The 'ASEAN Way': Towards Regional Order and Security Cooperation?

Article excerpt


ASEAN is often regarded as the paragon case of successful regional security cooperation, and attributes its achievement to its political formula: the behavioural and procedural norms that have now become the bedrock of the organisation, that of the ASEAN Way. As part of an institutional culture that helps to avoid and control conflicts, the ASEAN Way reflects a common cultural approach to international security management as embedded in the minds of ASEAN policy makers. Yet much criticism and defence have recently surrounded the ASEAN Way concept. This article examines the ASEANisation of Southeast Asian security cooperation and questions the effectiveness of the ASEAN Way in working towards a regional order. The main emphasis of this article is that the strengths of the ASEAN Way are, ironically, also its major weaknesses. This interplay between the strengths and weaknesses in turn causes the great dilemma that ASEAN is currently facing on whether an ardent adherence to, or flexible interpretation of the ASEAN Way norms should be adopted.


The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was established as a regional organisation in 1967, and is considered to be one of the most successful regional experiments in conflict management and security cooperation in the developing world. Through its evolution, ASEAN has identified a core normative framework encapsulated in the term the 'ASEAN Way', frequently referred to as the defining principle of ASEAN diplomacy. A significant aspect of ASEAN's agenda to enhance regional resilience is aimed at promoting regional peace and stability by establishing politico-security dialogue and cooperation. The ASEAN Way is its diplomatic instrument for maintaining regional stability by providing a conflict management mechanism and process for the peaceful settlement of disputes. The ASEAN Way consists of behavioural and procedural conflict management norms as enshrined in many of ASEAN's official political documents, such as the ASEAN Declaration (1967) and the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (1976), and is reiterated through a continual process of norm interaction and recurrence.

The ASEAN Way has increasingly developed into an important issue, especially in the last decade when ASEAN had to deal with emerging non-traditional security pressures in an era of globalisation where the domestic has both regional and international consequences. It is in this light that debates and controversies surrounding ASEAN as a regional institution, and its viability as a framework for establishing and maintaining regional order have recently materialised. Such contention draws, in particular, on ASEAN's conflict management and resolution mechanism through norm compliance of the ASEAN Way, indeed 'it can be said that ASEAN today is one of the most extensively institutionalised regional associations although that in itself is not necessarily an indicator of organisational efficiency or effectiveness or the depth of a regional community spirit.' (1)

This article is an attempt to examine the ASEAN Way's effectiveness and adaptive capability in matters of regional security, to evaluate the ways in which the ASEAN Way has contributed to ASEAN's ability or inability to address security issues, and to respond to them through regional cooperation, and hence to assess whether the qualities of the ASEAN Way can equip ASEAN to meet emerging security challenges in an adequate and effective way.

This article is broken into five sections. After an historical overview of the conditions in which ASEAN was formed, the concept and development of the ASEAN Way will be explored, followed by an examination of ASEAN's security objectives. The primary focus of the article is in the last two sections, where a systematic appraisal of the ASEAN Way will be conducted based on the following criteria: first, whether member countries have adhered to the ASEAN Way in relation to security concerns, and second, whether norm compliance to the ASEAN Way has led to effective outcomes. …