Since its foundation in 1967, there is no doubt that ASEAN has contributed to the maintenance of regional peace and stability; no shots of fires crossed the boundaries among its member statesSorpong Peou, “The Subsidiary Model of Global Governance in the US-ASEAN Context,” Global Governance (December 1998): 454. . And very notably, there has been no war between member states and non-ASEAN states in last 35 years. We have to admit that ASEAN has been very successful in establishing the peace of Southeast Asia. Prima facie, it is a victory of liberal institutionalism and the constructivist promise of identity building leading to peace.
However, the answer to the question how ASEAN has achieved peace needs reassessment. Whether institutionalist’s or constructivist’s promises led to peace is highly questionable. Constructivism promises that regional identity building makes mutual understanding and peace possible, but as the increasing bilateral tensions in post-Cold War period show, ASEAN member states after all has not given up their national interestsN. Ganesan, Bilateral Tensions in Post-Cold War ASEAN, (Singapore: ISEAS, 1999).. Also, economic crisis in 1997 shows us that ASEAN is not an effective institution to solve problems, in which we could have seen better initiatives brought by ASEAN, if the institutionalism is truly successful in bringing peace during the Cold War yearsJurgen Ruland, “ASEAN and the Asian Crisis: theoretical implications and practical consequences for Southeast Asian regionalism,” The Pacific Review 13, no. 3 (2000): 421-451.. Since ASEAN has not achieved identity building, with an institutional architecture which is still weak, how ASEAN has led the success in the maintenance of peace through the past decades? Fortunately, we still have one powerful theoretical tool to explain the success of ASEAN: security regime.
The purpose of this paper is to provide a reassessment to the question what ASEAN is, and what it will become. The international politics of Southeast Asia has been characterized by the balance between the superpowers: first US and USSR, then USSR and China. During which period ASEAN functioned as a “security regime,” which halted intra-mural tensions with common perception of threat derived from the superpower rivalry (Huxley 237). After we define security regime, first of all this paper discusses how ASEAN maintained the peace within, through collective actions to achieve security regime goals, in which process the sources of intra-mural conflicts were disregarded. Secondly, we will look into the future of ASEAN, on the matter of whether ASEAN can keep its institutional architecture in the post-Cold War international system. ASEAN style of security regime is no longer adequate in the post-Cold War balance of power; as it will be discussed, the increasing levels of bilateral tensions, diverging security interests among members and the need to counter growing China may transform ASEAN into a hard institution of security alliance.
ASEAN’s Past: A Security Regime
ASEAN has been “a subsystematic security regime operating within the rules of a broader bipolar systemic arrangement” (Ganesan 780). The explanation on why ASEAN is a security regime needs the definition of security regime. Also, the definition of security regime needs to be compared with the concept of security community, in order to clarify that security regime is primarily based on the balance of power system which best explains Southeast Asian international politics, and why security community does not explain ASEAN. After the definition is given, we will explore how ASEAN maintained the peace within as a security regime. It is the formation of united front against external threats, which mitigated the bilateral tensions among ASEAN states and united them to achieve the regime goal, which can be described in two sections of during and after the Vietnam War.
Subsystem of Balance of Power
Security regime is a “no-war community,” in which “the possibility of war is still expected and to some extent preparations are made for it” (Acharya 18). In security regime, the possibility of war still exists among the members, but it is suppressed due to the balance of power considerations and “common threat perceptions” (Acharya 18). Therefore, security regime can be said as the subsystem framework within the balance of power system. It is a regime framework which makes member states to halt the conflicts among and maintain peace within, as long as there is necessity to maintain balance of power and common threat exists. Thus, if there is a change in balance of power system and the perception of threat, security regime is likely to be disbanded.
Security regime is therefore balance of power oriented, and it explains why ASEAN members are now showing bilateral tensions, as soon as the Cold War ended. Unlike the promise of security community, ASEAN states have not been able to trust each other, but in contrary, they have been hiding their desire for national interest. Acharya tries to explain ASEAN as security community, that ASEAN states developed confidence among, through long-term dialogues. Security community is a group of states “which have developed a long-term habit of peaceful interaction and ruled out the use of force in settling disputes with other members of the group” (Acharya 1). In short words, a member state is assured that the other members would not attack. In security community, states nurture dependable expectation for peaceful change through dialogues. Therefore, security community is about changing the perception of each other, from mistrust to mutual understanding. Acharya notes that the security community has three stages of cooperation, which are confidence-building, preventive diplomacy and conflict resolutionAmitav Acharya, Quest for Identity; International Relations of Southeast Asia. (Singapore: Oxford University Press) 147.. These stages means that more states trust each other, the more able they become in achieving difficult tasks. However, although Acharya’s description on ASEAN as a security community is very logical, it can not escape the criticism of being too optimistic. Security community promises that assurance among states leads to peace, but as the recent increase in bilateral tensions among ASEAN shows, after all ASEAN has not developed assurance. Especially the massive purchase of arms in the region in recent years shows that the post-Cold War international anarchy has driven ASEAN states to arm themselves, for “the need to deter or assert military power against one or more of their ASEAN neighbours” (Huxley 152). Therefore, it is more theoretically sound to understand ASEAN as a security regime, in which the desire for national interest has been suppressed by the balance of power considerations.
Product of Cold War
As the definition of security regime suggests, the significance of ASEAN is that it consciously disregarded sources of bilateral tensions among member states during the Cold War, thus contributing to the maintenance of the peace within. ASEAN as the security regime in Cold War Southeast Asia had two phases. First was the Vietnam War era, characterized by US-Soviet superpower rivalry. It made ASAEN possible to maintain subsystemic peace within, but ASEAN’s role as security regime stayed minimal, since the goal was the difficult task to prevent the superpower domination of the region. ASEAN was the “counter to” Soviet-supported North Vietnam (Grant 372). The US forces stationed in South Vietnam was also concerned by some ASEAN member states, such as Indonesia and MalaysiaMichael Leifer, “The ASEAN Peace Process: a category mistake.” The Pacific Review, Vol. 12 No. 1 1999: 27.. However, ASEAN states were too weak to be openly involved in the superpower rivalry between the US and USSR fought in Indochina. At the same time, if ASEAN states did not cooperate disregarding their own intra-mural disputes, the superpowers may keep their influence in the region and thus take advantage of ASEAN members. The ASEAN states’ choice was to keep the activity low profile. Most notably, ASEAN states put aside Malaysia-Philippine dispute over Sabah, which has been one of the major sources of conflict before the foundation of ASEAN. And in 1971, Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality was adopted in ASEAN foreign ministerial meetings, which declared regional autonomy and neutrality in respect for national sovereignty; the message was aimed at superpowersAmitav Acharya, Quest for Identity; International Relations of Southeast Asia. (Singapore: Oxford University Press) 93..
Threat posed by Vietnamese invasion
In the second phase, ASEAN became far more active. The second phase was characterized by the Sino-Soviet rivalry in Indochina, from the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia in 1979. In this phase, ASEAN’s primal concern was that Thailand has become a front-line state directly facing the Vietnam force stationed in Cambodia. New regional hegemony, equipped with weapons of USSR and weapons the US did not take with them in a hasty retreat, became a threat of all ASEAN states, which allowed ASEAN members to be united to end Vietnamese occupationN. Ganesan, “Testing neoliberal institutionalism in Southeast Asia,” International Journal (Autumn 1995): 789. For Ganesan, this phase is the beginning of ASEAN’s … Continue reading. In terms of collective action by ASEAN states, the significant measure they took was the collective campaign in the UN against Vietnam and new Cambodian government created by Vietnamese. Of course, in this period as well, the sources of bilateral tensions within ASEAN were put under the carpet, in order to be united for the regime goal.
We have defined ASEAN as security regime. It has the effect to halt inter-mural disputes while the threat is there, providing the regime goals. However, there may be an objection. Overall, there is a tendency among institutional constructivists to regard the maintenance of peace in ASEAN framework as the product of the habit of confidence building in ASEAN. The policy coordination in ASEAN is in fact characterized with consultation and informality, which provide dialogues and the place for confidence building. When there is a problem, one would take others to noodle shop to talk. In meetings, officials play golf and eat dorians instead, rather than to engage in a formal, institutionalized discussions. After all, ASEAN is a soft institution in which informal conversations determine its course, unlike in hard institution, the sets of rules decides. There is no surprise that some people misunderstand ASEAN as a security community. ASEAN provides chances for informal conversation, in which highly contentious and political issues are avoided. However, it is only an aspect of security regime, in which the state’s will to pursue national interest is limited by security and balance of power considerations. The informality and consultation in ASEAN does not necessarily mean that confidence building is possible. However, it gives us a clear implication that states are able to halt confrontations when a common threat exists. Especially, current bilateral tensions among ASEAN states tell us that states do not trust each other, pursuing their own interest.
ASEAN’s Future: Moving Toward an Alliance?
The latter half of the paper discusses how post-Cold War balance of power may influence the role of ASEAN, in which we may expect to see a mew regime goal and even an institutional transformation. First, the nature of the balance of power today will be discussed briefly, in which China is rising as a new power but not able to pose physical threat to ASEAN states. Second, through stating over increasing inter-mural tensions within ASEAN members in post-Cold War era, we again emphasize that ASEAN states has not abandoned their national interest, in order to show that ASEAN may stay as security regime with a new regime goal to counter China over Spratly islands. Third, it will be noted that the recent massive build up of Chinese navy will have a serious destabilizing effect in the future, which may bring radical change to the nature of ASEAN, toward a hard institution and possibly even to become an alliance.
China has gained power through the end of Cold War, but it has not achieved its status as a regional hegemon. It is rather due to the power vacuum created by the absence of the US. The withdrawal of US forces from Philippine in 1992 marks a clear example of the relative power in international system. As soon as the US force left, China quickly constructed a navy compound in Spratly islands, which is claimed by Brunei, China, Malaysia, Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam, often described as the source of potential conflictAmitav Acharya, Quest for Identity; International Relations of Southeast Asia. (Singapore: Oxford University Press) 137.. However, China is unlikely to become a regional hegemon in Southeast Asia and a threat to ASEAN states’ survival. China, the land state, the military modernization in 80’s and for much of 90’s centered on army, but less degree of modernization took place in its navy. Although Vietnam, Laos and Burma share boarders with China, larger number of ASEAN states are ocean states, which have strategic surplus from geography against weak Chinese navy. Until the time China develops its navy, we may expect to see a geopolitical balance between China and ASEAN states. Although China continues to be a threat for ASEAN, it is not a hegemon which holds ability of invasion
The systemic framework of post-Cold War balance of power surrounding ASEAN appears more favorable to ASEAN than it ever has been, without an obvious subsystemic hegemon. However, the end of Cold War has brought the instability inside ASEAN. During the Cold War, the escalations of intra-mural tensions were halted among ASEAN states as we have seen. The superpower rivalry and common threat derived from it constrained ASEAN member’s pursuit for national interest. ASEAN states were too weak to form alliances against superpower supported threat, but the common threat of ASEAN members gave ASEAN the character as a security regime, which in effect maintained peace within ASEAN. Having this theoretical framework in mind, we are able to explain why tensions among ASEAN states rose after superpower rivalry. The clear image of tensions rising is seen in arms race within ASEAN. Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Philippines have started the build up of arms, and especially the build up of Malaysia and Singapore are conducted for the purpose of deterring each otherTim Huxley, “The ASEAN States’ Defense policies: Influences and Outcomes.” Post-Cold War Security Issues in the Asia-Pacific Region, ed. Colin McInnes and Mark Rolls … Continue reading. The sources of tension also exist in territorial issues, which ASEAN has successfully hid under the carpet during the Cold War years. By 1989, there are six maritime boundary disputes among ASEAN states in South China SeaAmitav Acharya, Quest for Identity; International Relations of Southeast Asia. (Singapore: Oxford University Press) 137..
A Security Regime to counter China
Although the existence of intra-mural tensions, ASEAN members will likely to unite again in order to counter the common threat. ASEAN is in transition period, from an old security regime to a new security regime. It has served as a security regime with an effective mechanism of soft-institutionalism to undermine intra-mural tensions in order to pursue its security objectives. However, the end of superpower rivalry has virtually diminished its role. ASEAN tries to find its reason of existence in providing institutional framework for APEC, ARF and ASEAN + 3, but they are likely to fail, as we have seen that national interest does not go away through the habit of confidence building based on dialogue. Liberal institutionalists may predict ASEAN to transform into a hard institution centered on rules rather than conversation to cooperate, but in order for cooperation to take place, there must be an external threat. Or should we start preparing for the funeral of ASEAN? Funeral is not needed. ASEAN is likely to stay as it is, for ASEAN states need its framework of security regime to counter Chinese threat which comes from its growth and ambition for South China Sea. Although China is not yet a hegemon, but after the Cold War, it “has been able to redirect its military assets southward,” building up its naval capability (Simon 15). The further growth of China will pose threat to ASEAN members, providing them rationale for preserving ASEAN framework. Since the navy build up of China and tensions over Spratly islands continues, ASEAN members will be forced to give ASEAN a new regime goal to conduct collective negotiation against China.
However, there are two main uncertainties regarding the future of ASEAN. One is how far China would succeed in diverging the interests of ASEAN membersRobyn Lim, “The ASEAN Regional Forum: Building on Sand.” Contemporary Southeast Asia, Vol. 20, Number 2, August 1998.. Small front line states such as Laos and Burma are unlikely to commit in forming a regime openly against China. The other uncertainty is how far the Chinese military build up goes. Recent Chinese purchase of the used Russian aircraft carrier will pose a serious threat to the stability in Southeast Asia. Although this carrier is too old to be used, Chinese aim is on building the carriers of its own based on the architecture of the purchased carrier. Some may say that even Chinese succeed in building its own carrier, it will be useless against other superpowers such as the US and Japan, due to China’s poor technology. However, since Chinese navy build up is mainly directed to South China Sea, we are able to assume that Chinese carriers are being developed with its interest in the South China Sea in mind. Although it may be useless when the Chinese carrier is used against other superpowers, but it may be effective against small states in ASEAN. The prediction on how much the destabilizing effect of Chinese navy build up has on the course of AESAN is difficult, but the diverging interest among ASEAN, between pro-China and the rest, may bring an architectural change of ASEAN. In the short run, ASEAN will stay as a security regime, since the build up of Chinese navy does not automatically give China the power to invade others in Southeast Asia. In the long run, however, if China becomes a hegemonic power over Southeast Asia, ASEAN states will be forced to transform ASEAN into a collective defense institution, maybe with a slight change in its membership.
Since the end of Cold War, we have clearly seen the nature of Southeast Asia turning from superpower rivalry to self-help system. During Cold War period, ASEAN’s regime goals changed according to the shifts in superpower rivalry, and we are likely to see another change due to new balance of power system. Ironically, it may again soothe the intra-mural tensions and maintain peace within ASEAN.
|↑1||Sorpong Peou, “The Subsidiary Model of Global Governance in the US-ASEAN Context,” Global Governance (December 1998): 454.|
|↑2||N. Ganesan, Bilateral Tensions in Post-Cold War ASEAN, (Singapore: ISEAS, 1999).|
|↑3||Jurgen Ruland, “ASEAN and the Asian Crisis: theoretical implications and practical consequences for Southeast Asian regionalism,” The Pacific Review 13, no. 3 (2000): 421-451.|
|↑4||Amitav Acharya, Quest for Identity; International Relations of Southeast Asia. (Singapore: Oxford University Press) 147.|
|↑5||Michael Leifer, “The ASEAN Peace Process: a category mistake.” The Pacific Review, Vol. 12 No. 1 1999: 27.|
|↑6||Amitav Acharya, Quest for Identity; International Relations of Southeast Asia. (Singapore: Oxford University Press) 93.|
|↑7||N. Ganesan, “Testing neoliberal institutionalism in Southeast Asia,” International Journal (Autumn 1995): 789. For Ganesan, this phase is the beginning of ASEAN’s character as security regime, and in the first phase, ASEAN is regarded merely as “multilateral forum for regional co-operation.” However, the author also regards the first phase of ASEAN as security regime, for ASEAN state’s ambition to minimize superpower domination in Southeast Asia is clearly seen in Ch. 3 of Acharya’s Quest for Identity.|
|↑8, ↑10||Amitav Acharya, Quest for Identity; International Relations of Southeast Asia. (Singapore: Oxford University Press) 137.|
|↑9||Tim Huxley, “The ASEAN States’ Defense policies: Influences and Outcomes.” Post-Cold War Security Issues in the Asia-Pacific Region, ed. Colin McInnes and Mark Rolls (Frank Cass). 1994.|
|↑11||Robyn Lim, “The ASEAN Regional Forum: Building on Sand.” Contemporary Southeast Asia, Vol. 20, Number 2, August 1998.|