In the more than five decades since the founding of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, relations among its member states have remained generally peaceful, and major interstate conflict has been all but eliminated. Yet, ASEAN now faces significant challenges, not least from competition between the United States and China that threatens to draw individual ASEAN countries into taking sides. This report discusses ASEAN’s role in maintaining peace and stability in Southeast Asia and how it can adapt to a rapidly evolving geopolitical climate to meet future challenges.

The ASEAN logo seen at the association’s Business and Investment Summit (ABIS) in Nonthaburi, Thailand, on November 2, 2019. (Photo by Aijaz Rahi/AP)
The ASEAN logo seen at the association’s Business and Investment Summit (ABIS) in Nonthaburi, Thailand, on November 2, 2019. (Aijaz Rahi/AP)

Summary

  • ASEAN was designed as a trust-building mechanism for its members rather than as a platform for mediating disputes.
  • Historically, ASEAN has been able to minimize interstate conflict because of an adherence to the principles of consensus, non-interference, and the peaceful resolution of disputes. Its many meetings and informal social gatherings build interpersonal trust, enabling many disputes to be settled without resort to formal legal mechanisms.
  • This emphasis, however, prevents it from effectively intervening in intrastate conflicts considered domestic issues. Nor is it equipped to handle interstate disagreements that cannot be solved on the sidelines of meetings.
  • Pressure on ASEAN to reform its structure and culture comes from the changing security dynamic and the influence of external actors in the region, particularly China and the United States.
  • One of the most pressing issues for consideration is the continued relevance and feasibility of ASEAN’s principle of consensus-based decision making in light of the emerging challenges presented by increasing U.S.-China competition.

About the Report

This report examines the evolving role that ASEAN has played in maintaining peace and stability in Southeast Asia. It is the outcome of a joint collaboration between the Centre on Asia and Globalisation at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore, and the United States Institute of Peace.

About the Authors

Drew Thompson is a visiting senior research fellow at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore. He was formerly the director for China, Taiwan, and Mongolia at the U.S. Department of Defense from 2011 to 2018. Byron Chong is a research associate at the Centre on Asia and Globalisation at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore.

Related Publications

Seis formas de ayudar a mantener las negociaciones en Venezuela

Seis formas de ayudar a mantener las negociaciones en Venezuela

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

By: Mark Feierstein;  Keith Mines;  Nicolas Devia-Valbuena

A fines del año pasado, la Asamblea Nacional de Venezuela, controlada por la oposición, votó a favor de disolver el “gobierno interino” encabezado por Juan Guaidó, un proyecto de cuatro años diseñado para sustituir al gobernante del país, Nicolás Maduro. Este voto se produce en medio de un panorama regional cambiante, con gobiernos de izquierda recién elegidos en los vecinos Brasil y Colombia que apoyan una solución negociada al conflicto y un enfoque más moderado por parte de muchos de los aliados tradicionales en el exterior de la oposición. La clave para el progreso en el próximo año será mantener negociaciones consistentes, que siguen siendo el lugar más eficiente para tomar decisiones clave, como sobre el futuro de las elecciones y la relación entre el chavismo y la oposición. Hay varias formas clave de ayudar a nutrir y sostener estas conversaciones, así como parta hacerlas más efectivas en pro de lograr mejoras a corto plazo en la vida de los venezolanos.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Democracy & GovernanceMediation, Negotiation & Dialogue

Six Ways to Help Sustain Venezuela’s Negotiations

Six Ways to Help Sustain Venezuela’s Negotiations

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

By: Mark Feierstein;  Keith Mines;  Nicolas Devia-Valbuena

At the end of last year, Venezuela’s opposition-controlled National Assembly voted to disband the “interim government,” led by Juan Guaidó, a four-year project designed to displace the country’s ruler, Nicolas Maduro. This comes amid a shifting regional landscape, with newly elected leftist governments in neighboring Brazil and Colombia supporting a negotiated solution to the conflict, and a more nuanced approach from many of the opposition’s traditional international supporters. The key to progress in the year ahead will be maintaining consistent negotiations, which remain the most efficient venue for key decisions, such as on elections, and engagement. There are several key ways to help nurture and sustain these talks, and to make them more impactful in achieving short-term improvements in the lives of the Venezuelan people.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Democracy & GovernanceMediation, Negotiation & Dialogue

Colombia’s Renewed Peace Talks with ELN Rebels Provide Historic Opportunity

Colombia’s Renewed Peace Talks with ELN Rebels Provide Historic Opportunity

Thursday, December 15, 2022

By: Steve Hege

As part of its ambitious “Total Peace” agenda, the new Colombian government recently restarted peace talks with the National Liberation Army (ELN), marking the first new negotiations since January 2019. And while this cycle of talks adopted the same agenda and process framework as the previous efforts, current President Gustavo Petro appointed a diverse and broad negotiations team in the hopes of generating early momentum and support. Petro intends to advance on partial accords as quickly as possible — building up to a comprehensive agreement before his brief four-year term in office is complete.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Mediation, Negotiation & DialoguePeace Processes

View All Publications