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Driving Force of Regionalism Essay

To what extent and in what ways have the driving forces of regionalism in South-east Asia changed since the end of the Cold War?

Regionalism has become a trend in many regions of the world. Among them, Europe, North America and Asia (Asia Pacific region) are crucial ones. Some observers argue that the world order have been divided between these three regions with the existence of the European Union (EU), the North American Free trade Agreement (NFTA) and The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). This divergent part of the world requires comprehensive realization to make sense of how they have developed throughout history. In particular, writing the history of Southeast Asia remains a challenge as it involves the understanding of ‘societies that often took quite different view of the past …(and) a region where the implications of that historical tradition may have a political significance’[1]. Clapham notes that it is even more challenging to analyse foreign policy making in Southeast Asia region[2]. The early 1970’s was a significant period for the states in this region as it was during this time that five countries decided to join together and define their position in the Cold War between two superpowers and claimed their neutrality.

The fact that ASEAN has come up with such a policy is interesting to look at as it gives not only an insight of the driving forces of regionalism in Southeast Asia but also how these developing states saw themselves and formulate their foreign policy in the post-Cold War period. This paper aims to analyse ASEAN’s behaviour in order to access to what extent regionalism has changed since the end of Cold War in Southeast Asia. In that, regionalism would be conceived as ‘a state-led or states-led project designed to reorganize a particular regional space along defined economic and political lines’[3]. The discussion is divided into four parts.

The first part discusses the useful theoretical insights of security community to explain why ASEAN states cooperate in the midst of new security challenge in the region. The second part identifies the diplomacy of ASEAN during the post-Cold War period. Given the confine of this paper, the discussion specifically examines the event of the Spratly Islands and the creation of ARF. In the concluding section, achievements and prospects for ASEAN will be addressed. The central argument that this paper advance is that regionalism in Southeast Asia has changed and the changes have been driven and constrained by the security condition during the post-Cold War era where a regional power vacuum is found.

ASEAN emerged from the Cold War as a regional organization in 1967. With the accession of Cambodia, it seemed to be fulfilling the aspirations of its founding fathers to expand membership to include all ten Southeast Asian countries. However, with the end of Cold War and the settlement of Cambodian conflict, ASEAN is facing a new challenge related to issues of security and stability in the post-Cold War regional environment[4]. According to the Bangkok Declaration of 1967, the goal of ASEAN is to ‘accelerate the economic growth, social progress and cultural development in the region; to safeguard the political and economic stability of the region against big power rivalry; and to serve as a forum for the resolution of intra-regional differences’[5]. The formation of ASEAN should be seen as a means of maintaining peace and stability by providing a forum for the discussion and resolution of regional issues relating to security.

There are indeed a number of incidents to show that security issue is the major concern of ASEAN such as the call for a Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality (ZOPFAN), the 1976 Treaty of Amity and Cooperation and ASEAN’s role in the Cambodian conflict in the 1980s. However, with the end of Cold War, ASEAN faced a new challenge to its goal when the security environment of South-east Asia was transformed by the change from the old bipolar Cold War security system to the new emerging multipolar system. The new power pattern in the region forced the ASEAN states to cooperate as they realized the security could be in danger if they do not collaborate to improve the situation. This kind of behaviour of the ASEAN states can be best explained by Deutsch’s discussion of security communities. This was especially evident in the study of regional integration and some scholars argued that the concept of security community provides the most useful framework to analyze ASEAN regionalism. According to Deutsch, a security community is a group that has become integrated and accompanied by formal or informal institutions or practices in order to assure peaceful change among members of a group over a long period of time[6].

Essentially, members within the community retain their independence and sovereignty. The two attributes of such a community are marked by the absence of war and organized violence. To be more specific, as Yalem notes, a regional security community is a group of states which have ‘renounced the use of force as a means of resolving intra-regional conflicts’[7]. Deutsch further adds that there should be no contingency planning or war-oriented resource mobilization against other members within a security community. This could be acted as an indicator of whether states have developed ‘dependable expectations of peaceful change’[8]. Furthermore, whether a security community has been achieved can actually ‘be tested operationally in terms of the absence or presence of significant organized preparations for was or larger-scale violence among its members’[9]. When applying the concept of security communities into the study of regionalism, it is important to make a distinction between security community and a security regime. Buzan defines security regime as ‘a group of states cooperate to manage their disputes and avoid war by seeking to mute the security dilemma both by their own actions and by their assumptions about the behaviour of others’[10].

Although this seems similar to the concept of security community, there is a major difference in that a security regime refers to a situation where the interests of the actors are both not wholly compatible and competitive. Thus, the resulting relationship is rather hostile and the use of force is hindered only by a balance of power[11]. In comparison, a security community is based ‘on a fundamental, unambiguous and long-term convergence of interests among the actors regarding the avoidance of war’[12]. In this context, ASEAN regionalism is more likely to be conceptualized as the process of building the security community rather than the latter. Although a security community seems to be constructed on the ground of interests and identities rather than the idea of common threat, recent literature sketched by Adler and Barnett stress that a security community can actually be triggered by common threat such as ‘cataclysmic events’[13].

As Adler puts it, the concept of a community is ‘the idea that actors can share values, norms, and symbols that provide a social identity, and engage in various interactions in myriad spheres that reflect long-term interests, diffuse reciprocity and trust, strikes fear’[14]. Furthermore, Hurrell attempts to suggest a series of approaches to study contemporary regionalism. He notes that cooperative arrangements in regional cooperation could serve a number of purposes ‘on the one hand, they can serve as a means of responding to external challenges and of coordinating regional positions in international institutions or negotiating forums. On the other, they can be developed to secure welfare gains, to promote common values or to solve common problems arising from increased levels of regional interdependence. In the security field, for example, such cooperation can range from the stabilization of a regional balance of power, to the institutionalization of confidence-building measures, to the negotiation of a region-wide security regime.’[15]

The concept of security community can be applied to explain the creation and the behaviour of ASEAN. During the time of the Cold War, great power rivalries between the Soviet Union and the US in the region has turned Southeast Asia into a battleground with the regional states being used by the opponents with the attempt to create blocs which support their positions or ideologies in the war. Simultaneously, many states in the region have been oppressed by external powers for centuries and not being treated as a respectable actor in the international agenda. Facing with the same hardship, therefore, they came together and create a region free from external interference. However, with the end of Cold War, the security order in this region is characterized by new factors of conflict and instability and ‘regional policy-makers have expressed misgivings about the strategic uncertainties and conflict-creation potential of a post-Cold War order at the regional level’[16].

Among the regional powers, China, Japan and India are generally being seen as the three leading contenders for influence[17]. For some, the involvement of US in the region as the balance of power is still desirable and the possibility of its withdrawal remains a major worry of the region’s stability[18]. In fact, there are a number of unsolved tensions in the region and most of them revolve around China’s strategic ambitions such as its claims for the Spartly Islands. In responding to the new challenge, the ASEAN states have to reconsider and adjust some of the assumptions and principles underlying ASEAN regionalism in order to contribute to regional security and order embedded in the 1992 Singapore Declaration. In order to examine in what ways the driving forces of regionalism in South-east Asia have changed since the end of the Cold War, it is essential to look at some case studies of ASEAN’s post-Cold War diplomacy:

China’s claims for the Spratly Islands and ASEAN’s response Situated in the South China Sea, the Spratly Islands consists of islets and reefs with suspected deposits of oil and gas[19]. The disputes involve China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei. Many worried that the dispute will turn into a potential source of armed conflict involving ASEAN members particularly because ‘the likelihood of any agreement on the joint development of the islands involving all the claimants, as proposed by some regional policy-makers and analysts, has limited plausibility’[20]. In view of this, other ASEAN members initiated efforts to address the security issue which was seen as a destabilizing force in the region in the post-Cold War period. Finally in 1989, it was Indonesia alone launched the South China Sea Workshop (SCSW)[21] to promote peaceful settlement of the dispute by emphasizing the lessons of Cambodian conflict and the lessons from ASEAN regional cooperation. Although the workshop has been extended to include China, Vietnam and Laos in 1991, there were no collective ASEAN position or action on the dispute.

The irony lies on the fact that ‘the Spratly seminars are a unilateral Indonesian initiative, resulting from diplomacy not by ASEAN or even a group within ASEAN but by one member country’[22]. The regional community sense was missing in this incident particularly because Malaysia and the Philippines feared that multilateral forum could lessen their negotiating ability thus making bilateral settlements impossible. As a result, they were not willing to support ASEAN to settle the dispute involving other member states[23]. This indicates their determination to uphold national autonomy and also their perspective to view ASEAN only as a confidence-building forum rather than a regional community[24]. Consequently in 1992, China passed a Law on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone of the People’s Republic of China. The aim of this legislation is for China to formalize far-reaching claims in the South China Sea.

The assertiveness of China caused doubt over the effectiveness of the previous launched workshops and made ASEAN members realized that China insisted on unilateral means to solve the problem. ASEAN responded to China’s claims with the ‘ASEAN Declaration on the South China Sea’ issued in the same year. The Declaration emphasized the need to ‘resolve all sovereignty and jurisdictional issues pertaining to the South China Sea by peaceful means without resort to force’ and it urged all parties ‘to exercise constraint’[25]. It has been pointed out that ASEAN has claimed some success by placing the dispute on the agenda of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) with the support of intense lobbying[26]. At the same time, ASEAN has been criticized for failing to negotiate codes of conduct in that China continued to carry on its bilateral agreement with Vietnam in 1993 and Philippines in 1995[27]. However, in a bigger picture, it made clear that all ASEAN members has developed a respect for the codes of conduct enshrined in the 1976 Treaty of Amity and Cooperation on issues relating to peaceful settlement of conflicts and the non-use of force.

Evolution of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF)

The ASEAN Summit of 1992 declared that ‘ASEAN shall seek avenues to engage Member States in new areas of cooperation in security matters’, therefore, the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) was established in 1993 which ‘serves as a multilateral consultative forum aimed at promoting preventive diplomacy and confidence building among the states in the Asia-Pacific region’[28]. Through the ARF, ASEAN hoped to create regional order based on its own norms as well as the new norm of inclusiveness which is essential to cooperative security[29]. In this content, the ARF provided a test of ASEAN’s norms as the membership of ARF included all the major powers of the international system whereby the regional order in this region would also base on the inclusive approach meaning that the major powers would engage in the management of regional order.

In 1995, the Philippines discovered the incident of Mischief Reef by China while ASEAN responded by issuing a joint statement criticizing China[30]. It seems this stand of ASEAN fulfils the idea of community, however, it is only a partial fulfillment due to the fact that the ASEAN members have different interpretations of the conflict. ASEAN consensus is always revolved around the norms of peaceful settlement of conflict which is being seen as the guarantee for stability.

However, they did not identify with the position of the Philippines, for instance, Thailand considered the dispute as bilateral and not a dispute between ASEAN and China. Again, the event actually put a test on the ASEAN member’s ability to come up with a collective position. As Malik comments on the future of the Southeast Asia regionalism, he points out that to maintain peace in the region, it is ‘not only founded on the stability of a balance but is sourced in a sense of shared aspirations and common destiny’[31]. In view of this, the lack of consensus among ASEAN member states indicated their unwillingness to demand standards of behaviour from China which only reinforced the ASEAN’s partial fulfillment as a community.

In general, the post-Cold War period has posed unleashing of conflicts in the Asia Pacific region which were effectively suppressed during the colonial era and the subsequent period of superpower rivalry[32]. With the end of bipolarity, there is a greater potential of conflict. This paper has examined ASEAN’s behaviour in security affairs during the post-Cold War ear with the objective of assessing the validity of the idea of community. Many scholars have widely acknowledged ASEAN’s potential to become a regional security community from both within and outside the region. Snitwongse notes that although ASEAN may not be able to fully achieve self-reliance, its most striking achievement has been community building[33].

Simon claims that ASEAN is perhaps a security community in which no member would consider the use of force against each other to settle disputes[34]. In the aftermath of the end of Cold War, the absence of war among the ASEAN members is indeed being recognized by many as a great achievement. Based on the discussion of this paper, it has proved that ASEAN has developed some of the attributes of what Adler and Barnett call it as a ‘nascent security community’ where a number of triggering mechanisms including threat perceptions, shared identity and organizational emulation are present.

After three decades of progress in promoting peaceful intra-regional order, ASEAN faced its greatest challenge since the end of Cold War as the current regional security environment remains in a state of uncertainty. Nonetheless, the prospect of a regional power vacuum implies the possibility of ASEAN’s further progress while the question remains whether ASEAN itself can fill the security gap by mobilizing its collective diplomatic and political resources.


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