Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

Insights from ASEAN's Foreign Policy Co-Operation: The "ASEAN Way", a Real Spirit or a Phantom?

Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

Insights from ASEAN's Foreign Policy Co-Operation: The "ASEAN Way", a Real Spirit or a Phantom?

Article excerpt

Notwithstanding substantial criticism over the past two years, ASEAN is regarded as a paragon case of successful regional co-operation. This article seeks to contribute to the debate about the nature of ASEAN's co-operation. Have ASEAN members been guided by a sense of community in their foreign policy co-operation? The article examines the nexus between regional identity and foreign policy by gauging the regional states' norm compliance with regard to the "ASEAN way". It focuses on ASEAN decision-making in relation to diplomatic initiatives relevant to the grouping's security. The main emphasis is on the post-Cold War era, with a backdrop provided by specific events in the 1970s and 1980s.

Introduction

The achievements of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) since its establishment in 1967 are certainly impressive. In a region previously beset by confrontation, no armed conflict has erupted between the ASEAN members, although bilateral tensions have surfaced on several occasions. In the international arena, ASEAN has managed to attain a high profile and the regional grouping has acted in concert in the economic as well as in the diplomatic spheres. This record renders he principal success of ASEAN indisputable. However, the question that arises is what has been the underlying basis of co-operation? Have he ASEAN countries co-operated because they conceived of the region as a community where states share one common identity, or has co-operation been motivated by functional considerations derived from the realization that one's bargaining power increases if the region speaks with one voice? This article sets out to answer that question, and by doing so, intends to contribute to the debate about the essential nature of state interaction in Southeast Asia.

Recent critical assessments of ASEAN and its approach to cooperation within the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) have rekindled the debate between rationalist, particularly realist, and constructivist scholars about which factors determine state interactions in Southeast Asia and, by extension, in the wider Asia-Pacific region. [1] Constructivist scholars have posited the existence, or at least emergence, of a regional community among the ASEAN states. [2] This perspective is underpinned by the premise that ASEAN possesses a shared collective identity which exerts crucial influence on states' behaviour. These "identity-based" accounts of ASEAN co-operation have emphasized the importance of ASEAN norms. According to that view, shared norms represent "collective expectations about proper behaviour for a given identity", and hence define how an actor should behave. [3] Norm compliance then becomes an important indicator of the existence of a regional community with a distinct collective identity. To date, most discus sions of the notion of a Southeast Asian community have examined the dimension of intra-ASEAN relations. The question of what role ASEAN norms have played for decision-making and implementation with regard to ASEAN's external relations has largely been neglected. [4] This article seeks to fill that gap by probing whether the norms of the "ASEAN way" have had a significant impact on ASEAN co-operation in foreign policy.

ASEAN leaders, as well as some scholars, have emphasized the importance of the so-called "ASEAN way" for the success of regional co-operation. [5] The "ASEAN way" entails behavioural norms encapsulated in a code-of-conduct and a set of procedural norms. [10] The former contains standard norms of international law: respect for sovereignty and non-interference in internal affairs, peaceful resolution of conflicts, and non-use of force. More unique to ASEAN, and hence more relevant for an assessment of the identity--foreign policy nexus are procedural norms which prescribe decision-making procedures that ASEAN leaders are expected to follow. According to those prescriptions, ASEAN's decision-making process should observe the principles of musyawarah (consultation) and mufakat (consensus). …

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