Can ASEAN be a peace mediator?

Agus Wandi, Jakarta | Fri, 08/13/2010 9:19 AM | Opinion in the Jakarta Post

An international peace mediation workshop was recently organized by the European Commission (EC) and the Crisis Management Initiative (CMI) in Jakarta to promote cooperation between ASEAN and the European Union (EU) on conflict mediation and prevention in the region.

Among the key questions that emerged was how to promote ASEAN as an effective vehicle for peace mediation. The EU has been responsible for a number of initiatives to strengthen its mediation and dialogue capacities in this field, and ASEAN is now taking steps to model itself on best practices from other regions in order to develop itself as a leader in peace building.

Unlike some skeptics, I believe ASEAN has the potential to become an effective regional body for crisis mediation and prevention. ASEAN has already begun developing programs to promote peace in the region in “its own way”.

The ASEAN Political-Security Community (APSC) blueprint provides a number of recommendations for conflict management put forward by the institution. The blue print envisages three pillars. Among them is a cohesive, peaceful, stable and resilient region with shared responsibility for a comprehensive state of security.

The blueprint outlines ASEAN’s commitment to conflict prevention, preventive diplomacy and post-conflict building. It also provides an action plan to achieve targets in these areas through research, cooperation and development of an institutional framework to deal with regional conflict and security issues.

Outside this blueprint, in the last few years, ASEAN has also engaged in conflict resolution issues. As a regional entity, ASEAN worked with the EU to monitor the implementation of the MoU under the Aceh Monitoring Mission (AMM). While ASEAN plays a minor role in the AMM, it could be the start of its deeper involvement in the future.

It is now time for ASEAN to walk the walk. There is a challenge for the regional body to solve its own dilemma. On the one hand, the region has indicated it would like to participate in initiatives to promote conflict prevention in the region, to add another sphere of influence for the region as it emerges as a strong economic player on the international stage.

On the other hand, the desire for peace is constrained by both its internal framework, which protects the sovereign rights of its members from external interference, and its reluctance on the regional level to open itself to third-party involvement, especially from non-ASEAN countries.

In reality, most conflicts in the region would benefit from the experience and expertise that third parties from other conflict areas could provide in building trust between governments or mediating peace talks.

Indonesia and the Philippines have engaged teams of conflict resolution experts in developing the strategic frameworks for ending conflicts in their countries, and building toward stable peace. The benefits of working together with experienced actors outside the region could enrich ASEAN countries.

In the case of the peace process in Aceh, many feared that external mediation would bolster the separatist movement. However, this was by no means the case. Peace was achieved, the province did not become politically diffused, and economic development has become the focus for long-lasting peace.

Aceh has a long way to go to prove the success of the special autonomy status it was granted by the central government; and the success of the peace process was strongly affected by aid entering the region following the 2004 tsunami. Regardless, the process in Aceh illustrates how third party involvement, through mediation and assistance, can be important in supporting the attainment of a wider peace.

ASEAN needs to learn from this experience on a regional level. The AMM is a successful example of the first partnership ASEAN has undertaken with a regional counterpart to address conflict in one of its member states: In this case, with the EU.

Because of the general resistance in the region in regards to outside “meddling” in state and regional affairs, ASEAN would be best served by developing its own institutions for conflict mediation and conflict prevention. Strengthening the capacity and scope of peace building mediators already working in ASEAN countries should be explored and promoted.

An interesting recommendation put forward in the blueprint is the establishment of an ASEAN center for peace and reconciliation. This center could focus on research about social crises in the region, and provide recommendations for peace building activities and internal mechanisms for managing and preventing conflict.

ASEAN civil society should also be involved in conflict prevention initiatives in the region. Many civil society groups have more extensive experience in this field than their governments, and have built strong networks among themselves. Bringing civil society groups on board and learning from their experience is crucial, as the identity of an ASEAN peace building agency is being formed. The wisdom of a handful of respected actors in countries across the region who have worked on peace mediation needs to be harnessed and replicated.

The key is for ASEAN to continue exploring what role it can best play to contribute to peace in the region. The ASEAN blueprint is a good start, but further action is crucial.

The writer is director of the IDCC (International Development and Crisis Consultants) and a post-conflict consultant.

Read More..

ASEAN and contemporary US diplomacy in East Asia

Evi Fitriani, Jakarta | Fri, 08/13/2010 9:09 AM | Opinion

Despite US President Barack Obama twice postponing his visit to Indonesia, there has been a marked increase in high-ranked US officials reaching out to Southeast Asia.

The most prominent being the visit by US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to Jakarta to discuss the future of US-Indonesian military cooperation and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s presence at the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in Hanoi last month.

China’s economic growth and its ability to capitalize its economic strength to political-strategic influence in the region and global diplomacy has irritated the US. The world’s sole superpower now depends on Chinese investment to secure its economy.

The US does not only suffer continuous trade deficits against China, but also has to finance its budget on government bonds, much of which have been bought by China.

Clinton flew to China soon after the collapse of American financial market in 2009 to assure the Chinese government that China’s capital is safe in US hands. There is a global shift in power. The US may still be the strongest military power in the world but it needs strong economic support.

In contrast, with high economic growth and around US$2.45 trillion in foreign exchange reserves, the biggest in the world, China can afford to build a very modern military, including a blue-ocean navy that may project its leverage in the Pacific and beyond.

On top of this hard power, China’s business interests have expanded into Africa and Latin America. With a very close link between politics and business in China and the centralized political system controlled by the Chinese authority, economic tools can be used to pursue political-strategic interests, and vice versa.

China has used its economic strength as a powerful tool in international relations which, in turn, may threaten US interests in Asia and around the globe.

In short, China’s economic strength and political-strategic influence have made the US more vulnerable domestically and abroad.

The US’ current outreach to countries in Southeast Asia is to balance China’s influence and mitigate its vulnerability.

America’s traditional ally in Asia, Japan, seems unable to play a significant role in balancing China in Asia due to its domestic political and economic problems.

Japan’s continuing struggle to reform its economic and political systems have taken a toll in the country’s diplomacy and limited its foreign policy. The US can’t rely on Japan to secure US interests in Asia.

Consequently, the US has actively approached ASEAN countries and insisted on joining the East Asian Summit (EAS). While the intensity may be different, all of the 10 members of the ASEAN have had their own historical engagements with the US.

The establishment of ASEAN in 1967 has been widely perceived as one part of the US’ strategy to contain communism in the region during 1960s.

Perhaps, ASEAN is the only realistic choice for the US to pursue its interests in Asia. While it has been criticized for being too weak institutionally and too compromising politically, ASEAN is the world’s longest running geo-political organization after the EU.

ASEAN countries have not only maintained the longevity of their regional institution beyond the Cold War, but expanded the institution’s membership to include almost all countries in Southeast Asia.

In addition, despite the emergence of various regional institutions in the region, ASEAN has developed as the core of Asian regional architecture since 1990s.

While there are frequent questions about ASEAN’s institutional capability to handle regional affairs and crises, ASEAN countries seem to occupy the driver’s seat in Asian regional forums.

Nevertheless, ASEAN’s important position in the regional architecture means the organization’s leaders should not overlook challenges in regard to the US’ revitalized presence in Asia and its accession to the EAS.

History teaches us that the reasons behind the absence of solid Asian regionalism and identity derive not only from domestic problems and inter-state distrust among Asian countries, but also from the presence of external powers like the US in the region.

While traditional US strategy in East Asia is to oppose any single notion of domination, ASEAN should not let the Americans re-establish their own domination in the region.

ASEAN should be able to become the host in Asia and determine the course of Asian regional architecture based on reciprocal respect and mutual benefits between countries and external actors.

Despite the need to use acceptable diplomatic language, ASEAN countries have to be able to safeguard the region’s interests vis-à-vis external actors.

ASEAN countries need to balance China’s influence in the region too. The strategy looks to be to include Japan and Australia in the EAS. With the accession of the US, ASEAN should have more room to maneuver in dealing with China.

The revitalization of US presence in the region can be used to increase Southeast Asian countries’ bargaining power against China’s aggressiveness in the South China Sea. At the ASEAN Regional Forum last week, we saw antagonism between the US and China in handling the Spratly Islands conflict.
Nevertheless, ASEAN should not become the victim of the US – China competition in the region.

ASEAN countries should increase their institutional capability and build inter-state trust in order to become a smart mediator that can deal with external actors without sacrificing their own interests.

The writer is a senior lecturer in the International relations Department, University of Indonesia (Jakarta), and a PhD candidate in the Australian National University (Australia).

Read More..