April 17, 2012
Holy Grail of ASEAN’s Security Cooperation
ASEAN plans to establish an ASEAN community by 2015. This community will have three mutually re-enforcing pillars: a political security community, an economic and a socio-cultural one. The security community pillar is the Holy Grail of regional security cooperation.
The foundation for ASEAN political security was laid in Bangkok in August 1967. The Bangkok Declaration is unambiguous in its purpose: to promote regional peace and stability.
In Bangkok, five states agreed “to bind themselves together in friendship and cooperation and, through joint efforts and sacrifices, secure for their peoples and for posterity the blessings of peace, freedom and prosperity”, with non-interference in the internal affairs of member states as the basic premise of regional order.
They also agreed that they would conduct relations among themselves by adhering to the principles of the United Nations Charter. Non-use of force as a state policy is one of them. The other is respect for territorial integrity and the political independence of member states.
To their credit, following the unfortunate Konfrontasi between Indonesia and Malaysia, the five founding ASEAN members (Indonesia Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Singapore) seized an opportunity to establish an inter-governmental organisation in 1967 to promote regional cooperation in security, cultural and economic matters. The elites must have realised that without security cooperation, there would be no peace in the region.
Academics have called this enterprise by different names: security community, security regime, and most recently, Kei Koga used the less flattering term of a Third World security-oriented-institution (SOI). Labels aside, the ASEAN enterprise has become a security and political community that provides security to its members by agreeing not to use force against each other and to resolve disputes by peaceful means.
Forty-five years is a long period in the lifetime of any organisation. During this period (1967-2012), ASEAN countries have been respectful of each other’s territorial integrity and politi-cal independence. Faced with seemingly intractable crises, which they could not resolve themselves – for example, determining the ownership and sovereignty of disputed territories – four member states sought judgment of the International Court of Justice at The Hague.
During its lifetime, members of ASEAN have not used force against each other except in two border skirmishes in 2001 between Thailand and Burma, and in 2011 between Thailand and Cambodia over disputed land around the Temple Vihear Preah. To their credit, diplomatic relations between the parties remained intact during the border skirmishes. Worrisome as they were, these incidents were brief, localised, few and far in between.
A series of fundamental agreements/declarations/instruments, beginning with the 1967 Bangkok Declaration, which included the 1971 Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality; the 1976 Treaty of Amity and Co-operation; the 2003 Bali Declaration of Concord 11; and the 2007 ASEAN Charter, have been signed to institutionalise the political security mechanisms.
ASEAN has also developed a complex system of institutions and procedures to dissuade members from undermining the common security good by force. These region-wide institutions have, in my view, secured international legitimacy for ASEAN.
Forty years down the road from Bangkok, what is the state of play of the ASEAN security community enterprise now? According to Rodolfo Severino, former ASEAN Secretary-General, “in a very real sense ASEAN is a security community” (2008).
There is no doubt that the paramount purpose of ASEAN as a security community (or a variant of it) has seen some daylight. The fact we are now at peace with each other and more respectful of the sanctity of borders provides further evidence that the ASEAN experiment in establishing a political community has not been a futile exercise.
All along, the paramount purpose of ASEAN has been political. More importantly, the political elites are determined to create norms and rules that would precipitate in the long-run into a security community mindset. Some have argued that the top-down approach to a security community is inadequate; an endurable security community or regime needs to be supplemented and reinforced by a bottom-up approach, which essentially means it has to have the support (or buy-in) of the citizens.
In 1987, the Group of 14 on ASEAN Economic Cooperation and Integration concluded that ASEAN has been successful as an apolitical experiment. The report notes with pride that “it is a measure of the success of the ASEAN experiment that many have now forgotten that ours was once an area of turmoil, of mutual suspicion, mutual hostility, mutual dislike, even of mutual disinterest”.
The Group of 14 was candid with its recommendation for greater integration in all sectors – political security, as well as the economic and social cultural sectors. It warned that sustaining political unity has to be a constant struggle to achieve peace and security in the region. Since 1987, the ASEAN family has expanded to ten states, marking another milestone in its political integration. It is difficult to ignore this achievement.
Persuading some enemy states (Rizal Sukma, 2003) like Vietnam (1995), Laos (1997) and Cambodia (1999) to join ASEAN was not an easy task. Of course, many resisted the membership of Burma in ASEAN in 1997.
ASEAN has strengthened its institutions and worked hard to reinvent itself since the Group of 14 Report (1987). After the Asian financial crisis of 1997, ASEAN launched a number of initiatives to enhance regional security. Various instruments like the ASEAN Vision 2020 (1998), the Bali Concord 11 (2003), Hanoi Action of Plan and Vientiane Action Programme (2004) and the ASEAN Charter (2007) were introduced.
Institutions like the ASEAN Regional Forum (1993) with members from the Asia-Pacific region, the ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting (2006) and the ADMM-Plus (2010) were established to provide a forum to discuss common security concerns. The latter two institutions were designed for military officers; hitherto, they have no formal regional platform (beyond bilateral mechanisms) to discuss security concerns.
ASEAN has succeeded in establishing a framework for a security community to endure. As a process, ASEAN is today politically, economically and culturally much more integrated. It has established a strong identity-building along confidence-building structure towards a nascent, de facto, if not de jure, security community (Acharya) – although some have criticised this classification as flawed.
Flawed or not, I believe ASEAN countries have attained a high level of maturity in politics and security that is akin to the concept of security community in international relations. To deny this is to ignore the close network of security related mechanisms/institutions within ASEAN. To suggest that the security maturity or consciousness is due to external forces is to discredit or downplay the ASEAN Way.
The provocative question remains – can this nascent, de facto security community or security regime, SOI, or a security state-of-mind among the member states of ASEAN endure? I am a firm believer in the institution’s resilience.
I believe Asean can endure the challenges. It is capable of sustaining its political security community programme, if member states with different levels of economic and political development are willing to engage the civil societies, minimise the centrifugal pulls and comply with the established norms and values.
Along the journey, ASEAN must deal with some of the security challenges of pragmatism.
BA Hamzah is a student of politics, international law and education.
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