By Julio S. Amador III1


Does the Asia Pacific region need a new regional security architecture, and if so, what form should it take? The question of resolving or at least managing the regional security environment has become more important as calls for new security arrangements are being made in response to the changing dynamics that affects the region’s stability.

Various security challenges brought about by the rise of China and India and the growing recognition of the impact of transnational and non-traditional security concerns along with traditional security concerns such as the potential conflict in the South China Sea and the instability of the Korean Peninsula have heightened the awareness of policymakers, scholars, and analysts to the region’s shortcomings in terms of institutional arrangements designed to resolve potential crisis.
The ASEAN Regional Forum’s redirection to focusing on non-traditional security concerns and wariness toward moving to preventive diplomacy has made supporters and critics alike to think of regional security architecture that can address the ARF’s shortcomings. This paper analyzes the debate and provides a summary of the choices confronting policymakers. The paper suggests that the evolving regional security architecture’s development will be gradual and based on existing institutions, balancing the concerns of powerful states with less powerful ones and moving toward a community rather than remaining on the current cooperative security framework.


Australia’s much maligned proposal2 for an Asia Pacific community3 (APc) had a positive impact. It forced the leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to consider thoroughly the challenges brought about by a changing regional security environment. The critics of the APc Proposal were adamant that ASEAN’s centrality should be supported instead of being undermined. Singapore took the lead in exploring the potentials of a security architecture anchored on ASEAN that will take into consideration the changing security environment as well as the further engagement of Russia and the United States of America. Indonesia for its part floated the idea of an expanded East Asian Summit (EAS) that will be joined by the two extra-regional states.

For ASEAN, the regional security architecture could entail either the inclusion of the US and Russia into the EAS or the crafting of a new ASEAN instrumentality, which was the proposed ASEAN Plus Eight4 (AP8). However, while ASEAN has now chosen the EAS route and has invited Russia and the US into joining this ASEAN-led instrumentality, it would still be worthwhile to explore the prospects of the developing regional security architecture considering that it will serve as the region’s hub of security debates beyond the ASEAN Regional Forum, which many see as being more apt for non-traditional security concerns.5 Still, there is debate within ASEAN on what the regional security architecture should be since the creation of the ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting Plus Eight (ADMM+8) is already a new forum for security and defense dialogues with ASEAN’s eight partner states.6 ASEAN’s preferences are still unclear at this point.

How the security architecture will eventually look like is dependent upon many factors and considerations, many of which cannot be covered in this paper. Rather, this essay looks into the potential form of the architecture under the limits brought about by the changing regional security environment in the Asia Pacific. This paper is divided into three main parts. First, it will discuss the current regional security environment in the Asia Pacific. Second, it explores the reaction in ASEAN toward security challenges and third, it will consider the prospects of a regional security architecture.

How the security architecture will eventually look like is dependent upon many factors and considerations, many of which cannot be covered in this paper. Rather, this paper looks into the potential form of the architecture under the limits brought about by the changing regional security environment in the Asia Pacific. This paper is divided into three main parts. The first part, discusses the current regional security environment in the Asia Pacific. The second part, explores the reaction in ASEAN toward security challenges. And the third part, considers the prospects of a regional security architecture.


Asia Pacific Regional Security Environment7

It has been said that the 21st century is the Asian century. The rise of China and India and the general resilience of Asia Pacific amidst global uncertainty have been credited as reasons for the power shift toward Asia. While the US and Europe are still influential, Asia’s unbridled capacity for growth has made a case for its leadership. The changing regional security environment will have an impact on how Asia Pacific can lead the region. The challenges to the region are multifarious and multifaceted. They range from economic security issues to traditional and non-traditional ones. Most importantly, they cannot be easily resolved by pure economic and security powers alone.

Europe are still influential, Asia’s unbridled capacity for growth has made a case for its leadership. The changing regional security environment will have an impact on how Asia Pacific can lead the region. The challenges to the region are multifarious and multifaceted. They range from economic security issues to traditional and non-traditional ones. Most importantly, they cannot be easily resolved by pure economic and security powers alone.

The IMF has warned that the 2009 global financial crisis will cause possible economic shocks to the Asia Pacific region. IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Khan, while recognizing Asia’s emergence as a “global economic powerhouse,” noted that the region is still at risk from Europe and the United States’ expected economic slowdown.8 It was recognized that Asia will have to adapt by increasing domestic investment and consumption to balance the effect of low growth in Europe and the US. However, individual states may still suffer from shocks on differing levels and those markets that are relatively synchronized may find some spillover effects from one another. As examples, states that are more integrated with the global economic system such as Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand suffered more than relatively weaker states such as Indonesia and the Philippines during the 2009 crisis.9 While there are signs of economic stability in the region, it is too early to tell if the crisis has indeed panned out. What is more likely is that the differing levels of sophistication (or lack thereof) in the economic and financial markets in the Asia Pacific have prevented a domino effect of problems that may stem from the 2009 crisis.

The rise of China and India and their impact on the Asia Pacific region cannot also go unnoticed. China has overtaken Japan as the second biggest economy in the world, and India’s long term prospects are also positive.10 China’s economic power ultimately affects the region and will probably be the economic hegemon in the future due to its investments in education, the productivity of its rural sector, and its local-driven economic reforms along with its openness for economic policy debates.11 India has also shown itself to be an economic powerhouse to reckon with. It was able to weather the global economic crisis and has shown resilience because of the series of economic reforms it has pursued in the last 18 years, thus making it an important factor in the rise of Asia.12 These two states may eventually have to face each other’s rise, and while China has been on a charm offensive in the region, India’s Look East Policy has not been a pushover either. It is expected that both states will have major impact on the region’s future although India will have a lot of catching up to do if it wants to attain China’s current level of leadership in the region.

Traditional security concerns have continued to challenge Asia Pacific states. These concerns are on the level of potential conflict among states due to the sensitivity of the issues and the volatility of the security environment in which they exist. The ROKS Cheonan sinking off the west coast of South Korea shows the instability present in the Korean Peninsula. The Cheonan, a South Korean navy ship, was allegedly sunk by a torpedo from a North Korean submarine, a claim disputed by North Korea.13 This incident resulted in preparations in North Korea for potential attacks, which in turn agitated the region. The Korean Peninsula is therefore an active security concern for ASEAN in particular and the Asia Pacific in general. The breakdown of the Six-Party talks has resulted in one less avenue for engaging North Korea. More importantly, the talks failed to denuclearize North Korea, which leads to discomfort for its neighboring states. Hence, the region has to ensure that any fallout from possible open conflict in the Korean Peninsula should be mitigated, if not contained.

The situation in the South China Sea has also led to new concerns about how the region handles inter-state disputes over contested territories. The South China Sea is still a flashpoint for regional dispute due to the numerous and differing claims of various states, which inevitably affect non-claimant states as well.14 Claims of sovereignty and multiple overlapping jurisdictions are indicators of the difficulty in resolving the disputes as well as managing potential crises. However, the situation has deteriorated due to the tensions between the US and China as can be gleaned from the 17th ASEAN Regional Forum in Hanoi, 23 July 2010. The US, through Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, stated that it “has a national interest in freedom of navigation, open access to Asia’s maritime commons, and respect for international law in the South China Sea.”15 The US, supported by Vietnam, wants to internationalize the issue of the South China Sea in the hopes of ensuring its continued access to the region’s waters. China has shown itself averse to internationalizing the issue. This can be seen in Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi’s insistence that the internationalization of the South China Sea disputes will “only make matters worse and resolution more difficult.”16 Yang also stated that “international practices show that the best way to resolve such disputes is for countries concerned to have direct bilateral negotiations.”17 China’s elevation of its claims over the South China Sea as a core national concern on the same level as its claims over Taiwan has arguably caused tensions to rise. Some might see this as undue provocation, although China might see it as just a reflection of the reality it believes in. China’s action in this regard does not in any way contribute to the stability of the region. In sum, the South China Sea dispute is again an active regional flashpoint for potential conflicts in the region.

On the issue of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, the region has become home to several nuclear powers and non-signatories to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Russia, US, China, Pakistan, India, and North Korea are either known or greatly suspected of having nuclear capabilities. Asia is where three states have broken the test-ban taboo (India, Pakistan, and North Korea), where transfer of knowledge, technology, equipment, and delivery systems have been made to those states seeking to acquire nuclear capability and where the possibility for transfer of the aforementioned matters to non-state actors is high.18 The Asia Pacific is also where six of the nine states that have not ratified the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty are located: China, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, US, and North Korea.19 The Asia Pacific is both a civilian and military nuclear region, and since the regional environment is one in which there are possibilities of non-peaceful uses of nuclear energy, it behooves states in the region to ensure that levels of cooperation and compliance with international standards on nuclear issues should be maintained or improved.

In terms of non-traditional security issues, the Asia Pacific has been constantly facing various threats to human security, which are not usually dealt with in traditional security frameworks. The Consortium of Non-Traditional Security Studies in Asia20 (NTS-ASIA), established in 2007 in the Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) as bridge for scholars and practitioners in Northeast, Southeast, and South Asia, has classified non-traditional threats into 11 categories as outlined in Table 1. The ASEAN Regional Forum, the ASEAN and the Asia Pacific’s main forum for political security cooperation, has identified four priority areas for cooperation. These are juxtaposed with NTS-ASIA’s classification in
Table 1.21

Table 1. NTS-ASIA and ARF Non-Traditional Security Issues

Source: NTS-ASIA, Chairman’s Statement 17th ARF, Severino 2009.


Caballero-Anthony described the nature of non-traditional security issues as mainly nonmilitary in origin, simultaneously transnational and subnational in scope, fast development, short notice of appearance, and rapid spreading due to globalization.22 Caballero-Anthony also pointed out that non-traditional security issues affect the well-being, dignity, and the very survival of human beings, which are beyond the confines of state sovereignty and territorial integrity.23 The response to these threats, therefore, would have to be cooperative and inter-state because national responses will probably be inadequate.24 It is interesting to note that NTS-ASIA’s classification of non-traditional security threats is broader than the ARF’s. While there are convergences, the ARF non-traditional security threats are focused on the “harder” issues, which are military in nature and in response.

The Asia Pacific region is awash in security threats and issues. There are probably periods when governments lurch from crisis to crisis. As the nature of both traditional and non-traditional security threats means that the causes are not rooted in a single state alone but due to the complex, interwoven histories, policies and politics, the effects are not expected to respect territorial boundaries. Contagion, for example, is the downside of further economic integration in the region as explained earlier. Open conflicts may produce spillovers like refugees and asylum seekers which affect uninvolved states. Traditional and non-traditional threats thus push the region toward cooperation to respond to common challenges and concerns.25 Current regional security arrangements such as the ARF have been found to be wanting. As such, various proposals have been put forward to fill the vacuum that the ARF is unwilling to fill. They are either foreign or integral to ASEAN as the central organization in the region. It is expected, however, that the current setup is untenable for there are no resolutions to pressing issues and cooperation is heavily disjointed in responding to the different challenges to the region.26

Need for Coherence in Managing Regional Security Issues

Even while underscoring the ARF’s importance, the Chairman’s Statement in the 17th ARF noted that there is an evolving regional security architecture and that ASEAN is central to it.27 For ASEAN member-states, its centrality should be a given in any regional security architecture as it has the longest history in maintaining various processes for cooperation in Southeast Asia and the wider Asia Pacific with various degrees of successes.

The US and other states in the region have pointed out that regional institutions need to work better.28 The cornerstone for the US’ regional architecture vision is its bilateral alliances supported by its thrusts toward building better relationships with other powers in the Asia Pacific, including signing the TAC and joining the EAS. Thus, a US-centered regional architecture rests on its initiatives in the region and must give priority to “enhancing security and stability, expanding economic opportunity and growth, and fostering democracy and human rights.”29

Japan proposed an East Asian community (EAc) to manage the challenges in the region during Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s tenure. The proposed EAc was supposed to promote greater cooperation in enhancing prosperity, addressing climate change, protecting human lives from diseases and disasters, and building a “sea of fraternity” that will respond to maritime threats and accidents.30 Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd of Australia proposed the Asia Pacific community (APc), which was envisioned to promote further economic and financial integration in the region, promote a culture of cooperation and collaboration on security, and “provide a vehicle for discussion and cooperation across the range of challenges with transnational reach, such as climate change, resource and food security, biosecurity, and terrorism.”31

The aforementioned proposals for an Asia Pacific regional security architecture are really “Grand Ideas” advanced by the competing powers in the region to ensure that security challenges are addressed, prevent the dominance of any major power, and manage multipolarity in the region. These Grand Ideas are found in Table 2.

Table 2. Grand Ideas for Regional Security Architecture

Source: Clinton (2010), Hatoyama (2009), Rudd (2009), ASEAN

These Grand Ideas for regional security architecture are indicative of the following: 1) the Asia Pacific region is beset by various security challenges, 2) there is difficulty in responding to these challenges because of potential spillover effects and the transnational nature of many threats, 3) there is a need to have an overarching structure to tackle these challenges, and 4) there is yet no regional security architecture to speak of that will be able to do so. Current Asia Pacific regional arrangements also fail to effectively separate political, economic and security issues which lead to an organization like APEC to also tackle non-traditional security issues, apart from its main remit of economic cooperation.

As mentioned earlier, the security environment of the Asia Pacific is in flux and prone to various non-traditional threats. Traditional security concerns, which involve potential inter-state conflict, also exist and threaten the region. The enormity of the collective challenges makes it difficult to respond to these individually or through bilateral alliances. The ARF, the current framework that serves the region’s need for political-security dialogue, has been time and again sidelined due to its reluctance to tackle inter-state issues in the region.32 This reluctance comes primarily from debates on whether preventive diplomacy is applicable only in inter-state conflict or if it also applies to internal conflicts also.33

The need for a regional security architecture that can broker and settle possible inter-state disputes, coordinate responses to transnational security threats, and balance the competing powers in the Asia Pacific is not contested. The argument, however, is in how such architecture should be constructed, who will manage its development, and whether participating states are willing to give up some of their sovereignty.

Various proposals such as the Grand Ideas explained in this paper all point to the fact that there is no regional security architecture that currently has the capacity to mediate between and among states in the region or coordinate efforts in combating transnational threats. What currently exist are multiple structures that tend to overlap such as the ASEAN Plus Three, Plus Six/Eight, APEC and others. There are also mechanisms that do not have solid mandates but are clearly ad hoc in nature such as the Six-Party talks, which aim to find a peaceful solution to the impact of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, or in Southeast Asia, sub-regional multilateral frameworks such as the Five Powers Defense Arrangement. How the region defines regional security architecture and its potential functions and responsibilities will greatly affect the world’s eventual shift of strategic, economic, and political power to the Asia Pacific region.

Current Developments in ASEAN’s Strategic Direction

The ratification of the ASEAN Charter with its call for ASEAN centrality in economic and political relations with extra-regional states has, in a way, pushed member-states to review ASEAN’s strategic direction. There is also resurgence in talks and proposals for an ASEAN-centered regional security architecture fueled by Australia’s APc proposal. While ASEAN’s opposition ensured that the APc was not able to go off the ground, it was unmistakable that the implicit challenge to its ontological nature, its sense of being the center of Asia Pacific regionalism, shook up the elite in ASEAN.

Talks of an evolving regional security architecture were not at the forefront of ASEAN discussions before 2008. As evidenced in the 2007 Joint Communiqué of the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting (AMM), there was no mention of it, but only of ASEAN’s role in leading regional security cooperation.34 This continued into 2008 where the joint communiqué did not even mention “regional security” even as it emphasized that there is “One ASEAN in the Heart of Dynamic Asia.”35 Perhaps ASEAN member-states saw that there were no serious questions about regional institutions and processes constructed on ASEAN ways and principles.

Even in 2009, the Foreign Ministers of ASEAN did not see any need to include discussions on regional security architecture and their Joint Communiqué only affirmed ASEAN centrality in the ARF.36 This was basically the same in 2008 and the reaffirmation of ASEAN centrality was due primarily to requests from non-ASEAN participants in the ARF to have a more meaningful role in the process such as being able to hold the chairmanship.

However, in 2010 after Australia invited a 1.5 track dialogue in Sydney to discuss Rudd’s proposed APc, talks of a regional security architecture became common among foreign ministry officials, analysts, and academics involved in ASEAN. In the 2010 AMM Joint Communiqué, ASEAN invoked its centrality in the evolving regional architecture.37 In this Communiqué, ASEAN foreign ministers stated that any new regional arrangements should be complementary to and built on existing regional mechanisms and on the principle of ASEAN centrality. ASEAN asserted that its own community-building efforts will positively contribute to the building of a community in the wider region.38 The Communiqué also contained the recommendation for ASEAN leaders to decide on formally inviting the Russian Federation and the United States to join the East Asia Summit. However, the inclusion of Russia and the US into the EAS is premised on continuing the existing EAS agenda and priorities.39

In May 2010, the ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM) decided to convene the first ADMM Plus meeting in October 2010. This was done in recognition of the complexity of facing transnational security challenges and the desire for further cooperation between ASEAN member-states and extra-regional states.40 The primary thrust of the ADMM Plus is to ensure that ASEAN will benefit in building member-states’ capacity in addressing shared security challenges. The ADMM Plus is also expected to build greater confidence among defense establishments as well as enhance regional peace and security.41

During the 17th ARF held in conjunction with the AMM in Hanoi, the Chairman’s statement held that the ministers reaffirmed the ARF as the primary forum to discuss political and security issues in the region as well as the central pillar in the evolving regional security architecture.42 Participants in the ARF upheld ASEAN’s centrality in existing regional mechanisms as well as the regional security architecture itself, forestalling any attempt to remove it from directing the future directions of the region.

What should be noticeable to observers is the dilemma on the part of ASEAN on what it envisions the regional security architecture to be. This is in part because ASEAN does not see any problem in the existing arrangements. The challenge brought about by the APc forced the ASEAN to react and since it claims to be central to regional institution-building, it had to think of a way to counter the challenge and to come up with an alternative so that observers will not see things as “business-as-usual.”

While ASEAN leaders saw the necessity of further enmeshing Russia and the US into the region, it did so through the EAS although there were talks of an ASEAN plus Eight, which was supposed to be a new configuration to exist alongside existing institutions.43 Proponents of the EAS were able to ensure that the US and Russia will be invited by ASEAN Leaders to join later. Currently, the EAS is a “leaders-led summit for strategic discussions on key issues affecting the region and the evolving regional architecture.”44

The dilemma, however, is that while ASEAN recognizes that there is an evolving regional security architecture, it still insists on the ARF as the central pillar for that architecture. However, the ARF has now focused on non-traditional security concerns and may not now be able to confront the challenges faced by the region seeing that the forum has not moved toward preventive diplomacy and remains moribund in confidence-building measures. A glimmer of hope was seen in the 17th ARF, which was able to bring back to the center stage state-level dialogues of security concerns but other avenues such as the ADMM Plus may be able to gain more traction where the ARF has failed.

Regional Architecture Concepts and Prospects

Regional security arrangements are meant to do two things: first, to concentrate on collective defense or conflict management, and second, to focus on confidence and trust-building in the first instance.45 Of course, it can be an “and/or” choice for states and, in some instances, the second must precede the first. States have the choice whether they want to build confidence first in the region before any talks of collective defense and conflict management should be made, or they can also choose to move on to discussion of greater defense and conflict management cooperation if they feel that there is enough confidence among states in the region.

In the continuing evolution of the Asia Pacific regional security architecture, it should be made obvious that states have to make some choices so that the direction of the evolution will be clear. In this paper, the choices are summarized in three: continuity vs. change, multiple overlapping structures vs. single structure, and unipolar Asia Pacific vs. Concert of Powers vs. Community.46

Continuity vs. Change

Would states prefer a regional security architecture centered on the ASEAN or would they prefer a new set of institutions? Inevitably, ASEAN’s role in the management of regional security challenges is going to be questioned. ASEAN’s continued centrality in managing regional security issues rests on its ability to move the ARF toward preventive diplomacy since the essence of the calls for change in the management of regional security is the dismay over the direction of the ARF in giving priority to purely non-traditional security threats. ASEAN has always advocated that changes should be made at the pace that all participants are comfortable with. Thus, all participant states in the ARF have to consider the capacity of every other state in the region when proposing potential courses of action. This lowest common denominator approach allows for equity as it prevents more powerful states from running roughshod over weaker states. At the same time, it hinders further developments in the region as weaker states constantly seek to block initiatives which may impinge on their sovereignty.

A new set of institutions may be preferable to some as a way out of the current impasse in the ARF. Anew regional security architecture not based on the ASEAN way nor making the ARF the central pillar would have the advantage of being a real forum for preventive diplomacy wherein state sovereignty, while remaining central, would not be a hindrance to ensuring that progress can be made on difficult issues. The problem lies in the changes that a new regional security architecture would make. Any agreement on the role of the architecture would have to be accepted by all states in the region lest the region breaks down into different factions and exclusive organizations. This, however, would be reminiscent of the ASEAN way, which has proved to be a stumbling block in deeper cooperation when brought into other regional institutions. The difficulty is also by the lack of homogeneity in the states of the Asia Pacific region. As such, it makes any proposed architecture a puzzle board with no puzzle pieces that can make a perfect picture.

The question of how confident states are that they can cooperate in collective defense and conflict management has to be answered seeing that the ARF, the region’s premier forum on political-security issues, has been existing for 16 years. If progress has been made, where is the Asia Pacific now in terms of security cooperation?47 The participating states in the ARF should take this opportunity to review the evolution of the ARF as a vehicle for security cooperation inasmuch as the dissatisfaction with its inability to move toward preventive diplomacy has made previously supportive states wary of its true value. Any proposed architecture will also have to take into consideration the level of confidence currently existing in the region if radical changes will be proposed. If for 15 years, the ARF has not gained sufficient levels of confidence that will allow it to move on to preventive diplomacy, how can any new architecture impose confidence so that it can be an architecture that can solve real problems?

Multiple Overlapping Structures vs. Single Structure

Another debate is whether the regional security architecture should evolve from ASEAN-related and inspired institutions such as the ARF, EAS and others which will be distinct from these and will overlap with the concerns of these institutions and process, or it should be a new structure that will be independent of ASEAN and will probably subsume it into itself. The difference between this debate and the previous choice is that in this case, states will have to decide whether the multifarious institutions in the Asia Pacific such as APEC, ASEAN, APT, and the rest will be retained so that the regional architecture can focus solely on security issues, especially traditional ones; or, create a single structure that will have the means to coordinate and implement the current activities that are being done in existing institutions.

While a single structure like the European Union or more experienced structures like the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) are unlikely in the region in the medium term, they are examples of choices that can be considered by Asia Pacific states. A single structure architecture may have to ensure that it can manage economic, political, and security relations in the region. The difficulty of such a task may be insurmountable considering the differing institutional contexts that states exist in. The possibility of a single structure will also have to consider the potential damage on the good will of states that will be involved in terms of the confidence built by ASEAN institutions and mechanisms. The APT, for example, has evolved into a mechanism for better relations and cooperation among the ASEAN member-states and China, Japan, and South Korea in various political, security, and economic areas. A new single structure architecture will definitely have its work cut out for it.

Unipolar Asia Pacific vs. Concert of Powers vs. Community

The concept of a unipolar Asia Pacific hinges on the belief that the US will still retain supremacy in the region. Despite the domestic challenges being faced by the US, some analysts believe that it will still dominate the region through sheer military power. Asian states may even have a complicit role in maintaining US hegemony in the region.48 In this view, Asian states may have been masking strategic indecision through creating institutions that try to be inclusive so as to have a fallback position. The US by default becomes that fallback position. Another view on US dominance is that the rise of China causes Asia Pacific states to be cautious, thereby propelling them to seek a strategic alliance with the US.49 Bilateral alliances and strategic multilateral cooperation would be the primary architecture that will respond to security challenges. While this view does not remain unchallenged, it is important to note that there is no clear-cut discourse on the future of the US in the Asia Pacific.50 The US is still seen as the most reliable partner in securing the region and East Asian states in fact may want more of its attention,51 and this creates disagreements among Asia Pacific states on its future role in the region. However, the US itself seems to be ambivalent being content in letting other states drive the discussion on security architecture, and at the same it is reluctant in supporting any architecture that might diminish its influence, and furthermore, does not want to relinquish its dominant status in the region.

The Australian proposal for an APc was seen as a move to create a concert of powers in the region. This concert would include the big economic powers in the region or eight to ten members of the new G20. A concert of powers is an expanded version of cooperative security. In a cooperative security system, states may be distrustful of one another but possess no perception of immediate threats.52 In such a system, states seek to lessen chances for misperception and reduce uncertainty. Principles, rules, and procedures to govern inter-state relations, or in short, institutionalization is agreed upon to increase trust and lessen the potential of misreading state behavior that can lead to crisis. Reducing uncertainty in security issues can lead to improved relations in economic cooperation and collective action in addressing transnational issues.53

Currently, the Asia Pacific region operates more or less under a cooperative security system. States in the region, while wary and sometimes openly distrustful of one another, do not see their neighbors as immediate threats to security. They are still able to dialogue with one another and cooperate at some levels. While a concert of powers means that powerful states hold more sway than weaker ones, ASEAN as a community is able to exercise to a great degree a sway that individual member-states could not do. As such, the reality is that in the region, a concert of powers includes taking the ASEAN as a whole. Of course, it cannot be doubted that there are internal tensions among member-states that might weaken their combined influence, but this is mitigated by the ASEAN Charter which calls for a centrality of ASEAN in the external relations of member-states. The argument against a concert of powers is that it is “likely to fail if it tries to manage the region as a whole as a great power club.”54 The region does not possess the necessary confidence to build an agreement among major powers on how to handle security issues and conflicts. These major powers in fact may differ on what constitutes security issues and what can cause conflicts. A concert of powers does little to assuage smaller states that they will not be bullied into cooperation.

The idea of a security community in the Asia Pacific will have to be a long-term goal. Community security is a much deeper relationship than cooperative security. In a community security system, national ideas and interests are subsumed under a more supra-national system or a community of states.55 In essence, a state is concerned not only with its own security but the security of other states in the community. Disputes will be resolved through agreed upon mechanisms, and force is considered illegitimate in solving them. These are ambitious goals that make a wider community difficult to create in the medium term.56 Indeed, ASEAN’s own journey into a community could be instructive to the wider region as it demonstrates the delicate touch needed to bring together disparate states toward common goals and objectives.

A new regional security architecture?

In a region such as the Asia Pacific where there is no single institution that compels or at the very least promotes cooperation, the development of a regional security architecture would go a long way in ensuring stability and peace. However, this regional security architecture cannot be simply wished into existence. It has to consider the challenges that can be brought about by domestic instability in weak states. It also must seek to delegitimize force as the main response to security issues. The region’s continuing flux has to be factored in as states seek to create a hierarchy of influence among themselves. This means that domestic disturbances in one state can adversely affect other states and can be a contagion for the region because there is no mechanism for close cooperation.

In a normative direction, the regional security architecture of the Asia Pacific can only be 1) gradual and not abruptly imposed, 2) built upon the confidence gained by ASEAN and the ARF among regional states, and 3) toward building a secured regional community. This is not to say that there have been no efforts toward meeting these criteria. However, the experience of the ARF has shown that great powers can subvert regional goals because they threaten national interests.57 China for example, contrary to the view that it has been socialized into the ASEAN way, has balked at further cooperation in the Forum when it threatens its national interests. The raising of the South China Sea as a core national interest did little to inspire confidence in the region. Australia proposed the APc because it saw that the ARF has not moved toward preventive diplomacy. However, time has allowed the region to settle into an uneasy but peaceful existence.

Thus, a gradual approach to a new architecture would be necessary so as not to disrupt the gains obtained throughout the years by existing institutions such as the ARF and the APEC. Also, weaker states need to improve their domestic situation so that they can easily fit into the architecture. It is imperative in this regard that ASEAN is able to achieve its various blueprints toward community building so that its member-states can approach other states on the region in equal terms. A gradual approach should also mean that major powers in the region should start or improve their bilateral relations and reduce tensions among themselves.

Pan-regional institutions such as the ARF and the APEC have done much in improving confidence, and a new security architecture needs to capitalize on this, else it would not be successful. As it is, proponents of new models of security cooperation have failed to inspire trust among ASEAN member-states. There is no assurance that Pacific and Latin American states would be more trustful that they would not be marginalized in an architecture that presumably they would be invited to also join.58

While the ARF has not moved toward the preventive diplomacy stage, and while the APEC has failed to realize economic integration in the Asia Pacific, there are still valuable lessons learned along the way that can be used by whatever regional security architecture that would exist as object lessons.

The apparent failure of a cooperative security framework to reduce uncertainties in the region need not mean that a community security framework has no chance to exist. In a continuum of security frameworks, the emergence of a community can only exist on the solidification of a cooperative security framework. This is to say that while being realistic in the problems that go along with any efforts toward community-building, states in the Asia Pacific need to be more ambitious than they are right now. Presently, only the ASEAN member-states have sought to form a community in the real sense of the word. While it may not yet be on the same level as the European Community, at least Southeast Asian states have taken the bold step toward creating among themselves a community that will transcend national and domestic interests. Thus, while political-security cooperation and economic integration are promoted, the socio-cultural aspect is not forgotten. A regional security architecture would therefore be balancing between pragmatism and idealism in its evolution.

There is no single model of security architecture that captures the challenges brought about by a dynamic Asia Pacific. More than ever, cooperation among interested states has to intensify; otherwise, any proposal would not be heeded or would only be seen as promoting the interests of one state or the more powerful states. ASEAN, as the current driver of regional security cooperation, needs to intensify its efforts internally and externally in promoting a vision of an architecture that would not be dominated by a single or a concert of powers. It has to insist that medium powers and weak states should not have a secondary status in the architecture. However, it must also accept the reality that it cannot forever be on the driver’s seat if it does not address its own internal stresses. Only a unified ASEAN can face the major powers on an equal basis.

The major powers need to accept that a region where only a single power or even a concert of powers can decide the affairs and the direction of cooperation will never be acceptable. They also need to intensify their own cooperation efforts and stop a revival of a cold war mentality that further destabilizes the region. The rise of China and India is inevitable and should be accepted as such. However, a peaceful rise can also be assured, which would not unnecessarily disrupt the current power configurations. Improvements in state relations, however incremental, will go a long way in assuring a stressed region that peace and stability are indeed shared goals.


There is a wide recognition that the Asia Pacific region is beset by several security challenges. These challenges may range from potential conflict among states to transnational issues that defy traditional notions of sovereignty. The calls for more and perhaps deeper cooperation have been intensified with proposals for a new regional security architecture or an evolved architecture from current institutions. The existence of such debate is recognition of the difficulties inherent in building all-encompassing institutions that can accommodate disparate interests and differing goals of Asia Pacific states.

The challenge for the region is to carefully consider the direction, the structure, and the function of any future regional security architecture. This could only be done through renewed diplomatic and defense initiatives as well as increased contacts among leaders. There is also a need to recognize the hard work of ASEAN in bringing conflicting interests together in its many instrumentalities and processes. Clearly, an assessment of the confidence built around the ARF is necessary and should be a good first step. Denigrating the gains of the ARF without realizing its achievements would be a serious mistake and proponents of new models of security architecture would do well to promote best practices gained from the ARF while learning the lessons from its mistakes. Inevitable, the wider region has to come to an understanding of what architecture would serve it better in a changing and globalized world where previous threats and challenges have metamorphosed or at the very least, leveled up from past levels of threat perceptions and possible impacts.



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1. The author gratefully acknowledges comments from Jurgen Haacke, Noel Morada, Euan Graham, Rhodora Joaquin, Eileen Arquiza, Dashell Yancha, and Ariel Bacol on the initial draft of this paper. The paper and ideas in it were presented at a round table in CIRSS-FSI in October 2010. Support from the Foreign Service Institute is gratefully acknowledged. All errors and opinions belong to the author and do not represent the opinions of the named organizations. Please send all comments to

2. For examples of criticism against the APc proposal, see Tommy Koh (18 December 2009). Rudd’s Reckless Regional Rush from (Retrieved 18 March 2010). Sothirak, P. (17 December 2009), ASEAN’s Role, Support Crucial for Any New Regional Body,
sothirak_171209.pdf (Retrieved 18 March 2010).

3. The APc was a proposal by Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd for an Asia Pacific “concert of powers” that, while having no particular architecture aimed in mind, wanted to shape the future through a single regional institution that can confront the challenges besetting the region. For the complete set of speeches and primary documents on the APc, please refer to its website:

4. While the acronym is not consistent with previous ASEAN Plus processes such as the ASEAN Plus Three (APT), I believe that using APE as acronym would not be attractive as it is both a noun signifying a primate and a verb signifying copying. Both might not be taken well by concerned sectors; therefore, the acronym AP8 is used throughout this paper.

5. For understanding the shift of the ARF toward non-traditional security concerns, please refer to Rodolfo C. Severino, The ASEAN Regional Forum (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2009).

6. ADMM+8 include ASEAN member-states China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, India, New Zealand, Russia, and the US.

7. This overview does not pretend to capture any or all view point on the regional security environment, but it does capture in broad strokes the hope to outline the challenges that the region faces.

8. AFP. “Asia must brace for possible economic shocks.” Business World, 13 July 2010: S1 1-2.

9. Ralf Emmers and John Ravenhill, “The Asian and Global Financial Crises: Consequences for East Asian Regionalism,” RSIS Working Paper No. 208 (Singapore: RSIS 2010). [Online] Retrieved 20 August 2010).

10. “China and India: Contest of the Century,” The Economist, 19 August 2010 [Online] (Retrieved 27 August 2010).

11. Robert Fogel. “$123,000,000,000,000: China’s estimated economy by the year 2040. Be warned,” Foreign Policy, January-February 2010 [Online],0 (Retrieved 27 August 2010).

12. Manu Bhaskaran and Ritwick Ghosh, “Impact and Policy Responses: India” (paper presented at the ADB Regional Forum on the Impact of the Global Economic and Financial Crisis, Asian Development Bank, Manila, 14–15 January 2010). [Online] (Retrieved 27 August 2010).

13. Namgung Min. “Results confirm North Korea Sank Cheonan,” Daily NK, 20 May 2010. [Online] (Retrieved 27 August 2010). For a different perspective, see “Military Under Fire: Questions Grow Over Crisis Management Capability,” The Korea Times, 1 May 2010 [Online] (Retrieved 27 August 2010).

14. Unilateral actions or open conflicts among claimant states will inevitably draw in non-claimant states because of their membership in regional institutions or alliances with extra-regional partners. It would also call into question the political-security aspirations of ASEAN because of the inability to stand as one on such a vital issue.

15. Hillary Rodham Clinton, “Remarks at Press Availability” (delivered during a press conference after the ASEAN Regional Forum Annual Meeting, National Convention Center, Hanoi, Vietnam, 23 July 2010. [Online] (Retrieved 27 August 2010).

16. Yang Jiechi as quoted by Wu Liming and Chen Yong, “U.S. involvement will only complicate South China Sea issue,” Xinhuanet, 27 July 2010. [Online] (Retrieved 27 August 2010).

17. Ibid.

18. Shen Dingli, “Nuclear Disarmament and Non-Proliferation: Asia and the 2010 NPT Review Conference,” in CSCAP Regional Security Outlook 2009-2010, eds. Brian L. Job and Erin Williams, 28–33 (Singapore: CSCPAP 2009). [Online] (Retrieved 15 July 2010).

19. Ibid.

20. For more information on NTS-ASIA, please visit its website

21. Please read the Chairman’s Statement, 17th ASEAN Regional Forum, Hanoi, Vietnam, 23 July 2010. [Online] (Retrieved 27 August 2010).

22. Mely Caballero-Anthony, “Challenging Change: Nontraditional Security, Democracy, and Regionalism,” in Hard Choices: Security, Democracy, and Regionalism in Southeast Asia, ed. Donald K. Emmerson, 191–218 (Stanford: Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center, 2008).

23. Ibid.

24. Ibid.

25. Sheldon Simon, “ASEAN and Multilateralism: The Long Bumpy Road to Sovereignty,” Contemporary Southeast Asia, 30, 262–294 (ISEAS, 2008).

26. For a further discussion on the challenges to ASEAN centrality and the region in general, see Julio S. Amador III, “ASEAN in the Asia Pacific: Central or Peripheral?” Asian Politics & Policy, 2,4, 601–616 (Wiley Blackwell 2009).

27. ARF, Chairman’s Statement, 17th ASEAN Regional Forum.

28. Hillary Rodham Clinton, “Remarks on Regional Architecture in Asia: Principles and Priorities,” East-West Center, Honolulu, Hawaii, 12 January 2010. [Online] (Retrieved 27 August 2010).

29. Ibid.

30. Yukio Hatoyama, “Japan’s New Commitment to Asia—Towards the Realization of an East Asian Community,” Singapore, 12 November 2009. [Online] statement/200911/
15singapore_e.html (Retrieved 27 August 2010).

31. Kevin Rudd, “Keynote Address” (delivered during the 8th IISS Asian Security Summit, Singapore, 29 May 2009). [Online] (Retrieved 27 August 2010).

32. For a detailed and comprehensive analysis of the ARF, please refer to Jurgen Haacke and Noel M. Morada (eds.), Cooperative Security in the Asia-Pacific: The ASEAN Regional Forum (Oxon: Routledge, 2010).

33. Severino, The ASEAN Regional Forum, 52.

34. Joint Communiqué of the 40th ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting, “Enhanced One Caring and Sharing Community,” Manila, 29–30 July 2007. [Online] (Retrieved 8 September 2010).

35. Joint Communiqué of the 41st ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting, “One ASEAN at the Heart of Dynamic Asia,” Singapore, 21 July 2008. [Online] (Retrieved 8 September 2010).

36. Joint Communiqué of the 42nd ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting, “Acting Together to Cope with Global Challenges.” [Online] (Retrieved 8 September 2010).

37. Joint Communiqué of the 43rd ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting, “Enhanced Efforts Towards the ASEAN Community: From Vision to Action,” Hanoi, 19–20 July 2010. [Online] (Retrieved 1 September 2010).

38. Joint Communiqué of the 43rd ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting (2010).

39. Joint Communiqué of the 43rd ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting (2010).

40. ASEAN Secretariat, “ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting-Plus (ADMM-Plus): Concept Paper,” [Online] (Retrieved 1 September 2010).

41. ASEAN Secretariat, “ADMM Plus.” It must be noted that Vietnam seems anxious in promoting intra-defense cooperation within ASEAN and has been actively sending feelers to its co-members in ASEAN on improving defense relations.

42. Chairman’s Statement, 17th ASEAN Regional Forum, 23 July 2009, Hanoi. [Online]
/PublicLibrary/ARFChairmansStatementsandReports/tabid/66/Default.aspx (Retrieved 8 September 2010).

43. Singapore was at the forefront of calls for an ASEAN Plus Eight, which will include the US and Russia. See the transcript of the Joint Press Conference of Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith with Singapore’s Foreign Minister George Yeo. [Online] (Retrieved 8 July 2010). See also Singapore Times news article, which quotes Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on the AP8, Kor Kian Beng, “Leaders to Consider Asean Plus Eight: S’pore plan is for US, Russia to join body’s six dialogue partners,” The Strait Times, 10 April 2010. [Online] (Retrieved 8 July 2010).

44. Chairman’s Statement of the First East Asian Summit, Kuala Lumpur, 14 December 2005. [Online] (accessed on 8 September 2010).

45. Jurgen Haacke and Noel M. Morada, “The ASEAN Regional Forum and Cooperative Security,” in Cooperative Security in the Asia-Pacific: The ASEAN Regional Forum, eds. Jurgen Haacke and Noel M. Morada, 1 (Oxon: Routledge, 2010).

46. Of course, these three summary choices do not really capture all of the debates involved in regional security architecture but reflect some of the current debates available in academic and policy literature.

47. In 2002, John Garofano made a point that the question to be asked of the ARF is that whether progress is being made toward dealing with the security of the region. See John Garofano, “Power, Institutions and the ASEAN Regional Forum: A Security Community for Asia?” Asian Survey, 42, 3, 502–521 (University of California Press: May–June 2002). Severino’s answer is slowly; see Severino, The ASEAN Regional Forum, with which Haacke and Morada seem to agree because in their view, the ARF is apparently no different from what it was in 1994 (p. 219); see Haacke and Morada, “The ARF and cooperative security: More of the same?” in Cooperative Security in the Asia-Pacific: The ASEAN Regional Forum, eds. Jurgen Haacke and Noel M. Morada (Oxon: Routledge, 2010).

48. See Evelyn Goh, “What the Asian Debate about U.S. Hegemony Tells Us,” PacNet No. 39A, 7 September 2010. [Online] (Retrieved 16 September 2010).

49. Malcolm Cook, Raoul Heinrichs, Rory Medcalf, and Andrew Shearer. Power and Choice: Asian Security Futures (Sydney: Lowy Institute for International Policy, 2010).

50. See Goh, What the Asian Debate About U.S. Hegemony Tells Us.

51. For a comprehensive discussion on East Asian security and the role of the US, see David Kang (2009), The Security of Northeast Asia. Pacific Focus, 24: 1–21, doi:10.1111/j.1976-5118.2009.01014.x.

52. Muthiah Alagappa. “Rethinking Security,” Chap. 1 in Asian Security Practice: Material and Ideational Influences, edited by Muthiah Alagappa, 27–64 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998).

53. Alagappa, Rethinking Security.

54. Amitav Acharya, “Asia-Pacific Security: Community, Concert or What?” PacNet No. 11, 12 March 2010. [Online] (Retrieved 16 September 2010).

55. Alagappa, Rethinking Security.

56. Amitav Acharya, Asia-Pacific Security.

57. Of course, the reverse is also true. Small states like the members of ASEAN are able to block consensus as has been the experience in the ARF.

58. It is often taken for granted that Latin American and Pacific states may also desire to enter a new regional security architecture considering that they are in the Pacific also. The Pacific Ocean is, after all, only one big nautical highway connecting Asia with North and South America.