Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

ASEAN as a "Neighbourhood Watch Group"

Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

ASEAN as a "Neighbourhood Watch Group"

Article excerpt

The Secretary-General of A SEAN, Rodolfo Severino, had said that the organization "has to be measured against the purposes that it has set for itself and the limitation that it has imposed upon itself". This article argues that A SEAN'S core purpose is that of an intergovernmental neighbourhood watch group, its primary function being that of ensuring regional political and economic stability. The neighbourhood watch group (NWG) idea borrows from the police-community crime prevention concept. When applied to ASEAN, this idea draws attention to its members' self-interest and mutual stake in regional stability. With the end of the Cold War, ASEAN embarked on expansion and consolidation, and seemed to have co-opted the newer members into this idea. Since 1997, however, ASEAN's fundamental purpose has been severely tested and it remains to be seen if the grouping can meet the challenge.

Introduction

Imagine a genie appearing suddenly before a gathering of ASEAN foreign ministers, with the grant of one wish. The assembled wise men -- well aware than ASEAN's image has been tarnished since 1997 -- are allowed to confer among themselves for five minutes. The argument of this article, in revisiting ASEAN's purpose, is that the appointed spokesman will approach the waiting genie and profess that the consensus is a wish for "regional political stabilization" [1] rather than "regional security", for which corporate agreement may be more difficult to establish. In making such a request, the ministers would be acutely aware of Southeast Asia's conflictual history since 1945, of the region's geopolitics and links to external powers, and of recent events such as the Asian economic crisis and the turmoil in postSoeharto Indonesia which inform the region's interdependence. In short, ASEAN should be best viewed as a "neighbourhood watch group" in which bilateral diplomacy -- not always smooth -- is critical to "regiona l political stabilization", and corporate initiatives are both limited and yet hold promise for the grouping if it seeks to become more vibrant.

Cold War ASEAN

A "neighbourhood watch group" is an apt way to describe ASEAN. The neighbourhood watch group (NWG) idea borrows from the municipal crime prevention concept in which the residents of a locality claim an active role in assisting the police to eliminate crime from their neighbourhood, in looking out for each other, and in improving safety in their neighbourhood. The appeal of an NWG derives from the assumption that residents of a neighbourhood "know best their own specific problems, strengths, resources and needs. They know best the people that live in the neighbourhood... Neighbourhoods are made up of people who have the power to protect each other's safety". [2] Of course, applied to ASEAN in the intergovernmental sense, the residents and police are the same state actors. Embedded in this idea is self-interest reinforcing a mutual stake in regional stability. It embodies several ideas associated with the grouping's emphasis on regional political stabilization, that is, the mutuallyagreed premium placed on poli tical stability embodied in central power and regardless of each state's political processes. These ideas include: good neighbourliness, a hallmark of which is the prerequisite of "getting to know each other"; non-interference and respect for sovereignty; territorial integrity; national and regional resilience; and consensus and consultation. Strongly suggestive of these ideas are the notions that trouble-makers could come from within the neighbourhood or from elsewhere, and that member households would cultivate goodwill towards each other. Given each member state's domestic concerns with religious, ethnic and other sectarian fault lines, none is expected to be his "brother's keeper". In the event that quarrels break out between affected households, these are no business of other households, although discreet mediation is not precluded. …

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