The African Union (AU)
The Association of
Southeast Asian Nations
Market of the South)
Regionalism has become a common feature of international affairs. According to the
WTO, by July 2005 only one country - Mongolia - was not part of any regional trade
agreement. Regional peacekeeping forces have been active in some parts of the
world. Regionalism has become in the last decades one of the forces challenging the
traditional centrality of states in international relations.
Distinction should be made between 'cooperation' and 'integration'. Regional
cooperation has various forms:
• Functional cooperation refers to limited arrangements agreed between states
for areas such as transport, energy or health.
• Economic cooperation refers to arrangements that perceive some commercial
preferentialism but with no harmonisation of domestic rules or obligation to
• Political cooperation refers to mutual support/commitment in the
implementation of certain values and practices within the countries.
Cooperation in Foreign and security policy means that governments
systematically inform/consult each other and try to adopt common positions in
None of this has any consequences for the international status of participating
countries beyond normal obligations under international law.
MERCOSUR (Common Market of the South)
Mercosur, the "Common Market of the
South," is the largest trading bloc in
South America. Mercosur's primary
interest has been eliminating obstacles
to regional trade, like high tariffs,
income inequalities, or conflicting
technical requirements for bringing
products to market. Yet experts say
Mercosur has become somewhat
paralyzed in recent years, with its
members divided over the future of the
organization. Some countries, like
Brazil, want to keep Mercosur focused
on regional trade. Other countries, like Venezuela, which has yet to attain full
membership in the bloc, would like to expand the group's mandate to political affairs.
The creation of a new regional organization in 2008, the Union of South American
Nations (Unasur), has raised further questions about Mercosur's utility.
What is Mercosur?
The Mercosur trade bloc's purpose, as stated in the 1991 Treaty of Asunción, is to
allow for free trade between member states, with the ultimate goal of full South
American economic integration. The trade bloc's "grand aspiration is to unify the
Southern Cone and then all of South America in an economic bloc," says Katherine
Hancy Wheeler, a research associate with the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. "It
gives them more trading security." Mercosur's full members include Argentina, Brazil,
Paraguay, and Uruguay. Venezuela's entry as a full member is still pending
ratification by Brazil and Paraguay. Brazil is the region's largest economy with a
gross domestic product (GDP) of over $1.6 trillion in 2008.
The population of Mercosur's full members totals more than 270 million people. That
group, including Venezuela, has a collective GDP of $2.4 trillion. It is now the world's
fourth-largest trading bloc after the European Union (EU), North American Free
Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and the Association of South East Asian Nations
(ASEAN). Whether any reduction in poverty can be linked directly to Mercosur trade
policies is unclear. However, Brazil's deputy UN envoy, Piragibe Tarragô, said in late
2006 that poverty reduction within Mercosur countries "has been remarkable."
What are associate members?
Mercosur's five associate members -- Chile, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru --
do not enjoy full voting rights or complete access to the markets of Mercosur's full
members. They receive tariff reductions, but are not required to impose the common
external tariff that applies to full Mercosur members. Of these countries, Bolivia is
being considered for full membership. But the decision is complicated by Mercosur's
history with Bolivia, as well as the common external tariff. Bolivian President Evo
Morales has criticized Mercosur, saying, "What I've discovered is that the CAN
[Andean Community of Nations] as well as Mercosur are tools that only benefit
businessmen and wealthy people, instead of the poor people" (People's Daily). Brazil
would like to see Bolivia accepted, in part because of their shared border, Brazilian
Foreign Minister Celso Amorim said in a 2007 interview with the Financial Times.
The possibility of full membership for Bolivia may also prove problematic because
Bolivia's tariffs are actually lower than those of Mercosur. "They'd have to increase
those tariffs to join," which would have a significant impact on prices within Bolivia,
says the Financial Times' Latin America editor Richard Lapper. He says Mercosur
may allow some exemptions to Bolivia to remedy this problem, as Brazil is very
interested in having increased access to Bolivian gas.
Granting exemptions, however, would anger already disenchanted Uruguay and
Paraguay, Mercosur's smallest full members, which have not been allowed similar
exemptions. "Can Mercosur keep a straight face in exceptions to the common
external tariff, but say it's not OK for Uruguay and Paraguay to negotiate a bilateral
free trade agreement with the United States, since that would undermine the
common tariff?," asks Agustin Cornejo of the Institute for International Economics in
the Wall Street Journal in 2007. Uruguay, also angry over an ongoing dispute with
Argentina over a paper pulp mill on their shared border, has gone so far as to sign a
Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (PDF) (TIFA) with the United States.
The TIFA sets the stage for future trade liberalization and economic relations with the
United States. But signing a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the United States
would violate Mercosur's charter, which forbids bilateral agreements with nonmember
countries. If the TIFA does eventually lead to the creation of an FTA with the United
States, the leadership of Mercosur would either have to disbar Uruguay from the bloc
for violating the charter, possibly causing Paraguay to resign as well, or it could
choose to rewrite its charter altogether, thereby allowing members to sign bilateral
agreements with nonmember countries.
What are the implications of Venezuela joining as a full member?
Venezuela's entrance into Mercosur has caused tension within the trade bloc.
Venezuela is philosophically opposed to free trade (Politico), according to analysts.
Since Venezuela signed a membership agreement with Mercosur in June 2006,
President Hugo Chávez has been advocating for a shift in focus of the bloc, saying,
"We need a Mercosur that prioritizes social concerns. We need a Mercosur that
every day moves farther away from the old elitist corporate models of integration that
look for ... financial profits, but forgets about workers, children, life, and human
In fact, says Lapper, a general sentiment within Mercosur against free trade with the
United States is not wholly driven by Chávez's influence. Brazil and Argentina's
concerns about trade with the United States are rooted more in economic, than
philosophical, reasons. Moreover, Brazil and Argentina, are attracted by access to
Venezuela's energy supplies and "they like the idea that they would have a
Caribbean coast," says Lapper.
Brazil has yet to ratify Venezuela's membership in the bloc. As of August 2009, the
lower chamber of Brazil's parliament had approved membership, but it awaited action
by the Senate. The issue is the subject of a robust debate within Brazilian policy
circles. According to Matias Spektor, senior research fellow at CPDOC, a Brazilian
research center, one group argues that the "reason we need to bring Venezuela into
Mercosur is because we believe in regional integration. If we don't bring [Chavez] in,
he is even more dangerous. Better have him inside than outside the tent." Spektor
notes that the current Brazilian administration supports Venezuela's membership in
Mercosur, but the opposition party does not.
From an economic standpoint, Venezuela can make a significant contribution to
Mercosur. The oil-rich nation's incorporation contributed $331.8 billion to Mercosur's
overall gross domestic product (GDP) in 2008. Yet Chavez has nationalized several
industries (El Universal) in the country, affecting Mercosur member states, and he
seems to oppose free trade. In fact, says Roett, "Venezuela is a full member without
having met the requirements for membership."
Does Mercosur have a political agenda?
Mercosur made headlines in early 2007 when its summit provided an arena for
heated debate as to what the future role of neoliberalism and free trade should be in
South America. At the summit, which produced a communiqué in which Mercosur
leaders pledged increased focus on human rights and democracy, Chávez called for
Mercosur to be "decontaminated of neoliberalism," while Colombian President Alvaro
Uribe argued that free market capitalism is the region's best bet for eliminating
inequality. Despite Mercosur's prominence and potential as an economic entity, some
speculate that its agenda is becoming increasingly politicized, especially since
Venezuela's acceptance as a full member in 2006. "Mercosur is no longer about
trade," Roett told the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. "The new joiners don't have
much to trade, they are opposed to free trade it seems. The organization is more and
more political and to some degree anti-American." But Lapper insists business
remains its core reason to exist. "I think it would be a mistake to characterize the
Mercosur bloc as a kind of anti-American bloc." He says trade-bloc heavyweights
Argentina and Brazil continue to be focused on economic issues.
How does Mercosur affect other regional groups?
Because Mercosur's charter does not allow its member nations to have FTAs with
nonmember nations, Mercosur members are not permitted to be part of the Andean
Community of Nations (CAN), a smaller trade bloc which includes Bolivia, Colombia,
Ecuador, and Peru. When Venezuela joined Mercosur, it was required to resign from
CAN, as Bolivia will have to do if it is admitted. Bolivia, however, has said that it will
not leave CAN. CAN and Mercosur leaders signed an agreement to form a third
organization, Unasur, in May 2008. Unasur is meant to encompass trade, security,
and political issues, much like the European Union. Though the agreement must still
be ratified by each signing nation, Unasur has held meetings on regional defense
issues, including a controversial planned U.S. military expansion into Colombia (AP).
Some analysts believe that Unasur could eventually replace Mercosur.
Mercosur, however, played a key role in the failure of the FTAA (Free Trade
Agreement of the Americas). Spearheaded by the United States, the FTAA was
intended to unite Latin America and North America in one broad trade accord. The
Mercosur members and then-autonomous Venezuela rejected the agreement at the
Summit of the Americas in November 2005 over concerns it would lead to increased
inequality in the region (Guardian). Proponents of the FTAA have not been able to
make any significant progress in forging that deal since.
How has Mercosur stimulated cooperation among its members?
Agreements among Mercosur members range from debt relief (Brazil recently agreed
to renegotiate Paraguay's debt) to trade deals. Argentina and Venezuela, for
example, signed a host of bilateral agreements in the energy, industrial, agriculture,
and health sectors in January 2009. Chavez declared that Venezuela is ready "to
supply Argentina with oil and later liquefied gas for the next 100 years."
The most controversial proposal is for a Latin American development bank, dubbed
"Banco del Sur," or the Bank of the South. Such a bank - proposed by Chávez in
early 2007 and to be based in Caracas - will allow member countries to fund projects
and investments without World Bank or International Monetary Fund involvement.
Launched in December 2007, the bank will begin operating in the second half of
2009, with initial funding of roughly $7 billion. In May 2009 its members - Argentina,
Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela - reached a final
agreement (Mercopress) regarding the bank's functions, including its lending
conditions and voting rights. The agreement is now pending parliamentary approval
by the seven founding countries. Though some see the bank as an important
initiative toward South America's financial independence, many economists and
analysts doubt its validity (NYT). They view the bank as a political move led by
Chávez, aimed to build up his influence in the region and carry out his crusade
against Washington-based multilateral institutions like the World Bank and the Inter-
American Development Bank.
What is the attitude of the United States toward Mercosur?
Mercosur's blockage of the FTAA and its general disinterest in trade with the United
States has discouraged warm relations between the two. While the United States has
not overtly criticized Mercosur, Washington views the bloc "as being an obstacle to
the expansion of their trade in Latin America. They find it an annoyance," according
to Wheeler. Roett agrees. "It's viewed here in Washington as an anti-American
entity," he says.
Washington would prefer to focus on shoring up its bilateral relations in the region.
The United States, Lapper says, "is trying to set up good relationship with Brazil.
They recognize that Brazil is a stabilizing force in the region." Lula was the first Latin
American leader to visit U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House, and the
two leaders have since met several times. At the Organization of the Americas
summit in April 2009, Obama reinforced the U.S. commitment to work jointly to
advance Western Hemispheric goals. However, a clear U.S. policy toward Latin
America (PDF), including Mercosur, has not been yet defined.
The African Union (AU)
The African Union (AU), formed in 2002 from the vestiges of the
Organization for African Unity (OAU), aims to protect the security of
the continent, rather than the sovereignty of individual states.
Though the AU still is struggling to reform its governing bodies, it
plays an increasingly high-profile role in peacekeeping. Most
recently, the AU has sent peacekeepers to Somalia and Darfur, the
latter in an unprecedented joint peacekeeping operation with the
United Nations. Experts say the AU has a long way to go before it is fully functional,
and express concerns about the burdens and expectations that have been placed on
the body thus far.
What is the history of the African
In 2002, the OAU transformed itself into the
African Union (AU). The OAU, founded in
1963 on the principles of state sovereignty
and noninterference, drew criticism
throughout the 1990s for its lack of
intervention as crises unfolded in Rwanda,
the Democratic Republic of Congo, and
Somalia. Frustration at its ineffectiveness
led African leaders, spearheaded by Libyan
leader Muammar el-Qaddafi, to launch the African Union, a body with a structure
modeled on that of the European Union. Fifty-three countries in Africa are members
of the AU (Morocco is the only African country that does not belong), which is
headquartered in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
What are the objectives of the African Union?
The African Union seeks to increase development, combat poverty and corruption,
and end Africa's many conflicts. "The AU is the world's only regional or international
organization that explicitly recognizes the right to intervene in a member state on
humanitarian and human rights grounds," write Roberta Cohen, senior fellow at the
Brookings Institution, and lawyer William G. O'Neill in the Bulletin of the Atomic
Scientists. The AU drew these guidelines based on the recommendations of a 2001
report from the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty
entitled The Responsibility to Protect. The report asserts that "Sovereign states have
a responsibility to protect their own citizens from unavoidable catastrophe-from mass
murder and rape, from starvation-but that when they are unwilling or unable to do so,
that responsibility must be borne by the broader community of states."
Experts say the AU's implementation of these new goals is still an aspiration, not a
reality. Reforming the OAU is a "monumental task," says Robert O. Collins, an Africa
expert and professor of history at the University of California, Santa Barbara,
"particularly when you have many countries with lots of poverty and domestic
problems." But regional bodies take many years to grow into their charters, and many
have heralded the African Union's early peacekeeping involvement in countries such
as Burundi and Sudan as important steps. Jennifer Cooke, codirector of the Africa
program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said in testimony
before the Senate's African Affairs subcommittee that the African Union is still at a
"fragile stage," but it "has begun to generate some early promising returns" (PDF).
What is the African Union’s role in Darfur?
A joint AU/UN peacekeeping force was deployed to Darfur in the beginning of 2008.
Much of the force's strength, about 13,500 soldiers as of July 2009, was already
present in the region as part of an AU peacekeeping force. It remained in the region
and was incorporated into the joint UN/AU force officially deployed in early 2008.
That force is still far from its authorized strength of about 20,000 personnel.
The African Union has had a peacekeeping role in Darfur since 2003, when it helped
broker a cease-fire between the government of Sudan and rebel groups. It initially
had fewer than one hundred observers in Darfur to monitor the agreement, but
gradually increased its presence to include soldiers and police. By 2005, the AU had
nearly 7,000 troops in Darfur, and in September 2006, with the Sudanese
government refusing to accept a 20,000-strong UN-mandated peacekeeping force,
the AU extended its mandate.
Prior to the deployment of the joint peacekeeping force, experts had serious
reservations about the ability of the AU peacekeepers to work effectively. "Everyone
knows this has been a very undermanned, understaffed, under-trained, and under-
resourced force," Cohen said in 2006. Now, with the joint force on the ground,
experts say some of the same problems remain. While the force has a more robust
mandate than the previous AU force, it still lacks important equipment and a critical
mass of troops. The United Nations says its goal is to have 97 percent deployment
by the end of 2009. Some experts say even once full deployment is reached, the
troops will not be able to end the crisis. "Even if the force consisted of the finest elite
troops in the world they could not have resolved the problem," Collins says.
What other interventions has the AU mounted?
The African Union has launched several other interventions, with mixed success. A
March 2008 invasion of Anjouan, one of three islands making up the Comoros,
resulted in the successful ouster of the island's separatist leader. As World Politics
Review notes, however, the mission attracted little attention outside the continent.
The AU's intervention in Burundi in 2003, in which an AU peacekeeping force of
some 3,000 troops was deployed as a bridging force until a larger UN force arrived,
is widely acknowledged as a success. In June 2004, the AU force was absorbed in a
UN force of 5,650. Experts say the AU force was crucial to maintaining security
(PDF) during cease-fire negotiations.
However, the deployment of AU peacekeepers to Somalia in 2007 has highlighted
the body's limitations. Of the eight thousand troops promised, only 2,700 Ugandans
and 2,550 Burundians had been deployed as of August 2009. The current force's
mandate expires in January 2010, and the African Union is urging the United Nations
to take over. Some members of the UN Security Council have expressed
reservations about such a deployment in light of the continued inability of Somalia's
transitional federal government to improve security in the country.
Given the short life of the AU and its limited experience with peacekeeping on the
continent, most say the international community views Darfur as a "litmus test" for the
AU's ability to promote peace in Africa. But "the AU requires extensive political and
material support from the international community to deliver on its commitments to
peace and security," writes Kristiana Powell, a researcher at The North-South
Institute, in a working paper on the AU's emerging peace and security regime (PDF).
Slow decision making and the lack of flexible funding from donors such as the EU,
G8, and the United States have hindered the AU's peacekeeping efforts.
What barriers prevent the AU from evolving into a stronger institution?
The AU faces tremendous organizational and financial barriers. It took many years
for similar regional institutions in Europe, Asia, and Latin America to establish
themselves, and the AU faces the additional challenges of endemic poverty and civil
conflict among many of its member states. In addition, the AU relies on regional
economic communities that are also weakly organized. "None of these states can
really produce very much," says Collins, "They look at the bureaucracy and they are
less likely to give." As of the 2006 Banjul Summit, only twelve countries had paid their
Others say AU reform and peacekeeper deployment is also subject to the will of its
strongest leaders, namely Muammar Qaddafi of Libya and President Jacob Zuma of
South Africa. Cooke cites Zimbabwe as an example of a state in crisis that the AU
has failed to assist. And at Banjul, leaders including Zimbabwean President Robert
Mugabe blocked the AU from adopting a much-anticipated democracy charter that
would have strengthened the electoral process, ended military coups, and stopped
constitutional changes to allow presidents to stay in office.
How does the United States support the African Union?
In August 2006, the United States became the first non-African country to establish a
separate diplomatic mission to the African Union. The current U.S. Ambassador to
the AU, Michael Battle, pledged to support (PDF) AU efforts to "advance democracy
and a free press, strengthen electoral systems, promote peace and security and
advance AU efforts to get African leaders and civil society to promote and above all,
to 'internalize' universal values of human rights, good governance, and rule of law."
Of the total U.S. aid to Africa in 2008-an estimated $5.2 billion (PDF)-no funds were
specifically allocated to the African Union; rather, funds were funneled to
peacekeeping missions and AU-supported programs such as the Comprehensive
Africa Agricultural Development Program and the New Partnership for Africa's
Development. "U.S. support to the AU is ad hoc, crisis-driven, vulnerable to raids
from other budget lines, and uneven from year-to-year," Cooke reported to the
Senate in 2005.
The United States does support peacekeeping in Africa, but such aid is allocated on
a case-by-case basis. In 2008, $96.4 million went toward the Global Peace
Operations Initiative (GPOI), a portion of which supports the African Contingency
Operations Training and Assistance program (ACOTA). According to the U.S. Africa
Command, ACOTA is designed "to improve African ability to respond quickly to
crises by providing selected militaries with the training and equipment required to
execute humanitarian or peace support operations." The FY2009 budget include a
request of $106.2 million for the GPOI, with an estimated $80 million going toward
African security assistance. Between 2006 and 2008, the United States sent $908
million to the UN/AU peacekeeping force in Darfur (the State Department requested
close to $209 million in the FY2009 budget). The United States has given over $150
million to the AU peacekeeping mission in Somalia, and in August 2009 U.S.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton vowed additional assistance.
The United States "would very much like to see a robust African Union," says Collins,
but the State Department "has never been able to construct a coherent policy on
what to do about Africa." Instead, he says, it continues to supply money to individual
countries that benefit its interests, rather than giving more substantial funding to a
regional body like the AU.
What are the key organs of the African Union?
• The Assembly, comprised of heads of state. It meets at least once a year and is the
AU's main decision-making body. Assembly members elect an AU chairperson, who
holds office for one year. The 2009 chairman is Libya's Muammar Qaddafi.
• The Executive Council, comprised of foreign affairs ministers of individual states.
The Executive Council is responsible to the Assembly.
• The Commission, ten commissioners holding individual portfolios who manage the
day-to-day tasks of the AU and implement AU policies. The Commission reports to
the Executive Council. The current chairperson is Jean Ping, the former foreign
minister of Gabon.
• The Peace and Security Council (PSC), set up in 2004. This body can intervene in
conflicts to protect the security of the continent. It has fifteen member states, elected
for two or three year terms, with equal voting rights. The PSC is also overseeing the
establishment of a permanent African security force, the AU Standby Force. It plans
to have five or six brigades of 3,000 to 5,000 troops stationed around Africa by 2010.
• Pan-African Parliament, begun in 2004 to "ensure the full participation of African
peoples in governance, development, and economic integration of the Continent."
This body debates continent-wide issues and advises AU heads of state. It currently
has advisory powers only, but there are plans to grant it legislative powers in the
• The Economic, Social and Cultural Council (ECOSOCC). Established in 2005,
ECOSOCC seeks to build partnerships between African governments and civil
society. It includes African social groups, professional groups, NGOs, and cultural
organizations. The 150-member General Assembly was launched in September
2008, replacing the ECOSOCC's initial interim structure.
• The Court of Justice. In 2004, the AU agreed that the regional African Court on
Human and Peoples' Rights would be merged with the Court of Justice. As of August
2009, the merger of the two courts was still in process.
• The Financial Institutions. The AU charter names three bodies: the African Central
Bank, the African Monetary Fund, and the African Investment Bank. Of these, only
the African Investment Bank has been established (PDF), but it is not yet functional.
It will be based in Tripoli, Libya.
What is NEPAD?
The New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) was developed by the five
initial states of the OAU (Algeria, Egypt, Nigeria, Senegal, and South Africa) and
formally adopted in July 2001. NEPAD's primary objectives are poverty eradication,
sustainable development, and integrating Africa into the global economy. It focuses
on establishing partnerships with industrial countries for increased aid, foreign
investment, debt relief, and market access. In 2002, NEPAD was placed under the
purview of the AU; a committee reports annually to the AU Assembly. In March 2007,
NEPAD leaders decided the partnership should be integrated into the structures and
processes of the AU
The Association of
Southeast Asian Nations
The Association of Southeast Asian
Nations (ASEAN) is an alliance
promoting economic and political
cooperation by fostering dialogue
among its ten members: Brunei,
Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia,
Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore,
Thailand, and Vietnam. Now experts say the group may pursue a bigger role in the
region to help its members cope with the global financial crisis. As the downturn
shifts the geopolitics of the region--potentially increasing China's sway as a source of
capital--ASEAN and the United States may look to tighten their economic and
security ties to prevent the rise of a hegemon in Southeast Asia, experts say. With
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's stop in Indonesia on her first trip abroad in
February 2009, the new Obama administration signaled interest in boosting U.S.
engagement with ASEAN. In Jakarta, Clinton pressed for stronger U.S.-ASEAN ties
and said the United States would reconsider signing the 1976 Treaty of Amity and
Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC). Though ASEAN has made gains in promoting
economic and political coordination and fostering peace, the group has yet to grow
into a major multilateral actor.
Addressing Regional Security Issues
ASEAN was formed in the midst of the Vietnam War in 1967, uniting Indonesia,
Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand against the potential threat of
communist-led insurgency. It was intended as a security community, promoting social
and political stability during a turbulent time, says CFR Senior Fellow Sheila A.
Smith. In addition to preventing intraregional flare-ups, ASEAN provided a way for
the countries to create "a voice for themselves in the broader Cold War arena so the
Southeast Asian area would speak as one on particular issues," she says. To that
end, in 1971 ASEAN signed a declaration that Southeast Asia was a Zone of Peace,
Freedom and Neutrality. The resolution was intended as a statement that ASEAN
countries refused to be included in Cold War dividing lines, says Sheldon Simon, a
professor of political science at Arizona State University.
The end of the Cold War left ASEAN "searching for a new organizing principle for
security," Simon says. The ASEAN Regional Forum was established in 1993 to
promote security in the broader Asia-Pacific region, but the body's contribution has
involved more discussion than action, says Zachary Abuza, a professor of political
science at Simmons College in Boston. Still, the regional forum has been responsible
for increased transparency and defense cooperation through the publication of white
papers, military exchanges, and the creation of a register of experts who can be
called upon during conflicts.
Because members' security priorities vary, military and counterterrorism issues tend
to be handled bilaterally between countries with shared concerns and trusting
relationships, like Singapore and Malaysia or Singapore and Thailand. The captures
of several Jemaah Islamiyah operatives have involved bilateral action. In 2003, a tip-
off from Singapore's national intelligence agencies resulted in Thai authorities
arresting Arifin bin Ali, who plotted the bombing of five embassies in Bangkok.
Experts say it's not surprising that ASEAN has yet to foster a stronger regional
security community. Andrew Chau of the University of Queensland's School of
Political Science and International Studies writes in Asian Survey that ASEAN's
consensus-based decision-making and policy of non-interference in members' affairs
have created a "state-centric approach to foreign policy behavior" that undermines
regional integration initiatives. These principles cripple even ASEAN's most ambitious
agreements. For example, the 2007 ASEAN Convention on Counter Terrorism was
intended to create a "framework for regional cooperation to counter, prevent, and
suppress terrorism," but it contains clauses allowing parties to withdraw from the
agreement at any time. The convention also states that it does not contradict "the
principles of sovereign equality and territorial integrity of States and that of non-
interference in the internal affairs of other Parties"--meaning the agreement, like
other ASEAN statements, is only as useful as ASEAN members choose to make it.
Human Rights Concerns
The alliance's non-interference principle came under scrutiny when the group drafted
a charter in 2007, which all ten members ratified by October 2008. Early drafts of the
charter included provisions for sanctions for charter violations and a system of
compliance monitoring for ASEAN agreements, but these elements were cut after
deliberations revealed conflicting visions on ASEAN's continued role in the region.
Experts say the concept of non-interference has become a tool for protecting human
rights transgressors. Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam--countries with poor
human rights records--balked at the proposition (Economist) to give the human rights
commission established in the charter the power to monitor or investigate abuses
(Brunei and Singapore also expressed reservations, fearful of opening the door to
intervention in members' affairs). The commission was rendered virtually powerless,
dismaying Indonesia and the Philippines, the last members to ratify the charter. The
Philippines' senate minority leader, Aquilino Pimentel, who voted against ratification
despite his country's endorsement, called the document a "sham"(AFP), while
Indonesian legislator Sutradara Gintings said the charter's lack of protection for
human rights indicated insignificant progress.
Some experts, like U.S. Ambassador for ASEAN Affairs Scot Marciel, stress the
importance of the charter for equipping ASEAN with new diplomatic tools, like a
dispute-settlement procedure, and setting an ambitious goal of achieving economic
integration by 2015. Others have less faith: Barry Desker, the dean of the S.
Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in
Singapore, writes in Singapore's Straits Times that the charter merely "codifies
existing norms"(PDF) and in some areas even represents a step backwards.
The Myanmar Question
While the charter did not change ASEAN's conflict resolution tactics, the group's
response to events in 2008 revealed willingness to use tougher diplomatic pressure
on members. Such was the case after Cyclone Nargis in May 2008, when Myanmar's
ruling junta allowed only limited international aid and insisted that aid be distributed
through its military. In response, ASEAN called an emergency meeting of members'
foreign ministers and issued a statement that "Myanmar should allow more
international relief workers into the stricken areas, as the need is most urgent, given
the unprecedented scale of the humanitarian disaster." While the statement "didn't
quite condemn [Myanmar's] government," CFR's Smith says, it nonetheless "went
further than ASEAN ever had in the past in being critical of the internal affairs of a
member state." After Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan continued to press for
cooperation on a trip to Yangon, Myanmar's ruling junta finally allowed the entry of
international aid workers.
At a May 2008 CFR meeting, Surin said ASEAN had been "baptized" by the cyclone,
implying its response indicated a new, more proactive approach to tackling
intraregional grievances. Still, human rights issues such as the house arrest of
Myanmar's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi continue to spark conflict
(Economist) within ASEAN and reveal the limitations posed by ASEAN's requirement
of consensus for action. Arizona State's Simon says member countries have their
own priorities at stake in dealing with Myanmar's unpopular actions. Thailand imports
natural gas from Myanmar to account for 20 percent of its electricity, and countries
with imperfect human rights records don't welcome interference in their affairs any
more than Myanmar does.
ASEAN's diverse membership has presented difficulties as leaders plow through the
"very, very tedious" process of dismantling barriers to trade, Surin told a CFR
meeting. He said the process of creating one economic community was complex in
an organization whose members' average per capita incomes ranged from $209 to
$50,000 per year, requiring catering to a wide range of economic needs in setting
trade standards. Still, annual trade between ASEAN members has grown from $79
billion in 1993 to $404 billion in 2007.
Facilitating trade requires far more than lowering tariffs, says Amy Searight, an
adjunct professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington
University. In fact, tariffs are already low--averaging less than 2 percent for the
original six alliance members under the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA)--but
Searight says the utilization rate of the AFTA preferential tariff is minimal. Because of
persistent processing delays, the differences between the preferential rate and the
countries' usual rates aren't significant enough to warrant the time needed to apply,
she says. Government corruption and unreliable judicial systems in the region also
create roadblocks to trade because they make contracts hard to enforce.
Catharin Dalpino, a visiting associate professor of Southeast Asian studies at
Georgetown University, posits that the global financial crisis could spur ASEAN to
more aggressively pursue intraregional trade, to hedge against the possibility of
reduced demand for exports from major outside trading partners like the United
States. But she asserts that ASEAN doesn't yet have the legal framework to support
a fully implemented free-trade agreement. "They don't have a dispute resolution
mechanism nor do they have a central authority to take disputes to," Dalpino says.
The lack of a central mechanism also means that ASEAN members may respond to
the global financial crisis with measures to protect their own economies instead of
effectively coordinating action. What's more, the global slump may prompt a wave of
protectionism among member nations. ASEAN countries and their trading partners
may cripple agreements by adding to the lists of products excluded from free-trade
commitments, Searight says.
If the 1997 Asian financial crisis is any indication, the current downturn will likely set
ASEAN back in the economic integration process: in 1998, intraregional trade
contracted by 15.9 percent, according to a 1999 ASEAN report. "Are they going to
look like the EU by 2015? Not even close," Searight says. "But are they going to look
a lot more integrated than they did twenty years ago? Yes."
Relations with the United States
The United States is a major trading partner: ASEAN is the sixth-largest market for
U.S. exports, and U.S.-ASEAN trade totaled more than $170 billion in 2007. Experts
say U.S. companies stand to benefit if ASEAN creates a more unified market
because streamlined product standards and procedures across countries in the
region could increase exports and improve the performance of U.S.-invested
corporations within the region.
While the United States appears unlikely to enter into a free-trade agreement with
ASEAN anytime soon, some experts believe Washington is moving toward engaging
with ASEAN on a more multilateral basis. Marciel points to the creation of his
ambassadorial post in 2008 as proof of U.S. interest in its relationship with ASEAN.
The global economic downturn may also motivate the United States and ASEAN to
pursue more robust ties. If China successfully weathers the storm and reaches out to
its harder-hit neighbors--as it already does with aid, cultural diplomacy, and
infrastructure development, Dalpino says--it will increase its already considerable
geopolitical sway in the region. ASEAN is currently China's fourth-largest trading
partner, and bilateral trade between China and ASEAN is expected to exceed $200
billion in 2008, up from $190 billion in 2007. But as this Backgrounder points out,
experts say countries in the region are calculating whether the political and economic
benefits of closer ties with China outweigh the military risks. ASEAN countries want
the United States to pay more attention to new security trends in the region,
particularly China's military buildup, and Dalpino says ASEAN may reach out to
ensure the U.S. role as "security guarantor" if China emerges from the global
downturn "looking like a hero." Likewise, a stronger China would give the United
States an impetus to secure tighter diplomatic ties with ASEAN, given the importance
of Southeast Asian sea-lanes for the flow of goods and oil, says Derek J. Mitchell, a
senior fellow in the CSIS International Security Program. India has also asserted a
more decisive presence in the region: it is expected to sign a free-trade agreement
(VOA) with ASEAN in February 2009, after leaders met in New Delhi in January to
discuss potential joint actions to cope with the global economic crisis.
Though the United States ranks among the top three destinations for ASEAN exports
outside the bloc, ASEAN periodically bristles at a perceived lack of U.S. interest in
other aspects of the group's affairs. There is some truth in claims of U.S. indifference
to the relationship, CFR's Smith says. "Many people in the American government find
ASEAN frustrating to work with as a partner," she says. "The utility of ASEAN for
America is questioned at times." Nonetheless, ASEAN remains the "go-to" for
facilitating dialogue between major powers and Southeast Asia. "It's very low-key,"
Smith says, "but quite effective."
What can we make of regionalisation?
Firstly, regionalisation is a truly global phenomenon. It is not the case that the entire
world is engulfed in a single process of globalisation, or that the entire world is being
divided along simple ideological or civilisational fault lines. Rather, different parts of
the globe are looking for different ways to accommodate themselves within the
globalised world order, and regional arrangements are one important way of doing
There is thus no paradox, and even less a contradiction, between regionalism and
globalisation. Instead regionalism is one aspect of the process of globalisation, and
developments in one region inform and indeed feed into developments in others.
Secondly, the trend in regionalisation has several trends, ranging from very loose
and non-binding arrangements to the complex institutional architecture set up by the
EU, depending on the scope and depth with which members are seeking to address
issues of transnational governance.
Thirdly, there is no single or simple path of regionalsim. The ways in which different
regional mechanisms develop are contingent upon a multitude of factors, both
internal and external to the region. Both the driving forces for more regional
integration and cooperation and the obstacles which may limit those aspirations vary
across the different continents.
Regionalism as a global phenomenon may be here to stay, but so are the differences
between the kinds of regional arrangements that are being developed in different
parts of the globe.
Explain the link between regionalism and globalisation? (15)