Explaining ASEAN: Regionalism in Southeast Asia

Explaining ASEAN: Regionalism in Southeast Asia

Explaining ASEAN: Regionalism in Southeast Asia

Explaining ASEAN: Regionalism in Southeast Asia


Is ASEAN the foundation of a strong regional community in Southeast Asia? Or is it no more than an instrument used by its members to advance their individual interests? Addressing these questions, Shaun Narine offers a comprehensive political analysis of ASEAN from its creation in 1967 through the events of 2001. Reflecting both the accomplishments and the limitations of the organization, Explaining ASEAN explores issues of regional security, economic stability - and the growing expectations of the international community. Narine's trenchant analysis makes it clear that, unless ASEAN can resolve the problems of inadequate resources and disagreements among the member states, its future as an effective, active international regime is doubtful.


The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is difficult to understand and assess. The popular press often describes ASEAN as an economic organization. However, even a cursory examination of ASEAN's history and institutional development reveals that meaningful economic interaction has only recently become a significant part of the organization's activities. ASEAN is clearly not a security alliance. Why, then, did the organization persist throughout the Cold War period? What motivates ASEAN's expansion and reform in the post–Cold War era? And, perhaps most importantly, what are the prospects for ASEAN's continued reform and viability in the twenty-first century? The intent of this book is to answer these questions through a critical analysis of the history and institutional development of ASEAN.

Two Perspectives on ASEAN

Scholars of ASEAN hold two dominant interpretations of the organization. The first position holds that ASEAN forms the basis of a regional community of Southeast Asian states. According to this argument, ASEAN embodies fundamental norms, values, and practices that have, over time, socialized the ASEAN states into adopting a shared regional identity. The second interpretation is that ASEAN is an instrument of its member states. The organization is designed to pursue the narrow self-interests of its member states. From this perspective, any sense of community within Southeast Asia is illusory, at best.

This book argues that the truth of ASEAN lies between these polar positions and that, in practice, the second position is slightly closer to reality. While ASEAN is the basis of a regional identity, that identity is only one of many that define the member states. At the end of the day, the ASEAN

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