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The Dynamics of Regional Cooperation in Southeast Asia

GCSP Geneva Paper – Research Series n°14

Release Date:

July 2015

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Executive Summary

The need to establish a proper security structure in the Asia-Pacific Region is often underlined by Western political observers. But the chances for such a structure appear to be much smaller than generally accepted. The reason lies in the very different social structures and dynamism of Asian countries in comparison to European counterparts. ASEAN is a good case in point to show why and how these social conditions may have an influence on the building of a security structure and how they may influence its functioning once it really sees the light of day.

Independent of the great powers acting in the region, an institutionally stronger security network comparable to the European OSCE, for example, cannot really be imagined for the Asia-Pacific region. This is partly due to the fact that trust in this kind of structure is lacking. Asian culture focuses much more on the flow of reality and not on its static perception. Furthermore, much stronger in-group / out-group differentiations in the region create considerably higher obstacles for the creation of such a network. And once in existence, it must be much looser than a Euro-American structure due to the unacceptability of outside intervention.

The third problem for the creation of a stronger security network in the Asia –Pacific region is the different interests of the three main powers in the region, the US with their Japanese ally and the PRC. As long as the main players are not clear about their own bilateral relations, it will be impossible for geo-political imperatives to strengthen the security network in the region.

On the other hand, this short paper also shows that the current security set-up is basically working. However, when it comes under strong pressure in critical situations, the “Asian way” of doing things all of a sudden shows certain weaknesses. But the chances to counteract them with a more stringent security organisation are very small. Asia will have to live with the current security set-up.