Most ineffective in maintaining regional peace and stability due

Most countries in Southeast Asia share a common
history of a colonial past, which spurred nationalism and led to the eventual
independence of some nations. Similar to the European Union, Southeast Asian
countries are united by an organization called the Association of Southeast
Asian Nations (ASEAN). Established on 8 August 1967, there are ten member
states today. One of ASEAN many aims is to promote regional peace and stability
through the respect for justice and the law. This is especially relevant in our
competitive, everchanging and fast-paced world today. Confronted with a more
dangerous world, peace and stability must be prioritized. ASEAN has been lambasted
to be “all bark and no bite”, but to label them as ineffectual would be unfair
and too harsh a view. I feel that ASEAN is quite effective and has done a decent
job in maintaining regional peace and stability.

At first glance, ASEAN may seem to be
ineffective in maintaining regional peace and stability due to the weak
institutional power that it possesses. A case in point would be China’s claims
over the islands in the South China Sea. The lack of a collective approach to
security by ASEAN has undermined the purpose of gathering smaller nation states
for greater collective power to negotiate and deal with the larger and more
influential countries, a significant rationale for the creation of ASEAN. This may
be attributed to the conflicting claims over the islands amongst ASEAN members.
In ASEAN, there is a requirement that all decisions must be made by consensus
as it allows unique countries to come together whilst protecting one’s national
interest. However, this may hamper ASEAN’s effectiveness as it would be
difficult to put up a united front. For example, China’s close ally Cambodia had
opposed a communique to refer to the need to respect international law and they
are supportive of Beijing’s stance on the South China Sea. This is a stumbling
block to the efforts of ASEAN. China’s aggressive territorial claims seek to
escalate tensions between the nations, undermining peace in the region as it
gets increasingly fragile. The lack of action may force countries to resort to
other means. When tensions are high, an action by a country may be misconstrued,
triggering a retaliation and disrupting regional peace. Another example would
be how ASEAN has only managed to persuade its members to adopt a non-binding
treaty on the annual haze conundrum. It is difficult to see a regional solution
being enacted as states cannot impose any regulations or binding agreement on
another. The haze situation was significant as it resulted in the closure of a
school in Malaysia and the PSI levels in Singapore to reach unhealthy levels. When
one country’s actions severely impact the citizens of another, it forces the
governments to speak out against them, undermining peace and stability in the
region. As such, one may question ASEAN’s ability and effectiveness in maintaining
peace and stability.  

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However, ASEAN has been effective in preserving
a platform for communication and discussions within such a diverse bloc, which
maintains peace and stability in the region. Communication is especially
crucial in times of crisis when there is a common cause to be dealt with, or a
perceived common external threat. One such example would be the 1997 Asian Financial
Crisis. Instead of adopting protectionist measures against the crisis, ASEAN
members established an even greater number of direct international trade
relationships with other countries. Through this platform, ASEAN has also
created the ASEAN Free Trade Area, which aims to enable member states to be
more competitive as a production base through the removal of tariffs and non-tariff
barriers within ASEAN and to attract more foreign investment. This results in a
more robust regional network that has made the region more resilient to shocks
and less vulnerable to economic risk, enhancing stability in the region. Politically,
ASEAN has created the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), where matters on political
and security in the Asia Pacific region are discussed between ASEAN and other
influential states in the region. The participation of North Korea in the ARF
for the first time has reflected the effectiveness of the ARF. Lastly, the Treaty
of Amity and Cooperation in South East Asia (TAC) includes standards of peaceful
coexistence and a partnership amongst members, ensuring peace in the region. ASEAN
has taken great efforts in order to unite the various member states with various
backgrounds and ethnic diversity. It has promoted economic growth for member
states and established platforms for communications, especially with countries
of greater powers. Joint military exercises also seek to boost confidence and
trust between member states. One example would be the Counter-Terrorism
Table-Top Exercise between Singapore and Indonesia. This serves to emphasize on
the peace and stability in the region. Therefore, ASEAN has been competent in
establishing a platform for communication, maintaining peace and stability.

In the face of such a varied group of countries
with different stages of development, ASEAN can be said to be effective in
promoting peace and stability. This is especially so with poor governance and corruption
plaguing some member states, resulting in the lack of follow through in many of
the policies. I feel that criticism on the slow actions of ASEAN is attributed
to the fact that it tries to take into account the interests of all parties and
a thorough evaluation of the issue, with factors being weighed carefully. These
factors include the level of development in each country and their ability to enact
such changes. Taking into account these difficulties, it is unfair to criticize
ASEAN for being ineffective when they are instead meticulous. ASEAN has seen
various successes, from having no open conflict in the region to the
democratization of Myanmar. These ensures and maintains peace and stability in
the region. Looking ahead, ASEAN members states have to stand committed to the group
and continue to strive for improvement in the region, looking out and helping
one another, and only so can peace and stability be maintained.