Explaining ASEAN: Regionalism in Southeast Asia

Article excerpt

Shaun Narine

Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 2002, 248pp, US$55.00, ISBN 1-58826-129-8

Explaining ASEAN explores the origins, development and performance of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Long lauded as one of the few successful examples of regionalism in the developing world, ASEAN has faced tough times since the onset of the 1997 Asian economic crisis. Its membership has grown to include all 10 Southeast Asian states, but at a considerable cost in terms of its coherence, reputation and influence.

Shaun Narine argues that there are two dominant interpretations of ASEAN in the academic literature. One school, constructivism, holds that ASEAN is an "imagined community" of Southeast Asian states. These scholars argue that shared norms, values and practices have, over time, socialized ASEAN's members into a collective regional identity. This sense of community helps shape the national interests of member states. The second view, held by realists and proponents of the "English School," is that ASEAN is merely an instrument designed to help its members pursue narrow, self-interested goals. These scholars believe that claims about a Southeast Asian regional community are palpable nonsense. Narine thinks that the truth "lies somewhere between these polar positions," but, in his view, the latter "is slightly closer to reality" (p 1).

Narine is not philosophically opposed to the constructivists' identity-based approach. …

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