The ‘ASEAN way’ of diplomacy hinders a multilateral approach to peace
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations determination to have consensus on all issues among its diverse membership will prevent the organisation from being effective within a rapidly changing world that requires fast coordinated responses to crises whether economic or military.
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no collective security treaty
ASEAN has always avoided having a collective security treaty, making the institution’s guarantee of peace in the region purely informal.[[Samuel Sharpe, ‘An ASEAN way to Security cooperation in South-East Asia’, The Pacific Review, Vol.16, No.2, (2003), pp.231-250, p.233.]] ASEAN therefore has to rely upon collective interest to overcome any unilateral interest among member states. This lack of a regime for collective or common security has meant that ASEAN has not always taken joint action on security issues, particularly where members have conflicting interests. The most obvious example is competition over the reefs and islands in the South China Sea. All of the states around the South China Sea, except Cambodia and Thailand, claim some of the disputed reefs and at least five have put naval stations or military bases on the reefs, while the frequency of incidents between over the conflicting claims have been increasing. These reefs are significant due to their proximity to important sea lanes and the expectation of large energy reserves.[[Michael T. Klare, Resource Wars, (Henry Holt and Co., New York, 2002), p.112.]] As ASEAN is not a security regime with a joint policy there was no combined approach when China occupied Mischief reef in 1995, claimed by the Philippines, although there was a joint statement expressing concern ASEAN made little further progress allowing negotiations to be carried out bilaterally between the various claimants. This was further emphasised by the Philippines appealing to the US to honor the 1951 US-Philippines Mutual defense treaty. One reason for the failure to act together was that there were conflicting claims among ASEAN members, but also ASEAN did not wish to antagonise China as China was needed for the Asian Regional Forum to be successful.[[Sharpe, ‘Security’, p.242.]]
ASEAN states consider benefits only in realist terms
ASEAN members still consider the benefits of ASEAN in realist terms, that cooperation brings greater bargaining power rather than in liberal terms of deepening the bonds between members.[[Kay Moller, ‘Cambodia and Burma, the ASEAN way stops here’, Asian Survey, Vol. 38, No. 12. (Dec., 1998), pp. 1087-1104. p.1101.]] Therefor rather than joining for economic engagement Vietnam’s main motivation was that the loss of its external support in the form of the USSR meant it needed ASEAN to balance against China.[[Barry Buzan, ‘Security architecture in Asia: the interplay of regional and global levels’, The Pacific Review, Vol.16, No.2, (2003), pp.143-173, p.154.]] This expansion of ASEAN has had negative effects in creating divisions within the organization with in what is a consensus based system the result of stagnation.
The ASEAN approach is based on consensus among the members. If there must be consensus then the organization is forced to go with the lowest common denominator in any negotiation, or statement. This is potentially particularly a problem in an organization such as ASEAN where there are divergent cultures and systems of Government among the members, in Huntington’s civilisational terms ASEAN at its creation had one Sinic, one Buddhist, one Christian and two Muslim states. Huntington considers this a major break on attempts at ASEAN integration that reduces ASEAN’s effectiveness.[[Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the remaking of world order, (The Free Press, London, 2002), p.132.]] Controversial issues have to be avoided because as Indonesia’s director-general for political affairs Izhar Ibrahim feared “the participants concerned would begin attacking each other.”[[Frank Ching, ‘ARF off to a good start’, far eastern economic review, Vol.157, No.32, (Aug. 11, 1994), p.34.]] Consensus has lead to difficult issues having to be left off the agenda, this is particularly the case with issues such as Burma and human rights abuses. ASEAN has taken Burma in as a member and taking an approach of ‘constructive engagement’ however this prevents any member from speaking out on Burmese human rights abuses, even should they wish too.[[Burma may be distanced from ASEAN’, (04 March, 2006) http://www.bbc.co.uk/burmese/highlights/story/2006/03/060304_burmaasean.shtml%5D%5D ‘Constructive engagement’ means that ASEAN hoped that peaceful change would be made by the Junta if ASEAN offered incentives, burma would slowly be changed by membership. This creates the difficulty that once they are members such states expect to be protected by ASEAN’s norms, damaging ASEAN in the eyes of the rest of the world.[[Moller, ‘Burma’, p.1102.]]
There have however been calls for a change from constructive engagement to ‘flexible engagement’ in which members could be more critical of each other without the need to get consensus on an issue first as is currently the case. This would provide regimes such as Burma’s with more incentive to solve domestic problems as they would be less able to take cover behind ASEAN.
ASEAN compartmentalises to control disputes, bilateral problems are kept out of ASEAN, they are therefore not resolved within ASEAN. This allows ASEAN to concentrate on issues that can build cooperation and means that ASEAN can keep up a successful image. However this has obvious problems in a globlising world where it is increasingly difficult to control the media agenda.[[Michael Antolik, ASEAN and the Diplomacy of Accommodation, (M.E. Sharpe, London, 1990), p.100-102.]]
ASEAN is becoming more open. Thailand in particular wishes for greater openness as it is the country faced with migrants fleeing the Junta in Burma, thailand also has proposed an ASEAN peoples forum to engage with the domestic audience.37 Both Indonesia and the Philippines publicly critisised Malaysia over the sacking and imprisonment of Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim in 1998.[[Hiro Katsumata, ‘Why is ASEAN Diplomacy Changing From “Non-Interference” to “Open and frank Discussion” Asian Survey, Vol. 44, No.2, (2004), pp.237-254, pp.242-248]]
The Bangkok declaration put as ASEAN’s primary aim “To promote regional peace and stability” and set up some mechanisms to carry out the organizations aims. ASEAN’s approach is less about the mechanisms of the organization than the norms that the organizations members follow. ASEAN membership has been the first guarantee of peace among the members.[[Michael Antolik, ASEAN and the Diplomacy of Accommodation, (M.E. Sharpe, London, 1990), p.8.]] Membership “promote[s] regional cooperation in South-East Asia in the spirit of equality and partnership and thereby contribute[s] towards peace, progress and prosperity in the region”.[[Bangkok Declaration, Bangkok, 8 August 1967, http://www.aseansec.org/1212.htm%5D%5D simply being in an organization creates a norm of peaceful relations between the members. This gives ASEAN a flexibility, without anything set in stone the institution can adapt.
There are so many constraints on success of ASEAN: the EU and NATO examples of multilateral bodies where there is peace between members is so much more difficult to achieve in Asia. There are many arguments for and against the level of difference and similarities between nation states that hinder further integration within multilateral organisations.
The main point here is the difference between NATO/the EU and between ASEAN, and that is that the former organisations all have at least one big thing in common: all their members have the same form of government and economy.
In light of this, with the huge differences in culture, government, language, and other in ASEAN, it is incredibly impressive they have got so far in integrating and instilling norms in their member states that should be seen only as success. As it would be impossible to have the same level of integration and cooperation in ASEAN because of nation states huge differences, we should only consider ASEAN's regional role as a huge step in the right direction and one that facilitates negotiation and normative constraints between member states and regionally.
What do you think?