Indonesia’s three foremost priorities for its tenure as ASEAN’s chair have been lucidly articulated by Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa.
The nation must assure that during 2011 substantial progress is made towards realizing the ASEAN Community in 2015; assure ASEAN’s leadership in regional architecture building, specifically to give crucial significance to the East Asia Summit, which has been expanded to include Russia and the US and develop a vision for an ASEAN Community and Global Community of Nations after 2015.
This article will limit itself to Indonesia’s leadership in regional architecture building with ASEAN as a center for such a structural design. “Our capability of including Russia and the United States in the process of thrashing out that regional architecture means creating a dynamic equilibrium,” Marty said.
What will be the major challenges of producing a regional architecture? All sovereign countries will at all times defend their independence and their uniqueness. The pursuit of national interests in a globalized world and particularly within ASEAN should no longer be founded on the concepts of Machiavelli nor of Lord Palmerston, who said nations have no permanent friends, only permanent interests. ASEAN has been built on compromises.
To continue to pursue member states’ national interests is no longer in line with the method of consensus building in ASEAN. What has changed in ASEAN is how people define their interests, and, in particular, the configurations by which they pursue them.
We are not eliminating national interests in ASEAN. But we have agreed that the best way to safeguard our interests is by cooperating with one another. Cooperation has contributed immensely to identifying and realizing ASEAN’s interests.
To avoid misunderstandings, interests have to be put on an equal footing with values and norms. Any foreign policy that is not based on common values and norms as enunciated in the ASEAN Communities Blueprints and the ASEAN Charter should be set aside. The values and norms that we have sanctioned in the charter and its constitutive documents should form the fundamentals of foreign policy.
The foreign policy of every member country should be based on those norms. These values and norms should become the core of our diplomacy and external actions and express our common identity. They should shape Indonesia’s and ASEAN’s stance in its relations with the world, in finding common solutions and in making commitments to create effective multilateral institutions to face new challenges in a globalized world.
To build an ASEAN-centered regional architecture defies simple approaches. An ASEAN architecture that can accommodate larger powers such as India, China, Russia and the US requires a strong Indonesia in a strong ASEAN.
Indonesia can offer only a relatively small counterbalance to India, China, Russia and the US in the game of maintaining a “dynamic equilibrium” in the new architecture.
However, those powers have already committed themselves to ASEAN values and norms by becoming party to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia as a requirement to join the East Asia Summit.
Recognition of ASEAN, and of Indonesia as primus inter pares, should be capitalized upon in initiating and constructing that visualized ASEAN-led regional architecture. As in the case of building ASEAN, such a regional architecture should also acknowledge cooperation among equals as a fundamental safeguard for their members’ interests.
Indonesia will initiate and shape that architecture during its chairmanship, as Marty specified, but the nation must realize that its leadership will only last one year.
Other smaller member countries will have to take over the venture in the years following Indonesia’s chairmanship. They will also have to manage ASEAN’s internal affairs and timelines to accomplish ASEAN’s community building by 2015 to sustain and further develop that architecture.
This means ASEAN must at the same time be supported by a strong regional institution to tackle regional issues and necessitate national adaptations to regional requirements, regional norms.
Managing and fulfilling ASEAN’s objectives with clearly set timelines requires a dedicated and autonomous regional institution. Thus ASEAN member states energies will be free to embark upon the bigger task of structuring a huge regional architecture. An ASEAN Secretariat will no longer be able to handle those tasks because of its inherent institutional character.
It is, thus, to set free the energy of ASEAN member countries to build that regional architecture that the ASEAN Secretariat must be developed into a more autonomous institution.
The secretariat must enable ASEAN to focus its energies more on the strategic importance of constructing that new Asia Pacific architecture and delegating non-strategic issues and decisions in ASEAN’s agenda of community building to the ASEAN Commission.
ASEAN’s current secretary-general, because of his prominence, can be designated as the commission’s chairman or president.
A redesign of the ASEAN Secretariat into an ASEAN Commission will reflect ASEAN’s shift from a regional forum for ministerial diplomacy into one of summit diplomacy and summit decisions.
This shift has, since 1992, with the initiation of AFTA and later agreements, taken authority away from the ASEAN Ministerial Meetings.
It is this transformation into a redesigned organizational structure that will enable ASEAN to sustain the efforts of structuring a regional architecture for the greatest benefit to the region, Southeast Asia and East Asia.
C.P.F. Luhulima, The writer is a senior researcher at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences’ Center for Political Studies.
Opini The Jakarta Post 7 Januari 2011