Overcoming conflicts, ASEAN defense chiefs are moving in the ‘right direction’
Defense matters: Senior ASEAN defense officials attend the 5th ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting in Jakarta on Thursday. The conference focused on issues ranging from piracy, illegal migrants to common efforts to strengthen security in the region. JP/Wendra Ajistyatama
Despite unresolved border disputes that threaten to explode at anytime and domestic hurdles that engender wariness, ASEAN’s member nations are forging closer military ties to reduce internal conflicts and meet external threats.
During the ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM) in Jakarta on Thursday, ASEAN’s defense chiefs adopted plans to create a peacekeeping center network and to use ASEAN’s militaries to provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief across borders.
Such cooperation might reduce suspicions among ASEAN members, some analysts said, agreeing that the plans might reflect the embryonic development of an institutional way of solving internal conflicts.
The meeting’s joint statement said that the peacekeeping network aimed “to facilitate and utilize existing national peacekeeping centers to conduct planning, training and exchange of experiences for operations with a view to developing a regional arrangement for maintenance of peace and stability in ASEAN member states.”
On the use of ASEAN military assets for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, the ministers agreed to establish a joint coordinating committee, a move viewed as a sign of unprecedented multilateral military cooperation within ASEAN.
Riefqi Muna, a political observer from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), said the declaration demonstrated that there had been substantial progress in the security sector at ASEAN’s highest levels.
“ASEAN has started to move forward in the right direction,” he said.
Suspicions, ASEAN’s culture of non-interference and a sensitivity to outside threats previously limited member nations in forging closer military ties, he added.
Rizal Sukma, executive director of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, said there was an urgent need for “ASEAN’s militaries to quickly build trust and comfort levels to cooperate among themselves while solving internal disputes amicably and to back away from using force if they want to realize a security community by 2015.”
Rizal cited the Thai-Cambodian border dispute as an example of how far the grouping was from achieving a security community, saying that domestic political concerns in ASEAN members such as Thailand, for example, might impede the realization of a security community.
After the ADMM, Indonesian Defense Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro said while ASEAN was not a defense pact like NATO, the grouping had ample opportunity to cooperate on defense issues – and on regional and transnational problems.
“The ten ASEAN member states have no obligation to give full political commitment and support to defense cooperation because of their own domestic conditions. However, we are all committed to forging multilateral defense cooperation to handle common problems,” he said.
Malaysian Defense Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi concurred, saying increasing cooperation would encourage ASEAN’s member nations to enhance multilateral cooperation at the regional level.
Legislator Tubagus Hasanuddin, the deputy chairman of the House of Representatives’ Commission I overseeing defense, said ASEAN’s defense ministers had to formalize cooperation in the form of codes of conducts to solve common problems and bilateral disputes to ensure security and peace.