‘bite’ in the eyes of regional and global players. The Charter re-emphasizes key principles of ASEAN: “shared commitment and collective responsibility in enhancing regional peace, security and prosperity” and “enhanced consultations on matters seriously affecting the common interest of ASEAN” as the “ASEAN Way” of business. For better conflict management, the Charter implemented common Chairmanship of the ASEAN Summit and key ASEAN bodies, bestowing greater legal powers and mandate to the Chair to mediate and implement consensual decisions.

Lastly, as a symbol of solidarity and collective identity, ASEAN has formulated a motto “One Vision, One Identity, One Community” and ASEAN anthem; absent even in EU. Other than the 3 initiatives stated above, ASEAN has also engaged in many other important meetings and initiatives to widen its political sphere and enhance its economic and security cooperation: a. East Asia Summit from 2005 b. ASEAN + 3 (China, Japan & Korea) summit from 1997 c. ASEAN + China summit in 2002 d. ASEAN + Japan, S Korea & India summit in 2003 e. Formation of Senior Economic Official Meeting (SEOM) f.

Parallel functional ministerial meetings were held g. ASEAN Investment Area Council was formed h. Formation of AFTA Council i. Elevating the status of ASEAN Secretary-General to ministerial status for a 5-year term j. Initiating the ASEAN Dialogue Partners Programme with major economic in EU, Oceania, East Asia, Russia and the USA k. The launch of Asian Cooperation Dialogue in 2002 l. Annual ASEAN-EU meeting since 1995 m. Launched of ASEM in 1996 n. Launched of the ASEAN-Mekong River Development Cooperation Program (efforts to integrate LCVM into ASEAN) Sub-Regional Growth Zones between member-states) . The Mini-ASEAN Initiatives p. Track II levels meetings like the Shangri-La Dialogue and the Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia-Pacific (CSCAP). Is ASEAN still relevant? The answer is YES. ASEAN has provided a platform for coordination and collaboration and has allowed member-states to interact cordially in regional and international relations. However, it does not mean that conflicts and disagreements were absent within the region, it just meant that ASEAN has achieved considerable success through pacifism; containing rather than resolving differences peacefully among its members.

In addition, ASEAN as a regional group would have a larger voice internationally against larger committees and this will continue to play an important feature in directing the future of ASEAN. ASEAN is essentially a security community that is inward-looking, gearing towards war prevention and conflict-resolution within the grouping, contrary to other forms of security arrangements such as security regime, alliance and collective security systems. As a security community, ASEAN shares common threat perceptions, mainly communist insurgency, border and ethnic issues in the 1970s and 80s.

While communism may cease to be significant, new threats have emerged – transnational terrorism, pandemics (SARS, Avian Influenza, HIV/Aids), transnational crimes (human trafficking, drugs, etc), natural disasters (haze, tsunami, etc), organized crime (piracy, etc). These trans-boundary threats call for collaboration across member states in order to effectively tackle these threats effectively. In combating threats to regional security, ASEAN has established various mechanisms of cooperation and adopted for implementation cooperation frameworks and action plans in the respective sectors.

However, the region still faces emerging challenges and threats. To be able to stand tall against these threats to regional security, ASEAN Member Countries need to maintain their sense of community such as that manifested during the last tsunami episode. They need to exert leadership and commitment through partnership with the global community and, as a group, need to ensure that they get the priorities right. ASEAN also need to ensure that partnership with the global community will be according to local regional characteristics and needs. However, while it has to act regionally, ASEAN would need to think globally.


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