Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

Structures, Shocks and Norm Change: Explaining the Late Rise of Asia's Defence Diplomacy

Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

Structures, Shocks and Norm Change: Explaining the Late Rise of Asia's Defence Diplomacy

Article excerpt

Asia's multilateral defence diplomacy is an increasingly important aspect of regional politics and a burgeoning area of interest for scholarship. The creation of the Shangri-La Dialogue (SLD) in 2002, the inauguration of the ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting (ADMM) in May 2006 and the arrival of the ADMM-Plus process in October 2010 has seen the establishment of a major new stream of regional dialogue and diplomacy. These arrangements also have a track two multilateral partner--the Network of ASEAN Defence and Security Institutes (NADI), a parallel arrangement to the long-running and influential ASEAN-ISIS. (1)

These processes are increasingly attracting interest from analysts, although the body of work remains comparatively small alongside the attention lavished on the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF). In 2012 a special issue of the journal Asian Security examined Southeast Asia's defence diplomacy, including China's activities in the region and the contribution of the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA). (2) Scholars have asked whether there is a "Southeast Asian model" of defence cooperation that might be emulated or referenced by others. (3) The origins and function of the SLD have been the subject of close academic scrutiny, (4) and there is a growing body of research looking at bilateral defence diplomacy (5) and the connection between bilateral and multilateral arrangements. (6)

To date, however, most of this work has been more concerned with describing the evolution of defence diplomacy in the region, its origins and purpose than it has been with considering recent developments in the context of theoretical debates. (7) This article seeks to build on the existing literature by outlining some ways in which Asia's defence diplomacy can inform and challenge contemporary debates in international relations theory. (8) In particular, it looks at the rise of multilateral defence diplomacy against the backdrop of the scholarship concerning norm change and institutional innovation. At its heart are two questions: why was multilateral defence diplomacy so late to arrive in Asia, and what explains its rapid rise?

The article is divided into three parts. The first section briefly defines defence diplomacy and outlines the general trajectory of East Asia's defence and military diplomacy in recent decades. The second part explores why defence diplomacy has been a relative laggard when compared to other forms of institutionalized security dialogue, and what explains its recent rise. I argue that explanations that stress the "catalytic role" of external shocks such as the Asian Financial Crisis (AFC) or changes in the distribution of power or threats (for example, the rise of China) are underdetermining. Rather, the explanation advanced here focuses on agents and changing norms around multilateral defence cooperation. Using the lens of constitutive localization, I argue that the institutional innovation that has occurred since 2006 reflects a strategic calculation on the part of ASEAN elites, who adopted and adapted ideas initially put forward by outsiders in order to maintain ASEAN's central place in the regional security architecture. Its rise has been helped by the changing role of militaries in some East Asian states and its rapid institutionalization owes much to historical contingency, in particular the interests of two influential ASEAN Chairs in Indonesia and Vietnam. The final part of the article offers a brief assessment of the future prospects and influence of regional multilateral defence diplomacy.

Defining Defence Diplomacy

Defence diplomacy is a relatively new arrival in the lexicon of Asia-Pacific security. One study of the vocabulary of regional security published in 2008 includes numerous terms for diplomacy and engagement but notably omits defence or military diplomacy. (9) What then does defence diplomacy mean in Asia? Like many expressions in the security studies lexicon, the origin and meaning of the term are contested. …

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