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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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The Future of ASEAN Sovereignty?

The Future of ASEAN Sovereignty?

(p.213) 6 The Future of ASEAN Sovereignty?
ASEAN Resistance to Sovereignty Violation

Laura Southgate

Policy Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter concludes by analysing the research findings to provide a definitive response to the central research question advanced in this book. In doing so, it assesses the applicability of vanguard state theory to sovereignty violation in Southeast Asia, and concludes by considering the potential effects of humanitarian intervention and the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) on the future of ASEAN sovereignty.

Keywords:   ASEAN, Sovereignty, R2P, Humanitarian, Intervention

The primary purpose of this book is to construct an explanation, rooted in a realist theoretical perspective, that more convincingly explains the dynamics of ASEAN state resistance to sovereignty violation. In this respect, one question is of particular importance: when has ASEAN state resistance to sovereignty violation succeeded, and when has it failed? This question has been answered with reference to the concept of an ASEAN vanguard state, which is defined as the ASEAN state with the most compelling interests at stake in a given issue. In determining the dynamics of ASEAN resistance to sovereignty violation, two variables are the focus of analysis: Interest convergence and success of resistance to sovereignty violation. As has been argued, a convergence in interests between an ASEAN vanguard state and an external actor accounts for the success of ASEAN vanguard state resistance to sovereignty violation (see Figure 1). Conversely, an absence of convergence accounts for the failure of ASEAN vanguard state resistance to sovereignty violation.

Four case studies were chosen for analysis. These case studies were selected to test the book’s central claims and to evaluate them against existing theoretical perspectives. In advancing a realist theoretical approach, the study aims to defend the continued applicability of traditional international relations theory to the field of Southeast Asian regionalism. Analysis began with the underlying premise that the study of interest convergence can yield considerable utility to the field of Southeast Asian international relations. This chapter will summarize the book’s findings, evaluating contending explanations for sovereignty violation in Southeast Asia, including those based on constructivist theory, realist theory and critical theory. Our preferred alternative, vanguard state theory, is offered as a more persuasive explanation. In doing so, it will make a strong case for a realist approach to the study of Southeast Asia.

(p.214) Contending explanations for sovereignty violation in Southeast Asia

Constructivist theorists advocate a perspective that strongly emphasizes ASEAN’s autonomy and ability to uphold regional order despite challenges.1 This perspective rests on collective understandings and outcomes, interaction, and an abiding adherence to norms. The intervening role of external powers and their effect on domestic structures is largely downplayed or ignored. For Acharya, ASEAN norms have a transformative impact, regulating state behaviour, redefining state interests and constituting state identities.2 By emphasizing the role of ‘regionalism’,3 Acharya shows how regional cooperation has played a central role in shaping the modern Southeast Asian identity.4 Haacke explores the origins and development of a set of norms conceptualized as a diplomatic and security culture. For Haacke, a process of ‘mutual recognition and reconciliation’5 was crucial to the emergence of regional norms, including norms of sovereign equality and non-intervention.6 For Ba, ideas about Southeast Asia’s ‘division and foreign intervention’ find expression in ‘ideas of resilience and “One Southeast Asia.”’7

An assessment of constructivist theorizing with respect to our case studies highlights a number of limitations. Analysis began with Indonesia’s invasion of East Timor in 1975. It is surprising that such an important case study is largely absent from the constructivist literature on ASEAN. This is significant, as it represents a hard case for constructivists. If they are able to demonstrate that the variables they focus on can explain the empirical record, they will have secured a major point against alternative theoretical approaches to understanding ASEAN. As it stands, Indonesia’s invasion represents a direct challenge to the view that a strong ASEAN norm of non-interference exists. It would also appear to contradict the view that ASEAN’s norms and institutions have a largely positive impact on state behaviour. Indonesia could have pushed for East Timor’s admission into ASEAN and attempted to socialize it, rather than choosing to invade. That it did not do so raises serious questions about the importance attributed to ASEAN’s norms by one of ASEAN’s largest and most prominent states.

In respect to our second case, constructivists interpret the Third Indochina War as a challenge to ASEAN norms, cohesion and unity.8 These theorists continue to maintain that shared ideas and the importance of regional unity kept the states working together.9 In Acharya’s view, the conflict ‘motivated ASEAN members to overcome conflicting security interests and territorial disputes within (p.215) the grouping, thereby moving it further on the path towards a security community’.10 However, the evidence presented here suggests that this position over-estimates the role of ideas and norms, neglects a host of other factors, and elevates the role of ASEAN, even while systematically downplaying that of external powers’. This produces an inaccurate portrayal of the conflict and its impact on the region.

Our third case is the humanitarian crisis that devastated East Timor in 1999. Generally speaking, constructivist theorists place significant emphasis on ASEAN autonomy, and ‘regional solutions for regional problems, with minimal intervention by outside powers’.11 However, evidence presented in this chapter shows that ASEAN was incapable of adhering to this norm. All the authors reviewed here frame the East Timor crisis with respect to the norm of non-interference. Acharya contends that ASEAN’s ‘reluctance to dilute its non-interference doctrine’, prevented the ASEAN states from providing an effective response to the humanitarian crisis in East Timor in 1999.12 However, this approach overlooks the way in which ASEAN state adherence to non-interference exacerbated regional instability. By adhering to the non-intervention norm, these states effectively invited external intervention into the region. In doing so, they contravened the ASEAN norm of regional autonomy.

Our fourth case is the South China Sea dispute. While all authors argue that this dispute has tested ASEAN’s norms, they maintain that the Association has had some success in socializing China through multilateral forums such as the ARF.13 However, these claims are difficult to reconcile with the actual record of Sino–ASEAN interaction on the South China Sea issue.14 ASEAN’s multilateral diplomacy at the ARF has consistently failed to make substantive headway on the dispute. Instead of ASEAN’s norms socializing China, or enhancing regional unity, China has succeeded in dividing the ASEAN states and advancing its position in the South China Sea. To counter this, regional states have increasingly sought external power security guarantees, most notably from the US.15 These flaws, when taken together, significantly limit constructivism as an effective account of Southeast Asian sovereignty violation.

Realist theory

Realist theorists emphasize ASEAN’s lack of autonomy and reliance on external actors’ sufferance. For Leifer, regional organizations have ‘reflected the condition of the more important regional relationships (p.216) and, in particular, that between the US and China’.16 This has made achieving regional solutions for regional problems ‘more a myth than a valid aspiration’.17 For Jones and Smith, ASEAN’s preference for consensus and conflict avoidance has lent itself to extra-regional actors manipulating ASEAN norms to serve their own best interests.18 However, this is a restrictive view of ASEAN autonomy that is arguably at odds with the historical record.

For example, with respect to Indonesia’s invasion of East Timor in 1975, Leifer argues that US policy towards Southeast Asia was ‘an integral, if subordinate, aspect of a wider design in Asia’,19 focused on ‘a strong flexible military presence to help maintain the balance of power’.20 Similarly, Jones and Smith believe that ASEAN initiatives during this period merely revealed ‘the organization’s continuing ambivalence’.21 This was because the ASEAN states ‘remained ultimately dependent on continued American security commitments’.22 These analysts’ emphasis on the role of external powers in the region provides little agency for regional states such as Indonesia. However, there is strong evidence to suggest that Indonesia played an active role in securing its own interests at this time. Indeed, Indonesia, as a large regional power and barrier to further communist advances,23 was an essential factor in the ‘defence of Western interests’.24 From this position, Jakarta was able to utilize external power concerns by consistently describing FRETILIN as ‘communist-dominated’.25 This allowed Indonesia to secure its own security and expansionist interests in the territory. ASEAN solidarity was a vital component in Indonesia’s strategy, as evidenced by the Joint Communiqué released following the Ninth ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Manila on 24–26 June 1976. This evidence suggests greater agency for Indonesia than is currently acknowledged in the realist literature.

According to Leifer, during the Third Indochina War, the position ‘adopted by the Association favoured China’s interests, above all’.26 This was because China represented a ‘much more effective means by which to challenge Vietnam’s hegemonic position’.27 Jones and Smith also minimize ASEAN’s role in the resolution of the Third Indochina War, maintaining that the eventual settlement ‘represented an archetypal manifestation of great power politics’.28 According to this view, ‘ASEAN’s actual contribution to the Cambodian settlement reveals its role to be both ambiguous and ultimately limited’.29 Although Leifer, Jones and Smith offer an accurate portrayal of the role of great powers in Indochina during the Cold War, they take an overly restrictive view of ASEAN autonomy and the role of ASEAN states.

(p.217) As shown in Chapter 3, Thailand was a critical factor in China’s strategy to oppose Vietnam, with Beijing ‘heavily reliant’ on Thai cooperation.30 A Sino-Thai alliance clearly favoured Thai interests as much as it favoured China’s interests. Thailand was now in a position to ‘report Vietnamese shellings or attacks on the Thai border and expect that within six hours the Chinese troops on the Sino-Vietnamese border would repay the Vietnamese in kind’.31 Both China and the US viewed a strong ASEAN as a vital component in their anti-Vietnamese strategy. They placed ‘major emphasis on the closest consultation with ASEAN countries’,32 and believed the development of ASEAN’s strength to be a positive development.33 This clearly provides Thailand, and ASEAN, with a greater role than currently exists in the realist literature.

As stated in Chapter 1, during periods of decreased interest convergence, our analysis shares the same expectations as Leifer and Jones and Smith, and is consistent with existing realist literature. This is evident with respect to the East Timor humanitarian crisis of 1999, which conforms well to realist expectations. According to Leifer, in the period following 1997, ASEAN’s troubles moved ‘well beyond the competence of the Association to address on any exclusive basis’.34 Similarly, Jones and Smith argue that ‘since 1997, the security situation in East Asia reveals … that the ASEAN states possess no clear strategy to respond to the challenges the organization currently faces’.35 The realist assessment of ASEAN’s role in the post-1997 period is persuasive. Evidence provided in this chapter highlights ASEAN’s slow response to the crisis, which raises serious questions regarding the Association’s ability to respond to regional conflicts.36 ASEAN support for Indonesia during this period was not enough to prevent Indonesia’s eventual sovereignty violation, and their contribution to the outcome of the East Timor crisis was minimal.37 This suggests that external powers play the vital role in the dynamics of ASEAN state resistance to sovereignty violation.

The South China Sea chapter demonstrates ‘how more powerful actors can manipulate ASEAN’s pliable norms to advance grand strategic interests’.38 In this view, China has succeeded in dividing the Association, which has pursued a strategy of managing problems rather than solving them’.39 This has been compounded by a ‘lack of political will’ to resolve the dispute.40 Realist scholars offer a strong argument. ASEAN regional institutions have been incapable of resolving the South China Sea dispute. These analysts’ emphasis on the role of an external actor, the US, is also a necessary one. China’s gains in the South China Sea have been predicated on an insufficiently robust US (p.218) response.41 However, ASEAN states have greater autonomy than they currently allow for. As this analysis shows, in the post-2013 period, the Philippines and Vietnam actively sought, and partially secured, security commitments from the US. This aspect of regional dynamics requires further theorizing.

Evidence suggests that the existing realist literature on ASEAN offers a strong counter-argument to constructivist theorizing. However, the existing realist perspective in the literature does not offer a strong explanation for ASEAN state autonomy in the historical record. This highlights a gap in the realist literature, which I seek to fill. Indeed, evidence provided here shows that an ASEAN vanguard state has a substantial role in resisting sovereignty violation, when its interest converges with that of an external actor. This approach provides some autonomy to regional states, while maintaining the critical role played by external powers.

Critical theory

Critical theorist Lee Jones advocates a perspective of regional intervention that can be explained as the outcome of powerful social forces. For Jones, sovereignty and non-interference can be analysed as a technology of power, which is used by domestic groups to help determine the scope of political conflict in a way that best suits their needs.42 Evidence provided in this analysis suggests that Jones actually overemphasizes the impact business groups and social forces have on the state, and fails to advance a non-statist argument that effectively surpasses alternative theorizing. This is evident with respect to the Indonesian invasion of East Timor in 1975. Jones argues that ‘Indonesia’s invasion and ASEAN’s support is best explained by the fear that a leftist state would emerge after Timor’s decolonization, providing a possible base for communist “subversion”’.43 In this view, Indonesia’s fears ‘were conditioned by the conflicts that had given rise to the Suharto regime, the social order it was attempting to defend, and the likely effects of Timorese independence on that order’.44

However, analysis in Chapter 2 has shown that this assessment fails to consider an abundance of evidence suggesting that Indonesia was well aware that there was little communist influence in East Timor.45 That Suharto still wished to annex the territory suggests the existence of ulterior motives, with territorial gain the most convincing. Arguably, in trying to emphasize the role of Indonesia’s domestic forces, Jones goes too far in downplaying the role of external powers. External actors (p.219) played a vital role prior to the invasion, when Ford gave Suharto’s East Timor policy his ‘understanding’ in a meeting in December 1975,46 and following the invasion, when external powers prevented the UN from providing an effective response to the crisis.47 These external powers sought to secure their own interests in regional affairs, a fact consistent with realist expectations.

With regard to the Third Indochina War, Jones argues that ASEAN responded to Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia ‘not to defend its non-interference principle, but rather to contain revolution in Indochina’.48 The Vietnamese threat is ‘not understood in conventional, military, balance-of-power terms’, but in terms of ‘the likely consequences of the invasion for the balance of forces within their own societies’.49 However, evidence shows that Jones has focused a disproportionate amount of his narrative on ASEAN’s opposition to the spread of revolution for domestic political reasons. This approach fails to consider a variety of other far more critical factors. First, ASEAN’s position in the Cold War regional environment was a clear source of insecurity, with ASEAN unable to ‘influence its wider regional environment’.50 This had a major impact on regional state actions and behaviour, with ASEAN states concerned that US retrenchment would leave a regional power vacuum, which other great powers may attempt to fill.

Second, the ASEAN states had clear external security concerns, which Jones minimizes. While security fears varied amongst the ASEAN member states, Vietnam’s treaty of friendship with the Soviet Union, and subsequent invasion of Cambodia, elicited great concern. This demonstrated that Vietnam, aided by the Soviet Union, was prepared to violate state sovereignty in pursuit of its interests. Third, Vietnam’s invasion provided the ASEAN states with external reasons for collaboration with the great powers. As Leifer notes, ‘an informal alignment between Thailand, Kampuchea and China was forged by the end of 1975, based on a common interest in containing the extension of Vietnamese influence’.51 All of these critical factors conform to realist expectations of state behaviour during periods of insecurity and conflict. By underemphasizing these factors in favour of domestic variables, Jones fails to provide a portrayal of the conflict that encompasses all of the relevant facts.

Jones argues that ASEAN’s response to the 1999 East Timor humanitarian crisis was ‘principally due to their fear of contagion from the social and economic unrest spreading from Indonesia’.52 At this time, ASEAN states ‘actively encouraged and participated in a humanitarian intervention in East Timor’, becoming ‘increasingly (p.220) involved in Indonesia’s “internal” affairs’.53 Indeed, there is evidence to suggest that Jones has overemphasized the role of ASEAN in the crisis. As shown in Chapter 4, ASEAN feared that the East Timor crisis would elicit Western interference in the internal affairs of ASEAN states, ‘using the norm of humanitarian intervention as justification’.54 Canberra wanted to scale back its involvement in INTERFET, but this could not be implemented because ASEAN countries were not prepared for deployment and were unwilling to cover the costs of a lengthy involvement.55

By overemphasizing the role of domestic factors during the crisis, Jones is also unable to adequately address why external powers changed their East Timor policy following the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997. Suharto’s resistance to accepting an IMF economic aid and reform package was disconcerting for the US, which wanted a stable and prosperous Indonesia in Southeast Asia. Washington pushed for reform in Indonesia, to ‘foster a broader economic recovery in Asia’,56 and protect ‘vital sea-lanes through which 40 percent of the world’s shipping passes’.57 Similarly, Australia feared that Suharto’s refusal to accept reforms could cause regional instability ‘and precipitate a complete economic catastrophe’.58 Australia’s priorities were therefore to ‘support Indonesia’s democratic transformation, and to sustain a good relationship with TNI’.59 These external powers played a critical role in forcing Indonesia to change its East Timor policy. This is indicative of the impact great powers can have on regional state autonomy when in pursuit of their own interests. This is seriously underemphasized in Jones’ analysis in favour of domestic factors and the internal role of ASEAN states.

That Jones fails to provide a non-statist account of the South China Sea dispute leads us to question whether his theory can adequately account for the empirical record of Sino–ASEAN maritime interactions. This is particularly in light of the fact that the dispute involves key external powers, most notably China and the US, the interaction of which is integral to any analysis of the conflict. Critically, it is not clear what impact, if any, ASEAN domestic groups have had on the conflict. This raises questions about the relevance of the critical theory approach to an analysis of this central issue in ASEAN’s post-Cold War international relations, and provides space for an alternative account of sovereignty and intervention in Southeast Asia.

(p.221) Vanguard state theory

The foregoing analysis has shown how constructivist and critical theory approaches provide an incomplete picture of Southeast Asian sovereignty violation. Realist responses are more compelling. However, their overemphasis on ASEAN’s lack of autonomy is not totally persuasive. This book has sought to build on these approaches and contribute to the realist argument, by proposing vanguard state theory. According to this theory, ASEAN’s sovereignty record is in fact highly dependent on the stance of external actors, whose interests align with the organisation’s. The theory focuses on the role of an ASEAN vanguard state, which seeks to set the agenda of ASEAN and garner great power security commitments in order to realize its own state interests.

For the purposes of the analysis, the book began with the assumption that state interests are premised on the basic point of seeking survival. Building on the works of Timothy Crawford60 and Daryl Press,61 vital state interests were defined as involving ‘self-preservation, political independence, and, by extension, defence of strategically vital areas’.62 Interest convergence was measured by identifying symmetric or asymmetric interests,63 and arrangements for cooperation between states. This was conceptualized as a dynamic process, where small states ‘actively seek maximum great-power commitment to their security interests’.64 The central argument is that when a clear and substantial interest convergence occurs between an ASEAN state and an external power, an ASEAN vanguard state plays the important and necessary function of actively seeking and supporting a great power commitment to regional policies, which is consistent with the interests of both the ASEAN state and the external actor. An ASEAN state can therefore have an active role in resisting sovereignty violation. Without this interest convergence, ASEAN is unable to successfully resist violations to its sovereignty.

Four case studies were selected to test this argument. The findings, summarized here, provide a strong case for the utility of vanguard state theory. Indonesia’s invasion of East Timor in 1975 is an example of ASEAN vanguard state success in resisting sovereignty violation. The analysis has shown how the uncertain regional environment of 1975, when ‘dramatic communist victories in Indochina were a matter for considerable concern’, acted as a catalyst for interest convergence between Indonesia, the US and Australia regarding Indonesia’s East Timor policy.65 East Timor’s proximate location to Indonesia’s border, and the vacuum that it represented, constituted (p.222) a threat to Indonesia at a particularly uncertain period in the Cold War. Indonesian interests were also offensive in nature. Jakarta sought to maximize power regionally through expansion. Indonesia actively sought US and Australian approval for the invasion of East Timor and the integration of the territory into the archipelago. For these external powers, Indonesia was a vital component in their own Cold War foreign policies. Indonesia therefore played the important and necessary function of actively seeking and supporting a great power commitment to regional policies, which were consistent with the interests of both Indonesia and the US and Australia. In doing so, Indonesia was able to resist any potential violation to its sovereignty from the international community in the wake of the East Timor invasion.

The Third Indochina War (1978–1991) is also an example of ASEAN vanguard state success in resisting sovereignty violation. The analysis showed how, following Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia in 1978, an informal alliance developed between Thailand, China, the ASEAN states, the ousted Khmer Rouge, and to a lesser extent the US, in an effort to contain Vietnamese and Soviet influence in Southeast Asia.66 As a consequence of high interest convergence between Thailand and a designated external power, China, ASEAN was able to resist violations to the sovereignty of Thailand from a Soviet-backed Vietnam. An expansionist and aggressive Vietnam, backed by the Soviet Union, posed a clear threat to the external powers and to the ASEAN states. They responded to this threat by engaging in external and internal balancing strategies, to secure the vital state interest of autonomy.

During the East Timor humanitarian crisis of 1999, substantial interest divergence between Indonesia and the US and Australia caused Indonesia’s failure to resist sovereignty violation by actors external to the region. The 1997 Asian Financial Crisis acted as a catalyst for external power interest change. It was in the interests of Australia and the US to have a strong and stable Indonesia in the region. Economic instability, and resulting domestic instability, threatened joint ventures and regional security. Suharto’s refusal to accept reform packages was indicative of an asymmetry of interests between Indonesia and these external powers.67 INTERFET’s subsequent intervention in East Timor comprised a violation of Indonesian sovereignty. Significantly, the available evidence strongly suggests that intervention would not have occurred in the absence of external power interest change. Crucially, support within ASEAN for Indonesia’s East Timor policy was not enough to prevent Indonesia’s eventual sovereignty violation. This raises questions about ASEAN and its ability to maintain regional (p.223) autonomy under challenge from sufficiently powerful external actors. Indeed, this case provides substantial evidence for our general argument that intervention by external powers has been instrumental for the outcome of the majority of Southeast Asia’s regional problems.

The South China Sea Dispute (1992–present) is an example of partial interest convergence between the ASEAN vanguard states of the Philippines and Vietnam, and the US. Despite these ASEAN states having crucial interests at stake with respect to their sovereignty in the South China Sea, they have been unable to generate a robust security commitment from the US, which has largely pursued interests outside of the region. This lack of credible backing has contributed to a divided ASEAN, which has been unable to provide an effective solution to the problem. Despite evidence of increasing interest convergence between 2012 and 2016, this did not reach the levels required to prevent ASEAN vanguard state sovereignty violation. As stated in Chapter 5, without this, these states will continue to cede sovereignty to China in the maritime region.

Dynamics of state interaction

What does the analysis presented tell us about ASEAN state and external power behavioural strategies during different periods in history? And what are the implications of these findings for states outside of the Southeast Asian region? As the four cases under analysis show, there are some key strategic commonalities in vanguard state behaviour during periods of regional intervention. Both Indonesia and Thailand, in their role as vanguard state, utilized elite diplomatic meetings or exchanges to impress on external powers the need for their understanding and economic assistance in the Cold War period. Notably, these states were adept at utilizing external power geopolitical fears to their own advantage. This is in addition to having an astute awareness of their own position in the regional environment, and how their alignment could shift the regional balance of power. Similar strategic behaviour is evident towards ASEAN, with the vanguard state using diplomatic meetings, in addition to the local media, to express their interests.

There is however one notable difference in vanguard state strategy at the regional level that we do not see at the international level. This is the use of coercive tactics, which both Indonesia and to a lesser extent Thailand engaged in to force other ASEAN states to comply with their interests. Such coercive strategies include boycotting member (p.224) state initiatives within ASEAN, such as refusal to adopt economic proposals, excluding member states from security and intelligence briefings, and denouncing member states in news reports and the media. Significantly, these strategies reflect ASEAN power dynamics, with Indonesia able to utilize such strategies most effectively, and with states such as the Philippines and Vietnam least able to coerce member states to comply with their interests.

We are also able to see a number of key strategic commonalities in the behaviour of external powers towards the vanguard state. These generally include large sums of economic assistance, the transfer of arms to enhance vanguard state capabilities, and the implementation of a variety of comprehensive partnerships, joint vision statements and joint treaties. There is also evidence of external powers seeking to persuade other powers to enhance their vanguard state support. For example, during the Third Indochina War, China consistently sought to persuade the US to enhance support to Thailand to prevent it from falling victim to Vietnamese expansion. Similarly, following Indonesia’s invasion of East Timor, the Australian Prime Minister travelled to the US to appeal to President Clinton to withdraw human rights considerations from the drafting of defence contracts. These initiatives come at fairly little cost to the external power, and yet they have a significant impact on an ASEAN vanguard state’s ability to pursue its interests.

As the four case studies show, a vanguard state is best able to secure a convergence of interests when there exists a common threat consensus, both regionally and internationally. At such times, ASEAN can be conceptualized as a unitary actor. Due to the disparate interests of states however, such interest convergence is rare. In reality, we can conceptualize ASEAN as a grouping of regional states, where each member seeks to secure its own interests in an uncertain geopolitical environment. This is particularly notable in the post-Cold War period. Indeed, it is no coincidence that in the last two cases under analysis, ASEAN vanguard state–external power interest convergence has been under threat. The reasons for this are varied, although three in particular stand out. First, there is a lack of common threat consensus in the period since the end of the Cold War. The unifying Soviet threat has dissipated, leaving behind a myriad of threats that impact regional states and external powers differently. Related to this, we see a general lack of faith in US engagement in Southeast Asia since the end of the Cold War. The US has been distracted by its own protracted conflicts in the Middle East. This has left the ASEAN states unsure of whether they can rely on the US during periods of crisis (p.225) or intervention. Finally, ASEAN enlargement during this period, to include the states of Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia, has seriously impacted on the Association’s ability to act with any degree of consensus. As the South China Sea case has shown, states such as Cambodia have their own interests to pursue, something which external powers such as China can utilize to their own advantage.

Changes in the international environment since the end of the Cold War have necessitated changes in ASEAN vanguard state strategic behaviour. This includes searching for other regional and international allies that can support ASEAN vanguard state interests, as evidenced by Vietnam’s enhanced diplomatic relations with states such as India and Japan. This is in addition to an increase in internal balancing through the enhancement of state material capabilities. These steps are undoubtedly necessary but, as the Vietnam case shows, difficult to translate into successful resistance to sovereignty violation in the absence of great power backing. Clearly, these findings have utility beyond the Southeast Asian region. The strategies presented here show the ways in which small states can utilize regional organization membership in an attempt to secure their own interests and uphold their autonomy in an uncertain regional environment.

ASEAN, intervention and the responsibility to protect

What is the future of ASEAN sovereignty? Will a strict adherence to traditional Westphalian sovereignty continue to be the overriding concern for regional states in the post-Cold War era? Some commentators suggest not. In the past two decades, there has been a growing concern for the rights of the individual, and the duty of a state to protect its citizens. The doctrine of humanitarian intervention and its corollary, the Responsibility to Protect, has subsequently received increased interest from certain areas of the international community. This section will examine this shift towards humanitarian principles. It will consider to what extent the principle of humanitarian intervention has been adopted by the ASEAN states, and whether this might herald the end of the traditional Westphalian sovereignty model.

(p.226) Humanitarian intervention and the responsibility to protect

Humanitarian intervention can be defined as ‘the threat or use of force across state borders by a state (or group of states) aimed at preventing or ending widespread and grave violations of the fundamental human rights of individuals other than its own citizens, without the permission of the state within whose territory force is applied’.68 Exception to the general rule of non-intervention conflicts with the principle of state sovereignty, which is based upon territoriality and the exclusion of external actors from domestic authority structures.69

Inherent in the principle of humanitarian intervention is the belief that ‘states that violate human rights do not deserve sovereign immunity from outside interference in their internal affairs’.70 The concept is not a new one. John Stuart Mill made the case in 1859 that intervention should be permitted to prevent recurring aggressive wars and to end protracted civil wars.71 The UN General Assembly unanimously agreed in September 2005 that ‘each individual state has the responsibility to protect its populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity’.72 The UNGA encouraged the international community to ‘help states exercise this responsibility’, and to take ‘collective action, in a timely and decisive manner’ when there is evidence that a state has manifestly failed in its responsibility to protect.73

ASEAN’s response to humanitarian intervention and R2P

R2P is the current incarnation of the case for humanitarian intervention.74 It signifies a focal shift from the state as the primary actor to the human rights of the individual. The advent of R2P has sparked scholarly debate regarding ASEAN’s reception of the norm, and its conflict with the existing regional norm of non-interference. See Seng Tan argues that ASEAN is ‘gradually embracing an ethic of sovereignty qua responsibility’,75 and is specifically embracing ‘the logic of responsibility as provision’.76 However, Tan also notes that the ASEAN states ‘continue to maintain and promote sovereignty as an inalienable and unequivocal right rather than as a responsibility’.77 It is therefore unclear ‘whether responsibility to provide constitutes a stepping stone to R2P in Southeast Asia’.78

According to Acharya, through a process of constitutive localisation, local actors are reconstructing foreign ideas and norms to merge with local conditions.79 This is an idea mirrored by Bellamy and (p.227) Drummond, who argue that ‘many Southeast Asian states are moving away from the traditional notion of sovereignty and towards accepting a localized variant of sovereignty as responsibility’.80 Capie disputes this assessment however, arguing that ‘neither ASEAN nor the ASEAN Regional Forum has institutionalized R2P in any form’.81 For Capie, localization has failed to take place due to an insufficient number of insider actors that are receptive to the norm. It is therefore concluded that many states still view R2P ‘as a potential threat to sovereignty and regime security’.82

In a July 2000 speech, Rodolfo C Severino, Secretary General of ASEAN, stated that ‘national sovereignty and its handmaiden, the principle of non-interference, are the only conceptual bulwarks protecting the small and the weak from domination by the powerful. In the absence of a supranational government, it is indispensable to any sort of international order’.83 With regard to humanitarian intervention, Severino asked: ‘Who decides? There is a tendency for powerful states or groups of them to represent themselves as the “international community”’.84 Governments are therefore able to ‘use humanitarian impulses as a cover for intervention that is actually undertaken for national policy objectives’.85 Severino summarizes his, and by extension, ASEAN’s view of intervention, by stating that, ‘except in extreme cases in which the international community may have to be mobilized through the United Nations, the welfare of people, particularly in Southeast Asia today, is better served through economic interaction and integration, through the opening of societies to one another, than through blatant intervention and ostentatious gestures, which seldom work anyway’.86 This highlights an overriding ASEAN state concern with the inviolable sovereignty of the state.

In summary

For ASEAN, the appeal of Westphalian sovereignty lies in its two fundamental principles: territoriality and the exclusion of external actors from domestic authority structures.87 The TAC seeks to enshrine these principles, with the aim of protecting the autonomy of the state. As a collection of weak states, ASEAN is vulnerable to intervention, which can represent a ‘thinly veiled quest for renewed Western imperialism’,88 or even ‘Eastern’ imperialism, in the case of China in the 21st century. As Prime Minister Mahathir of Malaysia stated, following the advent of peacekeeping forces in East Timor, the implication was that in times of humanitarian crisis, the use of military (p.228) force against a sovereign state could be determined and sanctioned by a concert of Western states.89 The legitimisation of intervention could increase great power interference into state affairs, destabilising regime security and undermining state autonomy. Despite Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam all agreeing to ‘the main fundamentals about the R2P’,90 the Southeast Asian states have stressed that ‘the principle should be understood as an ally of sovereignty … inferring that it does not – and should not – contravene the principle of non-interference’.91 Ultimately, for the Southeast Asian states, the costs of intervention are likely to outweigh the humanitarian benefits.

What, therefore, is the future of ASEAN sovereignty? Analysis presented in this chapter suggests that ASEAN’s future sovereignty is unlikely to differ substantially from the Association’s past. Despite what appeared to be a turn in the post-Cold War period towards humanitarian intervention and a responsibility to protect, in reality, regional states are reluctant to move beyond the traditional Westphalian model of sovereignty. The principle of non-intervention is as important to the states of ASEAN today as it was during the Cold War. This suggests a case for bringing the sovereign state back into the study of regionalism in Southeast Asia. This argument conflicts with the vast majority of ASEAN theorists, who continue to argue a case for regional, rather than state autonomy, despite evidence pointing to the contrary. Vanguard state theory is able to remedy this deficit in the literature, to provide a definitive explanation for the mixed record of resistance to sovereignty violation in Southeast Asia.


(14) M Taylor Fravel, “China’s Strategy in the South China Sea”, Contemporary Southeast Asia 33, no. 3 (2011), 292–319.

(30) US Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States, Vol. XIII, 275.

(32) US Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States, Vol. XIII, 265.

(33) US Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States, Vol. XIII, 313.

(46) US Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States, Vol. E-12, 141.

(68) JL Holzgrefe, “The humanitarian intervention debate”, in Humanitarian Intervention. Ethical, Legal and Political Dilemmas, ed. JL Holzgrefe and Robert O Keohane (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 18.

(70) Robert A Pape, “When Duty Calls: A Pragmatic Standard of Humanitarian Intervention”, International Security 37, no. 1 (Summer 2012), 45.

(71) John Stuart Mill, “A Few Words on Non-Intervention”, in Essays on Politics and Culture, ed. Gertrude Himmelfarb (Gloucester: Peter Smith, 1973), 368–384.

(72) United Nations General Assembly, “2005 World Summit Outcome”, Resolution A/60/L.1, 24 October 2005, paragraphs 138–139.

(74) Michael W Doyle, “International Ethics and the Responsibility to Protect”, International Studies Review 13 (2011), 73.

(75) See Seng Tan, “Providers not Protectors: Institutionalising Responsible Sovereignty in Southeast Asia”, Asian Security 7, no. 3 (2011), 202.

(80) Alex J Bellamy and Catherine Drummond, “The Responsibility to Protect in Southeast Asia: Between Non-interference and Sovereignty as Responsibility”, The Pacific Review 24, no. 2 (2011), 196.

(81) David Capie, “The Responsibility to Protect Norm in Southeast Asia: Framing, Resistance and the Localisation Myth”, The Pacific Review 25, no. 1 (March 2012), 89.

(83) Rodolfo C Severino, “Sovereignty, Intervention and the ASEAN Way”, Address given at the ASEAN Scholars’ Roundtable organized by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation and the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, Singapore, 3 July 2000, http://www.asean.org/resources/2012-02-10-08-47-56/speeches-statements-of-the-former-secretaries-general-of-asean/item/sovereignty-intervention-and-the-asean-way-3-july-2000.