Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

Regionalism and the Quest for Security: ASEAN and the Cambodian Conflict

Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

Regionalism and the Quest for Security: ASEAN and the Cambodian Conflict

Article excerpt

The reordering of the international system in the absence of a hegemonic war has revitalized the debate on the nature of international politics, and the continued relevance of the realist paradigm.(2) Critics of the realist paradigm contend that as survival has ceased to be a problem for more developed states, they no longer search consistently for relative gains. Their behavior now can only be understood in the context of international institutions that both constrain states and make their actions intelligible to others.(3) Indeed, some argue that multilateral norms and institutions have made significant contributions toward stabilizing the peaceful transformation of the international system, and that they are likely to become increasingly important in the management of change at the regional and global levels.(4) Multilateralism may or may not supplant the self-help approach and become the dominant mode of interaction among states; there is little doubt, however, that its relevance will further increase, as indicated by the important role of international organizations in post-cold War era conflict resolution.(5)

This article will examine the effectiveness and limitations of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in coping with the Cambodian conflict.(6) An international accord ending the 13-year-old conflict was signed at a U.N.-sponsored peace conference in Paris in October 1991. Although involving states external to the Association, the conflict threatened the security of at least one ASEAN member and also affected the security of the Southeast Asian region as a whole. As ASEAN has frequently been cited as one of the more successful Third World regional organizations, an investigation of its role and effectiveness in the Cambodian conflict should provide valuable insight into the security roles of regional organizations in general.

Current interest in security regionalism may be traced to two major developments. First, the lifting of the Cold War overlay has removed the integrating dynamic and increased the discontinuity between the global system and regional subsystems. Combined with increasing resource constraints, the major powers may no longer have the interest or the capability to become involved in regional conflicts as in the past. While conflicts like the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait may evoke prompt and substantive response, others less consequential to their interests may not. This could shift the burden of addressing regional problems to local states; but it also presents them with the opportunity to gain greater control over their regional environment.

Second, the end of the Cold War has invigorated the U.N. Security Council's role of maintaining international peace and security, which could also strengthen the security function of regional organizations. In a report prepared on the instruction of the Security Council summit meeting, Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali stated:

... In this new era of opportunity, regional arrangements or agencies can render great service ... the Security Council has and will continue to have primary responsibility for maintaining international peace and security, but regional action as a matter of decentralization, delegation and cooperation with the United Nations could not only lighten the burden of the Council, but also contribute to a deeper sense of participation, consensus and democratization in international affairs.(7)

Longer-term developments have also made regionalism more attractive to developing states, including their growing political maturity, and the perceived potential of regionalism to promote their economic development and to mitigate their disadvantaged position in the international system.(8) This is not to argue that regionalism will mushroom in every part of the globe. Rather, the general conditions at the systemic and unit levels are becoming more favorable, and the security regionalism option is likely to receive greater attention from the international community. …

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