ASEAN and Multilateralism: The Long, Bumpy Road to Community
- Contemporary Southeast Asia: A Journal of International and Strategic Affairs
- ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute
- Volume 30, Number 2, August 2008
- pp. 264-292
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Of the three Asian subregions — Northeast, Southeast and South — Southeast Asia is the only one that contains no Great Power. Yet Southeast Asian states have originated most Asian regional organizations, and Southeast Asian procedures acquired through ASEAN determine their processes. The “ASEAN Way”, emphasizing consensus, non-interference in members’ internal affairs and voluntary enforcement of regional decisions have characterized these bodies, insuring at bottom that they reinforce sovereignty protection. Nevertheless, ASEAN’s expansion in the 1990s to include Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia incorporated states whose harsh domestic politics were seen by several of the Association’s original members to be undermining its international stature. Additionally, coping with terrorism in the new century has also led to some erosion of the non-interference norm. Transnational cooperation is now essential to each nation’s security because terrorist groups cross national borders, and egregious human rights practices in one country can lead to refugees fleeing into neighbouring countries. ASEAN’s new November 2007 Charter constitutes an effort to move beyond sovereignty protection to economic, political-security and socio-cultural communities by 2020. The Charter also commits its signatories to democracy (for the first time) and human rights. Other regional organizations dominated by ASEAN procedures include the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) for security discussions, ASEAN+3 (Japan, South Korea and China) for economic matters, and the East Asian Summit (EAS) which added Australia, New Zealand and India to the ASEAN+3. Dialogues in these groups cover the gamut of Asian international relations. Perhaps their greatest utility is as venues for national leaders to discuss pressing issues on the sidelines of these gatherings.