Categorized | International

Moving beyond a talking shop

As the chair of ASEAN, expectations are abound for Indonesia to play a major role in mobilizing support to cope with conundrums ranging from the heightening tensions in the volatile South China Sea to denuclearization issues.

The 18th ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), to be held from July 16 to 23 in Bali, is believed to serve as an effective platform for more tangible, albeit not always expeditious, solutions to pressing political and security issues in the Asia-Pacific region.

Amid criticism, labeling the forum as a an annual talking shop, the upcoming meeting will deliberate the current and critical political and security issues in the region, and as the chair, Indonesia stands a good chance to prove these critics wrong.

The forum will be effective for at least two reasons. First, it is the only forum within the framework of ASEAN that is primarily designed to promote dialogue on common political and security matters and to find ways to deal with them. Second, it provides ample opportunity to ASEAN to raise security concerns in the region while seeking to secure support for tangible solutions to these issues.

This makes sense as the forum comprises 27 countries: the 10 ASEAN member states, the 10 ASEAN dialogue partners (the United States, Canada, Australia, Russia, the European Union, China, South Korea, Japan, India and New Zealand), one ASEAN observer (Papua New Guinea) as well as North Korea, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Mongolia and Timor Leste.

As far as the upcoming ASEAN meeting is concerned, there are at least three critical security issues that are worthy of close consideration.

First, the contentious South China Sea dispute has recently escalated into aggression. To deal with this perennial issue, the Declaration of the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea signed in 2002 has invariably been referred to as a non-legally binding instrument to pacify claimants once a dispute erupted.

Leaders and senior officials of the ASEAN member states and partners in various meetings of ASEAN have always reaffirmed their commitment to full and effectivel implementation of this declaration since its adoption. Such a pledge was reiterated in the 8th ASEAN Summit in Jakarta recently, but it fell short of avoiding tensions between China and Vietnam as well as the Philippines from disputes over the South China Sea.

The declaration itself, alas, is an ineffectual insrument to maintain peace and stability in the region in the long run. In the face of the growing strategic importance of the sea for an increasingly powerful China, a more specific and binding conduct is urgent, and now is the right time for ASEAN to take one step forward by adopting a Code of Conduct that is specifically designed for the avoidance of armed conflict and the assurance of durable peace and stability in the disputed areas.

Second, the unresolved Thai-Cambodian territorial dispute over the embattled Preah Vihear temple has prompted the need to enhance ASEAN’s role in resolving conflicts between its members with more tangible results than ever. ASEAN requires a much stronger conflict-resolution mechanism than just relying on its traditional principles of non-intervention in the internal affairs of its member states and promoting dialogue and consensus to settle disputes.

While such principles, to a large extent, succeeded in preventing ASEAN member states from plunging themselves into armed conflicts, it cannot stand the fact that global and regional security challenges are becoming increasingly tougher, requiring a much more effective conflict-resolution mechanism. Sweeping these disputes under the carpet, as ASEAN has done in the past, is no longer wise.

Unless this particular mechanism is adopted, a smooth transition to the ASEAN Political-Security Community in 2015, let alone the ASEAN Economic Community, will not materialize on the grounds that the realization of the ASEAN Community will require the adoption of a crystal-clear, powerful and binding set of rules.

Third, the revival of deliberation of the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon Free Zone Treaty (SEANWFZ) in the upcoming forum deserves close heed. This treaty, which was signed by 10 ASEAN member states in Bangkok on Dec. 15, 1995, serves as a meaningful instrument for ASEAN’s contribution to the progress toward complete disarmament of nuclear weapons and the promotion of international peace and security. Nonetheless, none of the nuclear weapon states has yet to sign the protocols, which is due to the US and France’s objection to the nature of security assurances and the definitions of territory, including the exclusive economic zones.

The deliberation on the SEANWFZ is worth reviving in the upcoming forum for three reasons.

First, as a matter of fact, a recent report released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute suggests that the progress toward nuclear disarmament in the future is bleak, needing urgent collective efforts to enhance global commitment to disavow nuclear weapons. The report said that more than 5,000 nuclear weapons are deployed and ready for use, including nearly 2,000 that are kept in a high state of alert.

Second, in a Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference in New York last year the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a green signal to restart the SEANWFZ talks with ASEAN, implying a good possibility that the Uncle Sam would sign the SEANWFZ protocols.

Third, at the same momentous event as Clinton, Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa announced that Indonesia would ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). In fact, the CTBT ratification process is high on the agenda of the Commission I at the House of Representatives. Such a commitment will surely boost Indonesia’s leverage to effectively promote the total elimination of nuclear weapons.

Now it is up to Indonesia to play a decisive role in pushing forward those priority issues in the upcoming forum, otherwise it will merely be a talking shop.

Written by Fahlesa Munabari. The writer is a lecturer at the Department of International Relations at the University of Budi Luhur in Jakarta.

Source: The Jakarta Post

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