Prospects for Southeast Asia Security Cooperation
    Category: Column By : Jusuf Wanandi Read : 1378 Date : Tuesday, August 11, 2015 - 22:15:45

    ASEAN was established in the wake of confrontation between Indonesia and Malaysia, to prevent future ones, and to create peace and stability in Southeast Asia. Simultaneously, ASEAN consists of fully sovereign and independent countries, and because of that every decision has to be unanimous. This has thus far limited the possibility of cooperation in the security field, although there has been some limited improvement.

    Time has changed, and ASEAN is also changing, to become an economic community in 2015. This integration will require some sovereignty to be surrendered. As such, other fields of cooperation will be more open to ASEAN, albeit gradually. In this respect, ASEAN in the last 20 years has established regional security institutions, such as the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM-ADMM Plus) and the East Asia Summit (EAS). But these institutions have never been completely effective. Nonetheless, ASEAN has made a start: ARF for CBMs and preventive diplomacy, ADMM/ADMM+ for cooperation in non-traditional security and creating CBMs among the military, while EAS is intended for the highest strategic dialogues, the summit.

    These initiatives are meant to establish understanding, trust and cooperation, moving East Asia to peace and stability. East Asia is different from Europe of the early 20th century because of these regional institutions for security cooperation. The great powers and other countries in East Asia can create a rules-based system, a balance of powers, and adequate institutions to deal with any future U.S.-China competition. But those ASEAN-based regional institutions are still inadequate to overcome major power rivalry and to prevent potential future confrontations between them. Only the EAS has the potential to do so, as it is the only summit on East Asian security and strategy.

    Thus ASEAN has to change the EAS, so it can become a strategic regional institution. Indeed, some efforts have pushed for the integration of ASEAN in the security field. We need to avoid having two regional security institutions: the hub-and-spoke of U.S alliances system on the one hand, and another prospective system to be established by China in the near future with Russian support. There is talk that China wants to shift the security conference initiated by Kazakhstan into a new Asia regional security institution without the U.S. For that purpose the EAS should be reorganized into a wider regional institution from its ASEAN base. With a separate secretariat participated by all and the issues to be discussed should be prepared by sherpas of high position and calibre. And the meetings should be substantive, and prepared mainly by the sherpas so that the leaders can agree on the main topics of discussion. The chance of success is there if members really can get through to each other on regional strategic issues.

    The principles for the EAS to be the over-arching regional institution of East Asia already exist in ASEAN documents. The principles were laid down in the Treaty of Amity and Friendship initiated by ASEAN, and signed by all 18 EAS members. The purpose was clarified in the ASEAN+6 Agreement signed during EAS’s founding in 2005, and later accepted by the U.S. and Russia when joining EAS a few years later.