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Forty years of ASEAN: a historical review
Shaun Narine
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St. Thomas University
Version of record first published: 22 Aug 2008.
To cite this article: Shaun Narine (2008): Forty years of ASEAN: a historical review, The Pacific Review, 21:4, 411-429
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The Pacific Review, Vol. 21 No. 4 December 2008: 411–429
Forty years of ASEAN: a historical
review
Shaun Narine

Abstract This paper assesses the historical development of the Association of
Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). During its 40 year history, ASEANhas achieved
limited success in influencing the normative environment of Southeast Asia. ASEAN
has helped shape institutional development in the Asia Pacific, particularly since
the 1990s. It remains at the center of Asia Pacific regionalism. However, ASEAN’s
diverse membership and its need to maintain the fundamental principle of non-
intervention limit its ability to reform. ASEAN’s future is closely tied to its role in
facilitating the emergence of China as a global power.
Keywords ASEAN; non-intervention; reform; China; Asia Pacific institutions.
Introduction
Over its 40-year history (1967–2007), the Association of Southeast Asian
Nations (ASEAN) has experienced considerable fluctuations in its fortunes.
It was most prominent during the 1980s as it organized the global campaign
against Vietnam’s occupation of Cambodia. Its institutional nadir may have
come in 1997–99, when ASEAN proved ineffective during the catastrophic
East Asian economic crisis. Today, ASEAN’s international standing is on
another upswing. It is at the center of a number of Asia Pacific regional
initiatives, including the ASEAN Plus Three (APT), the ASEAN-China
Free Trade Agreement (ACFTA), the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation
(APEC) forum, and the East Asian Summit (EAS). It is discussing creating

Shaun Narine is an Associate Professor of International Relations at St. Thomas University,
New Brunswick, Canada. He has written extensively on ASEAN and institutionalism in the
Asia Pacific. His current projects include a new book on ASEAN and a study of Chinese
leadership in the Pacific region.
Address: Shaun Narine, St. Thomas University, 51 Dineen Drive, Fredericton, NB. E3B 5G3,
Canada. E-mail: narine@stu.ca
The Pacific Review
ISSN 0951-2748 print/ISSN 1470-1332 online
C
2008 Taylor & Francis
http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals
DOI: 10.1080/09512740802294689
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412 The Pacific Review
an ‘ASEAN Community’. However, the environment in which ASEAN op-
erates today is more complex than at any time in the organization’s history.
This paper examines ASEAN’s history from 1967 to the present. ASEAN
has evolved in response to many external forces and influences and has
played a limited role in shaping the political and security environments in
whichit operates. The following discussionexamines the nature of ASEAN’s
influence over its membership and the larger region. Theoretically, the pa-
per accepts Collins’ (2007) argument that ASEAN is a ‘security regime’, as
opposed to a ‘security community’. The operation of this regime is best ex-
plained through the English school of international relations (ES) (Narine
2006). ASEAN is important in reinforcing the normative environment of
the region. For now, ASEAN’s ability to influence regional norms and act
as a gateway for China’s entry onto the global stage are functions that will
sustain the organization into the future.
Theoretical overview
Of the mainstream theoretical approaches to institutions – neo-realism, lib-
eral institutionalism, and constructivism – constructivism offers the most
useful, though limited, analysis of ASEAN. Neo-realists regard ASEAN as
irrelevant (Jones and Smith 2002). But they cannot explain why ASEAN’s
members dedicate so much time and resources to something so meaning-
less. Liberal institutionalists have a difficult time explaining exactly what
ASEAN’s functions are.
Constructivist analysts of ASEAN argue that the organization embodies
and promotes certain key norms and practices in the Asia Pacific region
(Acharya 2001; Eaton and Stubbs 2006). ASEAN’s power lies mostly in get-
ting other states to adopt its rules of acceptable regional behavior. There is
truth in this analysis, but the constructivist emphasis on shifts in identity to
explain normative change (and vice versa) misjudges the nature of state in-
teraction in Southeast Asia. In fact, contrary to what many observers claim,
ASEAN’s core values often work against the development of a cohesive re-
gional organization. ASEAN is a pluralistic community. ASEAN promotes
cooperation between its members, but its values result in weak institutional
structures (Emmerson 2005). ASEAN’s success has largely been based on its
ability to organize its members around common interests that are reflected
in its values but shared values do not necessarily lead to a common identity.
Collins argues that, while the transnational elites of ASEAN may enjoy a
sense of belonging to a larger community, the people of the ASEAN states
do not exhibit much of the ‘we-feeling’ that is part of Deutschian security
communities. Instead, ASEAN is a community based around the mutual
benefits of sharedrules, not a strong sense of collective identity (Collins 2007:
215). ASEANforms a‘securityregime’, whichfacilitates cooperationaround
recognized rules to reduce uncertainty and advance longer-term interests
(Ibid: 206).
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S. Narine: Forty years of ASEAN: a historical review 413
The ES captures this aspect of ASEAN very well. Despite its apparent
similarities toconstructivismandeventoclassical realism, the ESoffers a dis-
tinctive approach to international relations (Narine 2006; Buzan 2004). The
ES emphasizes that international society, and the shared norms and values
that underpin that society, is a normal state of affairs in international politics.
The conflict-prone, threat-dominated world of the realists, to which all main-
stream, North American international relations (IR) theory responds, is a
misinterpretation of the international realm. In fact, cooperation between
self-interested states – which is the key problem of most rationalist theory
– is both common and fairly easily sustained. The ASEAN states cooperate
because any shared antipathy is outweighed by the advantages of working
together. Understanding that rational, self-interested states will cooperate
does not require positing a radical transformation/creation of regional iden-
tity, which mainstream constructivists are prone to do. In fact, the sense of
Southeast Asian regional identity remains relatively weak, but this reality
does not preclude cooperation (Alagappa 2003; Severino 2006). The ES is
deficient in that it fails to recognize the extent to which domestic political
considerations and concerns with nation-building shape the foreign policies
of most developing states. ASEAN’s historical development bears this out.
The single most important factor both driving and limiting ASEAN’s evolu-
tion in its 40-year history has been its pursuit of policies that will strengthen
the economic and political security of its member states (Narine 2004).
ASEAN’s norms and practices
Particular norms, values, and practices have evolved within, and define,
ASEAN. Amitav Acharya distinguishes ASEAN’s legal-rational from its
socio-cultural norms. He defines ‘legal-rational’ norms as: ‘formal rational-
istic principles of law’. “‘Socio-cultural” norms are the basis of informal
social controls and social habits’ (Acharya 2001: 24).
ASEAN’s legal-rational norms are the following: (1) a prohibition against
theuseof forceandacommitment tothepacific settlement of disputes, (2) re-
gional autonomy, (3) the doctrine of non-interference, and (4) no military
pacts and a preference for bilateral defense cooperation. These norms, with
the exception of the last, are codified within ASEAN declarations and doc-
uments. These norms are derived from the standard principles of the West-
phalian state system. Indeed, the first three norms all protect and reinforce
the overarching norm of respect for state sovereignty. It is the commitment
to non-interference, and all of the complications that emerge from this prin-
ciple, that is at the heart of the controversies over ASEAN’s development
today. Acommitment to sovereignty is common to most states, but a credible
case can be made that ASEAN’s emphasis on non-intervention is distinctive
(Haacke 2003: 5).
Reputedly, ASEAN’s socio-cultural norms are particular to Southeast
Asia (based on Malay cultural practices) and are designated ‘the ASEAN
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414 The Pacific Review
Way’. They emphasize processes of consultation and consensus building,
which are used to reach common organizational positions. The ASEAN
Way ‘stresses informality, organization minimalism, inclusiveness, intensive
consultations leading to consensus and peaceful resolutions of disputes’
(S. Jayakumar quoted in Narine 2006: 204). The ASEAN Way encourages
ASEAN to work around contentious issues rather than letting those prob-
lems derail cooperation in other areas. ASEAN’s approach to regionalism
has been very flexible. If ASEAN members cannot agree on a common pol-
icy they agree to go their separate ways, while couching their disagreements
in language that obscures differences. The ‘ASEAN minus X’ principle also
allows member states to opt out of multilateral agreements with the op-
tion of joining later, thereby preventing recalcitrant members fromblocking
institutional progress.
ASEAN’s early history
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was inaugurated on
8 August 1967. ASEAN’s founding members were Indonesia, Malaysia, the
Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand – the major non-Communist states of
the region. ASEAN was assembled in the aftermath of Indonesia’s Kon-
frontasi against Malaysia. The overthrow of President Sukarno brought
Suharto to power and led to a change in Indonesia’s policies toward its
neighbors (Turnbull 1999: 287–312; Narine 2002b: 9–38).
ASEAN served three functions: to alleviate intra-ASEAN tensions, to
reduce the regional influence of external actors, and to promote the socio-
economic development of its members. Member states shared the belief
that the greatest security threat facing them was foreign-backed communist
insurgency. However, the ASEAN countries had different understandings
of how best to pursue their objectives. Ostensibly, ASEAN was meant ‘to
promote regional peace and stability’, largely through the pursuit of socio-
economic goals (ASEAN 1967). In reality, the ASEAN states were con-
cerned with security. ASEAN could not be a military alliance, since an al-
liance required identifying some regional threat. Tension between ASEAN
states also formed a barrier to security cooperation. Nonetheless, the reality
of a common external threat played a significant role in ASEAN’s creation.
ASEAN’s evolution in response to external threats has remained a consis-
tent motivating force behind ASEAN’s development over 40 years.
During most of its first decade, ASEAN accomplished relatively little.
Tensions between member states threatened the organization’s operation,
but the withdrawal of American and British forces from the region, efforts
by China and Russia to play larger roles in Southeast Asia, and the political
impact of the VietnamWar compelled the ASEANstates to stay together. In
November 1971, ASEAN committed Southeast Asia to becoming a ‘Zone
of Peace, Freedom, and Neutrality’ (ZOPFAN). ZOPFAN began as an in-
dependent Malaysian effort to get the great powers to agree to the ‘neutral-
ization’ of Southeast Asia. For strategic reasons, most other ASEAN states
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S. Narine: Forty years of ASEAN: a historical review 415
disagreed with this initiative and ZOPFAN was the resulting compromise.
ZOPFAN had no timetable for its implementation, and in recent years, the
concept has beenabandoned(Haacke 2003: 73–4). ZOPFANexemplifies the
dynamics of ASEAN’s early years. The disparate interests and perspectives
of its member states meant that most could not agree on fundamental poli-
cies. Even so, they were able to present an apparently unified front to the
world.
The Bali Conference of February 1976 was motivated by the end of the
VietnamWar in1975; the emergence of communist Vietnam, Laos, andCam-
bodia; and uncertainties about the American commitment to the region. The
Bali Conference was the first meeting of the ASEAN heads of state. Out of
the conference came two important documents: the Declaration of ASEAN
Concord and the Treat of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC).
The Declaration addressed the economic side of security, defining four areas
of intra-ASEAN economic cooperation. It also encouraged military coop-
eration between the ASEAN states, albeit on a non-ASEAN basis.
The TAC was a code of conduct for Southeast Asia. It obligated its signa-
tories to settle disputes peacefully and prohibited the use of force between
states. It was open to accession by non-ASEAN states. Vietnam rejected the
TAC, however, as it felt that ASEAN was an American puppet.
1
Today, the
TAC has grown to become one of the strongest symbols of ASEAN’s influ-
ence in the Asia Pacific region. Its signatories now include all the Southeast
Asian countries as well as China, India, Japan, and (with caveats) Australia.
The Declaration of ASEAN Concord has been less successful. ASEAN
has not enjoyed great success as an economic institution, a subject discussed
below. The economic achievements of the ASEAN states happened inde-
pendently of ASEAN, though ASEAN may have facilitated economic de-
velopment by helping to create and maintain regional political stability.
ASEAN and the invasion of Cambodia
On 25 December 1978, Vietnam invaded Cambodia, deposing the Khmer
Rouge and solidifying the enmity of China, Cambodia’s primary patron.
2
In February–March 1979, China launched a punitive attack on Vietnam.
China’s military was soundly defeated by the battle-hardened Vietnamese.
China changed its tactics. It supported the Khmer Rouge’s guerilla war of
attrition against Vietnam. To provide the KR with supplies, however, China
needed the acquiescence of Thailand, the ‘front line’ state bordering Cam-
bodia. Thailand became a conduit for Chinese weapons to the KR. Thailand
also secured a reiteration of US security guarantees from Washington.
Thailand wanted the support of its ASEANallies in its confrontation with
Vietnam. It argued that Vietnam’s invasion violated ASEAN’s TAC, primar-
ily the obligations to respect sovereignty and the prohibition on the use of
force to settle regional disputes. The ASEANstates agreed on the principles
at stake and the need to reverse the invasion, but their different strategic per-
spectives created intra-ASEAN friction. Indonesia and Malaysia saw China
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416 The Pacific Review
as the real long-term threat to the region and Vietnam as a potential ally in
dealing with that greater problem. Singapore emphasized the Vietnamese
invasion as an example of Soviet expansionism, in order to keep the United
States engagedinthe region. The Philippines was committedtointernational
law and did not want the invasion to go unpunished.
Indonesia went along with Thailand’s plan because, after Konfrontasi,
it needed to show that it could be a regional player. Indonesia regarded
ASEAN as an instrument through which it could exert regional power. In-
donesia recognized that Thailand would abandon ASEAN if the organiza-
tion did not support it, disrupting ASEAN and pushing Thailand into closer
alliance with China. Indonesia tempered its own interests for the sake of
ASEAN solidarity, at least for a time. ASEAN tried hard to present a uni-
fied front in dealing with Vietnam. However, the fa¸ cade sometimes slipped,
and the individual states’ different interests sometimes came through.
From1979–90, ASEANwas at the forefront of international opposition to
the Vietnamese invasion. ASEAN – supported by the US and China – orga-
nizedoppositiontoVietnaminthe UnitedNations, denying the Vietnamese-
installed government of Cambodia (the People’s Republic of Kampuchea)
its seat in the UN. ASEAN also became instrumental in organizing the mil-
itary/political opposition to the Vietnamese-backed government in Phnom
Penh, but its efforts were hobbled by the fact that the internationally reviled
Khmer Rouge was the most effective opposition-fighting force. ASEANalso
pursued diplomatic initiatives designed to end the conflict. ASEAN spon-
soredanInternational ConferenceonKampuchea(ICK) inNewYorkinJuly
1981. ASEAN discovered, however, that its genuine attempts to resolve the
conflict diplomatically were stymied by the United States and China, both
of which wished to keep Vietnam – and, by extension, the Soviet Union –
bogged down in Cambodia. The ICK ended with a statement of principles
which were too inflexible to be politically viable.
Tensions within ASEAN were a continual part of the organization’s re-
lations at this time. Indonesia and Malaysia feared that the international
efforts to punish Vietnam would drive Vietnam more tightly into the Soviet
embrace or leave a weakened Vietnam more susceptible to Chinese influ-
ence. In March 1980, Indonesia and Malaysia issued the Kuantan Declara-
tion, which called on Vietnam to be free of Chinese and Soviet influence in
exchange for recognition of its ‘legitimate’ interests. Thailand and Vietnam
rejected this proposal. These different perspectives towards Vietnam fes-
tered within ASEAN. Indonesia became frustrated with ASEAN’s policies,
the constraints those policies placed upon its own initiatives, and its loss of
influence within ASEANto Thailand. To accommodate Indonesia’s growing
impatience and diplomatic efforts, ASEAN designated it the ‘interlocutor
of ASEAN’ with Vietnam.
By 1987, the Cold War began to thaw, and the major powers (the United
States, the Soviet Union, and China) saw Vietnam/Cambodia as an inconve-
nient obstacle to better relations. In 1988, a change in Thailand’s leadership
led to a complete reversal in Thai policy towards Vietnam. The new Prime
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S. Narine: Forty years of ASEAN: a historical review 417
Minister Chatichai Choonhavan represented Thai business interests, which
sought to establish commercial ties with Vietnam. Under his leadership,
Thailand adopted the Indonesian position towards Vietnam but without
consulting its ASEAN allies. As a result, it abandoned and undermined the
ASEAN united front.
The Paris International Conference on Cambodia (PICC) was held in July
1989, and ended in failure as the various external parties to the conflict were
not yet ready to abandon their respective allies. ASEANwas further divided
after the conference and Indonesia began to contemplate a separate peace
with Cambodia and Vietnam, regardless of ASEAN policy. The permanent
five powers of the UN Security Council took charge of the Cambodian sit-
uation. The Paris Peace Treaty, which ended the external dimension of the
Vietnam/Cambodia conflict, was signed on 22 October 1991. By that time,
external actors wanted an end to the war, and Vietnam had begun to dra-
matically improve its economic and political relationships with the ASEAN
states, particularly Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand.
ASEAN’s handling of the Vietnam invasion of Cambodia was the high
point of ASEAN’s unity and international effectiveness during its 40 years
of existence. ASEAN’s members, for the most part, supported a coherent
corporate position for a decade. The need to coordinate policy greatly im-
proved intra-ASEAN cooperation and communication. ASEAN’s interna-
tional profile and influence increased enormously. However, there were sig-
nificant unresolvedtensions betweentheASEANstates. Moreover, ASEAN
was only one part of a diplomatic and political alliance shaped by the great
powers (the United States, China, and the Soviet Union) and the exigen-
cies of the Cold War. When relations between the great powers improved,
they resolved the Vietnam situation. The Cambodian invasion illustrates
ASEAN’s coming of age, but it also demonstrates the limits of small powers.
Vietnam/Cambodia was the high point of ASEAN’s international influence,
but the organization was still only a supporting player in a complex drama.
ASEAN in the post–Cold War era
The end of the Cold War forced ASEAN to redesign itself and find a new
unifying purpose. The ASEAN states came to see the international political
advantages of operating as group, and they were determined to maintain
ASEAN as a functioning institution (Narine 2002b: 101–38; Weatherbee
2005: 95–100). In 1992, ASEAN reformed its institutional structure, for-
malizing summit meetings, increasing the duties and rank of the ASEAN
Secretary-General, and strengthening and improving the levels of interac-
tionbetweenofficials at the highest levels of the ASEANstates. The ASEAN
Secretariat, however, remained under-funded and largely incapable of inde-
pendent action.
In 1994, ASEAN held the first meeting of the ASEAN Regional Forum
(ARF). The ARF was the culmination of a process that began with non-
ASEAN actors who argued that the post–Cold War Asia Pacific region
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418 The Pacific Review
needed a security organization. ASEAN registered its propriety role in the
ARF, insisting on the right to set the agenda and adapting the ASEAN
Way of interaction (i.e., consensus building) to the proceedings of the ARF.
ASEAN laid out a three-step program for the ARF’s evolution into a more
robust security structure: the ARFwoulddevelopconfidence-building meth-
ods, followedby preventive diplomacy, followedby conflict resolution. These
measures would evolve at their own pace. In the meantime, the ARF would
be a forum in which the regional powers could interact (Narine 2002b: 102–
13).
This approach has evoked considerable criticism and frustration. Some
observers condemn the ARF as little more than a ‘talk shop’. Some of the
major security issues of the region, such as North Korea and Taiwan, have
been kept off the ARF agenda.
3
On the other hand, the ARF has allowed
state representatives to meet, often informally, to smooth over disagree-
ments. China has strongly supported ASEAN’s role and methods in the
ARF. Nonetheless, the overall efficacy of the institution is in question. The
ARF is a long-term project, so assessing it over a 13-year period may not
be fair. Still, ASEAN has invested a great deal of its prestige into the ARF,
and it is the vehicle through which ASEAN hopes to affect the shaping of
the regional security environment (Katsumata 2006).
During the 1990s, ASEAN incorporated the rest of Southeast Asia. Viet-
nam joined in 1995, Burma and Laos joined in 1997, and Cambodia in 1999.
There were several reasons for this rapid expansion. ASEAN believed that
its voice would be enhanced in international fora if the organization spoke
for the entire region. The best chances of getting the other mainland South-
east Asian states to join was in the immediate aftermath of the Cold War
and might be lost if ASEAN waited too long. The ASEAN states were
particularly concerned about Burma’s isolationist tendencies. The four new
members made ASEAN home to more than 500 million people and more
appealing as an economic destination. Finally, some of the key ASEANlead-
ers, such as President Suharto of Indonesia and Prime Minister Mahathir of
Malaysia viewed an expanded ASEAN as part of their legacies (Narine
2002b: 113).
The disadvantages of expansion probably outweigh the advantages, as
evidenced by the case of Burma. ASEAN argued that admitting Burma
would allow it to engage in a process of ‘constructive engagement’ with
the authoritarian state, which might facilitate its political reform. This has
not happened, and ASEAN has been saddled with an ongoing problem
that is pushing ASEAN’s institutional limits and seriously compromising its
international standing (Haacke 2003: 141–50; Acharya 2001: 108–13; Em-
mers 2005). Cambodia’s political instability has also presented difficulties to
ASEAN. Vietnam’s inclusion has mostly been a positive event, particularly
considering Vietnam’s history as ASEAN’s primary antagonist.
The different levels of economic development between most of the old
andnewASEANmembers havecomplicatedeconomic integration. Thenew
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S. Narine: Forty years of ASEAN: a historical review 419
members have demonstrated that their commitment to the ‘ASEAN Com-
munity’ is weak. These factors have made it doubly difficult for ASEAN to
reform itself to deal with the regional problems of the twenty-first century.
In particular, efforts to reconsider ASEAN’s principle of non-intervention
face especially strong opposition from the new members, though some es-
tablished members have also opposed such reform.
During the 1990s, ASEAN attempted to re-energize its economic ini-
tiatives. In part, this was because ASEAN feared that the new Asia Pacific
Economic Cooperation (APEC) forumwould undermine its primacy in East
Asia andpromote economic policies disadvantageous tothe weaker regional
economies. Thailand proposed the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) in
1991, which was endorsed by the ASEAN summit in Singapore in 1992.
AFTA is meant to provide a ‘training ground’ for ASEAN business and a
way to attract foreign investment to the region. ASEAN pursued AFTA for
four reasons. These were: to provide ASEAN with a new purpose in the
aftermath of the Cold War, to offset the growth of economic regionalism in
other parts of the world and give AFTA members a greater voice and more
economic clout in international economic negotiations, to make it easier for
multinational corporations to establish themselves at the regional level, and
to function as a regional investment area that attracts foreign investment and
compete against China on a more equitable footing (Severino 2006: 222–50).
AFTAhas been a limited success story for ASEAN, and its gradual imple-
mentation may be an example of the ASEAN Way at work in the realm of
economics (Stubbs 2000). The ASEAN states have largely been successful
in radically reducing tariffed trade and intra-ASEAN trade has increased,
though much of that trade is between Singapore and a few other states.
4
Nonetheless, total intra-ASEANtrade remains relatively small, andregional
businessmen do not see AFTA as being effective, or are unaware of it (Sev-
erino 2006: 247–8). Beyond this, other ASEAN efforts to construct regional
economic zones have largely faltered due to political and economic tensions
between the involved ASEAN states (Weatherbee 2005: 111–6).
Much of the impetus to push AFTA and other economic initiatives was in
response to multiple international economic threats that emerged during the
1990s and early 2000s. China’s rise as a global economic power was the sin-
gle greatest force behind AFTA’s continuing development. Throughout the
1990s, the deadline for AFTA’s implementation kept being pushed forward
as other international economic arrangements createdpressureonASEAN.
5
Recommitting themselves to AFTA was a major part of the ASEAN re-
sponse to the Asian economic crisis of 1997–99.
The East Asian economic crisis
The East Asian economic crisis of 1997–99 undermined ASEAN’s inter-
national image and revealed the weaknesses of ASEAN’s organizational
model. The crisis started with Thailand and spread rapidly into the rest of
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420 The Pacific Review
the region and beyond. ASEAN could not counter the crisis. The ASEAN
states were disunited and even antagonistic in their dealings with each other.
More than any other event, the crisis underlined the very limitations of the
ASEAN Way and the ‘ASEAN identity’ that was, supposedly, the product
of decades of interaction (Freistein 2005: 180–6).
ASEAN was never designed to deal with regional financial issues and
lacked the institutional and economic resources necessary to handle the
problem. Indeed, the expectations that it could deal with the crisis were un-
reasonable and indicative of the international community’s misunderstand-
ing of ASEAN. But this misunderstanding was fosteredby ASEAN. ASEAN
had presented itself as a powerful and united political and economic bloc and
haddone sobecause it recognizedthe political advantages of being perceived
in this way by other states. The crisis indicated the extent to which Southeast
Asia has become, in the minds of investors, a single economic unit. This re-
ality created a new incentive for ASEAN to reform (Narine 2002a: 179–94).
The crisis weakened ASEAN in three ways. First, it shattered ASEAN’s
confidence in its own economic success, which had been the basis of its will-
ingness tobe assertive onthe international stage. Second, ASEAN’s inability
to respond to the crisis harmed its claims to be a credible economic institu-
tion. Finally, the crisis introducedproblems that ASEANcouldnot face with-
out violating the ASEAN Way, particularly the norm of non-interference
(Ibid.).
ASEAN did respond to the crisis. In December 1997, at the Second In-
formal ASEAN summit in Malaysia, ASEAN issued the ASEAN Vision
2020 document, a list of declarations of intent to reinforce ASEAN princi-
ples and community. In December 1998, ASEAN met in Hanoi and issued
the Hanoi Plan of Action and the Statement on Bold Measures. The Hanoi
Plan included an acceleration of the AFTA implementation date to 2002,
implementation of the framework agreement for the ASEAN Investment
Area (AIA), and liberalization of trade in services. The ASEAN Secretariat
was reformed, expanded, and given new responsibilities. However, it still
lacks many of the resources necessary to carry out its new responsibilities
(Freistein 2005:182).
In November 1997, the ASEAN finance ministers met in Manila and pro-
posed an ASEAN Surveillance Process (ASP), which would monitor the
economic fundamentals of the ASEAN states and provide an early warning
in the event of economic difficulties. At a second ASEAN finance minis-
ters meeting in Jakarta in February 1998, the ministers agreed to establish
the ASP in conjunction with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and
the Asian Development Bank (ADB). The ASP would require ASEAN to
comment upon the internal policies of its member states. However, the ASP
has run into many problems, not the least being the reluctance of ASEAN
states to share sensitive economic information, uncertainty about what in-
formation has actually been compiled, and understaffing in the ASEAN
Secretariat (Narine 2002b: 162–6).
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S. Narine: Forty years of ASEAN: a historical review 421
On 30 October 1998, ASEAN announced the creation of an ASEAN Ac-
tion Plan on Social Safety Nets. In November 1999, Thailand proposed the
creation of an ‘ASEAN Troika’ – a group consisting of the past, present,
and future chairs of the ASEAN Standing Committee – to address issues of
regional peace and stability. However, the Troika was not a decision-making
body and could only take on tasks that were explicitly assigned to it by
ASEAN. In addition, it was forbidden to address ‘issues that constitute the
internal affairs of the ASEAN member countries’.
6
Both of these measures
illustrated ASEAN’s continuing problem: being an effective regional instru-
ment required that it put aside its principle of non-intervention – something
that the ASEAN states, collectively, were unprepared to do (Freistein 2005:
182).
This became especially clear when in July 1998, Thailand proposed that
ASEAN engage in ‘flexible engagement’ – the practice of ASEAN mem-
bers discussing the domestic policies of other members when those policies
had regional/cross-border implications. Thailand’s proposal was rejected by
ASEAN states, which were afraid that allowing open criticism would even-
tually cause the very tensions that ASEAN had been created to alleviate. A
compromise allowed for ‘enhanced interaction’ – a process that permitted
individual ASEAN states to comment on a neighbor’s domestic policies if
those had regional effects, but would leave ASEANout of the equation. En-
hanced interaction was tested immediately when Thailand, Indonesia, and
the Philippines criticized Malaysia over its treatment of Anwar Ibrahim.
This led to tensions and threats between Malaysia and its critics. ASEAN
was not ready to abandon non-intervention as its core principle (Haacke
2003: 165–90; Acharya 2001: 152–6).
Other events during the crisis period – such as the ‘regional haze’ and
the East Timor situation – further underlined ASEAN’s weaknesses. In
1997–98, ASEAN was incapable of addressing the choking air pollution
that enveloped the region as the result of illegal forest burnings in Indone-
sia. In 1999, East Timor voted for independence from Indonesia and was
promptly enmeshed in violence instigated by Indonesian-backed militias.
The United Nations eventually intervened, fielding the UN interventionary
(INTERFET – International Force for East Timor) force led by Australia.
Indonesia encouraged ASEAN states to participate in INTERFET, in or-
der to reduce the Australian influence. However, ASEAN’s inability to deal
with East Timor by itself further damaged its international image. ASEAN
asserted its right to primacy in the ARF, arguing that it had the right to man-
age regional security. Yet, when faced with a major regional security issue
dealing with its own member, it was unable to act.
ASEAN in the post-crisis period
In October 2003, ASEAN held the Second Bali Summit where it introduced
the Second Declaration of ASEAN Concord (Bali II), a sequel to the 1976
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422 The Pacific Review
Declaration of ASEAN Concord. ASEAN announced its new long-term
intention to create an ASEAN Community, based upon three pillars: the
ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), the ASEAN Security Community
(ASC), and the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC) (Weatherbee
2005: 107–10; Freistein 2005: 186–97). The completion date for these ‘pillars’
is 2015.
The Economic Community is designed to make ASEAN an integrated
single market and production base, building on AFTA, the AIA, and the
ASEAN Framework Agreement on Services (AFAS). The Security Com-
munity ‘is envisaged to bring ASEAN’s political and security cooperation
to a higher plane to ensure that countries in the region live at peace with
one another and with the world at large in a just, democratic and har-
monious environment’ (ASEAN 2003). The ASC emphasizes ASEAN’s
principles of non-intervention, but it also places considerable weight on
ASEAN’s security structures, such as the TAC and the ARF, to create
and maintain a peaceful regional environment. The Socio-Cultural Com-
munity ‘envisages a Southeast Asia bonded together in partnership as a
community of caring societies’ (Ibid.). It promises to work toward building
states that will provide basic social services and support to their poorest
citizens.
At the 11th ASEAN Summit in Kuala Lumpur in 2005, the ASEAN lead-
ers signed the Kuala Lumpur Declaration on the ASEAN Charter. The
charter is meant to be a ‘constitutional document embodying fundamental
principles, goals, objectives and structures of ASEAN cooperation capable
of meeting the needs of the ASEAN Community and beyond’ (ASEAN
2005). The Eminent Persons Group (EPG) established to draft the char-
ter presented its recommendations to the ASEAN Summit in Singapore in
November of 2007. The EPG recommended the creation of a formal dis-
pute mechanism to resolve political and economic issues; decision-making
by majority vote, rather thanthe traditional consensus, inareas other thanse-
curity and foreign policy; and monitoring mechanisms to gauge compliance
on ASEANobjectives, principles, and policies. The EPGproposed sanctions
against members in ‘serious breach’ of ASEAN principles, including loss of
membership rights and even expulsion. The ASEAN governments quickly
rejected the idea of sanctions, however, and the charter body monitoring hu-
man rights has no enforcement ability (Acharya 2007; Economist, 4 August
2007). Critics of the charter argue that it codifies existing ASEAN norms
of non-interference and practices of consultation and consensus, and repre-
sents no meaningful institutional progress (Arnold 2007). Defenders argue
that the dispute-settlement mechanism is a significant step towards making
ASEANa more effective organization and that the charter is ‘already a max-
imum achievement’ given the enormous diversity within ASEAN (Khalik
2008). Even so, the charter must be ratified by all of ASEAN’s members,
and the Philippines has warned that it may effectively veto the charter unless
Burma commits to democratic reforms.
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S. Narine: Forty years of ASEAN: a historical review 423
ASEAN’s survival and significance may not lie within the organization but
in its utility to China. During the crisis period, another crucial institutional
structure was created. The ASEAN Plus Three (the ‘three’ being China,
Japan, and South Korea) began in 1997 as a consultative body meant to co-
ordinate Asia’s meetings with Europe. The crisis turned the APT into far
more. The APT identified areas of regional economic cooperation and, by
2000, had launched the Chiang Mai Initiative (CMI). The CMI is a series of
currency swap agreements which builds on the ASEAN Swap Agreement
(ASA), which was first negotiated in 1977 (Park 2000). These swap agree-
ments allow its partners to access specified amounts of foreign currency in
the event of a crisis. Currently, collective foreign currency reserves in East
Asia are nearly US$3 trillion (Masaki 2007).
7
The CMI was initially greeted
with considerable skepticism, its critics pointing out that the various swap
arrangements usually did not amount to enough money to actually protect
a member state from a currency crisis. Nonetheless, since its inception, the
total amount of the Bilateral Swap Arrangements (BSAs) worked out un-
der the CMI come to more than US$80 billion and seem poised to increase
further in value. The CMI was also originally envisioned to work in conjunc-
tion with the IMF; there are signs, however, that it is becoming slightly more
independent of the established international financial order (Ibid. 2007).
The APT has become the platform for an Asian Bond Market Initiative
(ABMI). The ABMI is meant to offer Asian government bonds that can
be purchased by Asian investors, thereby raising capital locally, putting the
region’s savings tobetter economic use, andreducing dependence onoutside
capital (Amyx 2004).
These various measures are still in a preliminary stage. What is important
to note is how quickly the APT has become the foundation of a number of
economic initiatives which arose in direct response to the Asian economic
crisis. These measures are meant to protect Asian economies from the va-
garies of a volatile international financial and economic system.
Some observers argue that the APT can be the basis of a larger East
Asian community (Stubbs 2002). Others are more skeptical, arguing that
the different interests of the ASEAN states, China and Japan, significantly
limit the possibilities of what the APT can become (Hund 2003). Still, the
APT is the launching point of yet another East Asian community-building
initiative, namely the East Asian Summit (EAS), which held its first meeting
in 2005. The EAS includes the APT states as well as India, Australia, and
New Zealand. Significantly, it excludes the United States, though Japan and
Australia may act as American proxies.
Since 1997, the most significant institution building in the Asia Pa-
cific has been driven by China. Beyond the measures associated with the
APT, ASEAN and China have agreed to establish an ASEAN-China FTA
(ACFTA), which should come into effect by 2010. This development pushed
ASEAN’s economic relations with Japan and South Korea, which are afraid
of being left behind. At the same time, ASEAN’s trade with China has
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424 The Pacific Review
increased exponentially every year, setting a record US$160 billion in 2006
andexceeding US$200 billionin2007, three years aheadof schedule (Crispin
2007; Yan 2008). China’s emergence has presented problems and oppor-
tunities to ASEAN. The ASEAN states are afraid of being economically
marginalized by China’s booming economy, and much of China’s ASEAN
diplomacy is directed at addressing this concern (Ba 2003). China’s support
has been critically important for ASEAN’s efforts to maintain a promi-
nent role in the regional institutional framework. China agrees with the
ASEAN Way of interaction, seeing the benefits of a consensus-oriented ap-
proach to its own interests. Arguably, China is learning from ASEAN (Ba
2006).
At the same time, ASEAN finds itself being less of a master in its own
house. It is one actor in a region filled with much larger powers that do not
necessarily recognize ASEAN’s authority. The United States, in particular,
maybeintheprocess of tryingtoassembleacoalitionof like-mindedregional
states (Japan, Australia, and India) into an alliance that will ‘contain’ China,
even as it is paying less attention to Asian regional institutions (Jain 2007;
Koyakutty 2007). The anti-Muslim tenor of the US ‘War on Terror’ has
damaged American standing in Muslim Southeast Asia. Moreover, the US
fixation on terrorism has led it to focus on its regional military posture, to
the neglect of other important political and economic issues. The overall
effect of these policies has been to enhance China’s regional standing, at the
expense of American authority (Overholt 2008: 169–86, 223–62).
Discussion and analysis
After 40 years, what has ASEAN accomplished and where is it going? Is
the organization a twentieth century, Cold War relic, the members of which
cling to outdated notions of sovereignty and the mechanisms of which are
incapable of dealing with the challenges of the twenty-first century? Or has
ASEAN risen to the occasion and implemented measures that will enable it
to reform its structures and strengthen its internal cohesion (Acharya 2007;
Akya 2006)? Alternatively, does ASEAN’s true power lie in its ability to
influence the normative environment of the Asia Pacific (Eaton and Stubbs
2006)?
ASEAN supporters who expect the organization to evolve into a rela-
tively structured institution will be disappointed. ASEAN has never aspired
to be a European Union. Political and economic amalgamation is not a
long-term goal. Nonetheless, ASEAN’s use of the phrase ‘ASEAN Com-
munity’ implies a desire to move from the unstructured institution of the
past into something more formal and legally binding. Many advocates of
ASEAN reform recognize the need to revise the non-interference principle
because they understand that the activities ASEAN is supposed to facilitate
– economic integration, financial monitoring, and political oversight – re-
quire an institutional structure that can, at the least, alert its members as to
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S. Narine: Forty years of ASEAN: a historical review 425
the regional effects of their domestic policies. However, this kind of institu-
tional development is unlikely to occur. The ASEAN Charter gives juridical
personality to ASEAN, but it also codifies ASEAN’s traditional norms and
practices, reinforcing ideas of non-intervention.
The global environment may have changed a great deal since 1967, but
ASEAN states remain developing-world countries that see themselves as
fragile entities locked in a struggle to become functioning and stable nation-
states.
8
Most ASEANstates remaindominatedby narrowelites. Historically,
the raison d’ ˆ etre of ASEANwas to further the state-building process by cre-
ating a regional environment conducive to development. Different ASEAN
states have followed different strategies in trying to achieve this goal. But
the goal remains the same: to create a functioning state (Weatherbee 2005;
Narine 2004).
ASEAN’s role in this process has changed precisely because the percep-
tion of howto facilitate the state-building process has altered. In a globalized
world, where export-oriented economic development is the most rapid way
to development, ASEAN needs to be more than just a mouthpiece for its
members. If they truly wish to enjoy the benefits of regionalism, then they
must function as a region. This means increasing ASEAN’s ability to oper-
ate, sacrificing some sovereignty to the organization, and making short-term
sacrifices for the good of the region. Most ASEANcountries are unprepared
to do this.
The original ASEAN states are more developed and capable today than
they were 40 years ago. However, problems of state capacity, corruption,
ethnic and religious tensions, separatism, and territorial disputes (to name
a few) remain. In many states, the threat of communism has been replaced
by the threat of revolutionary Islam. Most ASEAN states remain tentative
democracies. Advocates of ASEAN reform have made the irrefutable ar-
gument that the region’s ability to manage twenty-first century security and
political and economic forces requires ASEAN to function as an effective
institutional structure. But making this point does not mean that this can be
done.
Even if the ASEAN-6 could agree to pool some elements of sovereignty
within ASEAN, the CLMV states, which are at a much lower level of eco-
nomic and political development, would never agree to such a change in
the organization’s mandate. There may be ways around this. A multi-tiered
ASEAN, where different members need to meet different expectations, is
possible. But these sorts of measures weaken ASEAN’s coherence and can-
not beusedineverycircumstance. Burma, for example, will remainapolitical
problem for ASEAN until its government reforms or the country is ejected
from ASEAN.
9
Can ASEAN become a security community? Collins argues that civil so-
ciety must be brought into ASEAN if a true regional identity is to evolve.
Severino agrees, arguing that ASEAN’s greatest potential for development
lies inits efforts create a socio-cultural community. It is only throughcreating
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426 The Pacific Review
a community of shared values that ASEAN can continue its development
(Severino 2006: 368–70). Developing such a sense of regional community is
a long-term project that relies upon extensive cross-cultural contacts, eco-
nomic ties, and shared political and cultural values. Even then, interdepen-
dence does not assure peace between states.
In the short-term, ASEAN’s future is guaranteed by the role that the in-
stitution plays in mediating between the great powers. In particular, China’s
support of ASEAN gives the organization’s members a reason to keep
the institution alive and active. Nonetheless, China’s role could backfire
as the emerging giant establishes separate relationships with the individual
ASEAN states that could tear at the fabric of the institution. This is most
apparent in the close China-Burma relationship, even as Burma presents
more problems for ASEAN.
Acharya notes: ‘The fact that the region’s most powerful players (includ-
ing China, India and the United States) show deference to ASEAN by par-
ticipating in (ASEAN’s) forums demonstrates that ASEAN still matters’
(Acharya 2007). While ASEAN’s mediating role between the great powers
is important, the organization aspires to be more than just an instrument
that facilitates great power contact.
ASEAN’s continuing role as a purveyor of regional norms seems assured.
As Eaton and Stubbs note, this is a formof power in which ASEANis gifted.
In keeping with ES and constructivist analyses, norms do matter. However,
even here, ASEANis at risk. The intra-ASEANconsensus is breaking down
around what values the organization is supposed to represent and the values
it promotes do not necessarily further regional unity.
Conclusion
ASEAN remains an important actor in the Asia Pacific, but at present, it
is probably incapable of truly extensive reform. This has been seen time
and time again as ASEAN expresses ambitious aspirations but then proves
incapable of acting on its ambitions. ASEAN’s limitations are necessary and
reflect far deeper issues revolving around state-building within Southeast
Asia. The institution will remain important because of its diplomatic role in
facilitating the emergence of China onto the world stage. But this is not a role
that can help the internal evolution of ASEAN. However, like the Vietnam
invasion of Cambodia, ASEAN’s diplomatic role in the larger world may
be enough to keep the organization together while the more subtle and
important work of community building continues.
Notes
1 To underline this point, in 1978 Vietnam proposed its own counterpart to ZOP-
FAN – ZOGIPAN, the ‘Zone of Genuine Independence, Peace, and Neutrality’.
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S. Narine: Forty years of ASEAN: a historical review 427
2 At the time, ‘Cambodia’ had been renamed ‘Kampuchea’ by its Khmer Rouge
government.
3 Note that North Korea joined the ARF in 2000.
4 Intra-ASEAN trade is around 23 percent of total ASEAN trade, but when Singa-
pore is factored out altogether, it drops to about 5 percent (Narine 2002a: 132).
5 For example, the Uruguay Round of GATT, completed in 1993, called for larger
tariff cuts in a shorter time than AFTA. The North American Free Trade Agree-
ment (NAFTA) came into effect in 1994 and the Single European Act in 1992
(Narine 2002b: 129).
6 Press release fromThailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, quoted in Narine (2002:
165).
7 China and Japan, combined, account for US$2.1 trillion.
8 See Mydans and Arnold’s (2007) New York Times interview with Lee Kuan Yew
in which he describes Singapore’s survival as remaining uncertain and fragile.
9 Burma’s initial rejection of international aid in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis
(3 May 2008), which killed more than 100,000 people, and the international con-
demnation this evoked, is another example of the problem that the regime poses
for ASEAN’s international standing (BBC News, ‘Burma Eases Restrictions on
Aid’, accessedat http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/7394410.stm, 11 May 2008;
Economist, 4 August 2007).
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