Paper for the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies

27 September 2000




 Maria Consuelo C. Ortuoste**


             The ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) was established in 1993 as a loose, informal grouping of 23 states,[i] with the stated purpose of fostering constructive dialogue and consultation on political and security issues of common interest and concern.  The ARF also hopes to make significant contributions to confidence building and preventive diplomacy in the region, with the goal of evolving into a third stage officially tagged as “elaboration of approaches to conflict.”[ii] 

             At the outset, it should be made clear that the ARF is not a collective defense organization, nor is it based on collective security, “nor [is it] a managerial control-oriented regime (stressing orderliness through obligation and compliance to a specific set of established rules).”[iii]  Instead, the ARF is a unique alternative security arrangement premised on multilateralism.[iv]  It is different from the bilateral alliance system in the region, providing a multilateral venue for the discussion of confidence building and preventive diplomacy rather than deterrence or identification of a common enemy.  It seeks to “develop a more predictable constructive pattern of relations for the Asia-Pacific” through political and security cooperation. 

             The uniqueness of the ARF derives from the novelty of a multilateral undertaking in security in the Asia-Pacific, and the lead role of a grouping of small states – the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) – in a forum which brings together the major regional powers – US, Japan, China, Russia.  Moreover, the ARF is based on consensus and incrementalism, proceeding only as fast as the slowest member.  The ARF also has no formal institutions or secretariat.

             Because of these attributes, the ARF is susceptible to changes in the international environment and, more importantly, to the interests and maneuverings of states.  It can even be stated that the ARF proposal was acceptable to many Asia-Pacific states because this participation did not entail high political risks.  With principles of consensus and incrementalism, states were assured that the ARF is not a supranational entity which could unduly threaten their national interests.  One analyst even noted that although the ARF was “formed on the basis of liberal ideals, [it] has become a cover to conceal realist intentions.”[v]  These observations are valid not only for major powers, but also for smaller states which pin their hopes for regional security on a multilateral security mechanism.  ASEAN also had its own interest in being central in the ARF, the latter being only one of the many webs of relations that ASEAN has woven in order to ensure its security and prosperity.

             This paper examines the role of the ARF in the security of Southeast Asia.  Specifically, it considers the goals of ASEAN[vi] in the ARF and the latter’s contributions, if any, to achieving these goals.  The paper also looks at how the evolving post-Cold War environment has continued to affect and challenge the Forum over the past seven years.  Finally, the paper briefly touches on the future of the Forum.

 I.  Adopting the ASEAN Model for the Asia-Pacific: 1989-1996[vii]

            A.  A Convergence of Factors

             The establishment of the ARF was a result of the convergence of three significant factors.  First, the changed environment in the Asia-Pacific at the end of the Cold War pointed towards the need, and provided the opportunity, for the establishment of a mechanism to handle regional security matters.  Second, track-two fora and individual states made important contributions, such as the substance of the ideas behind the ARF, as well as the initial push for a multilateral regional security process.  Third, through interaction in various fora, there eventually developed a minimum common concern among the initial ARF participants on the need to develop constructive security relationships – minus the Cold War baggage – if only to sustain the robust national and regional economic growth during the 1980s and the first half of the 1990s.  According to one analyst:

The desire to sustain the benefits of economic growth and interdependence underlies the rationale for both regional economic and regional security regimes.  The form and pace of economic regionalism will increasingly affect the nature of regional security developments.[viii]

         The resulting form and structure of the ARF derived both from track-two and country proposals.  More importantly, it reflected the exigencies of accommodation of states diverse in size, political tradition, and interests.

        Uncertainty and Optimism.  The first half of the 1990s up to 1996 may be characterized as uncertain but with an underlying optimism among states about the supposed dawn of a new age of regional cooperation.  The uncertainty stemmed from several latent or “old” conflicts such as the situation in the Korean Peninsula, unresolved territorial and maritime disputes, the issue of China’s territories, nuclear weapons, and domestic insurgencies.  At the same time, there were other emerging regional concerns such as the extended maritime jurisdictions resulting from the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS); the increased defense spending and weapons modernization and acquisition of more affluent Southeast Asian countries; the need to reconstruct Cambodia, to aid in the transition of Vietnam and Laos, and to constructively engage Myanmar; and other non-traditional security concerns such as migration and environmental problems. 

         Perhaps the most important consideration in the region at the time was the shifts in power relations.  With the US perceived as withdrawing its forces from the region, there was wide concern that other regional states would rush in to fill a supposed power vacuum or to challenge the primary role of the US in the region.  In general these concerns were characterized by:

 ·        the layering of new issues over old ones “where the ordering processes perversely imposed by the politics of Soviet-American relations no longer afford[ed] ... any semblance of an ordered agenda”;[ix]

 ·        the continued need to involve major powers in efforts to maintain peace and stability in a region where there are both strong and weak states;[x] and

 ·        the lack of an organizing principle in regional security beyond balance-of-power politics, the relevance and adequacy of which was beginning to be questioned by newer security issues.

            Despite these uncertainties, there was a sense of optimism in the region due mainly to the collapse of the Soviet Union and, eventually, the ideological divide.  Thus, there seemed to be no need to label other countries as “enemies” in the Cold War sense of the word. Robust economic growth in the region was also another factor for a positive regional outlook.  Many analysts noted that the increased economic interdependence in the area would prevent would-be rising powers from unduly upsetting the current situation as more states would benefit from an economically vibrant Asia-Pacific.  One scholar even stated that economics has gained a very significant role as success in gaining world market share has become more important than territorial acquisition for the survival of nation-states.[xi]

During this period, there was a sharp increase in the number of available channels for state-to-state communication.   These channels – both track-one and track-two – have usually paved the way for initiatives later undertaken by governments.  In the area of security alone, the proliferation of channels for dialogue has been remarkable:  “In 1989 there were only three or four channels for trans-Pacific discussion of political and security matters in a multilateral setting.  By 1994 ... there [were] some 50 ongoing dialogue channels in the Asia-Pacific region ....”[xii]  These developments provided an opportunity for increased multipolarity in the region as well as the possibility that for “... the first time in a century and a half the future of Asia will primarily be determined by Asians.”[xiii]

Crafting the ARF.  The ARF can be considered as having been created along the lines of what Acharya calls “Asian institutionalism”.  This form of institutionalism does not focus on “formal legalistic structures of co-operation” but instead looks at institution-building “as a long-term process of socialization and consensus-building.”[xiv]  In the context of the ARF, this socialization and consensus-building began with the series of roundtables hosted by the ASEAN Institutes of Strategic and International Studies (ASEAN-ISIS) and other thinktanks,[xv] and also by Thailand and the Philippines in the early 1990s.[xvi]  These fora helped bring about slow acceptance of multilateralism and dialogue in the Asia-Pacific, facilitated extensive networking among Asia-Pacific countries, helped crystallize specific proposals for confidence building, and helped “indigenize” ideas (such as confidence-building measures or CBMs) which may have been coined outside the region.[xvii]

             Apart from track-two, several countries are credited for the push towards multilateral security dialogue in the Asia-Pacific.  Australia, and later Canada, in the early 1990s raised the possibility of developing a multilateral framework for security cooperation in Asia along the model of the Council for Security Cooperation in Europe (CSCE).  This proposal was quickly dropped when several objections were raised.  Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Nakayama later raised the issue of security discussion within the ASEAN post-ministerial conference (PMC) in the 1991 meeting of ASEAN and dialogue partners.  ASEAN, for its part, was quietly considering the proposal made by the ASEAN-ISIS.  Eventually during their Singapore Summit in 1992, the ASEAN ministers approved in principle the ASEAN-ISIS proposal for an Asia-Pacific Dialogue on security using the PMC process.

            What these proposals for multilateral security dialogue had in common was the appreciation for a slow and incremental process, a process embodied by the ASEAN, in promoting regional understanding.  There were, however, differences of opinion about the strength and extent of institutionalization for a new multilateral undertaking in the region.  Some countries, such as Canada and Australia, wanted the ARF to move faster; while other countries, including China and the US, were cautious about multilateralism.  There were also differences regarding “the scope, the desirable aims, and the consequences of the endeavour”.[xviii]  For example, while there was general agreement about the three stages of ARF evolution, there were as yet no common definitions of preventive diplomacy or even of conflict resolution. 

Despite these differences, the ASEAN ministers and its dialogue partners agreed in 1993 to establish the ARF, which held its first meeting in 1994.

 B.  Establishing Processes and Principles

The “ASEAN Way”.  From 1994 to 1996, the ARF members were trying to lay the foundations for multilateral security cooperation.  With the Forum established as an expanded PMC, it was inevitable that ASEAN would become the core of the Forum with the “ASEAN Way” implicitly adopted as guiding the ARF.  This ASEAN Way can be seen as functioning on three levels – the web of relations it involves, its approach towards interstate relations, and its “operating principles”. 

            First, the ASEAN Way involves a process of building a dense web of relations among member countries.  This is based on the assumption that the more interaction, contacts and areas of cooperation are established, the easier it becomes to deal with more difficult issues (such as territorial conflicts) in the long-term.  Moreover, it is hoped that states would not risk endangering the benefits of their relations by resorting to threats or use of force.[xix] 
            The ASEAN Way also relies primarily on informality, only formalizing certain processes when they have been tried and tested.  It is gradual and incremental, emphasizing “low profile exchanges and negotiations”.  It values unity (or at least the appearance of unity) among the grouping.  The principles associated with the ASEAN Way are restraint; the use of consultation and consensus in decision-making; and respect for sovereignty and non-interference in the internal affairs of its members.
            Why adopt the ASEAN model and make ASEAN the core of the Forum?  First, ASEAN was seen, at this point in time, to have quite successfully managed the diversity of its members.  It was felt that any insecurity which may arise from the greater diversity in the ARF may be best addressed and “rationally managed through organizational informality, state sovereignty, and flexible consensus.”[xx] It was also noted that “the ASEAN model was particularly appropriate for the post-Cold War era in which regional tensions were no longer expressed in a tangible and imminent common threat that called for a countervailing military coalition.”[xxi]  Furthermore, a regional arrangement rooted in respect for sovereignty and consensus did not pose high political risks for any member. 

Second, ASEAN emerged as the most acceptable partner for major powers in the Asia-Pacific.  Notwithstanding the rapprochement after the Cold War, suspicions lingered and tensions erupted intermittently among China, the US, Japan and Russia.  A regional arrangement led by either one of these powers would surely be viewed with reservation by other major powers as well as by smaller states.[xxii]

 Finally, on a practical note, ASEAN maintained cordial relations with these major powers and had an extensive network of contacts with various Asia-Pacific countries through its dialogue partnerships.  Establishing the ARF required tapping into these linkages.

             Developments in the ARF.  Following the ASEAN model, the ARF therefore was created not as a collective defense organization.  The predictability of relations the participants envision “is not to be provided through the operation of the balance of power, but through the development of a security arrangement that draws on concepts connective with cooperative security.”[xxiii]  The first two ARF Chairman’s Statements noted that the ARF would be a high-level consultative forum to cultivate the habit of dialogue where diverging views could be discussed and reconciled.  In this framework, “the process itself is an extremely important product, since increased dialogue promotes increased understanding, which, in turn, may lead to a reduced risk of conflict.” [xxiv]

            Moreover, the ARF could build relations by facilitating “bilateral (or subregional) dialogue among nations and their official or unofficial representatives who, for a variety of reasons, may be unable or ill-prepared to make arrangements directly with one another.”[xxv]  The creation of a peaceful regional environment is seen as setting the stage for states to begin serious discussion of conflictual issues either multilaterally or bilaterally, not necessarily involving all the ARF members or being reflected on the formal ARF agenda.[xxvi]

             The ASEAN Way was formally adopted when the ARF ministers endorsed the ARF Concept Paper prepared by ASEAN in 1995.  This Concept Paper specified the three-stage evolution of the ARF: from confidence building, to preventive diplomacy, to the elaboration of approaches to conflict.  The ARF members also endorsed the principles of the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC) in Southeast Asia; the notion of comprehensive security; the linkages among subregions in the Asia-Pacific; and the principles of informality, incrementalism, consensus, inclusivity, respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity and equality, and non-interference in internal affairs. Criteria for future membership were also elaborated in 1996, and the role of the ASEAN as the driving force of the ARF was also recognized.

Apart from these efforts, there were several meetings – both track-one and track-two – which generated several ideas and proposals for CBMs and preventive diplomacy.  Several intersessional groups – confidence-building, peacekeeping, and search and rescue – were formed and convened on an irregular basis. 

            The only concrete contributions to regional security of the ARF at this time were the several proposals for CBMs, as well as the slowly increasing reportage to the UN Register for Conventional Arms.  The focus, from 1994 to 1996, was merely to continue the process of meeting and discussions with many of the ARF participants stating emphatically that the ARF is only a forum for discussion.

            Nevertheless, at that point in time, even just bringing together 18 countries – some of whom not so long ago viewed each other with considerable suspicion – was considered an achievement.  One analyst stated that the convening of the ARF provided “the critical chance for the region to drop diplomatic hypocrisy, step up communication and cooperation, both formal and informal, so that all parties are engaged in constructive and frank dialogue and exchanges.”[xxvii] 

             C.  The Agenda of ASEAN

             The ARF provided an opportunity for ASEAN to advance its own objectives.  Being a group of relatively small- and medium-sized states, ASEAN believed “that its long-term security is tied with the overall security outlook of the Asia-Pacific region.”[xxviii]  A stable wider regional environment would help ensure that the ASEAN states could concentrate on attaining their national objectives.[xxix]  Specifically, four main goals can be gleaned from ASEAN’s actions.  This section looks at whether or not ARF, during its early years, fulfilled these goals for ASEAN. 

         First, the lack of a “concert of great powers” provided smaller states a chance to shape a regional arrangement which would ensure that their interests were taken seriously by major powers. ASEAN, ever since its establishment, represents an attempt by Southeast Asian states to maintain some sort of independence from, while at the same time constructively engaging, major powers if only to preclude intervention in their domestic affairs.  The ARF would complement the ZOPFAN (the Declaration on a Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality) and other similar declarations of the Cold War period.  Specifically, tying major powers to multilateral processes while they are still defining their roles was seen as beneficial to ASEAN, which then could be part of shaping the regional security environment in the post-Cold War era.  Thus, even while some ASEAN countries had reservations about the establishment of the ARF, they decided to play a central role in the Forum.  Their close consultations resulted in the ARF Concept Paper wherein they undertook to play a “pivotal role” in and be the “primary driving force” of the Forum.[xxx] 

            The acceptance of the ASEAN model as well as its role as the “primary driving force” of the ARF proved to be some sort of vindication for this grouping which had formerly been relegated to the sidelines.  It offered some assurance to ASEAN that with a consensus mechanism in place, it could prevent major powers from “hijacking” the Forum.

             ASEAN’s leadership in the ARF also reflected ASEAN’s newfound confidence.  At that time, many ASEAN members were enjoying high growth rates and international economic prominence, there was relative calm in their domestic societies, and the organization gained acclaim for its positive role in the resolution of the Cambodian issue.  Apart from this confidence, one scholar suspects that the ASEAN members felt that to remain reticent on the issue of regional security would be counter-productive for the organization:  there was a need to replace its original raison d’étre, i.e., Cambodia and Vietnam, and there was a very real threat that this new regional initiative might be snatched from ASEAN in the same manner as the APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum) initiative was seized by Australia.[xxxi]

 The continued capacity of ASEAN to play a united driving force for ARF is, however, limited mainly because ASEAN attends the ARF as individual countries and not as an organization.  They did not necessarily have common positions on all CBMs such as the creation of a regional arms register, which was supported by Philippines but not by Malaysia; and the ASEAN countries did not even implement CBMs proposed in the ARF among themselves.  This would, ultimately, be detrimental to ASEAN’s maintaining credible centrality in the ARF.

 Second, the ASEAN states desired the discussion of Southeast Asian issues within a larger context.  With the Cold War over, the major powers – US, China, Japan – were beginning to focus on the resolution of Northeast Asian, rather than Southeast Asian, issues.  According to an analyst, “The ARF represents an effort by ASEAN to promote through a multilateral structure its regional security agenda, thus setting the parameters for its group political relations with extra-Southeast Asian states.”[xxxii]

 ASEAN had been slightly successful in this regard.  The ARF had discussions on Cambodia, the ZOPFAN Declaration, the Southeast Asian Nuclear Weapons Free Zone (SEANWFZ) treaty, and the South China Sea issue.  In fact, it was observed that China was forced to defend its actions in Mischief Reef in 1995 before the ARF when pressured by the ARF participants.[xxxiii]  ASEAN, however, cannot force the other ARF participants to focus solely on Southeast Asian issues.  The situation in the Korean Peninsula has been consistently discussed, as well as overall regional developments.  It is incumbent upon ASEAN to demonstrate the importance of Southeast Asian issues to the wider Asia-Pacific region.

 On a related point, it is ironic that while the ARF ostensibly agreed to look at security in a comprehensive manner (as ASEAN is wont to do), it continues to focus on “traditional” security issues such as the situation in the Korean Peninsula, and conventional and nuclear arms proliferation. 

 Third, the ASEAN states used this opportunity to intensify external relations with their dialogue partners.  In this regard, the ASEAN countries were quite successful.  They developed partnerships with other ARF participants through co-chairing of the intersessional groups at both the track-one and track-two levels.  These interactions highlighted the importance of “corridor diplomacy” and the possibility that this process could spill over into other areas such as specific bilateral initiatives.  Broadening areas of discussion and possible cooperation to security matters also provided ASEAN the chance to transcend the “donor-receiver” relationship with its dialogue partners to one of more equal partnership.

 Finally, ASEAN saw the ARF as a means to assure the positive engagement of major powers in the region.  ASEAN has always seen itself as vulnerable to the unilateral actions of major powers, as well as to the fluctuations in their relationships.  ASEAN has been trying to foster the positive engagement of major powers in the affairs of Southeast Asia on its own terms – first through the dialogue partnerships (even though this was largely focused on development assistance) and later through the political-security discussions in the ARF on an equal footing with the major powers.  One analyst describes “power-balancing” in the ASEAN context as “... keeping well-disposed but distant external powers interested enough in the region that Asean's hand can be reinforced in dealing with local or regional hegemonic ambitions - whether from a Soviet-backed Vietnam or now, from a steadily more powerful China. ‘Balance of power’, in ASEAN-speak, thus means mediating destabilizing challenges in the context of competing Great Power interests.”[xxxiv] 

             Thus, “[h]ow ASEAN as a group succeeds in maintaining its resilience and solidarity amidst these emerging and unpredictable power permutations will have a bearing on its own prosperity and on the stability of the region as a whole.”[xxxv] Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas stated that “the forum was attempting to ‘manage strategic change in such a way that a new equilibrium among the major powers in the Asia-Pacific region could evolve gradually and peacefully over the next decade.’”[xxxvi]

             Part of managing this change was to obtain assurance of continued US presence without unduly alarming China, whose growing assertiveness was a cause for concern among some Southeast Asian countries.  ASEAN saw “the need to engage China in a comprehensive fashion”: with its participation in ARF and APEC, it was hoped that “China will become part of an East Asian and Pacific security community in which the breadth of interests in functional cooperation will reduce the possibility of a threat or use of force by China.” [xxxvii]  This would prevent the creation of  another enemy in the post-Cold War era.  Through the ARF, ASEAN could “promote a balance or distribution of power that would enable the Association to maintain its operational security doctrine without provision for collective defence.”[xxxviii]

             More specifically, engaging in dialogues would be better than facing unilateral intervention.[xxxix]  The Forum has no joint military power, and it has never sought to replace existing bilateral mechanisms and arrangements.[xl]  The ARF thus embodies

 ... the combination of a residual neo-realist focus on ‘interest’, the neoliberal focus on institution-building, and notions of an ‘Asian’ security culture [which] allows for a broad regional definition. … [The regional security discourse] is one primarily concerned with the security of states in the region rather than the security of a regional community as such.[xli]

             How did the ARF fare in this regard?  Did the ARF help manage strategic change?  In some way, the discussions in the ARF may have allowed the major powers to overcome (albeit only slightly) suspicions about each other, providing another venue to improve their relations. Certainly, the ARF became one of the venues for more US-China and even China-Japan interaction.  By not threatening the interests of these major powers, and even advancing Chinese and Russian intentions to keep the US in check, the ARF managed to keep the major powers engaged in the region.  Nevertheless, questions will arise as to how significant a factor the ARF was in managing the relations of these powers.

             In the Asia-Pacific no major interstate wars or arms races broke out during this period.  Whether or not this can be attributed to the ARF is debatable.  What is clear is that the ARF did allow regional states a chance to voice their concerns about the regional security environment and, to some extent, this may have encouraged participants to exercise more restraint in their actions.  Nevertheless, the discussions in the ARF did not prevent the occupation of Mischief Reef by China in 1995, nor the testing of nuclear weapons by India and Pakistan in 1998.  The ARF members discussed many of these issues in some detail but there were no initiatives to take serious action within the ARF framework. At this early stage of the ARF, doubts began to surface about the effectiveness of the Forum to address real security issues, and the utility of the ASEAN Way in the wider Asia-Pacific.

 II.  Crisis and Recovery? Consolidating the ARF, 1997-present

            The period for consolidation of the ARF process could not have occurred at a more inopportune time, with Asia torn by the Asian economic crisis, nuclear tests, domestic upheavals and strategic transitions.  The period since 1997 emphasized the uncertainties and security problems in the region.  Unlike the atmosphere surrounding the establishment of the ARF, the outlook for the Asia-Pacific vacillated from pessimism during the height of the Asian economic crisis, to cautious optimism with some signs of economic recovery in Southeast Asia.  There is now a more sober, even critical approach towards multilateral structures such as the ARF, which are perceived as not significantly altering the underlying basis of international relations.

             A.  An Abundance of Security Problems

            The good news is that no major interstate wars erupted in the region, and there are moves towards concrete conflict management such as the process of developing a regional code of conduct in the South China Sea.  On the Korean peninsula, the mood has changed from concerns raised in August 1998 due to the launching of the Taepodong missile by North Korea, to some enthusiasm with the South – North Korea Summit held in June 2000.

             Nevertheless, many of the countries falling within the “geographic footprint” of the ARF had to tackle issues of a more comprehensive nature than what had been previously discussed by ARF ministers.  Many of these problems were also largely internal in nature.

           The South Pacific was gripped with a spate of internal crises; and South Asia continues to be bothered by the problems of India and Pakistan relations, as well as with the civil war in Sri Lanka.  In Northeast Asia, while the situation in the Korean peninsula seems more promising,  the period also witnessed continuing difficulties with the Taiwan issue.

             In Southeast Asia, after “all the hobgoblins have jumped out of the box at once”,[xlii] there are some positive indicators.  The countries are poised to post collective growth of 3.4 per cent[xliii]  and the short-term prospects are equally promising – short-term debts have been repaid or defaulted upon, there has been a rebound in exchange rates in some countries, interest rates have dropped, and asset prices have returned to reasonable levels.[xliv]  Despite these positive signs, Southeast Asia continues to grapple with the effects of the crisis on individual members and on the ASEAN itself.  It still has to contend with the pains of domestic political transitions, particularly in Indonesia, as well as with other issues such as East Timor, secessionism, unresolved internal conflicts, terrorism in the Philippines, and even transnational environmental problems.  ASEAN also had to deal with the South China Sea issue but in a more disparate manner than it had done in 1995.  Moreover, ASEAN members faced difficulties in strengthening the association because of the expansion of its membership.[xlv] 

             There were also wider questions about relations among major powers.  US-China relations continued to fluctuate, reaching a low point when the Chinese embassy in Belgrade was accidentally bombed, and during the recent elections in Taiwan.  China and Russia voiced their suspicions about the planned Theater Missile Defense (TMD) system of the US and Japan; and relations between Japan and Russia are only slowly being normalized.   

             The significance of this situation lies in the linkages that have become more manifest, the need for stronger regional mechanisms, and the continuities in the regional security environment.

             First, the economic crisis demonstrated the crucial link between economics, internal stability and regional security especially in Southeast Asia.  One analyst states that the economic crisis has affected “domestic stability, interregional relations, and trans-Pacific relations although in differing degrees.  So far, the impact of the crisis has been greater on individual or human security than on traditionally defined national security.”[xlvi]  Not only did these events show the linkages among issue areas in regional security, but they also underscored the linkages among Southeast Asian states and wider East Asia.

            Second, these linkages not only highlighted the need for a regional approach but also exposed the weaknesses of existing regional arrangements.  A report noted that: “The crisis has paradoxically illustrated the need for stronger regional institutional structures for cooperation while underscoring the incapacity of existing institutions to mount an adequate response to the crisis.”[xlvii]  Both the APEC and the ARF were severely criticized for not being able to respond adequately to regional problems.  Because of this perceived inadequacy, preference for bilateral -- rather than multilateral -- approaches gained ground. 

             Third, the weakness of existing regional arrangements derives not only from perceived structural inadequacies, but also from the manifest tension between national and regional interests.  Connected with this is the continued primary importance given to sovereignty even when emerging security issues such as economic transactions, environmental impacts, population flows, and humanitarian problems point toward the increasingly permeability of borders. While this is a major trend in international relations, the development of international law and practice have not kept in stride. [xlviii]

             Finally, recent events have pointed to the other continuities in international relations.  One of these is the vulnerability of Southeast Asian countries to external shocks, and their dependence on external actors with the unilateral capability to affect regional security and economics.  It has been mentioned that: “Recovery in the region is critically dependent on policies and developments in the major economic powers, over which ASEAN has no control.”[xlix] 

             Moreover, the underlying bases of international relations – power, the primacy of national interests, the persistence of conflict, and the wide differences among states – remain intact.  It has been noted that the economic crisis has once again promoted shifts in the balance of power in East Asia.  While this may have derailed many defense modernization efforts – a positive development for advocates of conventional arms control – it has simultaneously placed China in a more powerful position vis-à-vis its Southeast Asian neighbors.

             B.  Developments in the ARF

             The ARF has managed to sustain, and even increase, its points of contact over its seven-year existence. It also increased its membership from 18 to 23 with India, Mongolia and North Korea as the most recent additions.  While this fulfills the principle of inclusivity, there are concerns that the ARF has become quite unwieldy with a larger and more varied membership.  In their annual meeting in July 2000, the ARF ministers noted they should now focus on “consolidating the process of dialogue and cooperation.”[l]      

            Nevertheless, as the only vehicle for multilateral discussion in the Asia-Pacific, the ARF presented all regional actors the chance to voice their concerns and to discuss issues in a more in-depth manner than in its first meetings.  For example, despite the objections of China to discussing the South China Sea issue in the ARF, this matter has been taken up and each subsequent ARF meeting has seen more frankness on the part of the participants.  Moreover, other issues like the economic crisis, globalization and transnational crime, along with more “traditional” security issues, have found their way into the security discourse of the Forum. There are also moves to develop norms for regional cooperation.  Work is in progress at the track-two level, with the collaboration of Russia and ASEAN-ISIS, on a draft Pacific Concord.[li] 

            In addition, despite the economic crisis, the ARF has acquired a momentum of its own – there were more meetings held in the intersessional year 1998-1999 than in the previous years.    Other planned meetings include training courses and a seminar on civil-military relations in peacekeeping operations; training in disaster management, and enhancing capabilities for early warning systems; and transparency, approaches to confidence-building, and possible cooperation in anti-piracy.  While not very dramatic, there has also been some progress on confidence- building and preventive diplomacy.

Confidence Building. In confidence-building, the ARF and the track-two CSCAP meetings have contributed numerous proposals which have found their way into the ASEAN concept paper and, more recently, into the two baskets of additional CBMs to be considered by the members.[lii]  The implementation of these CBMs has largely been voluntary on a unilateral, bilateral, or subregional basis.  These CBMs are information-exchange measures rather than restraint-type measures.  Some examples are:

      ·        exchanges or dialogues on security perceptions;

·        meetings of heads of national defense colleges;

·        voluntary submission of annual defense policy statements or defense white papers; and

·        reporting to the UN Register of Conventional Arms.[liii]

             What is interesting to note is that the submissions of ARF participants to the UN Register has actually increased – from less than 10 to 18 reporting countries – since the inception of the ARF.  Moreover, countries which initially had reservations about issuing defense policy statements or defense white papers have created their own versions of such documents and have shared the same with ARF members.  This is a first step in a wider regional acceptance of transparency.

 Preventive  Diplomacy.  Proposals for ARF preventive diplomacy have also slowly developed over the years primarily through track-two efforts.[liv]  It is only in recent years, that there has been more in-depth discussion on the track-one level.  The ASEAN, specifically Singapore, developed a concept paper presented to the ARF-SOM in 2000.  The important points of these discussions are the following: 

Ø      Definition: preventing severe disputes and conflicts from arising between states; to prevent such disputes from escalating into armed confrontation, and to prevent such disputes from spreading geographically.[lv] 

Ø      Principles:  use of diplomatic rather than military or coercive means; respect for sovereignty and non-interference; consultation and consensus; voluntary; requires trust and confidence; based on international law; and timeliness. 

Ø      Four tabled proposals: (1) an enhanced role for the ARF chairman - good offices, liaison with other regional arrangements, a bridge between track-one and track-two fora, and coordination in-between ARF meetings; (2) a register of experts or experts group; (3) an Annual Security Outlook voluntarily at the track-one level; and (4) voluntary background briefing on regional security issues. 

            There has been some progress with the four tabled proposals.  The Foreign Minister of Thailand, as acting chair of the ARF, already has established informal contacts with the United Nations (UN), the Organization of American States (OAS), and the OSCE.  The ARF Chair is also similarly enjoined to promote interaction between track-one and track-two.  An ARF Register of Experts and Eminent Persons has already been established, and available for use on a voluntary basis.  It is hoped that these experts could provide non-binding professional advice and recommendations to the ARF members.   The register is still being expanded while the terms of reference are being developed.  Finally the first volume of the Annual Security Outlook has been released containing the voluntary submission of the security outlooks of thirteen countries.  The topics discussed range from traditional to non-traditional security issues, as well as the foreign policy and security approaches of many of the countries.[lvi] 

            Limitations.  The ARF did not play any significant part in any of the specific conflicts or security issues that arose during this period.  It was difficult for the Forum to play any role in conflict management:  the members themselves did not identify which security issues will be dealt with in a more active manner; the consensus nature of decision-making meant that parties to a dispute had an effective veto over any collective action which could be potentially detrimental to their interests; and the ARF did not yet have any mechanisms for actions in specific conflicts.  In fact, there were even differences on which aspects of confidence-building overlap with preventive diplomacy, and how fast the evolution of the ARF should occur. Thus, the ARF “… has yet to realize its full potential as a multilateral vehicle for building the trust and confidence which are the essential precursors to effective conflict management and conflict resolution.”[lvii]  

Some of the worst criticisms came in the wake of the East Timor crisis.  Many analysts saw this as an opportunity for the ARF participants to closely discuss the issue and to identify ways by which they could contribute to resolving the problem (even if such action is undertaken only by specific members of ARF).  But this expectation did not materialize:  intensive discussions occurred during the APEC meeting in Auckland (1999) rather than during the earlier meeting of the ARF.  British foreign secretary Robin Cook noted that while there was some discussion in the Forum about East Timor, ‘“[t]he ARF was not just ready for it.”’[lviii] 

            [This] inability also ended any notion that the ARF has political leadership in regional security dialogues, in relation either to Southeast Asia or to the Asia-Pacific region as a whole.  In short, the ARF’s capacity to function as the fulcrum for regional security coordination and dialogue has been crippled, and it is unlikely that the ARF or nascent regional institutions will regain any major role in security deliberations or outcomes in the near future.  With no other meaningful autonomous security institutions on the horizon, the path is again clear for big powers to contend for hegemony in the region.[lix]

            While the comment above may be considered as too strong, it highlights the question about the usefulness of multilateral mechanisms in general.  In particular, bilateralism has been reinvigorated since 1996.[lx] This is symptomatic of the low priority given to multilateral solutions at a time when multilateralism is still being developed and strengthened.  The ARF continues to lack some organizational structure, and its activity is highly dependent on the chair of the Forum. One author has commented that:

             ... bilateral alliances will continue to contribute to regional stability and security.  For example, the presence of bilateral security arrangements between the US and its allies in the region, to a certain extent, provides a “temporary breathing space needed to facilitate [the] evolution [of rising regional powers] into … more benign power[s]” and thereby tempers what could be their aggressive intentions and actions.[lxi]

             Ultimately, the question is about the relevance of the existing approach adopted by the ARF in light of the many internal and transnational issues plaguing the region.  Many ARF participants are increasingly dissatisfied with the pace of the ARF.  Are the ASEAN Way and the “primary driving role” of ASEAN still relevant for the Asia-Pacific? 

C.  Revisiting ASEAN’s Agenda

             At this stage of the ARF evolution, ASEAN has had moderate success in achieving its goals within the Forum.  Even while it has intensified its relations with non-ASEAN countries outside of the ARF framework, ASEAN has had trouble asserting its credibility to lead the ARF process.

             ASEAN Centrality in the ARF.  The economic crisis exacted a major toll on ASEAN not only in terms of setbacks in national development programs, but also in its efforts to lead in regional security mechanisms: “The economic crisis of 1997 and the political turmoil that followed it, seriously damaged the image and credibility of ASEAN.”[lxii]  The pillars of the association’s credibility – economic dynamism; a public show of cohesion; an ability to solve ASEAN problems; and the engagement of regional actors[lxiii] – were shaken by the crisis.  One analyst even goes so far to say that:

             The public has been largely disappointed with ASEAN.  Its perception is that of a helpless ASEAN, an ASEAN that cannot move decisively, an ASEAN that is trapped under its organisational and bureaucratic weight, and an ASEAN that fails to respond to real, current problems and challenges.[lxiv] 

             It can even be argued that the “public was not even aware of the significance of ASEAN in their lives, thereby raising the question ‘for whom is ASEAN – for policy elites or for the ASEAN peoples?’”

             ASEAN’s public show of cohesion has also been criticized as only being “skin-deep.”[lxv] The association could not act decisively to address the economic crisis and the haze problem. Bilateral problems would rear their ugly heads every now and then.  The ASEAN Troika was initially rebuffed by Hun Sen during the problem in Cambodia in July 1997.[lxvi] And the ASEAN countries were not able to present a united front towards China in the 1998 Mischief Reef issue. There is some basis to Luhulima’s criticism that the ASEAN leaders “often contradicted each other” and that there were fears “that relations with [Southeast Asian] neighbours might be sacrificed in the process of finding solutions to domestic instabilities.”[lxvii] The lack of a collective response reflects in no small measure the lack of leadership in ASEAN with Indonesia still in the midst of domestic crises, and there seems to be no single country which can fill in Indonesia’s shoes.[lxviii] 

             Moreover, ASEAN solidarity may have been unwittingly undermined by the ill-planned expansion of the organization’s membership.  The difficulty of socializing newer members into the ASEAN process is well-documented in the cases of Cambodia and Myanmar.[lxix]  The diversity of views makes consensus difficult; dealing with external partners was complicated by issues such as sanctions imposed on Myanmar; decision-making and institutionalization was slow; and there was a lack of more substantial assistance to ASEAN’s newer members directly caused by the economic crisis.[lxx]

             Another problem with which ASEAN countries had to contend is the persistence of unresolved domestic issues.  There is still a need to strengthen political institutions and instill proper governance; strengthen national unity, or at least to satisfactorily manage social diversity; make economic growth sustainable; address the large socioeconomic inequalities in society; provide for the development of civil society;[lxxi] and adapt domestic institutions and procedures to a dynamic international environment.

             With such challenges, ASEAN’s credibility and capability to lead the ARF, and the applicability of the ASEAN Way for the Asia-Pacific are seriously open to question.   How can ASEAN lead when its attention is focused on domestic housekeeping?  Why should the “ASEAN model” be extended to the rest of the Asia-Pacific when it could not help solve the problems in Southeast Asia?

             ASEAN was acutely aware of these criticisms.  Singapore Foreign Minister Jayakumar observed, ‘“Perceptions can define political reality. … If we continue to be perceived as ineffective, we can be marginalized as our dialogue partners and international investors relate us to the sidelines.”’[lxxii]  Thus, ASEAN attempted to mount a credible response in order to meet future challenges, as well as to counter criticisms of its irrelevance or impending demise.  In transforming ASEAN, the group developed visions (ASEAN Vision-2020 and Hanoi Plan of Action), undertook incremental steps in implementing previous agreements (environmental cooperation, protocol for nuclear-weapons states to the SEANWFZ treaty), set in place new initiatives (e.g., surveillance process), and reasserted its leadership in the ARF.  In its ministerial meeting in July 2000, the ASEAN ministers adopted the Comprehensive Development Agenda as the organization’s thrust in the coming years.  They also set up the ASEAN Troika as an ad hoc body at the ministerial level to enable the organization to “address more effectively and cooperate more closely on issues affecting regional peace and stability.”[lxxiii]  The Troika, however, is not a decision-making body, is expected not to interfere in internal affairs, and will be activated only after a consensus has been reached by ASEAN ministers.  It has yet to be seen whether this measure will help ASEAN respond in a more timely manner to arising problems. Despite early criticisms of the Troika, [lxxiv] this should be seen as an attempt by ASEAN to demonstrate its capability to solve its own problems, and this may help in maintaining its centrality in the ARF.

             Apart from organizational changes, ASEAN has also attempted to be more pro-active in the Forum, but many of these efforts fell short of formal institutionalization or even of re-interpreting norms such as non-interference as other ARF participants had hoped.

             In both the 1999 and 2000 sessions of ASEAN, the Foreign Ministers went on a retreat to evaluate and honestly discuss the future of ASEAN, ARF and dialogue relations.  Realizing that ASEAN needed to take concrete measures to retain the driver’s seat in the ARF, the internal review of the ARF process included organizational matters – once a taboo subject in the ASEAN.  It was then decided that the ASEAN Secretariat should provide technical and secretarial support required by the ARF Chair, monitor ARF activities, and serve as a repository for all ARF documents (the last echoing the ASEAN Concept Paper on the ARF).  Despite these decisions, there is still no special unit in the ASEAN Secretariat specifically devoted to handle ARF matters.  Such a unit would be seen as a positive step towards greater commitment to the purposes of the Forum.

            Another attempt is by developing a concept paper on preventive diplomacy (Singapore), and on the security implications of globalization (Thailand).  Although these are positive gestures, they fall short of more concrete measures.  For instance, ASEAN members cannot even agree on which CBMs proposed in the ARF they would try to implement together (to be some sort of example for the rest of the ARF participants).  Moreover, only two ASEAN countries submitted their country papers for the Annual Security Outlook.  The joint submission of ASEAN could have sent a stronger signal of its commitment in the ARF.

             A significant effort is the initiation of a process of “informal summitry” among the leaders of Japan, China and South Korea during the 1999 ASEAN Informal Summit in Manila. Foreign ministry officials in Manila noted that ASEAN could act as an independent intermediary among the Northeast Asian countries.  This could be interpreted as one means by which ASEAN could exert more, albeit soft, influence in Northeast Asia thereby countering criticisms of ASEAN’s leadership in ARF based on the former’s minimal linkages or familiarity with Northeast Asian security issues.

             Despite its limitations, ASEAN is still an acceptable steward for the Forum, performing what Sukma calls an ‘administrative role’ quite well.[lxxv]  Formally, it is still ASEAN which chairs the ARF ministerial meeting, and co-chairs the intersessional groups.  Increasingly, however, ASEAN is beginning to compromise on this stewardship, if not willingly then out of necessity.  For example, participation in the ARF is no longer strictly tied to establishing dialogue partner relations with ASEAN.  Mongolia and North Korea had no formal ties with ASEAN as dialogue or consultative partners when they were admitted into the Forum.  In effect, ASEAN has “delinked participation in the ARF from formal relations with ASEAN as a prerequisite for the participation in the ARF.”[lxxvi] 

             Discussion of Southeast Asian issues.  ASEAN has also shown some flexibility in the discussions in ARF.   It does not insist that Southeast Asian issues be the sole agenda – that would be counter-productive in the first place.  There is now more discussion on the comprehensive aspects of security.  In the meeting of the ARF in July 2000, the ministers discussed the security implications of globalization – an important subject for developing countries.  The Chairman’s Statement stated “In addressing regional security issues, the ARF should give due consideration to economic, social and human components of security, and the need to promote regional cooperation.”[lxxvii]  They also discussed transnational crime for which the ARF formed an experts group.  The issues discussed were piracy, illegal migration (trafficking in human persons), illegal trafficking in small arms, drug production and trafficking, money laundering, corruption, and computer crime.  This is significant as these are very important issues for Southeast Asia, and also because the ARF may actually be able to address these issues since they have been undertaking several activities relating to these issues.  With a broader discussion, the ARF, however, should manage discussions and possible cooperative ventures given its already “crowded agenda.”

The South China Sea was also discussed during this period.  In the ARF ministerial meeting in July 2000, China announced its willingness to finalize a regional code of conduct on the South China Sea before the end of 2000.  It should be noted that it took a long time before these issues were discussed in the ARF and in the intersessional group on CBMs China refused to include the matter on the formal agenda.  The substantive aspects of drafting an actual code of conduct, however, are undertaken in the ASEAN-China consultations rather than under a subgroup of the ARF.   

The TAC and the protocol to the SEANWFZ treaty have also been constant topics.  Nevertheless, the ASEAN has been unable to use the ARF to rally support from the nuclear-weapons states for the treaty’s protocol.  The association will now be consulting bilaterally with the US, France, UK, and Russia regarding the protocol. 

 But discussions of Southeast Asian issues in the ARF have not necessarily been a positive development for ASEAN states.  These discussions have actually invited criticism of its individual members like Myanmar, and of the ASEAN’s belated action in East Timor.  In some way, such frankness has actually created irritants in relations between ASEAN and some of its external partners.

 Intensifying External Relations.  Acting as a preliminary contact point, the ARF has helped ASEAN expand its external relations.  Some ASEAN countries are already working towards re-establishing formal relations with North Korea.  Moreover, possibly as a result of a greater comfort level with multilateralism and in appreciation of the importance of other security issues in the region, Japan has offered to begin cooperation on anti-piracy efforts with Southeast Asian countries.[lxxviii]  More importantly from the perspective of Southeast Asia, ASEAN’s ties with the US are moving forward.  The annual US-Thailand Cobra Gold exercise has been widened to include 30 Singaporean service personnel, and observers from the Philippines, Australia, Malaysia and Indonesia. [lxxix]

 One of the most important recent developments has been the growing linkage between Northeast and Southeast Asia.  For both China and Japan, the dialogue experience in the ARF and in the PMC may have helped lay the groundwork for wider East Asian cooperation.  The dialogue possibly helped the two subregions become “more aware of each other’s [sic] strategic preoccupations and to become more conversant with the dynamics and realities of their very different security environments.”[lxxx]  

The major impetus for East Asia, however, was the economic crisis. According to South Korean foreign minister Hong Soon Young, the ‘“economic hardship made us [East Asians] keenly aware we share a common fate.”’  Amitav Acharya adds that this move “is partly a reaction to the Crisis, which led to some disillusionment with APEC, and partly a signal to the U.S. and Australia that their recent policies don’t meet ASEAN’s interests and expectations.”[lxxxi]

 There was a perceived “inaction” or belated action of the West, specifically the US, to the Southeast Asian economic crisis. The US seemed to lack appreciation for the role of Southeast Asia in regional security.  The speedy assistance given to South Korea was interpreted as a strategic choice – clearly, Southeast Asia ranked very low in the priority of the US government.  It has even been noted that US policy-makers continue to rely on Cold War thinking:  “South Korea received quick and significant economic assistance because it faced a communist North armed with nuclear weapons.  Indonesia did not, because, with the Cold War over, the country is no longer important to the US as a bastion against communism.”[lxxxii]

As a result, Northeast and Southeast Asia are finally taking more concrete steps to deepen their linkages.  These linkages began with the contacts made in APEC, the ARF and ASEAN.  The ASEAN Plus Three (APT) meetings, which was capped by a Summit in Kuala Lumpur, is the first of its kind for the organization.  The most recent summit in Manila in 1999 promises a closer relations between the two subregions.  The Joint Statement on East Asia Cooperation  identifies eight areas of cooperation:  economic, monetary and financial, social and human resources development, scientific and technical development, culture and information, development cooperation, political-security, and transnational issues.   Other initiatives are Korea’s East Asia Vision Group, and the Miyazawa and Obuchi funds from Japan.  In the PMC meetings in 2000 in Bangkok, the APT discussed the monitoring and implementation of cooperation in the eight areas.  Moreover, China, Japan and Korea  proposed more specific cooperative ventures on agriculture technology, environmental protection, human resources development, and a cyber-university and a student exchange program.[lxxxiii]

 The Positive Engagement of Major Powers.  The initial lack of cohesion in ASEAN resulting from the economic crisis has led to difficulties for the association in dealing with major powers.  One author has mentioned that the ASEAN has actually over-estimated its influence on major actors, and is now in a Catch-22 situation: “…its ability to influence other actors is contingent on its political unity, yet that unity is contingent on its effectiveness as an international actor.”[lxxxiv] 

             An example is the relationship between ASEAN and China. While the US missed an important opportunity to make a positive mark on Southeast Asia, this opportunity was not lost on China.  The economic and political support China extended to ASEAN during the financial crisis placed Beijing in a leadership position in East Asia.  “In terms of the balance of power, the political winner is China, which has positioned itself as a champion of ASEAN economic nationalism.”[lxxxv]  China is capitalizing on this – reminding ASEAN leaders of its support during the crisis.[lxxxvi]  It has also taken a more assertive stance in the South China Sea: it strengthened its presence in the area and pushed for the ‘bilateralization’ of the issue.  As an example, Chinese and Malaysian leaders, in their discussion on maritime disputes agreed ‘“that the South China Sea issue can only be resolved by relevant countries involved, opposing any involvement and interference by any outside force.”’[lxxxvii]  This has, in effect, ruled out an ARF role in the South China Sea.  China has also initiated a series of long-term bilateral agreements with Brunei, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam.[lxxxviii] It was only much later that ASEAN was able to agree on a draft regional code of conduct which it is currently negotiating with China.  This draft, however, is problematic because the ASEAN states themselves cannot agree on the geographic scope of the code of conduct.

             On the other hand, ASEAN has attained what it originally wanted – to retain US presence in the area.  The expanded Cobra Gold exercise dovetailed with the release of the US Defense of Department’s Joint Vision 2020 which places a greater emphasis on the Asia Pacific and on the role of peacekeeping operations.[lxxxix]  More recently, the Commander-in-Chief of the US Pacific Forces Adm. Dennis Blair has enunciated the concept of “security communities” in the US  approach toward its partners in the Asia-Pacific.

             These initiatives have the potential to strengthen concrete multilateral cooperation, to promote regionalism, and to facilitate the achievement of the objectives stated in the ARF.  Nevertheless, it should be asked whether or not, in the long term, such initiatives could have a negative impact on the ARF.  Specifically, are these initiatives promoting more of a US-led form of multilateralism which excludes other Asia-Pacific countries?  If so it may have negative consequences for the ARF approach of inclusivity, and might even raise suspicions from other Asia-Pacific countries as to the real motives of the US.

             The ARF has become another venue for major powers to interact and to be engaged in discussions on non-traditional security issues.  This is an important contribution in itself.  This interaction, however, does not necessarily result in a positive impact on relations of major powers which are guided by their interests and are only peripherally influenced by a security mechanism such as the ARF.  It is in their own interests not to destabilize the Asia-Pacific.  Thus, it is ‘the interests and actions of the great powers, which have defined the parameters of ASEAN’s security policies” including that in the ARF.  “The decisions that the great powers make, for their own reasons, will determine the shape of the regional environment.”[xc]


             The ASEAN Regional Forum has made some minimum contributions to the realization of ASEAN’s goals in the Asia-Pacific.  Over the years, the ARF has allowed for the discussion of Southeast Asian issues in a wider context and has gradually helped ASEAN intensify its relations with external partners.  ASEAN also has a guaranteed role in the ARF although the credibility of ASEAN centrality and the ASEAN way to guide the ARF have been questioned in view of the multifarious problems the association has faced since 1997.  In both periods studied, from 1989 to 1996 and from 1997 to the present time, there is no clear indication that the ARF has significantly contributed to managing the relations of China, Japan, and the US.  The actions and relations of regional powers are driven by their own interests and priorities which do not necessarily coincide with those of ASEAN or of the ARF.

             The ARF has contributed moderately to a more stable regional environment for Southeast Asia.  As it continues to move from confidence-building to preventive diplomacy, many of the premises on which the ARF is based needs to be reviewed.  The participants of the Forum also need to examine the challenges posed by a fluid regional security environment, the implications of wider membership, and the widening discourse on security.  

A.  The Goals of ASEAN

 Despite being an imperfect security mechanism, the ARF is still relevant for ASEAN because of the linkages it facilitates, and the resources which can be tapped especially from ARF participants such as Australia, Canada, the US, the EU and Japan.  The ARF also affords Southeast Asian states nominal equality in the decisions which would shape the security architecture in the Asia-Pacific. 

 ASEAN Centrality.  The ARF has become “the primary diplomatic instrument through which an enlarged ASEAN has been able to extend its influence into the wider region and enhance its previously limited strategic leverage.”[xci]  In founding the ARF, ASEAN was an acceptable primary driver – the non-threatening nature of the association was acceptable to major powers, and its “diplomatic ability to act as a unitary entity towards the outside world”[xcii] (during the early 1990s) gave the ASEAN some credibility to lead the new multilateral process.  Its centrality is based more on an administrative role – managing the development of the dialogue process within the limits of a consensual and non-interference approach – which has helped the ARF make moderate steps forward during its first five years.

             Despite questions about ASEAN’s capability to lead a regional security mechanism and about the appropriateness of the ASEAN Way, ASEAN remains an acceptable “leader” of the ARF.[xciii]  It may even be premature to consider “other forms of alternate leadership” in the ARF with the current sharing of the chairmanship of intersessional working groups still being an effective mechanism for accommodating the initiatives of non-ASEAN members.[xciv]  There are still residual suspicions among the major powers about each other’s motivations, and many ARF participants still prefer to take an incremental approach in its evolution. 

             ASEAN, however, should not fall into complacency.  A stronger ASEAN role in regional security is contingent on its developing and maintaining a united voice in the Forum especially in the wake of the Asian economic crisis.  More often than not, the participation of ASEAN states in the ARF is marked by differences in their individual security outlooks and preferred modes of operation.  One author comments that: “ASEAN’s ability to manage regional security in Southeast Asia has been ... limited by [the] divergent security perceptions and interests within ASEAN ....”[xcv]  To retain the driver’s seat, the ASEAN needs not only to voice its concerns or push its agenda, but also to set the example of concretely putting regional interests ahead of national interests, of implementing some of the proposed CBMs even within the ASEAN framework.  ASEAN may also need to consider some gradual modifications to the ASEAN Way if the ARF is to become more representative of the values and approaches of other Asia-Pacific states. 

            Discussion of Southeast Asian Issues.  ASEAN has managed to place many of its issues on the agenda of the ARF.  Discussion, however, is a far cry from effectively addressing problems; and ironically, these “frank and honest” discussions have also become a source of irritation in relations between ASEAN and its external partners.  Moreover, the ARF is currently not equipped to deal with many Southeast Asian issues which are still considered internal in nature. 

ASEAN, however, should not expect that its concerns will take centerstage in the ARF.  Many ARF participants, in particular the US, Japan, and South and Korea, “...are more inclined to regard the ARF as a useful first step towards a more representative regional security structure which gives greater weight to Northeast Asia’s security problems.”[xcvi]  

            Intensifying ASEAN’s External Relations.  The ARF has become a venue for intensifying relations between ASEAN and its partners, especially as there is an increase in the comfort level in engaging in multilateral fora.  The ARF has also widened the networks among participants involving government and military officials, and non-government sectors.  This has facilitated bilateral or multilateral activities with a more partners either within or outside of the ARF framework. 

            Positive Engagement of Major Powers.  The ARF has successfully involved regional powers – the US, Japan, China, Russia and India. [xcvii]  There has been a higher level of comfort with the ARF format, especially for China.  It was observed, “Over time and with enhanced exposure the Chinese delegation spoke more frequently, often without notes in advancing the Chinese position.  Both publicly and privately in corridors, what would and would not wash in Beijing was made clear.”[xcviii]  China is also becoming more accustomed to multilateral processes:  it has demonstrated willingness to involve itself in the CBM process by co-sponsoring the ISG-CBM with the Philippines, and hosting working seminars, the most recent of which was an ARF Professional Training Program on China’s Security Policy held in Beijing in October 1999.  

            Moreover, the ARF still manages to fulfill some of the interests of these two powers.  It assures China that regional security will not be dominated by the US, and the US is given the chance to “engage China comprehensively”.  

            Beyond the involvement of major powers in a dialogue process, there has been minimal success in improving major power relations through the ARF.  To some extent, the ARF has also expanded the avenues for China-US interaction and this has paid off with more bilateral exchanges such as annual Defense Consultative Talks, military exchanges, and possible joint efforts in several areas.[xcix] 

Having said this, the ARF has not really constrained the actions of major powers.  It has also not yet evolved to such an extent to become some sort of mediating influence on regional powers.  Their relations are characterized by their own peculiar security dynamics and historical baggage that a grouping such as the ARF is not equipped to deal with.  In other words, “...the interests and actions of the great powers ... have defined the parameters of ASEAN’s security policies”[c]  and not the other way around. 

B.  Prospects for the ASEAN Regional Forum 

           The ARF also plays an important function for Southeast Asia in terms of providing for a relatively more stable regional environment where ASEAN operates.  Currently, the ARF has a mixed record in achieving its own objectives. 

Trust? The ARF is widening the networks among participants, thus enabling them to undertake bilateral or multilateral activities with a multiplicity of partners.  “The current dialogue mechanism centered around PMC, ARF and CSCAP is improving and widening channels of information gathering and sharing and policy consultation and coordination.”[ci] To a certain extent, these can help lessen uncertainty arising from certain activities like joint military exercises. 

Nevertheless, some caveats are necessary. While CBMs “are [indeed] useful in generating a degree of trust among countries which have a history of mutual suspicion”,[cii] they should not be seen as an end in themselves but rather as part of a long process.  It has been observed that ‘“CBMs are prominently concerned with perception and usually do not deal with the root causes of security problems.”’  Moreover, if the goals are too unrealistic, the “lack of progress can result in disappointment and halt the process.”[ciii]  For CBMs to bear fruit, the ARF members should be ready to go through the long haul and ASEAN should provide strategic direction in this regard. 

            Thus, if these CBMs in the ARF are seen within the wider context of events unfolding in Southeast Asia, one could be led to ask whether or not these CBMs are actually gaining ground, or are just being used as some sort of means to appease weaker states when they are threatened by the actions of larger powers.  For example, while China talks the “CBM talk” its refurbishment of structures in the Mischief Reef is viewed with suspicion by other claimants, particularly the Philippines.  In conflicts such as these, it is doubtful whether transparency and CBMs are making a dent in terms of conflict management.  The power differential will still be a major factor in the ultimate resolution of this conflict. 

            Nevertheless, these CBMs have opened up avenues for the parties to explore various means by which they can manage disputes.  For example, China has expressed its willingness to enter into a regional code of conduct.  It is possible that through the habit of dialogue in the ARF, China and other states are slowly seeing the merits of a multilateral approach. 

            In addition, there has yet been no reconciliation of diverging views and the ARF is not yet a “consultative” forum.[civ]  Notably, the only formal document of the ARF reflecting effort at agreement is a statement issued by the ARF Chair or co-chairs of the ISGs.  The ARF participants have yet to give another strong signal of their commitment to the process such as a joint declaration of principles or measures that they will implement jointly. 

A Predictable Pattern of Relations?  Creating a predictable pattern of relations should be seen as part of an ongoing process which has yet to bear fruit.  It is not enough that principles for cooperation are enunciated in the Forum.  To be relevant, these also need commitment from all ARF members.  At this point in time, the habit of dialogue in the ARF has not yet led to altered state behavior in terms of either greater surrender of sovereign rights or increased reliance on multilateral and cooperative security mechanisms.  Both large and small states continue to be wary of institutions which have the potential to circumscribe their sovereignty.  One author has mentioned that: 

… the commitment of regional states to the principle of sovereign statehood, though deployed for different purposes by different states, remains intact despite the rapid increase in regional security dialogue.  There appears to be little prospect of states ‘surrendering’ sovereign powers as part of the burgeoning multilateralism in the region.  And, above all else, the search for security at a regional level has not challenged the notion that defence of the sovereign state involves an ‘ongoing process of defining state boundaries, excluding that which differs from its domains, and punishing those who would challenge it’.[cv] 

Significantly, the ARF has neither prevented actions by any single state to ensure its national security even if such actions tend to destabilize the whole region, nor has the ARF constrained great power posturing or actions.  Interaction in the Forum has, however, led to greater awareness of the merits of cooperative security and confidence building.  Even preventive diplomacy measures are gaining some ground.  For instance, China’s New Security Concept embodies appreciation for a cooperative security approach within a multilateral setting.[cvi]  Even the US has paid more lip service to the ARF in recent years with comprehensive security finding its way in the 1998 US Security Strategy for the East Asia-Pacific Region. 

             Prospects for the ARF.  The discussion of the development of the ARF shows that the Forum is helping lay the foundations for a more peaceful regional environment.  The ARF tackles issues wider than the interests of ASEAN.  There are also some indications that slowly there is more flexibility in how ASEAN interprets its leadership role in the ARF.  The ARF ten years from now, if it manages to survive, may actually begin to be more representative of an Asia-Pacific wide approach.

             Thus, the ARF should be seen as a long-term investment – a device which could facilitate learning among regional states, a means through which a regional community or identity could be defined.  It has been commented that “The ARF experiment is essentially one of identity-building.  By concentrating on process, dialogue should lead to socialization which, in turn, will lead to the dissipation of conflicts of interests.”[cvii]

            The importance of the Forum would also lie in its potential for becoming a genuine alternative (if complementary) framework for security in the region.  In the long-run, “…perhaps by avoiding the language and methods of balance of power approaches, or identifying threats and forging corresponding alliances, it may have avoided the realists’ security dilemma of perpetual insecurity.”[cviii] 

             Making the transition to such a regional security mechanism is fraught with difficulties, not the least of which is the continued lower priority given to developing a multilateral security mechanism as compared to bilateral alliances and partnerships.  In addition, because the ARF is not yet a significant or an independent actor in the region, it is not in a position to effectively manage the conflicts in the region.  The ARF is actually the subject of state action and of events in the regional system rather than being an active contributor to regional security at the moment.

             Events in more recent times have exhibited the growing linkages in aspects of security and the closer intertwining of regional destinies.  In this case, they have actually highlighted the need for regional approaches, such as the ARF, in order to manage emerging security issues. In fact, “the recent heightening of security concerns appears to have pushed ARF officials to say the forum is prepared to ‘manage’ conflicts not just through the traditional means of ‘confidence-building measures’ but also by utilizing preventive diplomacy.”[cix]  Instead of being a challenge, this is actually an opportunity for the ARF and its members to firmly resolve to push the multilateral process forward. 

             In addition, current security issues highlight the increasing permeability of borders at the same time that there is a zealous guarding of sovereignty.  This is particularly the case for Southeast Asia where “[t]he economic crisis has created an environment in which disputes could escalate more quickly, and the combination of crisis and strategic tensions will need to be carefully managed if conflict is [to be] avoided.”[cx] Moreover, one of the major features of conflicts in Southeast Asia are their largely internal origin.  Clearly, the ARF will be constrained to take action in this regard as it is was not originally established to address such internal conflicts.

             The same holds true in terms of managing conflicts among the great powers.  While the ARF may have the potential to become a mechanism for regulating such conflicts, it still has a long way to go.  Moreover, the most that the ARF can do is to provide an atmosphere conducive to constructive dialogue and handling of these issues.

            More important than these changes in the regional security environment is the continuity of the bases of international relations that circumscribe the ARF.  Despite some encouraging signs regarding the acceptability of multilateralism, there is still a lack of a common security concept and agenda in practice in the region.[cxi]  While this common security concept remains on paper, there will continue to be tensions in pushing a neoliberal agenda in a neorealist setting. 

             In the near-term, the ARF will have to address the following challenges.

         v     The implications of a larger membership on the consolidation of the ARF process.  It may be prudent for the ARF to put on hold other applications for membership in the next five years. 

 v     The problem of “consensus censorship”.[cxii] A wider membership which operates on the principle of consensus and non-interference may lead to a dilemma in which the more important security issues are not discussed as the concerned parties will veto their inclusion in the ARF agenda.  If such becomes the case, how relevant will the ARF be in addressing emerging security issues? 

 v     Managing a wider range of issues for discussion.  Non-military or non-traditional security and transnational issues are as much a challenge as traditional security issues.  The ARF would have to achieve some balance in these discussions in order to identify in what areas the Forum could decisively act and undertake cooperative actions.

 v     There is a need to sustain interest and to make progress in the ARF.  This is easier said   than done as ASEAN needs to master a delicate balancing act in terms of managing the pace of the ARF.    

 v     The purposes must be made clear.  CBMs and even preventive diplomacy only address the symptoms, not the root causes, of conflict.   Eventually the ARF members should reach a point when they would be willing and able to address the roots of conflicts in the region within or outside of the ARF framework.  This is important as there may be certain conflicts which lie outside of the purview of the ARF, or their solution would require that only the specific parties be involved.  Nevertheless, the ARF can hopefully act as some sort of “pressure” to resolve these conflicts as regional interests may be at stake.  In this case, other sub regional initiatives may also be important.


v     There are still many issues which need to be addressed if preventive diplomacy is to become a reality through the ARF:  the scope of preventive diplomacy specifically if it should also deal with transnational issues; balancing respect for sovereignty vis-à-vis the “interference” which may be perceived in the practice of preventive diplomacy; the actors involved; the use or non-use of force; and the “overlap” between CBMs and preventive diplomacy measures.  What could eventually result is a preventive diplomacy tool which would be used mainly for inter-state conflicts and possibly even transnational issues.  One think tank cautioned, however, that this focus “may involve only normal diplomatic tools to the exclusion of crisis-time preventive diplomacy measures such as good offices and mediation.  This could undermine the development of preventive diplomacy.”[cxiii]


v     ASEAN needs to lead the way, and it needs to capitalize on its continuing acceptability to “lead” the ARF.  It has already taken the initiative in convening the summit of Northeast Asian leaders, and this undertaking needs to be observed further.  The effectiveness of ASEAN in promoting regional security rests on its ability to function as a cohesive and independent entity without necessarily yielding to external influence.  Some specific steps which could be taken are: implementing some of the CBM proposals on an ASEAN-wide level; and formalizing the ARF secretariat within the ASEAN Secretariat.  At the same time, ASEAN also needs to fully realize that it is only one subregion in the ARF and this entails some flexibility about its chairmanship in the ARF.


v     Some specific proposals that the ARF may want to consider are: (a) continued discussion of norms of regional behavior which may be adopted in a Pacific Concord; (b) the establishment of a regional risk reduction center; (c) the creation of an ARF secretariat with an independent research capacity; (d) further dialogue, especially in the track-two context, on case studies of successful and unsuccessful intra- and extra- regional conflict resolution; and (e) the inclusion of law enforcement officials in the ARF process even at the intersessional level.[cxiv]


             The ASEAN Regional Forum has a great potential to become an overarching framework for regional security in the Asia-Pacific, with bilateral and subregional arrangements as its necessary components.  It also has the potential to help Asia-Pacific countries develop a mechanism truly representative of the region’s values and interests.  Yet realizing this potential will require re-interpreting current norms as well as instilling a sense of security transcending narrow national interests – a path that the current ARF participants may not yet be able, or willing, to take.


* Revised version of a paper presented in the International Workshop on New Dimensions of Conflict and Challenges for Conflict Management in Southeast Asia co-sponsored by the Research and Education for Peace Unit (REP) School of Social Sciences of the Universiti Sains Malaysia, and the Department of Peace and Conflict Research of Uppsala University, Sweden.  Funded by the Swedish Agency for the Internationalization of Higher Education (STINT).  Penang, 5-9 December 1999.


** Head, Center for International Relations and Strategic Studies of the Foreign Service Institute, Department of Foreign Affairs.  She is a graduate of the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies Class 99-1. The author wishes to acknowledge the valuable research assistance provided by Ms. Maria Carmencita C. Castaños.  The views expressed herein do not represent those of the Institute or of the Department.


[i] The ARF started in 1994 with 18 participants.  The ARF now has 23 participants:  the 10 ASEAN countries (Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam); the 10 dialogue partners (Australia, Canada, China, the European Union, India, Japan, New Zealand, Russian Federation, South Korea, and the US); ASEAN observer, Papua New Guinea; and Mongolia (1998) and North Korea (2000).

[ii] The ASEAN Concept Paper for the ARF states that Stage 3 of the ARF evolution is “development of conflict-resolution mechanisms.”  Upon formal adoption in the second meeting of the ARF, stage three was watered down to “elaboration of approaches to conflict.”  See “The ASEAN Regional Forum: A Concept Paper,” 1995; and “The Chairman’s Statement of the Second ASEAN Regional Forum,” Brunei Darussalam, 01 August 1995.   These are available on the ASEAN webpage at

[iii] Robin Ramcharan, “ASEAN Regional Forum: A Pitfall in Pacific Asia’s Security?” World Affairs 3, no. 3 (July-September 1999): 74-75.

 [iv] Multilateralism is described as a generic institutional form in international relations based on “principles which specify appropriate conduct for a class of actions, without regard to the particularistic interests of the parties or the strategic exigencies that may exist in any specific occurrence.”  See John Gerard Ruggie, “Multilateralism: The Anatomy of an Institution,” in John Gerard Ruggie, Multilateralism Matters: The Theory and Praxis of an Institutional Forum (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993), 10-11.

 [v] Daniel A. Lucero, “The ASEAN Regional Forum: A Pessimistic View,” Army Journal (3rd quarter 1999): 9.

 [vi] It is a valid argument that ASEAN does not always function as one cohesive entity in the ARF as formal representation in the ARF is not “ASEAN” as an organization but by the individual Southeast Asian countries.  Nevertheless, this paper will look at the ASEAN as a collective unit in the Forum.

 [vii] For a full discussion of how the ARF was established, see M.C. Ortuoste, “The Establishment of the ASEAN Regional Forum,” paper presented at the Multilateral Institutions in Asia Seminar, Asia-Pacific Center for Strategic Studies, Honolulu, Hawaii, 14 July 2000.

 [viii] Brian L. Job, “Multilateralism in the Asia-Pacific Region,” in William T. Tow, Russell Trood and Toshiya Hoshino, eds., Bilateralism in a Multilateral Era: The Future of the San Francisco Alliance System in the Asia-Pacific (Tokyo and Queensland: The Japan Institute for International Affairs and The Centre for the Study of Australia-Asia Relations, 1997), 160-161.

 [ix] David B. Dewitt, “Concepts of Security for the Asia-Pacific Region in the Post-Cold War Era: Common, Comprehensive, and Cooperative Security,” 7th Annual Asia-Pacific Roundtable, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, June 1993.  See also David B. Dewitt, “Common, Comprehensive and Cooperative Security, Pacific Review 7, no. 1 (1994): 1-15.

 [x] One of the major issues at the time of the establishment of the ARF was the uncertainty of continued US military presence because it was scaling down its military forces, and also because of the closure of US military bases in the Philippines.  China was another concern for Southeast Asia not only because its economic growth could translate to military power, but also because it had long-standing territorial and maritime disputes with almost all countries in Southeast Asia.  Japan’s future role was also in question at this time.

[xi] Susan Strange, “The Erosion of the State,” Current History (November 1997): 369.

[xii] Paul Evans, “Existing Regional Dialogues in Asia Pacific,” paper prepared for the Second United Nations Disarmament Conference Transparency in Armament, Regional Dialogue and Disarmament, organized by the UN Regional Center for Peace and Disarmament in the Asia Pacific, Hiroshima, Japan, 14-17 May 1994.  See also Paul Evans, “The Dialogue Process on Asia Pacific Security Issues: Inventory and Analysis,” in Paul Evans, ed., Studying Asia Pacific Security: The Future of Research, Training, and Dialogue Activities (Toronto: University of Toronto – York University Joint Centre for Asia Pacific Studies, 1994), 297-318.

 [xiii] Paul Evans, “The Origins, Context and Prospects of CSCAP,” The Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific Region (1994), p. 20.

 [xiv] Amitav Acharya, “Realism, Institutionalism and the Asian Economic Crisis,” Contemporary Southeast Asia 21, no. 1 (April 1999): 1-29. 

[xv] These roundtables include:  ASEAN-ISIS seminar on Superpower Military Presence and the Security of Southeast Asia (1990); the Asia-Pacific Roundtable (1991); the series of conferences on security cooperation in the Asia-Pacific held in Honolulu (October 1991), Bali (April 1992), and Seoul (November 1992).  The last was organized by the ASEAN-ISIS, Japan Institute of International Affairs (JIIA), Seoul Forum for International Affairs (SFIA),  Joint Centre for Asia Pacific Studies (JCAPS), and Pacific Forum/CSIS.  These are the core institutes of the Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia-Pacific (CSCAP) which is the track-two counterpart of the ARF.

 [xvi] In 1991, the Philippine and Thai ministries of foreign affairs held a series of seminars to discuss regional security.  The Manila seminar had the theme “ASEAN and the Asia Pacific Region: Prospects for Security Cooperation in the 1990s” (June 5-7, 1991); while the Bangkok seminar had the theme “Prospects for Regional Security Cooperation in Southeast Asia in the 1990s” (November 4-7, 1991).   In both seminars there was very broad  and frank discussion on security issues in the region, elaborating on ways for ASEAN to improve cooperation within its ranks and also how to make it more relevant to the wider Asia-Pacific region.  The Bangkok seminar noted the need for the “expansion of a multilateral dialogue on political-security developments in the Asia-Pacific region.” 

[xvii] Evans, “Existing Regional Dialogues.”

[xviii] Jörn Dosch, “PMC, ARF and CSCAP: Foundations for a Security Architecture in the Asia-Pacific?” Working Paper Number 307 (Canberra: Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australia National University, June 1997), 4. 

[xix] Narine questions the applicability or appropriateness of this approach under a different set of circumstances.  See Shaun Narine, ‘ASEAN and the ARF: The Limits of the “ASEAN Way”,’ Asian Survey 37, no. 10 (October 1997): 961-978. 

[xx] Donald K. Emmerson, “Building Frameworks for Regional Security in the Asia-Pacific: Seven Questions in Search of Answers,” 10th Asia-Pacific Roundtable, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, June 5-8, 1996, 3. 

[xxi] Michael Leifer, “The ASEAN Regional Forum: Extending ASEAN’s Model of Regional Security,” Adelphi Paper 302 (London: International Institute for Strategic Studies, 1996), 26.  

[xxii] It is interesting to note that even Australia and Canada were also looked upon with some doubt by Asian countries in leading the process.  For a full discussion of leadership in the ARF, please see M.C. Ortuoste, “Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific: The ASEAN Regional Forum Experiment,” FSI Foreign Affairs Quarterly 1, no. 2 (January-March 1999): 62-64.

  [xxiii]Rosemary Foot, “The Present and Future of the ARF: China’s Role and Attitude,” in The Future of the ARF, edited by Khoo How San (Singapore:  Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, 1999), 117. See also Paul Evans, “The Prospects for Multilateral Security Cooperation in the Asia-Pacific Region,” in Desmond Ball, ed., The Transformation of Security in the Asia/Pacific Region (London: Frank Cass, 1996).

  [xxiv] Ralph Cossa, “US Views Northeast Asia Multilateral Security Cooperation,” IGCC Policy Paper 51 (California: University of California San Diego – Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation, June 1999), available from; Internet.  Proquest database.

 [xxv] Ibid.

 [xxvi] This is similar to the ASEAN approach wherein the members were given the latitude to pursue bilateral security talks, or resolve existing disputes in a bilateral manner outside of the ASEAN framework, while taking advantage of the principles for interstate relations laid down in the ASEAN Charter and Declarations. 

[xxvii] Al Dizon, “ASEAN Regional Forum: Another Day Dawning,” BusinessWorld (Manila), 01 August 1994, 6. 

[xxviii] Comment by ASEAN Secretary-General Rodolfo C. Severino, Jr. in “Interview: ASEAN and the Growth of Regional Cooperation in Southeast Asia,” World Affairs 3, no. 3 (July-September 1999): 20. 

[xxix] See also the specific provisions in:  the TAC; the Declaration on a Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality (ZOPFAN); ASEAN Concord; and the Bangkok Declaration.

 [xxx] ASEAN was also projected to be the “repository of all ARF documents and information.” 

 [xxxi] Leifer argues that “The changed pattern of international and regional alignments had reduced ASEAN’s political significance.”  Leifer, “The ASEAN Regional Forum,” p. 18.

[xxxii] Donald E. Weatherbee, “ASEAN and the Political Challenges of Expansion,” from Manuel F. Montes, Kevin F.F. Quigley, and Donald E. Weatherbee, Growing Pains: ASEAN’s Economic and Political Challenges (The Asia Society, December 1997); available from; Internet.

 [xxxiii] Patrick M. Cronin and Emily T. Metzgar, “ASEAN and Regional Security,” Strategic Forum, no. 85 (October 1996); available from; Internet. 

[xxxiv] James Clad, “Fin de siecle, fin de l’ Asean?” Asia Times On Line [journal on-line], 08 March 2000; accessed 23 May 2000; available from; Internet.  Reposted on the website with permission from Pacific Forum CSIS's PacNet Newsletter 9 of March 3, 2000.

  [xxxv] Hussin Mutalib, “At Thirty, ASEAN Looks to Challenges in the New Millennium,” Contemporary Southeast Asia 19, no. 1 (June 1997): 83.

 [xxxvi] Michael Richardson, “A Step Ahead on Asian Security,” International Herald Tribune, 26 July 1994, p. 2.

 [xxxvii] Weatherbee, “ASEAN and the Political Challenges of Expansion.”

[xxxviii] Leifer, “The ASEAN Regional Forum,”p.19. 

[xxxix] “In founding the ARF, ASEAN hoped to enhance regional security by ameliorating tensions and cultivating a practice of consultation rather than intervention.” Kevin F.F. Quigley, “ASEAN: How It Works and Why It Matters,” from Montes, Quigley, and Weatherbee, Growing Pains (The Asia Society, December 1997); available from; Internet.


[xl] If the ARF purported to replace bilateral alliances, the US may not have joined the Forum in the first place.


[xli]Terry Narramore, “Coming to Terms with Asia in Discourses of Asia-Pacific Regional Security,” Australian Journal of Political Science, vol. 33, no. 2 (July 1988).  Requested from the website of the Asia Pacific Media Network, a daily publication of the University of California in Los Angeles; available from; Internet.

[xlii] Clad, “Fin de siecle.”

[xliii] Ibid.

[xliv] Jeffrey Sachs, “Missing Pieces,” Far Eastern Economic Review Interactive Edition, 25 February 1999 available from; Internet; accessed 30 June 1999. 

[xlv] ‘For the world's most successful developing-country association, all the hobgoblins have jumped out of the box at once, including: profound threats to Indonesia's national unity; difficult elite transitions; overall poor Asean group dynamics between the old ''core group'' and the new members; an emerging contrast between ''speak-your-mind'' democratic and more authoritarian regimes; residual economic problems; enormous manufacturing and energy industry over-capacity; miserable local governance, insistent localism, and demands for new ways to slice the patronage pie; China's broad and comprehensive emergence, including unanswered South China Sea provocations; the near-disappearance of sustained Japanese political and strategic leadership in Southeast Asia; the recurrence of high-profile Asean diplomatic failures and lingering intra-Asean disputes; and, most of all in the catalogue of multilateral failure, the disappointing performance of the ARF.’  Clad, “Fin de siecle.”

[xlvi] Charles E. Morrison, ed., Asia Pacific Security Outlook 1999 (Tokyo: Japan Center for International Exchange, 1999), 9-10.

[xlvii] Scott Snyder and Richard H. Solomon, “Beyond the Asian Financial Crisis: Political and Security Implications: Challenges and Opportunities for U.S. Leadership,” A Special Report of the U.S. Institute of Peace (March 1998).

[xlviii] Simon SC Tay and Obood Talib, “The ASEAN Regional Forum: Preparing for Preventive Diplomacy,” Contemporary Southeast Asia, vol. 19, no. 3 (December 1997): 258.


[xlix] Dalgit Singh, “ASEAN Achievements are Endangered by Continuing Crisis.”  International Herald Tribune, 24 July 1998.

[l] Chairman’s Statement of the Seventh ASEAN Regional Forum, Bangkok, Thailand, 27 July 2000; available from; Internet.

[li] The Pacific Concord has been a subject of discussion since 1995.  In fact, ASEAN-ISIS proposed the development of norms and principles for regional political and security cooperation in the Asia-Pacific as early as November 1994 during its discussion with the ASEAN-SOM in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei.

[lii]The proposals in the ASEAN Concept Paper for the 2nd ARF focused on the areas of CBMs, preventive diplomacy, non-proliferation and arms control, peacekeeping, and maritime security cooperation. Annex A would be track-one activities -- mainly on information sharing and developing principles for cooperation -- to be implemented in the near term.  Annex B, on the other hand, contained proposals to be implemented in the medium- and long-term and whose development may be initially undertaken by track-two fora.  There has hardly been any implementation of Annex B proposals.

               Endorsed in the ARF meeting of 1998, the two baskets of CBMs are mainly elaborations on the Annexes of the ASEAN Concept Paper.  Basket 1 is intended for near-term implementation, while proposals in Basket 2 are envisioned to be undertaken in the medium- and long-term.  These proposals aim to establish more intensive visits and exchanges, as well the possibility of creating a multilateral communication network, and other cooperative activities. 

[liii] For a full report, see ARF Home page, and “Distillation of Agreed CBMs from ARF 1-4.”  See the ARF homepage maintained by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; available from; Internet.

[liv] This is well-documented in Desmond Ball and Amitav Acharya, eds., The Next Stage: Preventive Diplomacy and Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific (Canberra and Singapore:  Australian National University and IDSS, 1999).

[lv] The CSCAP draft’s definition of preventive diplomacy further elaborates that preventive diplomacy should also limit the intensity of these disputes.  Proceedings of the meeting of the International Working Group on Confidence and Security Building Measures, 01 March 1999.

[lvi] Only two ASEAN countries – Singapore and Thailand – submitted their security outlooks.  The other countries who submitted are:  Australia, Canada, China, the EU, Japan, South Korea, Mongolia, New Zealand, Russia, and the United States.  Available from; Internet; accessed 17 August 2000.

[lvii] Dupont, “The Future of the ARF:  An Australian Perspective,” The Future of the ARF, 33.

[lviii] Alejandro Reyes, “Intelligence: Welcome to the World – ASEAN Day Five: Pyongyang makes a splash,” [magazine on-line], 28 July 2000; available from;  Internet; accessed 07 August 2000.  

[lix] Wade Huntley and Peter Hayes, “East Timor and Asian Security,” Northeast Asia Peace and Security Network Special Report [on-line papers], 23 February 2000; available from on East Timor.txt; Internet; accessed 05 September 2000.  The article is also included in the special issue on “East Timor, Indonesia and the World System” Bulletin of Concern Asian Scholars 31, nos. 1 and 2; available from; Internet.

 [lx] This would include the bilateral exchanges among the US, China, Japan and Russia; the US review of its bilateral relations in the region; continued bilateralism even among ASEAN countries; and China’s renewal of bilateral ties with Southeast Asian countries in time for the twenty-first century.

[lxi] “Bilateral Alliances and Multilateral Security in the Asia-Pacific: An Update,” paper presented at the 4th Workshop on the Bilateral System of Alliances in the Changing Environment of the Asia-Pacific, June 10-12, 1996, Tokyo, Japan, p. 5.  Cited in Raymund Jose G. Quilop, “Bilateralism, Regional Security and the Philippine-US Alliance,” OSS Working Papers (October 1999), 20. 

[lxii] Obaid Ul Haq, “ASEAN: Search for Regional Security in Southeast Asia,” World Affairs 3, no. 3 (July-September 1999): 37. 

[lxiii] See M.C. Ortuoste, “Institutional Re-Building in a Time of Crisis,” draft paper presented at the Biennial Conference of the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies: Asia-Pacific Security in a Time of Economic Recovery, Working Group 6: “The Future of the Asia-Pacific Community,” August 30 - September 2, 1999, Honolulu, Hawaii. 

[lxiv] Paul Dibb, David D. Hale, and Peter Prince, “Asia’s Insecurity, Survival, vol. 41, no. 3  (Autumn 1999).  The same point is made by Hadi Soesastro, “Asia during the Crisis,” in H.W. Arndt and Hal Hill, Southeast Asia’s Economic Crisis (Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1999). 

[lxv] Alejandro Reyes, “Southeast Asia Adrift.”, 26 no. 34 (01 September 2000).  Available from; Internet; accessed 28 August 2000. 

[lxvi] See Carlyle A. Thayer, “Reinventing ASEAN: From Constructive Engagement to Flexible Intervention,” Harvard Asia Pacific Review 3, no. 2 (Summer 1999): 67-70. 

[lxvii] CPF Luhulima, “ASEAN’s Relevance: Has It Become Questionable?” Pacific Link Indonesia, Jakarta, 09 November 1999; available from; Internet; accessed 27 June 2000. 

[lxviii] Thailand and the Philippines are seen to be limited by their respective domestic political instabilities and therefore “cannot leverage their democratic credentials into influence.”  Singapore and Brunei have the economic clout but are still relatively small countries, while on Malaysia it was mentioned that PM Mahathir “can’t give progressive directions.” Reyes, “Southeast Asia Adrift.” 

[lxix] See Herman Joseph Kraft, “ASEAN and Intra-ASEAN Relations: Weathering the Storm,” soon to be published manuscript. 

[lxx] See Kao Kim Hourn, “Regionalism Compared – The Perils and Benefits of Expansion: A View of a New Member,” paper presented at Plenary Session 5 of the 14th Asia-Pacific Roundtable, 05 June 2000, Kuala Lumpur. 

[lxxi] Discussed in detail in M.C. Ortuoste, “The Prospect of a Concert of ASEAN Nations and Leadership in the Asia Pacific, ISIS Paper 1 (Bangkok: ISIS Thailand, 1999). 

[lxxii] Quoted in Reyes, “Southeast Asia Adrift.” 

[lxxiii] The terms of reference are available from; Internet. 

[lxxiv] It was opined that the Troika is “another paper tiger”, an attempt to prevent the organization’s irrelevance “in the greater strategic scheme of things.”  See Shawn W. Crispin, “ASEAN: Ties That Bind.” Far Eastern Economic Review, 10 August 2000;  available from; Internet; accessed 08 August 2000.  

[lxxv] Rizal Sukma, ‘ASEAN and the ASEAN Regional Forum: Should “The Driver” be Replaced?’ paper prepared for the ASEAN-ISIS Conference on ASEAN 2020 Vision: Crisis and Change, Singapore, 21-22 July 1999. 

[lxxvi] Dr. Termsak Chalermpalanupap, Special Assistant to the ASEAN Secretary-General, “The ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF): Current Status,” briefing for the International Consultation in South Asia and the Asia Pacific Region, organized by the Oxford Research Group, Port Dickson, Malaysia, November 15-18, 1999. 

[lxxvii] Chairman’s Statement of the Seventh Meeting of the ASEAN Regional Forum, Bangkok, Thailand, 27 July 2000; available from; Internet; accessed 01 August 2000. 

[lxxviii] “Japanese Defence Agency chief pledges medical assistance to ASEAN Forum,” BBC Monitoring Asia and Pacific – Political.  London 02 May 2000; Proquest, 09 July 2000. 

[lxxix] Samantha F. Ravich, “Lingering Concerns Amidst Some Promising Developments,” Comparative Connections [an e-journal on East Asian bilateral relations], Pacific Forum-CSIS, 2nd quarter 2000; available from; Internet. 

[lxxx] Dupont, “The Future of the ARF:  An Australian Perspective,” in The Future of the ARF, 34-35.  

[lxxxi] Quoted in Roger Mitton, “A Swift Reversal of Fortune,” 25, no. 49 [magazine on-line] (10 December 1999); available from http://japan/cnn/com/ASIANOW/asiaweek/magazine/99/1210/nat.asean.main.html; Internet; accessed 08 August 2000. 

[lxxxii] Dibb,, “Asia’s Insecurity.” 

[lxxxiii] China proposed the development of a working group on agriculture technology and environmental protection.  Japan proposed trilateral cooperation on Japan East Partnership Initiative on human resources development (together with Singapore, South Korea and Thailand).  South Korea suggested the creation of a cyber-university and the development of a student exchange program.

                This effort is being criticized as “a dying ASEAN’s new lifeline” (Reyes, “Southeast Asia Adrift”); that the viability of the APT is in question given Japan’s “directionless diplomacy” and its sensitivity to Washington’s opinions; and there are concerns about China’s “unilateralist ambitions.” (Clad, “Fin de siecle”) 

[lxxxiv] Shaun Narine, “ASEAN and the Management of Regional Security,” Pacific Affairs 71, no. 2 (Summer 1998): 196-214. 

[lxxxv] Weatherbee, “ASEAN and the Political Challenges of Expansion.” 

[lxxxvi] One example was Jiang’s visit to Thailand in 1999. 

[lxxxvii]Carlyle A. Thayer, “Beijing Plans for a Long-Term Partnership and Benefits from Anti-Western Sentiment,” Comparative Connections [an e-journal on East Asian bilateral relations], Pacific Forum-CSIS, 3rd quarter 1999; available from; Internet. 

[lxxxviii] Discussed in detail in Thayer, “Beijing Plans for a Long-Term Partnership.”  15-Point Sino-Thai plan of action for the 21st century (05 February 1999); 12-point Sino-Malaysian framework of future bilateral cooperation (03 June 1999); PRC-VN mechanism for bilateral relationship (February-March 1999). The Philippines is also set to “renew” its 25-years of bilateral relations with China in May 2000. 

[lxxxix] Samantha F. Ravich, “Lingering Concerns Amidst Some Promising Developments,” Comparative Connections [an e-journal on East Asian bilateral relations], Pacific Forum-CSIS, 2nd quarter 2000; available from; Internet 

[xc] Shaun Narine, ‘ASEAN and the Management of Regional Security,” 195 and 209. 

[xci] Dupont, “The Future of the ARF:  An Australian Perspective,” The Future of the ARF, 34. 

[xcii] Sukma, ‘Should “the driver” be replaced?’ 

[xciii] ASEAN Secretary-General Rodolfo C. Severino states that the “... ASEAN serves as the fulcrum in the balance between and among the powers and provides a venue and reference point for the dialogues of the great powers among themselves as well as within ASEAN.  Thus, ASEAN manages and moderates, to some extent, the behavior of the great powers, whose presence and influence ASEAN could not keep out of the region anyway, even if it wanted to.”  In his paper “ASEAN and Regional Security” for the 30th Anniversary of ASEAN at a seminar sponsored by the ASEAN Washington Committee, Washington, D.C., October 6, 1997. 

[xciv] This is a point raised in the Multilateral Institutions in Asia Seminar sponsored by the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, Honolulu, Hawaii, 17 July 2000. 

[xcv] Narine, “ASEAN and the Management of Regional Security.”

[xcvi] Dupont, “The Future of the ARF:  An Australian Perspective,” The Future of the ARF, 37. 

[xcvii] Ramcharan, “A Pitfall in Pacific Asia’s Security?” 75. 

[xcviii] Gary J. Smith, “Multilateralism and Regional Security in Asia:  The ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) and APEC’s Geopolitical Value,” Harvard University Paper No. 97-2 (February 1997); available from; Internet. 

[xcix] See The United States Security Strategy for the East Asia-Pacific Region, 1998 (Washington: Department of Defense Office of International Security Affairs, November 1998). 

[c] Narine, “ASEAN and the Management of Regional Security.”

[ci] Dorsch, “The United States and the New Security Architecture of the Asia-Pacific,” 

[cii] Sheldon W. Simon, “Security Prospects in Southeast Asia: Collaborative Efforts and the ASEAN Regional Forum,” Pacific Review 11, no. 2 (June 1998): 206-207. 

[ciii] These comments are from Marie-France Dejardins, “Rethinking Confidence-Building Measures: Obstacles to Agreement and the Risks of Overselling the Process,” Adelphi Paper 307 (Oxford:  IISS, Oxford University Press, December 1996), quoted in Michael Pillsbury, “The Future of the ARF:  An American Perspective,” in Khoo How San, ed., The Future of ARF, 145. 

[civ] It is not clear from the ARF Chairman’s Statements what these “diverging views” are.  It is assumed in this paper that this would refer to differences arising from latent disputes among the members, as well as differences in the participants’ security outlooks, approaches towards multilateralism and cooperation, and the actions that they would allow the ARF to take. 

[cv] The last statement is by B.S. Klein, Strategic Studies and World Order (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), p. 7.  The whole paragraph is from Narramore, “Coming to Terms with Asia.” 

[cvi] For greater detail, see Foot, “ China’s Role and Attitude,” pp. 123-126. 

[cvii] Amitav Acharya, “Ideas, Identity and Institution-Building: From the ‘ASEAN Way’ to the ‘Asia-Pacific Way’,” Pacific Review 10, no. 3 (1997): 78. 

[cviii] Ramcharan, A Pitfall in Pacific Asia’s Security?,” 78. 

[cix] Isagani de Castro, “Southeast Asia: Long on Security Headaches, Short on Solutions,” Asia Times on line [magazine on-line] 28 July 1999; available from; Internet. 

[cx] Dibb,, “Asia’s Insecurity.” 

[cxi] Common security “seeks to reduce, if not eliminate, the likelihood of military conflict by gaining adherence to norms or rules to govern resolution of disputes.”  See Andrew Mack, “Concepts of Security in the Post-Cold War,” Working Paper 1993/8 (Australia National University, Department of International Relations); David Dewitt, “Common, Comprehensive and Cooperative Security,” The Pacific Review 7, no. 1 (1994): 5; Stephanie Lawson, ed., The New Agenda for Global Security: Cooperating for Peace and Beyond (St. Leonards: Allen and Unwin, 1995). 

[cxii] Barry Wain, “North Korea’s Coming-Out party,” Asia Wall Street Journal, 28-30 July 2000, 8. 

[cxiii] This was expressed by CSCAP Singapore as cited in Ball and Acharya, eds., The Next Stage, p. 313. 

[cxiv] These are only some of the proposals identified by the participants in the Multilateral Institutions in Asia Seminar sponsored by the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, Honolulu, Hawaii, 17 July 2000.