The limits of the ASEAN Regional Forum
Lee, Jerry Kwok Song
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Since the end of the Cold War, Asia has faced many traditional and non-traditional security challenges. These challenges include increasing Chinese assertiveness, territorial disputes among multiple Asian states in the East and South China Seas, the buildup of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal, the discovery of terrorist networks in Southeast Asia, and several major natural disasters and humanitarian crises. Each of these revealed an apparent lack of cooperation and coordination among countries in the region, but each seems to have spurred the creation or development of new regional institutions. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) initiated the formation of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), a cooperative security arrangement with the stated objectives to progress from confidence building measures to preventive diplomacy and conflict resolution. The usefulness of the ARF, however, continues to be hotly debated by analysts, who generally find the ARF to be limited in its ability to resolve Asia’s security challenges. These arguments, however, overlook the fact that the forum has fostered practical cooperation in addressing certain kinds of security challenges. What are the ARF’s limits in responding to Asia’s traditional and non-traditional security challenges? The thesis uses contemporary case studies to analyze the ARF’s limits. These case studies focus on the ARF’s responses to traditional and non-traditional security challenges. In so doing, the thesis recognizes that the ARF is unable to resolve traditional security issues or stage operational responses to non-traditional security issues. It argues, however, that the ARF is far from being irrelevant. The forum brought regional players together in constructive dialogues and fostered practical security cooperation in specific non-traditional security issues.
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