Most countries in Southeast Asia share a commonhistory of a colonial past, which spurred nationalism and led to the eventualindependence of some nations. Similar to the European Union, Southeast Asiancountries are united by an organization called the Association of SoutheastAsian Nations (ASEAN).
Established on 8 August 1967, there are ten memberstates today. One of ASEAN many aims is to promote regional peace and stabilitythrough the respect for justice and the law. This is especially relevant in ourcompetitive, everchanging and fast-paced world today. Confronted with a moredangerous world, peace and stability must be prioritized. ASEAN has been lambastedto be “all bark and no bite”, but to label them as ineffectual would be unfairand too harsh a view. I feel that ASEAN is quite effective and has done a decentjob in maintaining regional peace and stability.
At first glance, ASEAN may seem to beineffective in maintaining regional peace and stability due to the weakinstitutional power that it possesses. A case in point would be China’s claimsover the islands in the South China Sea. The lack of a collective approach tosecurity by ASEAN has undermined the purpose of gathering smaller nation statesfor greater collective power to negotiate and deal with the larger and moreinfluential countries, a significant rationale for the creation of ASEAN. This maybe attributed to the conflicting claims over the islands amongst ASEAN members.In ASEAN, there is a requirement that all decisions must be made by consensusas it allows unique countries to come together whilst protecting one’s nationalinterest. However, this may hamper ASEAN’s effectiveness as it would bedifficult to put up a united front.
For example, China’s close ally Cambodia hadopposed a communique to refer to the need to respect international law and theyare supportive of Beijing’s stance on the South China Sea. This is a stumblingblock to the efforts of ASEAN. China’s aggressive territorial claims seek toescalate tensions between the nations, undermining peace in the region as itgets increasingly fragile.
The lack of action may force countries to resort toother means. When tensions are high, an action by a country may be misconstrued,triggering a retaliation and disrupting regional peace. Another example wouldbe how ASEAN has only managed to persuade its members to adopt a non-bindingtreaty on the annual haze conundrum. It is difficult to see a regional solutionbeing enacted as states cannot impose any regulations or binding agreement onanother.
The haze situation was significant as it resulted in the closure of aschool in Malaysia and the PSI levels in Singapore to reach unhealthy levels. Whenone country’s actions severely impact the citizens of another, it forces thegovernments to speak out against them, undermining peace and stability in theregion. As such, one may question ASEAN’s ability and effectiveness in maintainingpeace and stability. However, ASEAN has been effective in preservinga platform for communication and discussions within such a diverse bloc, whichmaintains peace and stability in the region. Communication is especiallycrucial in times of crisis when there is a common cause to be dealt with, or aperceived common external threat. One such example would be the 1997 Asian FinancialCrisis.
Instead of adopting protectionist measures against the crisis, ASEANmembers established an even greater number of direct international traderelationships with other countries. Through this platform, ASEAN has alsocreated the ASEAN Free Trade Area, which aims to enable member states to bemore competitive as a production base through the removal of tariffs and non-tariffbarriers within ASEAN and to attract more foreign investment. This results in amore robust regional network that has made the region more resilient to shocksand less vulnerable to economic risk, enhancing stability in the region. Politically,ASEAN has created the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), where matters on politicaland security in the Asia Pacific region are discussed between ASEAN and otherinfluential states in the region. The participation of North Korea in the ARFfor the first time has reflected the effectiveness of the ARF.
Lastly, the Treatyof Amity and Cooperation in South East Asia (TAC) includes standards of peacefulcoexistence and a partnership amongst members, ensuring peace in the region. ASEANhas taken great efforts in order to unite the various member states with variousbackgrounds and ethnic diversity. It has promoted economic growth for memberstates and established platforms for communications, especially with countriesof greater powers. Joint military exercises also seek to boost confidence andtrust between member states. One example would be the Counter-TerrorismTable-Top Exercise between Singapore and Indonesia. This serves to emphasize onthe peace and stability in the region.
Therefore, ASEAN has been competent inestablishing a platform for communication, maintaining peace and stability. In the face of such a varied group of countrieswith different stages of development, ASEAN can be said to be effective inpromoting peace and stability. This is especially so with poor governance and corruptionplaguing some member states, resulting in the lack of follow through in many ofthe policies. I feel that criticism on the slow actions of ASEAN is attributedto the fact that it tries to take into account the interests of all parties anda thorough evaluation of the issue, with factors being weighed carefully. Thesefactors include the level of development in each country and their ability to enactsuch changes. Taking into account these difficulties, it is unfair to criticizeASEAN for being ineffective when they are instead meticulous. ASEAN has seenvarious successes, from having no open conflict in the region to thedemocratization of Myanmar.
These ensures and maintains peace and stability inthe region. Looking ahead, ASEAN members states have to stand committed to the groupand continue to strive for improvement in the region, looking out and helpingone another, and only so can peace and stability be maintained.