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1. Introduction

In its earliest manifestation, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was not a security project. The Bangkok Declaration, which came to be known as the ASEAN founding document, gives the impression that the Association was created largely to forge economic growth and social progress in the Southeast Asian region.1 Looking back at ASEAN’s formative years, this is somewhat of a paradox. In fact, in 1967 security concerns were foremost in the minds of the five ASEAN founding fathers, foreign ministers Adam Malik of Indonesia, Narciso R. Ramos of the Philippines, Tun Abdul Razak of Malaysia, Sinnathamby Rajaratnam of Singapore and Thanat Khoman of Thailand, when they met informally at the quiet beach resort of Bang Saen in Thailand. On that occasion the idea of forming a regional grouping became a reality. It was later described in the memorable words of a British diplomatic telegram to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London using the expression sport-shirt diplomacy, as opposed to the more formal business-shirt diplomacy common in Western settings. However, no one could have imagined that in a few years this association would turn into one of the most suitable environments to facilitate interregional dialogue and new mechanisms of confidence building, designed to achieve peace and regional security.

2. Theories on ASEAN Security

Theoretical debates on whether or not ASEAN matters in the realm of security, are quite recent. Until the 1990s students of Southeast Asian affairs were unwilling to go out on a limb with theory and prediction,1 and even theoretically-oriented scholars cast doubts on the usefulness of theories on Asia.2 Over the last two decades, this picture has changed profoundly, and a prolific debate centered on a crucial question first raised by Kivimäki in ‘Power, Interest or Culture — is there a paradigm that explains the ASEAN political role best?,’3 has opened up. In an attempt to answer this question two major perspectives, realism and constructivism, have emerged in both academic and policy debates. While acknowledging that there are important insights to be gained from both perspectives, this monograph adopts the less common neoliberal institutionalist perspective as a mirror that reflects the state of security cooperation in Southeast Asia and by which its limits can be identified.

3. ASEAN Task of Prevention

Institutional efforts at prevention are becoming increasingly viable paths to a sustainable peace. In particular, recent studies acknowledge that regional organizations, due to their inherent attachment to the local reality, the presence of personal and professional contacts, background knowledge of the territory, experience and some resources, including personnel, are able, to a large extent, to perform the task of prevention and help to project regional stability better than other actors.1

4. ASEAN Task of Protection

The complexity of contemporary security threats has had a significant impact on the agenda of regional institutions. As the contemporary world system has turned into a ‘world risk society’ characterized by ‘spatial, temporal and territorial de-bounding of uncontrollable risks,’1 regional institutions have acquired a growing prominence in dealing with those threats that bypass states’ functional and political boundaries from above and below, that challenge the social integrity of societies and their ability to function. Inevitably, this has caused an instant focus on non traditional sources of insecurity, and multilateral action is increasingly viewed as the most effective way to deal with concerns arising from a primarily non military sphere, such as terrorism, piracy, natural disasters and climate change, infectious diseases, organized crime and illegal immigration.

5. ASEAN Task of Assurance

The ASEAN RSP has distinguished itself through initiatives to generate a greater degree of amity and trust among its members. Much attention is now being paid to NTS threats and there is little doubt that new efforts and institutional innovations have been made to promote cooperative approaches to cope with security concerns beyond state and military threats. However, more intensive initiatives directed at conflict resolution, sustainability of democratic reform, protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms and post-conflict stabilization (belonging under the security task of assurance) are finding it more difficult to be part of ASEAN’s scope. ASEAN member states have also resisted the creation of an ASEAN regional capacity for peace operations. Thus, in comparison to the security tasks of prevention and protection, the function of assurance remains less developed.

6. Assessment of the ASEAN RSP

This volume has attempted to analyze ASEAN’s role in the creation of regional security that is conceived in broad terms, consistent with the insights of the Copenhagen School of security studies. The concept of RSP has been taken as particularly appropriate to reflect the status of regional cooperation under the ASEAN aegis. By assuming that non state referents, along with states, are components in the shaping of security policies and the building of cooperative security systems, the concept of RSP connotes the idea that regional cooperation originates in a functional demand to create institutions for developing good relationships with neighbors, economic ties and a set of instruments to cope with common sources of insecurity. This quest for cooperation finds its roots in the 1960s, when ASEAN came into existence through the desire of its founding fathers to provide a stable structure for governing fragile states, managing interstate tensions, and facing the various challenges to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Southeast Asian nations, most of which emanated from within the region.


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