The Asean Hotline: Southeast Asian Defence Ministries Have Established a Communications Network to Improve Relations and Cool Potential Military Conflicts

Geographical, January 2016 | Go to article overview

The Asean Hotline: Southeast Asian Defence Ministries Have Established a Communications Network to Improve Relations and Cool Potential Military Conflicts


Sadly, the symbolic White House red phone we see in the movies never really existed. Nevertheless, there was a pivotal moment, after the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, when the need for a direct hotline between the US and Russia was painfully clear. This ability to avoid confusion and defuse incidents with diplomacy is one of the key reasons why the Cold War never overheated.

It's an approach the nations of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) embraced at a recent defence summit, with an agreement to set up a similar hotline between all defence ministers. 'Just like people, countries need to build relationships and links to build trust and avoid misunderstandings,' Singapore Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen stated afterwards. 'We are now a phone call away from each other. This hotline will reduce the risk of incidents at sea.'

Southeast Asia, and especially the South China Sea, has become a geopolitical hotspot in recent years, as neighbouring countries engage in a low-level arms race and compete over marine territories, such as the Spratly Islands. With this in mind, Jurgen Haacke, Associate Professor of International Relations at the London School of Economics, thinks the hotline won't be a simple solution to ease regional tensions, given that neither China (the PRC) or the US are members of the alliance. …

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