Cooperation In Asia: Can Asean Experience Be A Guide?


The Asia region today is both vulnerable to traditional and non-traditional security threats.[1] Unlike to the Cold war years the security threats of our times are not...

The Asia region today is both vulnerable to traditional and non-traditional security threats.[1] Unlike to the Cold war years the security threats of our times are not only expected to be state sponsored, but on the contrary in the aftermath of the 1990s the negative effects of trans-bordering character of unpredictable new threats are expected to be realized by non-state actors in this part of the world. Though the existence of the non-traditional security threats do necessitates cooperation among the members of the international community it seems rather difficult to realize it considering the rivalry characteristics of relations among the states of this region due to the region’s overwhelmed armament in both nuclear and conventional weapons.[2] However, since the territorial defense mechanisms becomes hopeless in the face of trans-bordering character of the new security threats, an urgent need for cooperation arises even among the rival states of this region. Within this framework, and despite of to the existing important previous and new security problems of the whole Asian region, ASEAN and ASEAN way norms since its inception till today stood as the great occasion for the realization of utmost needed means of cooperation as the conduct of regional means of engagement.

The formula of ASEAN since its initiation of course was the realization of the implication of cooperative security approach in this part of the world.[3] In this regard, when ASEAN was formed in 1967 between the five relatively middle sized powers[4] who aimed to find ways of cooperation despite to existence of rival relations among them the logic behind this was of course related to each individual country’s securing and maintaining its regime survival. Though at the beginning the common characteristic of 5 countries were all being non-communist within the passage of time with the addition of new states ASEAN continued to have become a venue for disparate countries of different ideologies, economic and military capabilities.[5] Despite to this matter of fact, ASEAN so far has successfully managed to build an area of operation for the realization of a ‘‘security community’’ among its members in the Southeastern part of Asia without following the same path of the EU precedent.[6] The ASEAN way approach according to Amitav Acharya has shown its value in this part of the world [in such successful way] that there are other ways of building means of regional cooperation that can be based on weak institutions and non-legally binding rules. The striking difference of ASEAN in this regard is related to the weak procedural rules of the institutions that it can regulate and initiate so that not only the countries that are - members of it but also those who are interested in the wide Asia- Pacific region can adhere to it . Though ASEAN and ASEAN based newly formed regional institutions do not have the means of implying sanctions against whom could breach the rules of ASEAN way, the self-restraint act of behavior most of the times arises voluntarily among the states that are associated to this institution. The increasing number of states that have become a signature of TAC[7] is a real prove of this. As being nuclear powers India’s and China’s signing TAC is very important where the two countries pledged not to resort to war.

At the inception of ASEAN it was made clear how the states should behave one another and in this regard the most crucial regulating mechanism was the assurance of the sovereignty of the individual government’s. This still holds true. That is why in Article 2 of TAC of ASEAN this issue is clearly stated as the assurance of the non-intervention principle in the domestic politics of the states as well as the maintenance of the territorial integrity of the states. Moreover, as another strengthening factor of state sovereignty in TAC in the procedural mechanisms of ASEAN dialogue and diplomacy has been mentioned as the means of solving rising problems where the states of this region are expected to use means of consensus during the decision making process and at the end come to accommodation with each other. Hence, adherence to the principle of not to resort war/force was introduced as the key understanding prevalent among the members of ASEAN or ASEAN induced regional forums.

All in all, this ASEAN way approach has remain almost unchanged till today. In the aftermath of Cold War period, in the newly constructed ASEAN based new regional institutions- ASEAN+1, ASEAN+3, ARF, ASEAN Community (AC), bilateral FTAs and AFTA- and ASEAN inspired others- such as East Asian Summit (EAS) and Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) -[8]it was only in the field of economic cooperation some intrusive rules have been accepted when it became necessary. So, during the lifespan of the ASEAN the major rule was, to show some flexibility in the field of economics when and where a threat to economic survival has been witnessed. Currently, economic growth today as in the past is still considered as one of the crucial ways of assuring ASEAN government’s political legitimacy- especially in the conduct of domestic politics. Via economic instruments these governments are trying to attain and maintain social cohesion among the highly divided societies of their own.

Till today, the ASEAN way approach has not changed so much but of course in the face of newly rising radical economic and political changes and the uncertainties that are associated with them, the states of Southeastern Asia starting with the end of Cold war period have felt adapting themselves to the newly transformed environment via first expanding the members of ASEAN as well as accepting some flexible rules in the conduct of daily basis of economic relations. The new characteristics of threats that have been felt deeply after mid 1990s in this part of the world were; the Asian financial crisis which has struck the region’s economies very seriously as well as the environmental security concerns like forest fire in Indonesia and moreover the side effects of 9/11 like the ascending terrorism that have been drastically felt in Asia.[9] So, in response to these newly rising economic and security based threats and challenges the rational answer of ASEAN were to initiate building new regional institutions which would accept the rule ‘‘inclusiveness’’ as well as approaching the rising security issues in a ‘‘comprehensive way’’ that are thought to be obligatory element of cooperative security approach.[10] Hence, in time the ASEAN based newly build institutions have become the mostly preferred venue for diversified local, regional middle, small and external great powers to cooperate one another in the face of newly rising security challenges. Among the regional institutions in Asia AFTA and ARF stood as the pioneer and most influential ones.

AFTA, in the field of economics without departing from basics of ASEAN way principles like consensus in decision making and intergovernmental coordination mechanisms that is based on dialogue with only some kinds of institutional improvements were put into effect and this kind of flexibility gave way to the implementation of regional liberalization in this part of the world. In this regard, after the successful conclusion of AFTA in 2002 ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) was launched to be realized in 2015. The aim of AEC was to create an integrated market in Asia where free flows of goods, services, investment and skilled labor could be realized. These initiatives after all were all launched with the purpose of avoiding the negative effects of 1997 financial crisis of Asia . In its aftermath several initiatives like were put into effect like Chiang Mai Initiative (CMI) where for instance with ASEAN 10 and great powers- like Japan and China- have engaged in cooperation financially and whereas in the Asian Bond Market Initiative the states that are involved via cooperation among themselves have tried to transcend the dependency on the IMF mechanisms which they distrust very much.[11]

On the other hand, ARF was found as the mechanism for meeting the security challenges of the new era after the end of the Cold war. Since, its inception the initiative has realized to attract 27 states of small, middle and great powers like India, Pakistan, Russia, China and South Korea and like. The initiative has become successful especially in the conduct of CBMs that are utmost needed within the influx situation of Asian security dynamics. However, ARF was much critized that it could not go beyond implication of CBMs to the implication of preventive diplomacy and has hence become the center of conflict resolution mechanism as it is stipulated in its concept paper of 1995. Yet, ARF’s success in creating cooperation among its members in the area of non-state sponsored terrorism and the implication of certain CBMs has really reached beyond the expected level of cooperation among the powers of this region and external actors. In this regard, the number of states involvement of ASEAN’s TAC is the real indication of how ASEAN and its follow up ASEAN based newly built regional institutions have helped to decrease the level of tension present not only in the Southeast Asia but in the wider Asia-Pacific region.[12] The greater powers both from the region and outside of it by signing the TAC have displayed their good intensions that they are willing to abide by the basic principles of ASEAN way as the regional conduct of behavior. In this regard ASEAN and its follow up ASEAN based regional institutions have in a way managed to create a zone of stability and peace in the midst of heavily armed conventional and nuclear Asia-Pacific region.

It is true that, today the Asia region is open to all sorts of security challenges where the states of concern both from the region and outside most of the times felt the need of cooperating and transcending the security dilemma mindset that is prevalent in this part of the region. In this regard, the states of concern from time to time do cooperate on certain security issues via of course the help and use of ASEAN’s cooperative security tools. By this way, most of the times the situations of escalation of crisis that may lead to serious armed conflicts are being prevented and this of course can be considered as the utmost added value of ASEAN success to fragile peace and stability in this complex region.

Professor Nurşin ATEŞOĞLU GÜNEY
Yildiz Technical University
Political and International Relations Department-Turkey

[1] There is a huge literature on more traditional security concerns in Asia Pacific and ASEAN region see for example Ralf Emmers, Cooperative Security and Balance of Power in ASEAN and the ARF, Routledge, NY, 2004;Steve Chan, Looking for Balance: China, the United States and Power Balancing in East Asia, Stanford Uni. Press, 2012; Ian Storey, Southeast Asia and the Rise of China: The Search for Security, Routledge, NY., 2011; Amitav Acharya- Evelyn Goh (eds.), Reassessing Security Cooperation in Asia Pacific: Cooperation, Congruence and Transformation, MIT, 2007. There is also a newly emerged literature on non-traditional security threats in this region, for example see, Mely Caballero Anthony- Ralf Emmers- Amitav Acharya (eds.), Non-Traditional Security in Asia: Dilemmas in Securitization, Ashgate, Aldershot, 2006; Sorpong Peou, Human Security in East Asia, Challenges for Collaborative Action, Routldege, NY, 2008; Michael Wesley, Energy Security in Asia, Routledge, NY, 2007; Melisa Curley- Siu Lun Wong (eds), Security and Migration in Asia, The Dynamics of Securitization, Routledge, NY, 2008; Ramesh Thakur –Edward Newman, Broadening Asia’s Security Discourse and Agenda, Political, Social and Environmental Perspectives, United Nations University, Hong Kong, 2004.
[2] See for example, “Chapter Six: Asia“ The Military Balance, 112/1, 2012, pp, 205-302.
[3] For details see, Hiro Katsumata, ASEAN’s Cooperative Security Enterprise:Norms and Interests in ASEAN Regional Forum, Palgrave-Macmillan, London, 2010;Yuen Foong- Khong Helen E.S. Nessudurai, “Hanging Together, Institutional Design and Cooperation in Southeast Asia, AFTA and the ARF, in Crafting Cooperation: Regional International Institutions in Comparative, A.Acharya-Alastair I. Jhonston (eds), Cambridge Uni. Press, Cambridge, 2007, pp,32-82.
[4] Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand
[5] Now ASEAN members are ASEAN 5 plus Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam. It is known as ASEAN 10.
[6] Amitav Acharya, Constructing a Security Community in Southeast Asia: ASEAN and the Problem of Regional Order, Routledge, 2nd edition, NY, 2009; A. Acharya, “Why is there no NATO in Asia, The Normative Origins of Asian Multilateralism“, WCFIA Working Paper, Harvard University, July 2005, (accessed in June 2012).
[7] Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (signed in Indonesia, 1976) see the document (accessed in June 2012). Article 2 of TAC summarizes the spirit of the document, so as the parties pledged to fallow the below principles a. Mutual respect for the independence, sovereignty, equality, territorial integrity and national identity of all nations; b. The right of every State to lead its national existence free from external interference, subversion or coercion; c. Non-interference in the internal affairs of one another; d. Settlement of differences or disputes by peaceful means; e. Renunciation of the threat or use of force; f. Effective cooperation among themselves.
Current members of ARF (Asean Regional Forum) and signatures of TAC are Australia, Bangladesh, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Canada, China, EU, India, Indonesia, Japan, DPRK, Republic of Korea, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Mongolia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Timor Leste, USA, and Vietnam. (, accessed in July 2012)
[8] Fort the details of ASEAN led regionalism see Visne Korkmaz, “The Rise of Asian Security Regionalism: The Area of Rivalry or Cooperation for the Regional and Global Players“, Global Studies Journal, vol 2, 2009.
[9] Mark Beeson- Julia Gilson, “Still on Track? East Asia at time of Crisis“, The Pacific Review, 23/3, 2010, pp, 287-293.
[10] For the discussion of cooperation vs integration see for example, Douglas Webber, “ The Regional Integration that did’t happen: Cooperation without integration in early 21st century East Asia“, The Pacific Review, 23/3, 2010, pp, 313-333.
[11] Fort he details see, Helen E.S. Nesudurai, “The varying fortunes of ASEAN economic integration: What does the historical experience reveal?“, in Shiro Armstrong (ed) The Politics and Economics of Integration in Asia and the Pacific ,Routledge, 2011, pp,155-190.
[12] Jurgen Hecke, “The ASEAN Regional Forum and Transnational Challanges, Little Collective securitization, some practical Cooperation“, in Cooperative Security in Asia Pacific:The ASEAN regional Forum, J. Hecke- Noel M. Morada (eds), Routldege, NY, 2011, pp,124-149.
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Continents ( 5 Fields )
 Contents ( 445 ) Actiivities ( 210 )
Africa 0 144
Asia 0 225
Europe 0 38
Latin America & Carribean 0 31
North America 0 7
Regions ( 4 Fields )
 Contents ( 173 ) Actiivities ( 51 )
Balkans 0 93
Middle East 0 59
Black Sea and Caucasus 0 16
Mediterranean 0 5
Identity Fields ( 2 Fields )
 Contents ( 175 ) Actiivities ( 71 )
Islamic World 0 146
Turkish World 0 29
Turkey ( 1 Fields )
 Contents ( 209 ) Actiivities ( 54 )
Turkey 0 209

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