The 'ASEAN Way': Towards Regional Order and Security Cooperation?
Loke, Beverly, Melbourne Journal of Politics
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. The analysis will then be used in the last section to critically assess the ASEAN Way's effectiveness. This article concludes that the ASEAN Way has resulted in both accomplishments and failures; indeed, it is this interplay between its strengths and weaknesses that complicates the whole issue.
Whilst arguing for need for ASEAN to re-evaluate, adapt and evolve its traditional interpretation of the core doctrines of the ASEAN Way in order to remain relevant and effectual, this article also recognises that the ASEAN Way has facilitated greater security cooperation, maintained regional order and fostered a sense of a nascent regional identity (2), and hence disagrees with calls for drastic changes or a rejection of the ASEAN Way. As the pillar on which ASEAN security cooperation operates, any complete abandonment or radical transformation of the ASEAN Way fails to take into account the historical circumstances in which ASEAN and its norms were conceived, the sheer diversity of the region, and how effective the ASEAN Way has been, and can continue to be. There is no doubt that some of the norms of the ASEAN Way need to be revamped, but failure to acknowledge their inherent complexities and arguing for direct and abrupt abandonment or modification of some of the norms could lead to the deterioration of ASEAN itself. What this article proposes instead is an evolutionary approach to reforming the ASEAN Way that balances the need for reconceptualisation against the need for traditional compliance; a slower but definitely steadier progress towards greater flexibility in the in the interpretation and consolidation of its norms, as well as greater consistency in achieving effective security cooperation and outcomes. This approach is made clear by first appreciating the social, historical and cultural context in which ASEAN as a regional organisation was formed.
ASEAN as Regionalist Project
As inherently open systems, regions have emerged mostly as a twentieth century phenomenon and, as increasingly important venues of conflict and cooperation, are now more salient features of international politics. Regionalism represents a site in which the problem of finding the right relationship between the universal and the particular in international relations is addressed, as regionalism 'offers a stepping-stone for international cooperation between unsatisfactory national approaches on the one hand and unworkable universal schemes on the other.' (3)
Explaining regionalism requires a 'multileveled analysis, a capacity to explore historical, economic and ideological structures, and the ability to incorporate both ideas as well as the material world into its explanatory propositions.' (4) Any general claim to understanding regionalism imposes a universalistic view and fails to take into account the inherent cultural, social and historical contexts in which the region was constructed. It is thus inaccurate to examine and evaluate Southeast Asian regionalism, and its process of regionalisation, through a universal, albeit primarily Western, gaze. As Katzenstein aptly states, 'such a Eurocentric view invites the unwarranted assumption that the European experience sets the standard by which [Southeast] Asian regionalism should be measured.' (5) It is more important instead to acknowledge the varying scope, depth, and character of the regional integration processes of regional systems, as well as the origins, development and essential features of regionalist projects.
The process of imagining a region can be constructed by both internal and external forces. In the 1940s and 1950s, the concept of Southeast Asia as a regionalist framework was both constructed and imposed upon the area by individuals and interests external to it. Of particular importance were the ways in which Western Orientalist scholarship and academic discourses of Asian studies, indeed 'reflective of a longstanding tendency of Western intellectuals to view the region in exploitative or security-minded terms,' (6) interacted to frame the region and put Southeast Asia in the international spotlight. The term and notion of Southeast Asia became increasingly accepted and secured in the international arena through the phenomenon of 'repetitive tradition [that] re-establishes place and expresses its stability and continuity.' (7) The recurrence of the idea of Southeast Asia by external actors gave the region a sense of recognition in the broader cultural environment, the experience of which also acted in an indirect way to concretise its meaning and importance by embedding the concept in the collective consciousness. (8) However these external processes alone were 'rather transient and by themselves inadequate to sustain a sense of regional identity.' (9)
Only in the 1960s was there a conscious effort by Southeast Asian elites to construct the region, and a sense of regional identity, from within. Indigenous political actors and nationalists saw, in invoking the 'idea' of Southeast Asia, a space in which they could become engaged 'in a common enterprise of redefining and reinventing their own societies against [Western] cultural, political and scientific power' (10) through constructing a regional organisation for collective political and economic purposes. Southeast Asian leaders became actively involved in the process of region-building to create Asian solutions for regional problems uninhibited by interference from Western powers. (11)
The formation of ASEAN in 1967 by the member countries of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand marked a new beginning for regional cooperation. (12) The pre-1967 period before ASEAN's inception was tumultuous, with various states struggling to stabilise their domestic polities in the aftermath of decolonisation and in the midst of the ideological communist challenge of the Cold War. ASEAN was thus borne out of a collective quest for a feasible regional framework amidst common internal and external security challenges and threat perceptions. (13) Indeed, the 'historic art of regional reconciliation it engendered and the statesmanship it inspired changed the course of Southeast Asian history.' (14) The founding document of ASEAN, the ASEAN Declaration, stated the 'need to strengthen further the existing bonds of regional solidarity and cooperation [and to] contribute towards peace, progress and prosperity in the region.' (15) Despite the existence of issues that threatened the early years of ASEAN's development, ASEAN' survived to develop an indigenous framework for intra-regional relations which differed in important respects from the colonial and orientalist construction of Southeast Asia as a regional concept.' (16) Brunei became a member in 1984, and with the end of the Cold War and the Third Indochina War, ASEAN engaged in a process of enlargement and admitted Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Burma (17) in the late 1990s to fulfil its vision of ASEAN-10. (18) The distinction between ASEAN and Southeast Asia hence became completely blurred.
Understanding the ASEAN Way: origins, evolution, and practice
Over the years, ASEAN has developed into one of the most important institutional manifestations of an effort towards collective identity and an institutionalised cooperative vehicle for intramural conflict avoidance and management, renowned for its ability to maintain peaceful relations and address regional security concerns by accommodating the diversity of culture, religion, ethnicity, tradition and political systems, as well as the variety of leadership styles and leadership types, of its ten member countries. Much of ASEAN's success has been attributed to the ASEAN Way, a diplomatic and security culture consisting of 'common modes of perception and behaviour that have made ASEAN a region as well as a regional organisation.' (19)
The ASEAN Way is a normative framework, translated as the observance and practice of a set of principles and norms of interstate conduct and modes of cooperation and decision-making by the ASEAN member states. The ASEAN Way not only constitutes an important contribution as a tool of international statecraft, but also operates as a new approach for bringing about world peace through the establishment of bonds of cultural affinity. (20) The ASEAN Way represents an 'operational code that explains how Asian statesmen ideally prefer to conduct their affairs at the international level,' (21) and has thus served to define a new political culture within which ASEAN diplomacy and security cooperation have been pursued. This article defines the ASEAN Way as a normative framework comprising behavioural and procedural norms (22) to mediate disputes and guide interaction, and where engaged in a process of continual interaction and socialisation, underpins the construction and development of a regional identity. An understanding of its development makes it possible to discuss the relevance of the ASEAN Way in the region today.
The behavioural norms of the ASEAN Way are self-inhibiting and regulatory practices seeking to specify the accepted and expected behaviour for inter-state conduct, and are manifested in ASEAN's political documents; in particular, the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC) signed in 1976, the first treaty since the association's formation nine years before. (23) The principles enunciated in the TAC include mutual respect for state sovereignty, independence and integrity, non-interference in the internal affairs of …
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Publication information: Article title: The 'ASEAN Way': Towards Regional Order and Security Cooperation?. Contributors: Loke, Beverly - Author. Journal title: Melbourne Journal of Politics. Volume: 30. Publication date: Annual 2005. Page number: 8+. © 1998 Department of Political Science, University of Melbourne. COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale Group.
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