The Relevance of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) for Regional Security in the Asia-Pacific

By Heller, Dominik | Contemporary Southeast Asia, April 2005 | Go to article overview
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The Relevance of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) for Regional Security in the Asia-Pacific

Heller, Dominik, Contemporary Southeast Asia


This article uses the term institution as defined by James G. March and Johan P. Olsen: "In a general way, an 'institution' can be viewed as a relatively stable collection of practices and rules defining appropriate behaviour for specific groups of actors in specific situations." (March and Olsen 1998, p. 948). Against this backdrop, security institutions are institutions that have an impact on the special field of security (Keck 1997, p. 35). Haftendorn (1997, p. 16) points out the following impacts that make security institutions relevant:

* Like all institutions security institutions have the general function of influencing the action of their members towards continuing cooperation by installing accepted rules of behaviour despite competing interests.

* In addition, security institutions have the specific function of facilitating cooperation among their members in the provision of security, that is, territorial integrity, political self-determination and economic well-being, against any military threat.

Applying these conditions to the ARF, we will examine its suitability to foster regional security cooperation to determine its relevance. According to Haftendorn, national security is defined in the dimensions of territory, sovereignty and economy. The explicit notion of military threat as the main danger to national security is very important because it rules out the far broader notion of comprehensive security (Dewitt 1994, p. 9), whose operationalization lies outside the scope of this article.

As any institution will only be relevant if it does not harm the core interests of its member-states too much in an overall cost-benefit calculation, (1) this analysis of the relevance of the ARF first has to examine whether the interests of its central members are opposed to the ARF's agenda and raison d'etre. The three most powerful national actors (United States, People's Republic of China, and Japan) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) all have an interest in supporting the ARF. Because both China and the ASEAN states fear that foreign investment might shy away from their economies if there is regional instability, they favour an environment that is as peaceful and calculable as possible. Furthermore, China has to participate in the ARF because it cannot risk confirming the anxieties of its neighbours, who might gang up in a regional institution against the country (Leifer 1996, p. 29; Foot 1998, p. 439; Umbach 2002, p. 254). China hoped to overcome its international isolation after 1989 by joining international fora like the ARF (Johnston 1999, p. 296). For Japan the ARF is a possible way "to deepen its political relationship with ASEAN [...] and to solidify its strategic position toward China. Such a strategy is an insurance policy, supplementary to the U.S.-Japanese alliance, in case China changes into an actual adversary" (Kawasaki 1997, p. 490). Second, a multilateral framework is the sole possibility for Japan to gain more political leverage in East Asia as its militant past still limits Japan's room for manoeuvre. Third, it is in Japan's interest to have a multilateral structure in place to address the Korean and the Taiwan conflicts in its vicinity.

The United States was willing to embrace the forum as soon as it became clear that the ARF would not affect its close alliances with South Korea and Japan (Wanandi 1998, p. 59). To integrate these two key allies into a common cooperative framework was a major incentive for the United States to support the ARF (Leifer 1996, p. 28). Both do not have a habit of easy cooperation due to their past conflicts and existing territorial disputes. Furthermore, the ARF was seen as a good way to ease the worries of many governments in the region that the United States would withdraw troops (Takur 1998, p. 12) and therefore increase the strategic standing of China in the region (Gob and Acharya 2003, p.

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The Relevance of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) for Regional Security in the Asia-Pacific


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