Saturday, June 14, 2014

Cooperative Security and the Balance of Power in ASEAN and the ARF

Book Review by @Khath Bunthorn "Cooperative Security and the Balance of Power in ASEAN and the ARF  By Ralf Emmers"

Cooperative Security and the Balance of Power in ASEAN and the ARF. By Ralf Emmers. London and New York: Routledge, 2003. Paperback, xvi, 216 pp. $49.95

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) established in 1967 and 1994 respectively are observed as the key multilateral security institutions in Southeast Asia and the Asia-Pacific. These two institutions are frequently depicted as models of cooperative security rather than operating on a more traditional ‘balance of power’ basis in the absence of intra-mural military alliance.

Dr. Ralf Emmers, one of most recent prominent scholars on Southeast Asian studies, reintroduces the theory of balance of power in ASEAN and the ARF in his Ph.D. thesis turned into book format ‘Cooperative Security and the Balance of Power in ASEAN and the ARF’. In this book, he dichotomizes two different aspects of the balance of power theory namely the balance of power in its conventional interpretation and practice, and the balance of power factor within cooperative security. He argues that ‘ASEAN and the ARF are normally depicted as associative forms of security arrangements that may be defined as alternatives to those characteristics of and employing the traditional concept of the balance of power’ (p. 1). Core to this study, he investigates what role the balance of power really plays in such cooperative security arrangements and in the calculations of their participants. He offers a thorough analysis of the influence of the balance of power factor on the formation and development of ASEAN and the ARF, the coexistence between associative and balance of power dimension, and the kind of relationship that has existed between them.

Traditional concept of the balance of power suggests that as soon as a state’s position within the anarchical state system becomes a threat to the survival of others, a countervailing initiatives, based on one or more actors, is created to restrain the rising state and ensure the preservation of the state system. States need to accumulate constant power in order to survive in this system and to deny any potential hegemon in the region. Countervailing initiatives can be seen in term of military power. Power, therefore, is the fundamental concept in realist theory under which the balance of power is convened.

In his interpretation of traditional concept of the balance of power, Emmers offers three important objectives namely (i) to preventing the states system from becoming a universal empire, (ii) to help in preventing the independence of states that may be absorbed or dominated by regional hegemonic states, and (iii) to make the operation of other institutions feasible (p. 43).

Next is the balance of power factor in cooperative security. Regional security cooperation, though lacking of core assumptions of traditional concept i.e. military dimension, consists of the conventional logic and objectives of the balance of power that is the denial of regional and global hegemony. Hence, cooperative security holds the core simplicity and explanatory qualities of the traditional concept. Its difference from the traditional concept of the balance power is that, the balance of power factor within cooperative security is defined as ‘the disposition to promote countervailing arrangements to deny hegemony within and beyond cooperative security even if devoid of direct military content’ (p. 52). Emmers examines two specific assumptions within this factor. First, the countervailing of power is seen as one element in the operation of a larger security arrangement. Here, the balance of power can coexist with the norms and principles and the promotion of a code of conduct and even complement the security cooperative process. Second, the countervailing of power within a cooperative security regime is dependent on political rather than military means. Specifically, the balance of power factor within cooperative security involves a denial of intra-mural hegemony and the promotion of countervailing arrangements beyond the walls of a diplomatic association. It allows the participants to join an external power through tacit diplomatic alignment to respond to a rising threat. In this sense, the balance of power factor becomes relevant to cooperative security regimes and plays a part in the calculations of their participants.

In empirical part of this book, Emmers provides case studies of Brunei’s motives in joining ASEAN in 1984 (Ch. 3), ASEAN’s response to the Third Indochina Conflict (Ch. 4), the workings of the ARF since 1994 (Ch. 5) and ASEAN’s involvement in the South China Sea dispute (Ch. 6). These chapters reflect the influence of the balance of power on the formation and evolution of ASEAN in early stage (1967-75) and later stage till the end of Cold War (1975-91) and the establishment and development of the ARF in the post Cold War. In early period, ASEAN was concerned with the denial of intra-mural hegemony in mind. Thus it was influenced by the balance of power factor. The participants’ calculations were to counter regional hegemonic dispositions. For example, Singapore and Malaysia primarily aimed to contain Indonesia rising hegemonic dispositions in the region. They perceived Indonesia as an immediate threat to their security due to Sokarno’s policy of Confrontation among others. Hence, they expected that by joining ASEAN, it would be possible for them to develop a stronger position in containing Indonesian influence within the rule-based institutions. From Indonesian perspective, it was compulsory for Indonesia to maintain peace and stability in the region keeping in mind national and regional resilience through socio-economic development. Furthermore, Indonesia’s ambition was to organize Southeast Asia relations independently from external interference. This can be seen throughout ASEAN’s treaties, agreements and declarations, to take an example, the concept of ‘non-interfere’ in internal affairs of member states has been reiterated frequently.

In the later stage, the balance of power existed in the cooperative security arrangement in the form of the denial extra-mural hegemony. ASEAN’s response to the Third Indochina Conflict explained its relevance. The communist victory in Indochina in 1975 and the Vietnam’s invasion and occupation of Cambodia from 1979-1989, posed serious concerns on ASEAN member states. The most concerned member was Thailand due to its immediate border to the communist occupied states. Despite its limitations for lack of military role which led Thailand to rely on the PRC’s pressure on Vietnam, ASEAN’s initiatives to conflict resolution through its diplomatic association were productive and welcomed by the international communities. ASEAN members at this point had a common diplomatic stance. They called for the immediate and total withdrawal of the Vietnamese forces from Kampuchean territory so that the Kampuchean people’s self-determination could be restored. ASEAN brought the case to the UN in 1979. As a result, ASEAN’s primary achievement involved the diplomatic isolation of Vietnam and its puppet regime in Phnom Penh. It supported the Democratic Kampuchea government’s seat in the UN General Assembly that had later been transferred to the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea (CGDK) established in Kuala Lumpur in June 1982. However, at the final stage of Kampuchean conflict resolution, ASEAN played only secondary role. The resolution on Kampuchean conflict was credited to the international settlement known as the ‘23th October 1991 Paris Peace Concord’ in light of the UN. It also resulted from the Sino-Soviet normalization. Hence, Emmers concludes that the ‘Third Indochina Conflict revealed the limits of diplomacy without supporting sanctions, which ASEAN lacked’ (p. 98).

How the balance of power dimension played its part in this conflict is to be examined. As pointed above, ASEAN lacked military role to impose pressure on Vietnam to leave Cambodia. Thus, in addition to its collaborative diplomatic efforts, ASEAN concerned members sought necessary military support from external powers; the PRC was the obvious example. For this reason, Emmers argues that the balance of power tactic was used in order to counter Vietnamese hegemony in Indochina. The external alliance tactic was then imposed by Thailand on its ASEAN partners. Thailand saw ASEAN as only second important tactic in dealing with Vietnam. Thailand could not rely on cooperative security regime within ASEAN that lacked military capacities and its members had different threat perceptions among its participants. While Thailand and Singapore perceived Vietnam as security threat to the region, Indonesia and Malaysia feared the PRC as a source of security threat and saw cooperation with Vietnam as a better mean to ensure peace and stability in the region. This division in intra-mural relations, therefore, pushed Thailand to seek assistance from the PRC and to a lesser extent from the United States. ‘By entering a tacit alliance with the PRC, even if through diplomatic alignment, the members engaged in traditional balance of power practice’ resulted from ‘ASEAN’s inability to evolve into a tacit or formal alliance’ (p. 106).

The post Cold War posed another challenge to cooperative security in which the balance of power consideration was involved. The rising PRC with its aggressive behaviour created suspicion, mistrust and feeling of vulnerability among ASEAN states. One of the chief aims of the establishment of the ARF, therefore, was to contain the PRC rising by bringing it into the rule-based security arrangements to enhance it in habits of good international behaviour. From the PRC perception, joining the ARF was an opportunity to promote multipolarity in the Asia-Pacific to counter US unilitarianism. However, due to its limited experience, the ARF failed to contain the PRC as compared to ASEAN’s degree of success in containing Indonesia in early stage of its existence. Besides, South China Sea dispute has also shown the ARF inability to resolve the regional conflict. Unlike their response to the Third Indochina Conflict, ASEAN members hold different views over the dispute. This provides opportunity for the PRC to maintain its hegemony in South China Sea. Emmers expresses that ‘ASEAN has failed to operate as a cooperative security arrangement with regard to the dispute in part due to the absence of an external source of countervailing power to contain China’s hegemonic dispositions in the South China Sea’ (p. 160). 

From the above review, it is clear that Emmers offers a concrete account on the conceptual framework of the balance power for the studies of ASEAN and the ARF. A central finding reveals that the balance of power does not have to be operated on the basis of military dimension. Rather, it can also employ the political and institutional means to contain potential hegemonic dispositions. In this sense, the balance of power factor in cooperative security arrangements does not even involve in the use of war, the traditional instrument of the balance. Yet, ‘the practice of conventional as well as unconventional balance of power politics by individual members has set a limit to the cooperative process and partly explains why ASEAN has remained a rather weak security regime despite its long existence’ (p. 162). Finally, the current book provides a new angle in the studies of the balance of power and its relevant, coexistent and interrelationship positions within cooperative security institutions. The book is highly and strongly recommended for students and researchers of ASEAN and the ARF, the international politics of the Asia-Pacific, regionalism and the balance of power theory. So far as I understand, I can hardly find out any flaw of the book. Indeed, it is exclusively a precise and genuine, and well-written and detailed book of its kind.

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