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  • A South Korean Perspective on the Potential Contributions and Limitations of the ADMM-Plus
  • Lee Jaehyon (bio)

The ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting-Plus (ADMM-Plus) is a unique development in the Asia-Pacific. Arguably, the ADMM-Plus is the first multilateral and military cooperation framework that includes all the major security players in the region. First convened in 2010, the framework is still young, and given the dearth of multilateral experiences with military cooperation in the region, it is fair to allow more time for the framework to become fully fledged before we make a final assessment of its performance. What is possible to do at the moment is to investigate the potential benefits and anticipated shortcomings of the framework.

This short essay looks at the ADMM-Plus from the perspective of the Republic of Korea (ROK) to clarify the country’s expectations for the grouping and identify its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and anticipated challenges. The essay then compares the ADMM-Plus with other regional security frameworks as well as with bilateral alliance partnerships.

South Korea’s Expectations for the ADMM-Plus

South Korea’s expectations for the ADMM-Plus are relatively low compared with military cooperation with the United States under the ROK-U.S. alliance but high compared with other existing multilateral cooperation frameworks in the region. This is because South Korea’s primary concern is the Korean Peninsula rather than regional security more broadly.

In fact, the ADMM-Plus is not high among the ROK government’s defense policy priorities. The government, and particularly the Ministry of National Defense (MND), does not in general recognize the importance of multilateral defense or military cooperation. For example, since the ADMM-Plus was first convened in 2010, only 4 out of 3,518 press statements issued by the MND have concerned the grouping. This lack of interest is largely because the government does not have strong faith in regional multilateral security and defense cooperation when it comes to dealing with security threats from North Korea. Of course, South Korea as a [End Page 117] self-proclaimed middle power can make a contribution to the whole region by actively participating in multilateral defense and military cooperation, but making a regional contribution through such cooperation is a marginal goal for Korean defense policy.

The ROK-U.S. alliance has been and still is the linchpin of South Korea’s defense and security policy. Even if the ADMM-Plus has the potential to become the premier regional military and security cooperation mechanism, that potential has not yet materialized. Meanwhile, the threat posed by North Korea is an immediate and existential security threat to South Korea. Until the ADMM-Plus becomes an effective and efficient mechanism that can manage issues that include the Korean Peninsula and North Korea, the bilateral alliance between South Korea and the United States will continue to be viewed as a more effective security guarantor.

Strengths, Weaknesses, and Opportunities of the ADMM-Plus

Despite its relatively low importance in the ROK government’s security strategy, the ADMM-Plus does have a number of strengths as a multilateral military cooperation framework. Among others, the fact that it accommodates major global and regional powers is outstanding. As of today, the ADMM-Plus has eighteen member countries: the ten ASEAN countries plus Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, the ROK, Russia, and the United States. A few regional frameworks for multilateral military cooperation—such as the Australia, New Zealand, United States Security Treaty (ANZUS)—existed previously, and the United States and various Southeast Asian countries have conducted multilateral military exercises for some years. However, before the ADMM-Plus, these schemes had no or only limited space available for countries such as China, India, and Russia. The inclusion of these major powers is a significant development. It is unimaginable today to discuss regional military cooperation without China, and India is quickly becoming a central player in military affairs as well. Russia, still a major global military player, also is important to include in regional military cooperation initiatives.

While the ADMM-Plus boasts an impressive list of participating countries, this also exposes its potential weaknesses. On the one hand, the participation of superpowers, as discussed...


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pp. 117-122
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