Knowing and understanding what is happening in and around Asean now and in the future is very important for all walks of life in the region as well those who have been in continuous political, economic and strategic contact with the grouping’s members for the past four decades.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations celebrates its 47th anniversary on Monday with its determination to play a more pro-active role in ensuring ensuring peace, security, cooperation and development in the region and the wold at large. It is only a year from now before Asean turns its profile into a full-fledged community.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa hailed the association as one of the successful regional organizations in the world.

Being the foreign minister of the host country of the Asean’s secretariat and one whose idea of Indo-Pacific-wide treaty of friendship and cooperation has added to the vocabulary of regional security architecture, Marty needs to make sure that the group deserves a place in the Indo-Pacific Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation, if such a treaty is to be well accepted by the countries in the region, particularly the major powers.

Under the treaty proposed by Indonesia, countries in Asia and the Pacific are required to commit themselves to peaceful settlement of disputes and to avoid using force against one another.

In a recent interview with the Jakarta Globe, Marty said Indonesia had put forward the idea of the so-called Indo-Pacific Treaty because Indonesia and the other nine countries of Asean were at the center of dynamic relations among countries in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, where armed conflict could directly affect them. The treaty, he said, serves as a preemptive mechanism for conflict prevention and resolution.

Since the proposed treaty covers a wide range of areas, the policy challenges for the next government of Indonesia is not only to make Asean the core in building the Indo-Pacific security architecture, but also whether Indonesia could prevent Asean members taking individual policy actions when it comes to the realization of the Asean political and security community. This suggests that Indonesia should boost its regional diplomacy in making Asean political and security community an important pillar of the Indo-Pacific Treaty.

It is not impossible that Asean member-countries may employ their respective distinctive approaches for their own interest when facing new regional security issues within the framework of the Asean political and security community, and this may result in the group’s disunity and hinder Indonesia’s attempt to make Asean’s centrality the core of the Indo-Pacific region. The treaty will then become meaningless, politically and strategically for the region.

Former Singaporean Foreign Minister S. Rajaratnam, one of Asean’s pioneers, warned during the signing of the Bangkok Declaration in 1967 that “if we do not hang together, we of the Asean nations will hang separately”.

If Indonesia wishes to make the Indo-Pacific security architecture a political reality — to keep Asean centrality within such an architecture and to prevent Asean members from pursuing individualistic approaches to future regional security issues — Indonesia may suggest that Asean adopt collective security, which could serve as one of the important elements of the Indo-Pacific security architecture. Whatever criticism is addressed at such a suggestion — its framework as well as assumptions on its practical prescription — such a vision may be positive, if not optimistic.

Asean should stay together even beyond its 47th year of existence by introducing important elements to support the Indo-Pacific Treaty.

There is, therefore, a need for an updated regional security policy of Asean so that Indonesia and other members can enhance Asean’s capacity to respond collectively, and effectively, to some pressing regional security issues.

The Asean collective security would also serve to prevent future security threats, which in a way, though indirectly, represent the essence of the Indo-Pacific Treaty. If Indonesia is to make the concept of Asean collective security a realistic one, it may have to strengthen and enhance the role of Asean-led multilateral institutions. In short, collective security does require strong multilateralism.

Threats to regional stability can occur at any time and they can derive from any source, either internal or external to the region. Asean collective security in the context of the Indo-Pacific Treaty is a coalition-building strategy, whereby groups of nations agree not to attack one another.

The concept also implies the defense of each nation against the attack of others, if such an event should occur. However, such a scenario is very unlikely to happen in the Asean context, given the high level of cooperation between Asean members, let alone Asean is assumed to occupy an important place in the Indo-Pacific Treaty.

However, one may see that this might not be sufficient for Asean to stay together beyond its current age. What is also important is for Asean to produce effective prescriptions for regional security to give more meaning to the Asean political and security community and the Indo-Pacific Treaty.

Not only that — perhaps the Indo-Pacific Treaty can serve as an umbrella in which members of Asean also respect their security.

Being the key member of Asean and as President-elect Joko Widodo has pledged to stay firm with Asean as the core of Indonesia’s regional policy, Indonesia should prevent the possibility of disequilibrium between Asean member-country interests and the interests of Asean as a whole.

Failure in such an effort will only result in competition rather than cooperation between Asean member-countries, thus making Asean’s centrality in the Indo-Pacific Treaty meaningless. Time will tell whether Asean beyond 47 years will continue to be hailed as one of the effective regional organizations in the world and thus remain politically and strategically cohesive. – Jakarta Globe, September 8, 2014.

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