ASEAN Peacekeeping Force?

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After the end of the Cold War, peacekeeping has become an increasingly popular method to solve conflicts around the world. Countries need military to ensure security; regions require peacekeeping force to maintain peace and security. The United Nations has the Security Council, European has North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and African Union has African Standby Force (ASF). How about in Southeast Asia particularly ASEAN? Likewise, in 2004, Indonesia has proposed the creation of peace keeping force in ASEAN, so-called, ASEAN Peacekeeping Centers Network. Thus, the questions arise that is it possible to establish this peacekeeping force in the future? This article will discuss these questions.

Viewing back to the history in Southeast Asia, not too long there was the creation of Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) which contained the military power. However, this military bloc could not take any action and seemed to be failure due to the different perspectives and interests of the countries that were from various regions in the world, and especially it was controlled mainly by the powerful country particularly the United States. Later, it was dissolved in 1977.

So now it comes to ASEAN. The absence of military bloc in Southeast Asia has been last for four decades. Many issues occurred in ASEAN, for instance, human rights violation in Myanmar, Cambodia-Thai border dispute, and South China Sea dispute, but so far nothing much has been done to solve those problems. The reasons can be due to it is lack of peacekeeping role and hard power. ASEAN member states have called for help from outsiders such as the United Nations instead of depend on its own community. Therefore, it is about time for ASEAN to consider forming its own peacekeeping force for the purpose of maintaining stability in the region as stating in ASEAN Charter. How come ASEAN can achieve this goal if it has no security force?

In contrast to the military bloc in SEATO, the peacekeeping force in ASEAN should be only played a role to ensure peace and security which will not take any further action that violate to the principle of non-intervention and solving dispute by peaceful means which mentions in the ASEAN charter as well as the UN charter. To see whether the creation of ASEAN peacekeeping force is possible or not, there are two factors to be considered.

First, we take a look at the capacity of ASEAN member states’ militaries plus economies. Five ASEAN member states including Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand have already established their own peacekeeping centers under the United Nations’ peacekeeping missions; as a result, it is necessary to link these centers to ensure ASEAN solidarity. Moreover, with strong Indonesia’s military capabilities will contribute a lot to ASEAN peacekeeping force. In 2007, the military expenditure of the ten ASEAN countries combined equaled to $64 billion which is more than ten times the amount used for peacekeeping operation in the region since 1990. Additionally, ASEAN member states currently have deployed 5,000 personnel worldwide as part of various UN peacekeeping operations, yet these forces have no presence in their own backyard. More importantly, this idea was advocated by the UN, and it promised to provide assistance including training and the lessons learned to make it become reality. Thus, the barrier to ASEAN peacekeeping force formation is not so much economic in nature, as it is political and strategic.

So now let’s take with the factor of politics. The biggest barrier to the creation of ASEAN peacekeeping group will be ‘ASEAN Way’ including the principle of sovereignty and non-interference. The CLMV countries decided to join ASEAN also because of these principles. Nevertheless, by establishing a peacekeeping force will not against to these principles, but to enhance the objectives of ASEAN to be more functioning and successfully implement especially to settle regional conflict, maintain peace and security, and fulfill the concept of ASEAN Political-Security Community (APSC), one of the three major pillars of ASEAN. Similarly, the UN also contains a principle of non-interference, but surely that it is the world largest peacekeeper.

At this point, we have to understand what the purposes of such formation are. As mentioned above this group is absolutely different from SEATO. SEATO’s military was aimed to stop the spread of communist and was allowed using the force on whichever communist states that intervene in its member states. However, ASEAN peacekeeping force is aimed to promote and enhance cooperation among defense and armed forces within ASEAN Member States as well as maintain peace and stability in the region. With these positive points, it is possible that ASEAN member states wish and will agree to create a peacekeeping force.

Another obstacle of this creation is the system of decision making of ASEAN specifically consensus. A few countries might oppose to this proposal; therefore, the creation could be fail. For instance, Thailand Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai said in 2004 that it was not necessary since there is no international conflicts were appearing in the region and if such issues occurred, individual members could send their troops in to help. Personally I partly agree to his words. This speech was since 2004, but for the last few years the issue of South China Sea has become more extreme. Thus, with a long compromising and understand about the positive outcomes of it, all members of ASEAN will consent to create the security group.

In short, there is certainly ways for ASEAN to establish a peacekeeping force. With the creation of ASEAN peacekeeping force will cause ASEAN’s role become more functioning and bring a change to the history of ASEAN development.

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