With the signing of the ASEAN Declaration in 1967, ASEAN was established to accelerate economic growth, social progress, and cultural development through joint endeavors as well as to promote regional peace and stability in Southeast Asia. In fact ASEAN is regarded as a central structure in Asia–Pacific regional institutional architecture. However, since its inception, the ASEAN way has always been questioned. Hence, the question stands whether ASEAN can face the future with confidence or whether ASEAN is just going to survive as a symbol in Southeast Asia.
ASEAN countries’ consistent adherence to this principle of non-interference is the key reason why no military conflict has broken out between any two ASEAN countries since the founding of ASEAN… Let us maintain it in the twenty-first century — S. Jayakumar, Singaporean Foreign Minister
The common values shared by ASEAN states are not democracy and interdependence, but rather a commitment to economic development, regime security, and political stability.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was established with the signing of the ASEAN Declaration on August 8, 1967, in Bangkok, Thailand, by the foreign ministers of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand. Since then, membership has expanded to include Brunei, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. The declaration called for the establishment of an Association for Regional Cooperation in Southeast Asia to be known as ASEAN. Its stated objectives are accelerating economic growth, social progress, and cultural development through joint endeavors and to promote regional peace and stability. Its founding document called for its regional member countries to respect justice and the rule of law and adhere to the principles of the United Nations Charter.
Additionally, ASEAN acts to promote active collaboration and mutual assistance on matters of common interest, provide assistance to members in the form of training and research facilities, collaborate more effectively for the greater utilization of their agriculture and industries, promote Southeast Asian studies, and maintain close and beneficial cooperation with existing international and regional organizations (ASEAN website). The two-page Bangkok Declaration contains the rationale for the establishment of ASEAN as well as its modus operandi of building on voluntary and informal arrangements towards more binding and institutionalized agreements (ASEAN website). This paper analyzes whether ASEAN has succeeded in performing its duties especially in mitigating disputes in Asia and controlling the haze crisis.
The common values shared by ASEAN states are not democracy and interdependence, but rather a commitment to economic development, regime security, and political stability. These shared norms and ideas are the backbone of the constructivist analysis of Asian international relations, where the focus lies on the concept of ‘community enhances security.’ With regard to the relative success of various forms and modes of security cooperation in the Asia Pacific region, the motivation of actors engaged in cooperative security efforts requires more consideration. There are combinations of liberal institutionalist and constructivist explanations that begin from the premise that benefits are accrued in terms of cost reduction when a group of states agrees to ensure transparency, coordination, and regulation. With growing regional interdependence and an increase in transnational issues, the need for conscious coordination of policies with neighbors deepens. This leads to a sense of regional identity and community and makes the use of force in security matters unlikely (Gilpin 1987).
The end of the Cold War, the resurgence of China, the Asian financial crisis, and the 9/11 incidents has all contributed to important changes in the Asia–Pacific security architecture.
In fact, these approaches help to explain the formation of ASEAN and other organizations. Growing competition between claimants as well as non-claimant states and an increased power position of some states has together complicated the situation in this region. Moreover, in the wake of the post-2008 financial crisis, a conceptual linkage has developed between economic and strategic security, which is especially noticeable in the case of ASEAN plus THREE (APT), the Boao Forum, and Asian Cooperation Dialogue. Hence what might be envisaged now is a more independent concept of “strategic economic security” with clear economic imperative (Acharya 2007).
Constructivism can be understood as a positive social process that can have transforming impact on the relationships among ASEAN countries. Constructivism makes the assumption that the interests of states and identities are endogenous, which means that institutions can provide a place for states to develop a sense of a shared identity and purpose (Hopf 1998). The end of the Cold War, the resurgence of China, the Asian financial crisis, and the 9/11 incidents has all contributed to important changes in the Asia–Pacific security architecture. In fact there has not only been an increase in multilateral efforts including the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), Asia–Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), the Shangri-la dialogue but also the rise of a new debate as to why some modes of security cooperation are more feasible than others.
Non-interference is often blamed for arresting regionalism and making ASEAN unable to deal with issues like the military regime in Myanmar or transnational problems like piracy and environmental degradation (Acharya 2007). However, the doyen of the realist school of ASEAN studies, Michael Leifer, argues that although ASEAN has demonstrated limited common political purpose in regional matters and has also broken its principle of non-interference both in 1986 and in 1997, he still regards non-interference as a cherished principle (Leifer 1989). It is only due to individual weakness that there has not been any substantive ASEAN response to the changing balance of external influences bearing on Southeast Asia. But there are also a number of scholars who profoundly disagree with the norms of non-interference and call for its revision. They are nonetheless convinced of its continuing capacity to bind the conduct of ASEAN member-states. Despite a difference in interpretation, the “ASEAN way” is regarded as a series of behavioral and procedural norms shared by ASEAN member countries in practicing diplomacy. It centers on the principle of non-interference in internal affairs and contains a few standard norms of international law, such as respecting sovereignty and non-interference in internal affairs, peaceful resolution of conflicts, and non-use of force.
During early years, ASEAN member countries developed a habit of working together and resolved to keep external powers from intervening in the internal affairs of Southeast Asia.
ASEAN is a central structure in Asia–Pacific regional institutional architecture. The establishment of ASEAN in 1967 was prompted by the outbreak of interstate disputes, like the conflict over Sabah (Malaysia vs. Philippines). ASEAN survived those early disputes and, for the first decade of its life, attempted to define and refine the concepts that formed the basis of its identity. During those early years, ASEAN member countries developed a habit of working together and resolved to keep external powers from intervening in the internal affairs of Southeast Asia.
In 1971, the five ASEAN foreign ministers met in Kuala Lumpur and established the Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality (ZOPFAN), also known as the Kuala Lumpur Declaration. In the declaration, the parties publicly stated their intention to keep Southeast Asia free from outside interference. The first multilateral treaty that served as a part of the code of conduct for SCS states was the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC), which only governed relations among the member states of ASEAN (ASEAN website).
The Second Protocol to TAC enabled non–Southeast Asian states to become parties to TAC as a demonstration of their commitment to friendly and constructive relations. By the early 1990s, ASEAN members claimed that their organization was one of the most successful experiments in regional cooperation in the developing world. At the heart of this claim was ASEAN’s role in moderating intra-regional conflicts and significantly reducing the likelihood of war. Although ASEAN’s diplomatic initiative led to the Paris Peace Agreement on Cambodia in 1991, however ASEAN’s credibility and the so-called ASEAN way has frequently been questioned since then (Acharya 2009).
…China has been trying to improve its military ties with individual ASEAN members through military training and weapons, military technology assistance, and naval port visits.
In July 1994, the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) was created to engage the great powers and maintain regional stability. ARF emphasized institutionalization as well as norm building and capacity building, and sought to promote a collaborative security environment. The ARF’s visibility as a conflict management forum increased after the resolution of the Cambodian conflict. However, analysts tend to be skeptical about the effectiveness of the ARF, and had often criticized ARF as “all bark and no bite.” Acharya claims that the ARF, at the very least, still has the potential to develop norms and principles for intra-state cooperation, preventive diplomacy, and CBMs (Acharya 1994).
Few most important areas targeted for ongoing discussions between the member-states were non-traditional security issues, free trade area arrangements, bilateral and/or sub-regional economic development, the Haze crisis, the SCS and maritime security, as well as the regional perspectives on ASEAN–China relations. China became a full Dialogue Partner of ASEAN at a July 1996 meeting in Jakarta. Since then, China has been trying to improve its military ties with individual ASEAN members through military training and weapons, military technology assistance, and naval port visits. In fact, ASEAN–China relations had to contend with a rising China, a strong – albeit economically troubled – Japan, and, finally, the traditional superpower status of the United States.
The relationship between ASEAN and China appeared to draw closer yet in the new millennium, with the signing of a revised Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea at an ASEAN-China summit meeting in Phnom Penh in November 2002, (Acharya 2009) as well as a joint declaration of the Heads of State on Strategic Partnership for Peace and Prosperity in October 2003 in Bali. Although the ARF created a regional platform for security dialogue, it has been criticized to be just a mere talk shop, which implies that ARF is not effective when it comes to the question of solving security issues and conflict. The Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific (CSCAP) observes that the ARF is an under-achiever. On the one hand, ARF has been able to undertake many confidence-building measures but on the other, it has been reluctant or unable to move to preventive diplomacy (phase two) and conflict resolution (phase three).
The Case of the South China Sea and the Haze Crisis
Before the late 1980s and early 1990s, the South China Sea disputes were marked both by unilateralism as well as Chinese demands that any negotiation should occur on a bilateral basis. However, after the great transformation with the Tiananmen Square incident and the fall of the Soviet empire, China consented to multilateral talks. And within few years it joined the Indonesia Workshops on Managing Potential Conflicts in the South China Sea, the ASEAN-China Dialogue, and the ARF. In short, China’s acquiescence to a multilateral framework ensured that the dispute would be negotiated on a regional platform with all claimants.
With the energy consumption by Asian countries expected to increase to nearly 29.8 million barrels per day by 2025; joint development could provide a remarkable window of opportunity for ASEAN.
There were several reasons for China to move from unilateralism and bilateralism to multilateralism. For example, there were changes taking place both in China as well as the outside world in the late 1980s and early 1990s. For example, Tiananmen Square incident was a public relations disaster for China, and she was forced to curb its military actions both at home and abroad. Besides, the fall of the Soviet empire and the end of the Cold War led to an end to the China-USA-USSR relations and forced China to redefine its relationships (Emmers 2001).
Against a backdrop of rising tensions in the SCS, further workshops on the South China Seawas held in in 2010, 2012, 2014 (International Workshops on the South China Sea).There were significant concerns about the growing presence of naval powers in the SCS in the name of safeguarding strategic interests and counterbalancing the presence of one another. Additionally, the participants had always focused on the role and probable intentions of China as well as the effectiveness of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties agreed between ASEAN and China to resolve disputes in the SCS through diplomatic means (International Workshops on the South China Sea).
With the energy consumption by Asian countries expected to increase to nearly 29.8 million barrels per day by 2025; joint development could provide a remarkable window of opportunity for ASEAN. There are potential spinoffs as well. The joint oceanographic marine scientific expedition in the South China Sea is an example, where the parties have pledged to cooperate in marine scientific research and environmental protection (Bensurto 2011 and 2012).Some ASEAN members, especially the Philippines, have actively tried to engage the U.S. and Japan and even the United Nations as mediators, but China has consistently refused. ASEAN itself is divided over whether to engage external actors in the conflict resolution process, since this would also inevitably highlight the intra-ASEAN disputes.
Since for the last 23 years, a part of Southeast Asia has been under a thick haze, and ASEAN has not been able to get rid of this man-made health and environmental problem.
The resistance against involving both external states and organizations, such as United Nations (UN) and Asia–Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), is far greater than the will to engage them. For its part, China has consistently insisted that SCS disputes must be negotiated through bilateral channels. China has always insisted in following “a three no’s strategy” that gives China the upper hand in negotiation (Valencia 2010). This includes no internationalization of the conflict, no multilateral negotiations, and no specification of China’s territorial demands.
Since for the last 23 years, a part of Southeast Asia has been under a thick haze, and ASEAN has not been able to get rid of this man-made health and environmental problem. In fact, there is no central ASEAN administration to enforce such stringent measures to control haze. The haze in Southeast Asia is expected to get even stronger. In fact, “the total economic losses in terms of agriculture production, destruction of forest lands, health, transportation, tourism, and other economic endeavors have been estimated of US$9.3 billion” (Nadaraj 2014).A major blow came again in 2013 when the haze started spreading further affecting southern Indonesia, Thailand and Brunei. It was even worse for Singapore.
ASEAN usually refrains from using the hard-line approach in dealing with issues in the Asian platform. Neither does ASEAN prefers to impose sanctions or punitive measures due to its adherence to the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of one another. Hence, the haze crisis is not an exception. Although such issues in Southeast Asia is forcing ASEAN to change its ways to increase its political will, however it’s hard for the organization to avoid such criticisms. In fact, the implementation, compliance, and enforcement of laws and principals should also come from the member countries. Besides, ASEAN has to learn how to handle such sensitive situations where there is room for poor compliance and weak implementation (Nadaraj 2014).
…Southeast Asia minus ASEAN would probably mean even greater political instability, more disunity, and widespread economic deterioration…
Is it All Bark and No bite?
Thus far, continuing talks have at least staved off direct violent confrontations. All the foregoing discussion of peaceful settlement initiatives has shown the importance of ASEAN in mitigating disputes in Southeast Asia. At the same time, ASEAN has been criticized to be simply providing a benign background of stated principles that might have the effect of dampening the potentials for conflict. As noted, China resists multilateralism of existing disputes and ASEAN has its own internal divisions that constrain its members’ capacity to act collectively. However, Southeast Asia minus ASEAN would probably mean even greater political instability, more disunity, and widespread economic deterioration (ASEAN website). That is about the best one can say for the organization. It proclaims some worthwhile principles and continues to “be there” should parties to disputes wish to make use of its services.
Both the East Asian summits in July and November 2012 ended in dismay as Cambodia, the chair of ASEAN and an important Chinese ally, declared that the SCS disputes would not be raised in international forums. Recently, Vietnam, the Philippines, and India are all objecting to Beijing’s move to establish its territorial claims by illustrating them in passports. The ICJ has even ruled in favor of Philippines recently, and this incident has estranged Beijing even further. Taiwan has also actively joined the competition by deciding to explore for undersea oil in the SCS region.
At the same time, ASEAN was becoming a more powerful voice in regional affairs, and providing an able security mechanism to prevent wars between its members. It has also provided a forum of cooperation in which Brunei, Malaysia, and the Philippines were able to develop a more unified approach towards China, Vietnam, and Taiwan in the South China Sea. Further, economic interdependence between the rapidly industrializing countries has created an atmosphere of increasing economic cooperation and interdependence in Southeast Asia. Unilateral actions such as taking the Paracel Islands by force had come to an end due to continued military expansionism in the South China Sea by several claimants. All these developments wouldn’t have been possible without the presence of ASEAN.
Economically ASEAN is moving forward with greater economic integration, building a common regional identity, ensuring peace and security.
Despite potential challenges, there is hope that China and ASEAN will resolve their differences over the South China Sea disputes, and that ASEAN would succeed in controlling the environmental crisis in Southeast Asia. In fact some of the multilateral proposals such as the 2014 cooperation proposals from ASEAN states for the cooperation fund projects; or the 2015 “ASEAN-China Year of Maritime Cooperation” etc. would not only create favorable conditions for better maritime cooperation but would also shape a new pattern of diplomatic relations with neighboring countries.
Well, ASEAN has survived for the past four decades better than its predecessors like the SEATO, the Association of Southeast Asia (ASA) and the Maphilindo. In fact amidst severe challenges, Southeast Asia now constitutes one of the most peaceful and prosperous regions in the world. ASEAN countries had also shown excellent economic performance overtime. Intra-ASEAN trade has grown and the ASEAN countries had proved to be among the world’s most dynamic economies. Economically ASEAN is moving forward with greater economic integration, building a common regional identity, ensuring peace and security (ASEAN website).
ASEAN’s political achievement has been cited more spiritedly than its considerable role in the economic development of its members. As the Philippine Foreign Secretary Domingo L. Siazon Jr commented: “…………During the last 30 years, ASEAN has been able to maintain peace and stability among its Member Countries despite the many territorial problems and other issues among them. ASEAN today is the only sub regional organization in Asia that provides a political forum where Asian countries and the world Powers can discuss and consider problems related to security, political issues and military concerns” (ASEAN website).
ASEAN needs to reinvent itself and gain strategic and political prominence in order to deal with future challenges.
However, ASEAN needs to reinvent itself and gain strategic and political prominence in order to deal with future challenges.The situation looks extremely complicated since, on the one hand, ASEAN might offend China by its involvement, on the other, if this situation continues, then general peace and prosperity will be at stake. Besides, if ASEAN unconditionally supports its members, then one or more of them might draw the organization even further into the conflict.
Although ASEAN’s integration continues to be problematic and its ability to speak in a unified fashion about politico-security matters remains uncertain, a strong ASEAN still appears to be desired by most of the SCS and the Haze claimants. ASEAN will continue to act as the driving force in shaping regional architecture in the Asia Pacific region. Since its development, ASEAN has been pragmatic in developing cooperation among its members in undertaking various projects. It’s true that since its inception, ASEAN has faced severe problems in dealing with the environment, piracy, border security issues, handling maritime disputes etc., however, ASEAN still exists. And ASEAN will continue to face the future with hope and confidence.
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