As the regional organization where emerging forces of today’s economics belong to, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) surely has several advantages to establish itself as a major power player in the global system. By maintaining its regional order, ASEAN member-states may be hoping to sustain the stability that they have succeeded to achieve for the past decade. The problem is, while it comes off as a strong economic force when combined, ASEAN does not prove to be as strong from a political-security point of view. Obviously, this has raised certain questions whether ASEAN is actually a solid organization rather than just merely a group of nations that come together by being close to each other geographically.
(Image Source: ASEAN Political-Security Community)
While ASEAN member states may not be necessarily facing the financial crisis that has been dragging several developed and powerful countries into misery, it does not mean that ASEAN is in no crisis at all. With only two years—or less—left before the 2015 due of the establishment of ASEAN Community, there has been no significant progress that the regional leaders have yet to enforce. Hoping to integrate the regional power into one strong entity, the idea of ASEAN Community incorporates the concepts of political-security, economic, and cultural communities.
Seeing how the political dynamics in Southeast Asia has been going on recently, it is crystal clear that there are at least four political-security issues that ASEAN regional leaders critically need to address above all else: human rights violation, corruption, terrorism, and territorial disputes.
It is saddening to say that ASEAN is no stranger to human rights violation. Who has not heard of the cruelty of Pol-Pot regime in Cambodia? Who has not heard of the depressing times Suharto had caused Indonesia for his repressive 32-year regime? Ultimately, who has not heard of the hard times that the people of Rohingya have to go through in their own homeland, Myanmar?
As if humanitarian violation is not enough, this regional is also known for its high rate of corruption, most notably Indonesia and the Philippines. Likewise, the threats of terrorism acts keep growing on various locations with the South China Sea dispute coming back into international attention after decades of a calm settlement.
Knowing how ASEAN has been facing all sorts of challenges then and now, it is quite underwhelming that in reality, nothing has been done either to prevent or to resolve any of them. As an organization that exists beyond state borders, ASEAN was established under a set of norms. The first and, probably, the most principal one is that its members are to refrain from the use of force to resolve interstate disputes (Archarya 2001, p. 48). The other principal one is that all members shall refrain from interfering with any national matters of other members, including violation of human rights (Archarya 2001, p. 58).
(Image Sources: Change.Org)
Promoting political-security integration in the regional is a bold move for any regional organization, and the fact that ASEAN is willing to try should be appreciated. The framework of ASEAN Political-Security Community, as inscribed in its blueprint, is to “ensure the people and member states of ASEAN live in peace with one another and with the world at large in a just, democratic, and harmonious environment” (Brata 2013).
While the purpose of establishing ASEAN Political-Security Community is laudable, there have been some doubts whether the 2015 due is feasible or not. Even ASEAN’s newly appointed secretary general, Le Luong Minh, expressed his concern (Brata 2013) towards the slow progress of the ASEAN Community preparation.
From a political-security point of view, what is missing from ASEAN is the presence of a strong set of law and rules. With its doctrine or principle of non-interference, any member states are obliged to refrain themselves from interfering with others’ domestic matters regardless of the situation. Of course, this is highly problematic, but beyond it lies the image of ASEAN as a regional organization with no authority to actually coordinate, monitor, direct, and enact the policies, programs, or activities within its territory; things that the Secretariat does not appear to be capable of doing.
Apart from it, ASEAN is also missing a piece of a judicial body as the highest decision-making or deadlock breaker. ASEAN has always been known for its persistence to base any decisions taken as an organization unanimously. Not only that this has been proven to be inefficient, it has caused several cases to be left behind without any closure at all now and then. This is basically why the existence of a judicial authority is essential for the ASEAN Political-Security Community to work as it is intended to.
(Image Sources: Change.Org)
To establish good governance in the entire region by strengthening democracy with a set of law that protects the fundamental rights of the people is essential in order for the ASEAN Political-Security Community to work out. For this purpose, ASEAN should also consider adopting conventions on anticorruption, good governance, dispute settlement, human rights, and so on. To do so, ASEAN should probably take a second look as well on how their definitions and interpretations of “sovereignty,” “non-interference,” and “regional integration” definitely need some reconsideration or even, if necessary, redefinitions.■
Archarya, Amitav (2001) Constructing a Security Community in Southeast Asia: ASEAN and the Problem of Regional Order. London and New York: Routledge.
Brata, Roby Arya (2013) Building the ASEAN Political-Security Community. The Jakarta Post [Accessed 16 April 2013].