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ASEAN Resistance to Sovereignty ViolationInterests, Balancing and the Role of the Vanguard State$

Laura Southgate

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9781529202205

Published to Policy Press Scholarship Online: January 2020

DOI: 10.1332/policypress/9781529202205.001.0001

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Interests and Vanguard State Theory1

Interests and Vanguard State Theory1

(p.1) 1 Interests and Vanguard State Theory1
ASEAN Resistance to Sovereignty Violation

Laura Southgate

Policy Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter explores in more depth the contending arguments for sovereignty violation in Southeast Asia. It highlights the ways in which constructivist, realist and critical theorists have approached the topic of ASEAN regionalism and member state autonomy, and the strengths and weaknesses of each argument. This is followed by a detailed analysis of vanguard state theory, and the ways in which the argument presented can build upon existing literature. The chapter defines and measures the theory’s variables of interest convergence and ASEAN (non)resistance to sovereignty violation. It then conceptualizes ASEAN in more detail, and concludes with a discussion of the methodology that has been adopted.

Keywords:   ASEAN, Realism, Constructivism, Critical Theory, Interests, Sovereignty

The existing literature regarding ASEAN’s record on sovereignty violation is polarized. Over the last two decades, a highly influential group of theorists associated closely with the constructivist perspective has emphasized ASEAN’s autonomy and ability to uphold regional order despite challenges. A second perspective has been advanced by theorists of a realist persuasion, who emphasize ASEAN’s lack of autonomy in the face of sovereignty challenges, and reliance on external actors’ sufferance. Finally, a third approach, associated with critical theory, explains ASEAN’s record on sovereignty as a function of social forces within individual ASEAN states. This study attempts to contribute to the literature by advancing a fourth perspective, also rooted in realist theory, where ASEAN’s record is highly dependent on the stance of external actors whose interests align with those of the organizations.

Constructivist theory: the power of norms and ideas

For the past two decades, a number of influential constructivist works have sought to understand and explain the prolonged period of relative peace evident in Southeast Asia since the conception of ASEAN. For these scholars, ASEAN’s continued growth in the aftermath of the Cold War cannot be explained by balance of power politics or self-help behaviour. Rather, ASEAN’s historical experience, identity and norms of behaviour have played a crucial role in enhancing regional peace and cooperation. The strength of this approach is that it seeks to understand ASEAN regionalism on an ideational, rather than material (p.2) footing, thus adding depth to the regional debate. However, a closer assessment of the literature highlights limitations, upon which this account seeks to build.

Institutional cooperation and coercion

Constructivists argue that norms have a transformative impact, regulating state behaviour, redefining state interests and constituting state identities.2 In this view, ASEAN norms are inherently cooperative and benign. In only considering cooperative norms, however, constructivists who have traditionally analyzed ASEAN are unable to adequately explain variance in Southeast Asia’s international relations. This is an important point, as evidence strongly suggests that ASEAN’s cooperative norms are routinely violated by all member states. For example, the norms of regional autonomy and non-interference have both been compromised. ASEAN allied itself with China in its containment policy of Vietnam following its invasion of Cambodia. Indonesia’s annexation of East Timor and the ensuing 27-year conflict and humanitarian crisis was largely met with ASEAN disunity and apathy. As Khoo states, ‘it would appear that focusing on “perverse norms” would go a long way to explain ASEAN’s international relations, particularly after the Cold War’.3

A related point is that the constructivist literature on Southeast Asia’s international relations is overly focused on institutions as venues for cooperation, whereby ASEAN’s norms have a socializing effect on external powers, heralding a wider East Asian regional order modelled on Southeast Asian regionalism.4 Unfortunately, this minimizes the role of coercive power dynamics in institutions. Acknowledging these problems in the literature, recent work by Glas addresses the absence of war between ASEAN members in light of the region’s on-going militarized disputes. Through a focus on practices and habits of regional relations, understood as ‘habits of peace’ shaped prior to reflection, Glas explains patterns of conflict and cooperation in the Southeast Asian region.5 These habitual practices relate to a number of different Southeast Asian attributes, including the practice of consensus, informal decision-making and dispute settlement, and substantiated by thinking on non-interference, member state equality, and face-saving.

Glas’ argument is persuasive, but not without challenges. It is unclear from where and when these habits originated, and whether they apply evenly across actors despite the different timeframes of ASEAN state (p.3) membership. Most important is the author’s acknowledgment of the challenge posed in recognizing habitual behaviour, which by definition lacks reflective thinking.6 Due to the difficulties associated with pinpointing habitual behaviour from other forms of cognitive practice, Glas leaves room for a rationalistic, interest-driven interpretation of actor behaviour. This is particularly the case when responding to security threats. While Glas argues that ‘habitual practices temper how states perceive risks and circumscribe responses to crises’,7 the case of the Thai-Cambodian border dispute would suggest otherwise. In this case, Cambodia broke with the ASEAN habit of non-interference when it approached the UN Security Council for assistance to resolve the dispute. This difficulty in identifying interest from habit suggests a more complicated process of regional relations than the author allows for.

From a realist perspective, power and interests are fundamental to the study of institutions. Here, small states can act in concert to secure their interests. As Schweller and Priess argue, ‘actors that gain power within an institution have the ability to set its agenda and influence the distribution of benefits and costs among members’.8 According to Mansfield, ‘states and interest groups have an incentive to capture international institutions because they can generate power for those that control them. Actors that gain power within an institution have the ability to set its agenda’.9 Institutions are therefore arenas, where states respond to incentives and work to secure their interests. As will be illustrated in our study, great powers frequently have leverage over smaller states. Gruber argues that weaker states voluntarily cooperate within institutions because they have ‘no better option’.10 Cooperation and power are therefore mutually reinforcing.11 An appreciation of this realist literature on institutions suggests that the constructivist overemphasis on positive cooperation and inability to discount rationalistic behaviour offers an incomplete picture of international relations.

Problematic variables: the role of norms and ideas

The strength of a causal argument rests in large part on the degree of rigour that has attended the conceptualization of its variables. In Constructing a Security Community in Southeast Asia, Acharya focuses on institutions, norms and the process of identity building in the making of a security community. The author confirms his independent variable to be norms.12 The dependent variable is the construction of a security community. Identity acts as a ‘central explanatory tool in the making and unmaking of security communities’.13 However, the way (p.4) in which identity affects the dependent variable is not clear. Acharya is not specific as to whether identity acts as an intervening variable or an independent variable, and as such it is unclear where identity fits into his causal argument. This leaves his argument ambiguous. In Whose Ideas Matter? Acharya formulates two diagrams in which he confirms his intervening variable to be regional cognitive priors, created when certain external ideas or norms resonate with leaders.14 Acharya confirms the dependent variable to be institutional design and change. However, the independent variable differs between diagrams. Firstly, it is stated as ‘ideas and norms’, secondly as ‘transnational norms’. This conflation of different concepts results in an independent variable that lacks conceptual clarity. A similar problem exists in Jürgen Haacke’s ASEAN’s Diplomatic and Security Culture. Rather than identifying a causal argument, Haacke employs a proliferation of key constructivist concepts as variables. In this respect, ASEAN norms have been reconceptualized as a diplomatic and security culture, making norms and culture interchangeable concepts.15 While Haacke uses the terminology of culture, his focus is on norms. This creates problems with respect to the clarity of his argument.

Ba confirms that founding ideas about Southeast Asia led to the ‘collective pursuit of regional resilience vis-à-vis outside forces’.16 Ba’s independent variable is ideas, and her dependent variable is a process of socialization. In this view, discourse and the exchange of ideas can change state behaviour. However, as Mearsheimer argues, ‘changes in the material world drive changes in discourse’.17 Discourse therefore, ‘turns out not to be determinative, but mainly a reflection of developments in the objective world’.18 Thies also highlights the Kenneth Waltz argument, that structure shapes and constrains the units of the system through competition and socialization.19 As such, ‘the process of interstate interaction is structured by socialization operating on behalf of anarchy and the distribution of capabilities’.20 By incorporating socialization into its explanation of structure, neorealism is able to account for the impact of both material and ideational factors on state behaviour. What Ba believes are core concepts driving events are actually determined by variables from realism, a rival theory to her theoretical framework.

The above analysis highlights the difficulty inherent in conceptualizing constructivist norms. This makes it increasingly difficult to observe the potential impact of norms and their role in shaping state behaviour or changing state practice. A recent edited collection by Betts and Orchard takes steps to address this problem in the literature. For the authors, existing theory has predominantly focused on the process (p.5) of institutionalization, understood as the international process by which norms emerge at the international level.21 How norms play out in practice, and the normative political contestation that occurs at the domestic level, is under-theorized, resulting in a ‘normative institutionalization-implementation gap’.22 The authors address this gap by developing the concept of ‘implementation’. They identify a number of causal mechanisms that can either constrain or constitute implementation efforts, including ideational, material and institutional domestic factors. Critically, such an approach allows for a variety of structural factors, in addition to allowing a role for domestic or international actors and the influence they also exert. The result is a theory that explains variation in norm compliance and state practices.

Betts and Orchard’s argument advances the constructivist analysis of norms. Aspects remain under-theorized, however, providing space for an alternative approach to state behaviour. For instance, it isn’t clear from the narrative exactly how implementation can be observed, how variance in implementation can be measured, and at what stage implementation can be said to have occurred. Indeed, the authors suggest that the ‘implementation process may have no clear end point’, and that ‘norms are never fixed’.23 The authors also contend that ‘implementation draws our attention to a crucial part of the causal process through which norms are “effective” or not in their outcomes’.24 Exactly what an effective outcome looks like isn’t clear. If we consider the ASEAN norm of non-interference for instance, its effectiveness is largely open to contention. The edited collection does not theorize on the ASEAN case, and it is not always apparent where some of ASEAN’s more unique norms or practices sit within Betts and Orchard’s theory. The authors delineate norms under one of three categories: treaty norms, principle norms and policy norms, although it is less apparent how norms are attributed to such categories. The authors also state that ‘bureaucratic contestation is likely to define which aspects of norms are successfully implemented and which fall by the wayside’.25 How this then applies to ASEAN, which lacks a bureaucratic structure, is unclear.

Of most interest is the author’s inclusion of material causal factors, an approach that recognizes the important role that both interests and external actors play in shaping norms. As the authors confirm, ‘imprecise and ambiguous norms are likely to be interpreted (and hence applied) through the lenses of parochial sets of interests and reconciled through power’.26 This represents an advance on the work of Acharya, whose focus on local actor norm localization marginalizes such factors. A number of works in the edited collection provide a (p.6) material-based account. Betts utilizes the concept of regime to consider the way, in which norms can be reconciled through interests at the national level.27 Job and Shesterinina, on the other hand, consider the role of China in shaping the R2P norm in light of its adherence to state sovereignty.28 Similarly, Aneja provides an actor-driven account of the implementation of the needs-based assistance norm.29 These represent an important step, yet a gap remains. Whilst interests have a causal role, they remain under-theorized, and lack any real analysis of how interests can be defined or interest variance measured. It can also be argued that actors are given too much power in the implementation process, with the impact of structural constraints on state practices neglected. Ultimately, these are areas that this study will seek to contribute, to provide a better understanding of both domestic and external actor interests and the international environment in which they interact.

Realist theory: US influence and the balance of power

The standard realist perspective represents another strand in the literature. If the constructivist literature has overemphasized ASEAN’s ability to resist sovereignty violations, then this strand in the literature sees little agency for ASEAN in regional affairs. According to Leifer, the notion of ‘regional solutions to regional problems’ is inherently flawed, for two important reasons. First, the notion neglects the prospect of regional differences over strategic perspectives. Second, the notion ‘assumes that a regional association can solve problems, whereas any degree of institutional success in Pacific Asia since the Second World War has depended on conspicuously avoiding a problem-solving role’.30 Leifer specifically focuses on the ARF, which he argues ‘has reflected the condition of the more important regional relationships and, in particular, that between the US and China’.31 This has made achieving regional solutions for regional problems ‘more a myth than a valid aspiration’.32 Leifer’s approach places significant emphasis on the role of extra-regional powers, minimizing ASEAN’s role in its search for regional autonomy.

Responding to the constructivist literature on Southeast Asian regionalism, Jones and Smith believe that constructivist scholarship has misrepresented the underlying characteristics of ASEAN, which actually conform to power-political realities. Thus, in order to enhance state security, ASEAN states have engaged in classic balance of power politics, specifically the retaining of ‘US influence in the Asia-Pacific (p.7) to offset the rising power of China’.33 Significantly, Jones and Smith claim that ASEAN’s preference for consensus and conflict avoidance has lent itself to extra-regional actors manipulating ASEAN norms to serve their own best interests.34 As such, extreme caution should be exercised when attempting to expand ASEAN’s regional project onto a wider regional canvas.35

The realist analysis offers a strong counter-argument to constructivist thinking. However, empirical evidence suggests that there are aspects of this analysis that should give us pause. In the realist view described above, the ASEAN states are portrayed as ‘ultimately dependent upon the continued American security commitments’.36 While external powers such as the United States clearly play an important role in the region, this view arguably goes too far, and unhelpfully obscures the role of regional states. Indeed, evidence which has emerged relatively recently from the US State Department archives confirms that Indonesia adeptly exploited US fears of communism to secure its own interests with respect to East Timor,37 and that it did so with ASEAN backing.38 This implies a greater role for Indonesia than is acknowledged in the current realist argument.

The existing realist analysis of the Third Indochina War displays a similar problem. For these scholars, the conflict was an archetypal example of great powers using regional states to secure their own interests. In this respect, ASEAN was a ‘convenient front for external actors’,39 adopting a position that ‘favoured China’s interests, above all’.40 While it is clear that external powers sought to secure their interests during this conflict, this approach minimizes the important role played by regional states. In seeking to secure its own interests, Thailand arguably played a greater role in the conflict than is evident in the current realist analysis. Certainly, China viewed Thailand, and ASEAN, as a vital component in its strategy to contain the Vietnamese.41 The empirical evidence suggests that the view advanced by Leifer, Jones and Smith contains limitations, which I seek to rectify. The authors offer a strong counter-argument, whereby ASEAN states have very little autonomy, and rely on external powers to maintain regional order. However, in taking a restrictive view of ASEAN autonomy, Leifer, Jones and Smith are unable to convincingly explain examples of ASEAN state cooperation, consensus and resistance to external intervention.

(p.8) Critical theory: the power of social forces

A new approach to sovereignty and intervention in Southeast Asia is provided in the work of Jones, who transcends the constructivist-realist debate by proffering an argument broadly categorized as a critical theoretical approach, one which is closely aligned to materialist state theory and social conflict theory. A relatively recent addition to the literature, Jones highlights inconsistencies within the existing debate on the ASEAN norm of non-interference, which many scholars believe has been upheld despite evidence to the contrary. Seeking to explain ASEAN’s mixed record of intervention and non-interference, Jones advances a perspective where ‘intervention and the non-interference principle can be explained as the outcome of struggles between and within ASEAN’s most powerful social forces’.42

For Jones, sovereignty and non-interference can be analyzed as a ‘technology of power’ mechanism, which is used by domestic groups to help determine the scope of political conflict in a way that best suits their needs.43 Because of this ‘intimate relationship between sovereignty and social order’, sovereignty is always subject to contestation by socio-political forces.44 According to Jones, the state and its institutions support the owners of capital in their domestic conflicts. By invoking the non-interference norm, state actors are able to contain socio-political conflict within a specific region, and exclude outside influences that may wish to aid social groups in their control for state power. However, state actors will also violate this norm when they perceive any external threat. Non-interference can therefore be invoked or discarded to suit particular interests or strategies.

There is much to Jones’ argument to engage with, beginning with his conceptualization of the role of the state. According to this view, ‘power is not some thing or capacity vested in state apparatuses but rather is widely dispersed … among many different social forces, such as classes and class fractions’.45 States are therefore viewed as complex, rather than coherent, exhibiting a variety of internal divisions. This approach to the state is also evident in a more recent analysis of governance in Southeast Asia provided by Gerard, who ‘conceptualizes states as complex social relations, meaning their form is structured through conflicts between social forces seeking to advance their interests at the expense of others’.46 Such approaches challenge the neo-Weberian view of the state as a ‘black box’, as favoured by traditional International Relations scholars. Indeed, for neorealists, constraints imposed by the international system create the same basic incentives for all states, making domestic variables such as regime or (p.9) leadership type of little importance.47 However, more recent works associated with the realist school have sought to open the black box of the state by connecting external and internal variables. These approaches show the way in which unit level variables, such as domestic constraints or elite interests, can function as intervening variables to explain the relationship between the relative distribution of power in the international system and the foreign policies of states.48 While ‘ideal state behaviour is that which conforms with the unitary actor’, there are times when these conditions are not met due to domestic variables.49 Crucially, ‘when systemic constraints are ignored, foreign policy failure results … [and] the system punishes’.50 Jones’ analysis, with its preferential focus on internal social forces, de-emphasizes external variables such as systemic constraints and the distribution of power. Arguably, he therefore provides an incomplete picture of the state and its role in the international system.

Jones explores the relationship between sovereignty and intervention by reconceptualizing both as a ‘technology as power’. This allows for the identification of patterns of sovereignty and intervention, with sovereignty continuously contested by social forces. The end product is shaped by this struggle and then conditioned by local and global geopolitical factors. This raises the question of whether this is a two-way process, with external geopolitical factors also conditioning the domestic sphere. If so, a countering argument could be made, whereby the external forces actually shape and condition the domestic relations. It is clear that Jones’ argument has a role for external actors, with successful sovereignty claims depending upon ‘prevailing constellations of power [and] interests … at the international level’, and with rival social forces potentially ‘supported by different external agents’.51 However, the interests of these external actors are subservient to that of internal social forces, which are the ‘fundamental drivers’ of sovereignty regimes. These external forces therefore play a conditioning, rather than causal role, in sovereignty and intervention.52 The argument presented here will redress this imbalance, to show how in reality these external actors play a much more crucial role in Southeast Asian sovereignty and intervention than is currently allowed for.

In doing so, it will provide a deeper conceptual analysis of how interests are measured and defined, something implicit in Jones’ analysis rather than explicit. It will also consider the important role for consensus and cooperation between internal and external actors for the maintenance of political authority, in addition to the instances of conflict that undoubtedly occur. In this respect, a more positive view (p.10) of sovereignty will be offered, beyond Jones’ analysis of a ‘conflict-ridden process’, which requires ‘tremendous amounts of violence’.53 While the author agrees with Jones that ‘violent clashes of interest’,54 occur in territorializing sovereign states, it will be contended that this is only part of the picture, and minimizes the instances of interest convergence which can also occur. This project will therefore seek to build on the work done by Jones, and consider the actions that ASEAN member states can take to resist violations to their sovereignty. Emphasis on state ability to resist sovereignty violation, as opposed to explanations for when sovereignty is or is not transgressed, provides a predictive, rather than historic, analysis. According to this approach, there is little point seeking to explain why certain states have been singled out for intervention. This is because external intervention in the affairs of weaker states is driven by geopolitical events dictated by the structure of the international system and the actions of great powers. Instances of intervention sit outside of the control of smaller, weaker powers, which must always assume the worst and prepare themselves accordingly. This analysis rests upon their ability to do so. The result is a dynamic theory that seeks to explain how, why and when states cooperate in light of conflicting regional and international state interests and power dynamics.

Contribution to the realist debate

Vanguard state theory will build upon existing arguments, to offer a theory that can explain the mixed record of sovereignty violation in Southeast Asia through a focus on Southeast Asian and external power interest convergence. In doing so, it contributes to the current realist regional and institutional literature. Realist authors Joseph Grieco55 and Gil Merom56 attempt to enhance realist explanatory power in relation to institutional and regional analysis. For Grieco, neorealist thought is notably lacking in its ability to explain weak member state behaviour within international institutions. However, neorealism can be ‘amended to ascribe significance to international institutions’ by including a ‘voice opportunities thesis’.57 According to this approach, weaker states are able to voice concerns regarding stronger powers and any unfair divisions of gains. This helps strengthen weak power influence over stronger powers. Taking a different approach, Merom attempts to address ‘the regional void in realism’ by explaining the significance of regional order from a realist stance.58 He does this by suggesting two amendments to the theory: ‘contingent realism’, (p.11) which widens the scope of realism beyond the distribution of power to include unit-level variables; and ‘constructive realism’,59 which introduces the logic of constructivism to help explain prolonged periods of peace and regional society building.

These are important steps towards enhancing realist explanatory power. Merom and Grieco’s work is a useful entry point by realists into the regional literature. However, neither Grieco nor Merom have succeeded in producing fully developed or testable theoretical amendments. Grieco has posited his ‘voice opportunities thesis’ in relation to Europe’s Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) rule trajectory only. It is not clear whether this can be applied to a Third World institution, or could be moved out of the sphere of international political economy and into the field of security studies. Merom advances a theoretical framework only, using a brief discussion of the Middle East to highlight his amendments. While this study will attempt to integrate with this literature, a gap remains to explore a realist understanding of regionalism which is supported by strong case study analysis.

To that end, this book will seek to develop a theory of sovereignty and intervention in Southeast Asia that incorporates foreign policy strategy based on the assumptions of realist theory. This is in accordance with the work of Colin Elman, who argues that we can use neorealism as a theory of foreign policy, which ‘makes determinate predications for dependent variable(s) that measure the behaviour of individual states’.60 In doing so, it will seek to contribute to the literature on small states from a realist perspective, where states are conceptualized as unitary and rational actors.61 By adopting a realist-based theoretical approach, this book seeks to advance an argument that looks beyond ASEAN adherence to norms and the role of social forces, to explain the mixed record of ASEAN state resistance to sovereignty violation. In determining the dynamics of ASEAN resistance to sovereignty violation, two variables present themselves: interest convergence and success of resistance to sovereignty violation (see Figure 1 for diagram).

Delineating our variables

For the purpose of this study, the independent variable is interest convergence between an ASEAN vanguard state and an external actor. A vanguard state is a regional state with the most compelling interests at stake in a given issue. Vanguard state theory does not preclude there being more than one vanguard state. In the event of two or more (p.12) vanguard states, the same criteria apply. States must have the same compelling interests at stake in a given issue, and there must be some degree of coordination between them. A vanguard state is able to set the agenda of ASEAN and to portray a united ASEAN front in support of vanguard state interests. The dependent variable of this study is success of ASEAN vanguard state resistance to sovereignty violation. ASEAN success, or lack thereof, at resistance to such deviations will be assessed using case study analysis. Sovereignty is understood in terms of the Westphalian model, defined as an ‘institutional arrangement for organizing political life that is based on two principles: territoriality and the exclusion of external actors from domestic authority structures’.62 Both the independent variable and dependent variable are to be viewed as continuous variables, characterized by a sliding scale of convergence or success. This dynamic can be restated in the following hypothesis: if there is an increase in interest convergence between an ASEAN vanguard state and an external actor, then this will cause an increase in success of resistance to sovereignty violation; conversely, if there is a decrease in interest convergence between an ASEAN vanguard state and an external actor, then this will cause a decrease in success of resistance to sovereignty violation.

Defining and measuring interest convergence

In advancing an alternative account in the literature, the critical independent variable in our analysis is the degree of convergence in state interests between an ASEAN vanguard state and a specific external actor or actors. Consistent with a realist theoretical approach, we draw on a realist understanding of how interests are defined. This can be contrasted with a constructivist conception, whereby ‘interests are constructed through social interaction … [and] are defined in the context of internationally held norms and understandings about what is good and appropriate’.63 Following the work of Stephen Krasner, analysis begins with, and ultimately attempts to defend, the basic premise underlying what has become known as the state-centric realist paradigm. In this view, states (defined as central decision-making institutions and roles) can be treated as unified, rational actors pursuing aims understood in terms of the national interest.64

Interests enjoy a strong tradition within the realist literature, where there exists a consistent view of the basic state interest, which is state survival. For example, classical realist Hans Morgenthau argues that ‘the state has no right to let its moral disapprobation of the infringement (p.13) of liberty get in the way of successful political action, itself inspired by the moral principle of national survival’.65 Similarly, neorealist Kenneth Waltz believes that ‘by comparing nations and corporations, the elusive notion of national interest is made clear. By assumption, economic actors seek to maximize expected returns, and states strive to secure their survival’.66 John Mearsheimer reaffirms this view, stating that ‘survival is the primary goal of great powers’.67 When a state must act to ensure its survival, this constrains a state’s consideration of broader interests. However, during periods of relative peace, ‘powers have the “luxury” of choosing their interests and goals’.68 During such times, a range of other values will be sought, including ‘rank, respect, material possessions and material privileges’.69

An understanding of the foregoing literature leads us to conceptualize our variables in a particular way. For the purposes of analysis, this study begins with the basic assumption that state interests are premised on the basic point of seeking survival. Building on the works of Timothy Crawford70 and Daryl Press,71 a continuous variable has been constructed representing the state interests at stake, with vital interests at one end and secondary interests at the other. Crawford defines vital interests as involving ‘self-preservation, political independence, and, by extension, defence of strategically vital areas’.72 Similarly, Press defines vital interests as preservation of ‘sovereignty’.73 Secondary interests can vary greatly, and may range ‘from very important interests, such as maintaining trade routes, the safety of your allies, and even national “prestige”, to much more ephemeral ones’.74 While ranking the hierarchy of state interests is inherently difficult, ultimately interests pertaining to national self-preservation logically must take precedence.75 A theory of vanguard state interests therefore begins with the basic assumption that states seek to secure their survival, but acknowledges that states have many interests, which they will seek to pursue when survival is not at stake. This is especially applicable in the case of weak states. According to Handel, ‘the international system leaves [weak states] less room for choice in the decision-making process. Their smaller margin of error and hence greater preoccupation with survival makes the essential interests of weak states less ambiguous’.76

Cooperation may be based on a response to threats,77 or for the pursuit of gains.78 Convergence is measured by identifying symmetric or asymmetric interests,79 whether vital or secondary (as defined by Crawford), and arrangements for cooperation between states. This study acknowledges that complete interest convergence between states is difficult to obtain. Varying degrees of interest convergence are possible, and interests can change over time. Partial interest (p.14) convergence between an ASEAN state and an external actor is unlikely to elicit the high levels of sustained cooperation required to cause ASEAN state resistance to sovereignty violation. A high level of interest convergence is required to elicit the cooperation required to resist violations to state sovereignty. Interest convergence is a dynamic process, whereby small states actively seek ‘maximum great-power commitment to their security interests while trying to minimize the price of obtaining that support’.80 They do so because they ‘generally lack formidable independent power capabilities’ and as such ‘cannot affect the international security landscape on their own’.81 However, because some small states ‘occupy strategic positions’, they can ‘affect the overall global distribution of power by adding to the resources of some great powers and constraining others’.82

Engaging with this literature, our analysis begins with the underlying premise that the study of interest convergence can yield utility to the field of Southeast Asian international relations. As this study will show, without external actor interest convergence, ASEAN is unable to resist sovereignty violations from powers external to the region. During periods of decreased interest convergence, this analysis shares the same expectations as Leifer and Jones and Smith, and is consistent with existing realist literature. However, this study contributes to the literature by demonstrating that when a clear interest convergence occurs between an ASEAN state and an external power, a substantial compact is constructed. In short, an ASEAN vanguard state plays the important and necessary function of actively seeking and supporting a great power commitment to regional policies, or intervention in regional affairs, which are consistent with the interests of both the ASEAN state and the external actor. At this time, an ASEAN vanguard state has an active and substantial role in resisting sovereignty violations from other external powers. Great powers will use regional institutions to pursue their own interests.83 When vital interests are at stake, however, regional states will seek to do the same.

Vanguard state theory: on balancing, bargaining and power

The aim of this research is to provide a better understanding of ASEAN institutional dynamics and patterns of state behaviour. It does so by constructing a theory of foreign policy, defined as a theory that can ‘explain why different states or even the same state at different times pursues particular strategies in the international arena’.84 Its core (p.15) assumptions are realist in nature, based upon a state-centric view of the international system, where states exist in a decentralized and anarchic system characterized by the principle of self-help.85 Its primary focus is on state interests and the role of a ‘vanguard state’, conceptualized as an ASEAN state that comes to the fore of the Association when it has vital interests at stake that it wishes to pursue. As defined by Crawford86 and Press,87 these vital interests relate to state survival and the preservation of state sovereignty. Vanguard state behaviour is variably understood as either security maximizing,88 or power maximizing.89 An ASEAN state only begins to assume the role of vanguard state when vital interests are at stake, when state security is threatened and very possibly under conditions of actual conflict.

Once a vanguard state has come to prominence, it will perform two major functions, which reflect an external balancing logic.90 First, because of its relative weakness, the vanguard state will actively seek out an external power whose interests align with its own. Second, the vanguard state will seek to portray a united ASEAN front in support of its interests, by engaging and mobilizing states within the institution. This supports the view that states will engage in balancing behaviour, and that ‘balances of power [will] recurrently form’.91 There are a number of different strategies at a vanguard state’s disposal to engage an external power and a regional state. The most important of these are through intelligence gathering, opening channels of communication and engaging in high-level meetings, much of which is predicated on the basis of prior relationships, perceived credibility and reputation.92 It is through these methods that a vanguard state will identify convergent state interests. A vanguard state may use diplomacy, bargaining, incentives, coercion and bilateral agreements or alliances to further solidify this interest convergence.

Two dominant factors shaping ASEAN dynamics and behavioural patterns are individual state threat perceptions93 and relative power vis-à-vis other members of the international system. It is this consideration of relative power that dictates ASEAN state relations externally, with respect to great powers, and internally, with respect to the regional organization itself. When assessing its ability to effect change, a regional state recognizes that its limited material capabilities require it to pursue enhanced relations with a great power. Of equal importance for our theory is the relative power dynamic within ASEAN. For a vanguard state to influence other ASEAN members, it must have the relative power to do so. This supports the view that ‘estimates of relative power are the currency of diplomatic bargaining’.94 It is therefore not surprising that, of the case studies presented here, Indonesia as the (p.16) region’s dominant power has had most success in its role of vanguard state, and Vietnam and the Philippines the least. Intra-ASEAN power dynamics do matter, as our analysis will seek to show.

For the purpose of this study, sovereignty, autonomy and intervention are conceptualized in terms of power. Autonomy is considered a core principle of state sovereignty. According to Krasner, the principle of autonomy is one of the core elements of Westphalian sovereignty, and means that ‘no external actor enjoys authority within the borders of the state’.95 Michael Mann intrinsically links the concepts of autonomy and sovereignty to power. Mann argues that a state’s ability to ‘provide a territorially-centralized form of organization’ provides for state autonomy.96 For Mann, it is this institutional and territorial centralized nature that is ‘the most important precondition of state power’.97 Hence, power is an essential element in the relationship between sovereignty and autonomy.

According to the Westphalian model, sovereignty can be violated through imposition, where a weak state is forced to do something it would not ordinarily do, and intervention, where more powerful states coerce ‘public authorities in weaker states to accept externally dictated authority structures’.98 For many, the principle of non-intervention, which is always violated through coercion or imposition, is the key element of sovereign statehood.99 Interventions occur when there is an asymmetry of power.100 Because powerful states intervene in the internal affairs of less powerful states,101 weaker states have always been the ‘strongest supporters’ of the rule of non-intervention.102 Weaker states will always seek to resist violations to their sovereignty. It is our contention that they are able to do so when their interests converge with that of an external actor.

Conceptualizing ASEAN

The way in which ASEAN is conceptualized, and the degree to which ASEAN can be considered an ‘actor’, is debated here. Defined by Rüland as the ability to ‘develop presence, to become identifiable, aggregate interests, formulate goals and policies, make and implement decisions’,103 a key ability for any actor is to ‘formulate a coherent position’, and to receive recognition and identification as an actor in a given context.104 As case study analysis of the South China Sea dispute will show, ASEAN lacks the ability to consistently aggregate interests and formulate coherent policy, in part due to its loose institutional organization and preference for consensus decision-making. This (p.17) places limits on the degree of ASEAN’s ‘actorness’. However, our analysis suggests that at times of vanguard state prominence, once a vanguard state has successfully mobilized the member states in support of its interests, ASEAN can be conceptualized as a unitary actor. This is in accordance with the work of Frey, who argues that any group actors ‘must display sufficient behavioural cohesion among members so as to produce unitary group actor behaviour’.105 While the degree of cohesion required to elicit unitary group actor behaviour must be high, Frey acknowledges that ‘absolutely unitary action is a naively impractical criterion for a group actor’.106 As such, evidence of minor or insignificant state deviations from cohesion should not result in denial of group actor designation.

As our analysis will show, these moments of cohesion are both rare, and can be victim to power dynamics within the grouping. In the periods when ASEAN cannot be considered a unitary actor, which, as evidence will show, is the overwhelming majority, ASEAN is understood as a grouping of member states. ASEAN resistance to sovereignty violation therefore refers to member state ability to resist sovereignty transgressions. Clearly, this ability has repercussions for the whole Southeast Asian region, where ‘Southeast Asia’ is defined as the geographical area encompassed by the ten member states of ASEAN.


This book adopts a case-study analysis of the concept of ASEAN resistance to sovereignty violation. Cases have been selected in order to demonstrate variation on the dependent variable. Specifically, cases selected show a range of variation characterized by different levels of success. By showing variation on the dependent variable, the study seeks to avoid the very serious problem of selection bias, which occurs when we ‘subtly or not so subtly select observations on the basis of combinations of the independent and dependent variables that support the desired conclusion’.107 To avoid selection bias, ‘selection should allow for the possibility of at least some variation on the dependent variable’.108 Thus, to illustrate this I have chosen four case studies, which span five decades since ASEAN’s establishment. The four cases that this study will examine are: the Indonesian invasion of East Timor (1975); the Third Indochina War (1978–91); the East Timor humanitarian crisis (1999); and The South China Sea Dispute (1992 to present).

(p.18) The Indonesian invasion of East Timor (1975) and the East Timor humanitarian crisis (1999) deal with the same key actors. A significant factor in favour of the selection is that the cases represent variation on the dependent variable. The 1975 case is an example of successful resistance to sovereignty violation, and the 1999 case an example of failure to resist sovereignty violation. As such, they offer an explanation for varying outcomes, in addition to providing evidence for changing state interests over time. Similarly, the South China Sea Dispute (1992 to present) shows variation in interest convergence over a 25-year time frame, and represents a good case to test partial convergence. The Third Indochina War (1978–91) is prevalent in the constructivist, critical theory and realist literature. As such, it acts as a good case to test existing theoretical explanations, in addition to the vanguard state theory posited in this book. An additional and compelling rationale for the case selection relates to the availability of empirical evidence. Declassified US state documents for the period up to 1980 provide a strong empirical basis for the Indonesian invasion of East Timor (1975) and the Third Indochina War (1978–91). The availability of media reports and United Nations documentation also provide a strong empirical foundation for the East Timor humanitarian crisis (1999) and the South China Sea Dispute (1992 to present).

According to the work of Arthur Stinchcombe,109 we must observe covariation in order to derive observations in support of causal theory. Without variation in the causal variable, it is not possible to observe variations in the dependent variable. To establish covariation, my independent variable is a continuous variable characterized by variation in interest convergence. Change of this variable should change the value of the dependent variable, thus establishing causal direction. In an attempt to make causal inferences, this study will employ a process-tracing technique. The benefits of case study analysis are discussed in depth by Van Evera. Of particular note is Van Evera’s discussion of the benefits of tests using a process-tracing methodology, which ‘gain strong controls from the uniform character of the background conditions of the case’.110 This allows for a number of observations of values on the independent and dependent variable. Through process tracing it is possible to ‘examine the process whereby initial case conditions are translated into case outcomes’.111

This book seeks an answer to the following question: when has ASEAN state resistance to sovereignty challenges succeeded, and when has it failed? ASEAN resistance to sovereignty challenge is understood in terms of the Association’s ability to exclude external actors from the domestic authority structures of any ASEAN state.112 (p.19) All four cases represent examples of ASEAN resistance to sovereignty challenges aimed at an ASEAN vanguard state. The Indonesian invasion of East Timor (1975) is an example of Indonesia successfully resisting challenges to its sovereignty from the United Nations and the international community. These external actors increasingly sought to intervene in Indonesia’s domestic affairs following the invasion. Interest convergence with key external powers ultimately prevented this from occurring. The Third Indochina War (1978–91) is an example of Thailand successfully resisting territorial sovereignty violation from an aggressive neighbouring state, Vietnam, which was backed by the Soviet Union, a pole in the international system. The East Timor humanitarian crisis (1999) is an example of Indonesia failing to resist challenges to its sovereignty, after an international peacekeeping force entered East Timor. The South China Sea dispute (1992 to present) is an example of the Philippines and Vietnam partial interest convergence with the United States, and the inability of these states to resist violation of their sovereignty from an assertive China in the South China Sea.

The question of ASEAN’s ability to resist sovereignty challenges is critical to the field of international relations for two important reasons. First, it illuminates the dynamic of the ASEAN states’ sovereignty practices.113 The principle of sovereignty provides a state with authority and control over its people and territory, in addition to securing against intervention by external actors.114 ASEAN’s ability to uphold this in practice has clear implications for state autonomy and security, and is of importance to the individual states, the organization and the region as a whole. Indeed, this has wider implications for any small states and regional organizations within the international system. Second, it clarifies the contested question of the ability of ASEAN to uphold its norms and principles, specifically the principle of non-intervention by external powers,115 and the norm of upholding regional autonomy.116 ASEAN’s ability, or lack thereof, to uphold these principles is of vital importance to regional security, and to the security of the wider international community.


(1) Contents from this chapter originally published in Journal of Asian Security and International Affairs, Vol. 2 No. 2 and Journal of Asian Security and International Affairs, Vol. 3 No. 2. Copyright 2015/2016 © SAGE Publications India Private Limited, New Delhi. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holders and the publishers, SAGE Publications India Pvt. Ltd, New Delhi.

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(11) Terry M Moe, “Power and Political Institutions,” Perspectives on Politics 3, no. 2 (2005), 229.

(17) John Mearsheimer, “The False Promise of International Institutions,” International Security 19, no. 3 (Winter 1994/1995), 42.

(19) Kenneth Waltz, Theory of International Politics (New York: McGraw Hill, 1979), 74.

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(21) Alexander Betts and Phil Orchard, “Introduction: The Normative Institutionalization-Implementation Gap,” in Implementation and World Politics ed. Alexander Betts and Phil Orchard (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 1.

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(p.21) (27) Alexander Betts, “From Persecution to Deprivation: How Refugee Norms Adapt at Implementation,” in Implementation and World Politics, 29–49.

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(37) Jussi Hanhimäki, The Flawed Architect: Henry Kissinger and American Foreign Policy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 478.

(38) As evidenced by the Association of Southeast Nations, “Joint Communiqué of the Ninth ASEAN Ministerial Meeting,” Manila, 24–26 June 1976, Article 23.

(41) Michael Chambers, “‘The Chinese and the Thai are Brothers’: The Evolution of the Sino-Thai Friendship,” Journal of Contemporary China 14, no. 45 (2005), 599–629.

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(63) Martha Finnemore, National Interests in International Society (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1996), 2.

(64) Stephen Krasner, Defending the National Interest: Raw Materials Investments and US Foreign Policy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1978), 12.

(65) Hans Morgenthau, Politics Among Nations, 4th ed. (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1967), 10.

(67) John Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics (New York: WW. Norton & Co., 2001), 31.

(68) Fareed Zakaria, From Wealth to Power: The Unusual Origins of America’s World Role (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998), 186.

(69) Arnold Wolfers, “National Security as an Ambiguous Symbol,” Political Science Quarterly 67, no. 4 (1952): 489.

(70) Timothy Crawford, Pivotal Deterrence: Third-Party Statecraft and the Pursuit of Peace (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2003), 30–31.

(71) Daryl G Press, Calculating Credibility: How Leaders Assess Military Threats (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2005), 25–28.

(p.23) (76) Michael Handel, Weak States in the International System (London: Frank Cass and Company, 1981), 3.

(77) Stephen Walt, The Origins of Alliances (London: Cornell University Press, 1987).

(78) Joseph Grieco, “Realist Theory and the Problem of International Cooperation: Analysis with an Amended Prisoner’s Dilemma Model,” The Journal of Politics 50, no. 3 (1988): 600–624.

(79) Robert S. Ross, “Navigating the Taiwan Strait: Deterrence, Escalation, Dominance, and U.S.-China Relations,” International Security 27, no. 2 (2002): 48–85.

(80) John D. Ciorciari, The Limits of Alignment: Southeast Asia and the Great Powers since 1975 (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2010), 2.

(84) Jeffrey Taliaferro, Balancing Risks: Great Power Intervention in the Periphery (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2004), 2.

(92) Thomas Schelling, “An Essay on bargaining,” The American Economic Review 46, no. 3 (1956), 281–306.

(94) Randall Schweller and William Wohlforth, “Power test: Evaluating realism in response to the end of the Cold War,” Security Studies 9, no. 3 (2000), 71.

(95) Stephen Krasner, “Rethinking the Sovereign State Model,” Review of International Studies 27, no. 5 (December 2001), 18.

(96) Michael Mann, “The Autonomous Power of the State: its Origins, Mechanisms and Results,” European Journal of Sociology 25, no. 2 (November 1984),185.

(100) Stephen Krasner, “Sovereignty and Intervention,” in Beyond Westphalia? 229.

(p.24) (103) Jürgen Rüland, “Inter- and Transregionalism; Remarks on the State of the Art of a New Research Agenda.” National Europe Centre Paper (35), Paper prepared for the workshop on Asia-Pacific Studies in Australia and Europe: A Research Agenda for the Future, ANU, July 5–6 (2002), 6.

(104) Frank Mattheis and Uwe Wunderlich, “Regional actorness and interregional relations: ASEAN, the EU and Mercosur,” Journal of European Integration 39, no. 6 (2017), 725.

(105) Frederick Frey, “The Problem of Actor Designation in Political Analysis,” Comparative Politics 17, no. 2 (January 1985), 144.

(107) Gary King, Robert O Keohane and Sidney Verba, Designing Social Inquiry: Scientific Inference in Qualitative Research (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994), 128–129.

(109) See Arthur Stinchcombe, Constructing Social Theories (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World Inc., 1968), 32–38.

(110) See Stephen Van Evera, Guide to Methods for Students of Political Science (London: Cornell University Press, 1997), 50–55.

(114) David A Lake, Hierarchy in International Relations (New York: Cornell University Press, 2009), 46–47.