Outlook for the ARF:Relevance for India

Udai Bhanu Singh, Research Fellow, IDSA


The Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) is poised for take-off into the next century in the position of leadership in the Asia- Pacific, and the success or failure of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) will determine whether it gets airborne. The post-Cold War era has been a time of challenges and opportunities wherein a peculiar interplay between the Realist and Liberal approaches to international politics has determined the security outlook in the Asia-Pacific. The Realist paradigm is based on threats and the use of force. The Liberal paradigm relies on common values of mutual respect and a desire to solve problems through peaceful exchange of views and democratic processes and compromise. At any given point of time, it would be difficult to say that the relations among nations of the Asia-Pacific are exclusively motivated by the Realist paradigm or exclusively by the Liberal paradigm. There is often an interaction between the two paradigms which can be observed both spatially and temporally. When ASEAN was formed, no mention was made of the political or military aspects but with the passage of time, these came to so dominate decision making that the ARF became neces-sary. If it is assumed that the relations among the Asia-Pacific states are governed solely by the Liberal paradigm, how is the conflict between China and Vietnam or between China and Philippines to be explained?

One of the ambitions of ASEAN's founding fathers was that it would cover all of South-East Asia. Now as ASEAN enters the new millennium and after more than 30 years of its formation, it already incorporates all the ten South-East Asian countries. It was expected that since the ideological differences that hitherto divided the region had been overcome, it would make way for a more secure South-East Asia. However, the expectations that with the end of the Cold War, friction among nations would be reduced, were belied.

Though often characterised as peaceful, the post-Cold War period is actually marked by greater uncertainty than ever before. The outlook for the ARF is one of myriad challenges and its future would depend on how it adapts to the changing trends and requirements and converts those challenges into opportunities. India can advance its interest in the region and enhance its status as an important power in the region by helping the ARF grow.


Prospects for the ARF

In post-Cold War Asia-Pacific, while one immediate reaction to the immediate post-Cold War situation was enhancement of arms acquisitions, the other was to devise an alternative security framework which would be less dependent on American patronage and broad based enough to provide the requisite balance of power.

Table 1. The ARF Sessions

Bangkok July 25, 1994

Brunei August 1, 1995

Jakarta July 23, 1996

Kuala Lumpur July 27, 1997

Manila July 23, 1998

Singapore July 26, 1999

1. Regional Challenges

The security concerns of the South-East Asian states were heightened and this phase is marked by cooperative engagement replacing the earlier policies of isolation and containment. There were fears of American withdrawal even as China grew more assertive and Japan more restive. The Korean Peninsula had been very volatile. The unstable regimes (as in Cambodia) contributed to the uncertainty. As the economic prosperity in the region increased, the demand for a more stable environment became that much more urgent.

As conventional differences among nations, traceable to the Cold War polarisation, subsided, new frictions arose over issues as diverse as human rights, copyright, intellectual property rights, rights of the sea, etc.

Table 2. Basic Data: ASEAN

Country Population Defence GDP Per Armed Forces

Millions Expenditure Capita, 1997

1997 (US$ bn) (US$)

Brunei 0.3 0.35 7,200 5,000

Cambodia 10.4 0.25 700 139,000

Indonesia 200.7 4.8 4,500 476,000

Laos 5.2 0.06 2,700 29,100

Malaysia 22.0 3.4 10,800 110,000

Myanmar 49.5 2.2 1,100 434,800

Philippines 74.0 1.4 3,000 117,800

Singapore 3.0 4.1 25,400 72,500

Thailand 62.9 3.2 8,400 306,000

Vietnam 78.8 0.99 1,100 484,000

Source: The Military Balance 1998-99 (Oxford University Press for the IISS, 1998)

(a) American Withdrawal?

The majority of ASEAN states want to keep the United States engaged in the region and the ARF has served as a good instrument to do so. Initially, it was the superpower rivalry which determined the US presence. In the late 1980s, there was talk of American withdrawal on the grounds that the Soviet threat had diminished following the military cutbacks, announcement of Soviet withdrawal from Cam Ranh Bay and collapse of the Soviet Union itself in 1991. Second, domestically in the US there was greater public pressure for greater burden sharing. Third, there had been public opposition in the Philippines to renewal of the lease of American bases; these had to be closed in November 1992, and troops reduced to the tune of 20 per cent since 1990. But the truth is that South-East Asia continues to remain geographically and strategically relevant to the US. Hence, Manila ratified the Visiting Forces Agreement. Washington has also augmented its military-security cooperation with Singapore and Thailand. The new concept, according to Admiral Dennis Cutler Blair, commander-in-chief of the US Pacific Command, has "a network of security and military relationships--bilateral and multilateral".1 On the one hand, Washington wants to reassure its South-East Asian allies that it continues to remain committed; on the other, it does not wish to unnecessarily antagonise China and make it feel threatened. It has changed gear from containment of China to engagement of China. However, it remains to be seen how restrained the US would be following the revelations in the Cox Report2 apropos what has been referred to as "the greatest spy story of the century".

(b) Managing Communist China

China and Japan are the two major powers in ASEAN's neighbourhood. Both are economic giants and Japan has a military potential. It is China which is the abiding concern for the countries of South-East Asia. However, this concern is never publicly articulated though the fear of the "Communist" threat during the Cold War period was openly expressed. This circumspect behaviour can be understood in the light of Sino-US rapprochement in the 1970s. Secondly, the Chinese weltanschaung and history of dominance in the region only reinforce the South-East Asian perceptions. China has a history of support to Communist insurgencies in the ASEAN states and at one time regarded much of South-East Asia (SEA) as its suzerain territory.3 Thirdly, it is a potential threat due to its links with overseas Chinese. Fourthly, in the post-Cold War period, China has become more assertive with its military modernisation; intimation of an American withdrawal; and an impression gaining ground that Vietnam can no longer serve as a balancer to China. While economic linkages constrain China, its assertiveness has been fairly evident as, for instance, in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

In 1992, China passed its Law on Territorial Waters and Contiguous Areas. It is known to have seized Mischief Reef as early as July 1994. Earlier, China fought with Vietnam over the Paracel and Spratly Islands. Some of the ASEAN states have a territorial dispute with China over the oil-rich Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.4 ASEAN wanted resolution of the South China Sea problem without the involvement of extra-regional powers. So, bilateral approaches such as the ASEAN-China Forum, were resorted to. The ASEAN Declaration on the South China Sea (which calls for the peaceful settlement of disputes) has the approval of all claimants. The Great Powers have, in a sense, reposed their trust in the ARF (under ASEAN leadership) so that the overbearing influence of China or Japan can be avoided.

(c) Fear of Japanese Ascendancy and Korean Instability

Washington-Tokyo relations have seen many swings and in 1992, relations had seriously dipped. It may be recalled that the US had sought to rein in Japan after its defeat in World War II. It was Gen McArthur's influence which led to the inclusion of the Article 9 anti-war clause in the Japanese Constitution.5 Tokyo has vast economic and military interests in SEA: it seeks to protect access to markets and safeguard its sea lines of communications. Tokyo does not see itself as placing full reliance on the US for its security; it has been led to conclude that in order to protect its own vast interests in SEA, it would have to upgrade its own capabilities. This was reflected in a 1994 Japanese report which recommended building up autonomous capability in order to meet just such an eventuality. Japan is heading towards an enhanced military role in Asia. Its legislature recently cleared the way for its military to operate outside Japan. In the revised guidelines governing Tokyo-Washington defence relations set by it, Japan is expected to play a more active role in Asia when called upon. Japan is the northern anchor of US military presence in Asia.6 A possible Japanese military revival brings back unpleasant memories to the South-East Asians of a six-decade period in their history.

The USA wants to keep an eye on developments in the Korean Peninsula as the region also holds out a nuclear threat. It would like to reduce the many uncertainties and remain in control.

(d) Bilateral Disputes

Bilateral disputes have the potential to weaken regional solidarity and hence constitute a threat to security. Bilateral territorial disputes will continue to be a source of uncertainty in the next millenium. Some of the bilateral territorial disputes which were referred to the International Court of Justice include those between Indonesia and Malaysia, and between Singapore and Malaysia. It will require the best of ASEAN solidarity to resolve these disputes.7 The Joint Border Commissions facilitate conflict management and conflict resolution among ASEAN members.

Table 3. Bilateral Disputes Among ASEAN States

1. Indonesia and Vietnam Natuna Island

2 Indonesia and Malaysia Celebes Sea Islands

3 Malaysia and Singapore Pulau Batu Putih Island

4 Malaysia and Vietnam Overlapping maritime boundaries

5 Thailand and Myanmar Border

6 Thailand and Vietnam Continental shelf claims in the Gulf of Thailand

7 Malaysia and Philippines Sabah

8 Malaysia and Thailand Overlapping maritime boundaries

2. Domestic Challenges

If the ARF is to succeed, ASEAN must know how to deal with the various types of domestic instability which may have political, economic or social origins. This may require the individual ASEAN members to devise ways and means to prevent undue intervention by extra-regional powers in their domestic affairs while, at the same time, increasing intra-ASEAN cooperation. This cooperation may relate to strengthening political, economic and social institutions and structures.

(a) Political Instability

The region will continue to experience political instability that for some time to come will be a cause for security concern. Political stability is a good barometer of the prevalent economic and social mood within a country. Any major economic or social upheaval is often accompanied by a demand for political change. Hence, the greater security concern will continue to be the internal rather than the external threat. It is ironical that it was Suharto's uncanny ability to pull Indonesia's economy out of the doldrums that gave him initial legitimacy and it was the failure to manage the economy which (to an extent) led to his downfall and the accession to power of Vice President Habibie. This has been accompanied by the intensification of the struggle in East Timor, Aceh and Irian Jaya. According to one view, the decline of authoritarian structures will continue apace in East Asia in the aftermath of the economic crisis. In Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi tried to intensify the pro-democracy movement. The SLORC/SPDC was quite keen on emulating the Indonesian ABRI example of dwifungsi (dual function) and it was expected that the armed forces would be accorded a constitutional role in the country's polity once the new Constitution is framed. But with the dramatic changes in Indonesia, the Yangon regime may have to change track. The developments in Indonesia and other parts of South-East Asia are sooner or later going to have their echo in Myanmar.8 Quite ironically, at a time when there is the greatest need for national consolidation and regime stabilisation, there seems to be a greater possibility of fragmentation and instability. If dissent is curbed by an authoritarian regime over a long period of time, the likelihood is that the turnaround will be that much more abrupt. However, the extent to which this actually occurs would depend on the level at which the country concerned was affected by the crisis and the degree of openness practised.

(b) Ethnic Conflict

The Asia-Pacific is an anthropological cauldron of ethnic diversity. Past experience has shown that any disturbance is capable of sparking off conflicts among the myriad components. In Europe, the end of the Cold War has seen the outbreak of ethnic conflicts. In the Asia-Pacific too, ethnic, religious and cultural diversities in the region could be a source of immense turmoil. And as has been rightly said, the time to make peace is when there is peace. The economic crisis in East Asia not surprisingly has been accompanied by ethnic strife. Tensions have erupted in Thailand and Indonesia.

Table 4(a). ASEAN: Ethnic Spread

Burmans Myanmar

Cambodians Cambodia Vietnam Thailand

Malays Malaysia Singapore Indonesia Philippines

Thais Thailand Myanmar Laos

Vietnamese Vietnam Cambodia Laos

Table 4(b). ASEAN: Ethnic Spread

(As percentage of a country's total population)

Chinese Indian

In all South-East Asia Malaysia (9)

Cambodia (1) Myanmar

Indonesia (3) Singapore (6)

Laos (Less than 1)

Malaysia (27)

Myanmar (3)

Philippines (2)

Singapore (76)

Thailand (14)

Table 4(c). ASEAN: Religious Diversity

Islam Buddhism Christianity Hinduism

Brunei (71) Myanmar Philippines (91.5) Indonesia

Indonesia (87) Thailand (Bali and parts of Java)

Malaysia (39) Cambodia

Philippines (South) Laos

Thailand (South) Vietnam

In each of these countries, the Chinese community who are often traders, have become the internal enemies and demonised. Indonesia witnessed the worst kind of mob violence against some communities. To tackle the problem of ethnic conflict so that it does not pose a security threat requires political will and the willingness to take up sensitive issues in the ARF.

(c) Economic Crisis

The ARF will have to cope with the strategic impact the recent economic crisis denotes. Its reverberations were felt not only by the economy directly but the society, and also the military--all these factors taken together constitute a potent security threat.

Table 5. Depreciation of East Asian Currencies

Against the US dollar (in percentage terms)

(late June 1997-late June 1998)

Indonesia 82

Thailand 38

Malaysia 36

Philippines 36

South Korea 36

Taiwan 18

Japan 17

Singapore 13

Source: IISS Strategic Comments, July 1998

The lessons from the economic crisis have altered the way ASEAN looks at security.

First, security needs to be viewed holistically. Security does not mean simply military security—it includes economic, social, environmental security as well. The "haze crisis" showed how the destruction of the forest cover could endanger the economic security of the region as a whole.

Second, the military modernisation process in South-East Asia which was going apace has been suddenly put on hold once the economic crisis hit the region. Does it imply that all the factors that had prompted the modernisation have disappeared? Until the economic crisis which began with the currency crisis in Thailand in the summer of 1997, East Asia had witnessed a brisk pace of armament build-up which had made it the second largest arms market in the world after West Asia.9 The defence budgets of South-East Asian and North-East Asian countries have been adversely affected. This has led to putting on hold previously concluded arms-procurement deals, reduction in military exercises and training programmes. Here it is important not to confuse national needs or requirements with national capabilities. Inability to channel resources into the defence sector at previous levels does not imply that the factors (which necessitated the deployment of those resources into the defence sector earlier) have vanished overnight. On the other hand, it is true that in as much as the economic crisis had a regional spread (and a consequent handicap in the defence sector regionwide) it was possible, at the national level, to envisage a reduced expenditure without jeopardising national security. But, while ASEAN military modernisation suffered a setback, China continues with it. Besides, it must be remembered that though Japan spends only 1 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), it is still a military power because its GDP itself is considerable.

Table 6. Defence Expenditure as Proportion of GDP in East Asia 1997 (estimated) in percentage terms

China 5.7

Taiwan 4.9

Singapore 4.4

Malaysia 4.2

Vietnam 4.0

South Korea 3.3

Indonesia 2.1

Philippines 2.0

Thailand 1.8

Japan 1.0

Source: IISS Strategic Comments, July 1998

China has emerged relatively unscathed from the economic crisis. It has increased its economic leverage especially after it lent support to the Thai currency. While the economic crisis has left South-East Asia bruised, China's military modernisation, role in Myanmar, seeking a route to the Indian Ocean continue apace. This will continue to be a cause of concern for much of South-East Asia and so the ASEAN countries as also India will need to watch China and study its policies more closely.

The ARF would have to find new ways to tackle the problems of terrorism and drug trafficking which could be traced to the economic meltdown. Terrorist activities increased as regional governments found themselves unable to focus their attention on these activities on their borders because of their preoccupations at home. This area is one of the three drug growing areas of the world. Myanmar, which is not affected by the economic crisis, has been ostracised by the West for its human rights record, but on the drug control front, cooperation must continue. When neighbouring countries are in an economic crisis, the trade in drugs and small arms becomes all the more compelling and profitable. That is the time when strict monitoring and control acquire relevance.

3. The Challenge of a Global Village

The whole globalisation process directly affects the ASEAN states, being located on the crossroads of civilisations. ASEAN has been forced to take notice of the growing interdependence among countries of the world. In recent times in more ways than one it has been at the receiving end of the globalisation process. Certain new elements of security have become more important.

(a) Economic

More attention will have to be given to economic security. The real domino effect was to be seen when the economic crisis, starting with the currency crisis, affected trade, investment, technology, etc. and how it advanced from one country to another. It is well known that the advances in information technology enabled swift manipulation of currency prices leading to a currency crisis, which eventually brought the economy crumbling down. In Singapore, since the fundamentals were the strongest, it was least affected. Electronic commerce has facilitated the trade in stocks and shares in East Asia. The currency crisis enabled those with dollars to buy up companies in financial trouble rather cheap. Korean family concerns (choebols) escaped this fate, but companies in Thailand and the rest of East Asia are in danger of losing their assets to foreigners. More thought would have to be given to the danger to a nation's security if the entire banking or insurance industry were taken over by outsiders for either lack of capital or expertise. This could lead to social tensions which could create a new security threat.

Other transnational crimes such as drug trafficking and light weapons transfer and more insidious threats like information warfare are the new challenges that the ARF will have to face. Information warfare is more insidious because it is possible to weaken traditional societies by weakening them from within by means of a cultural invasion.

(b) Energy and Environment

There is growing reliance on energy sources located in certain parts of the globe which necessitate that the sea lanes of communication (SLOCs) are kept free and secure so that ships can pass unhindered. The haze crisis in SEA ensured that environmental issues became global concerns. Security is, therefore, linked with issues such as the extent of the forest cover, and who has rights over the forests--often that means touching political sensitivities as members of the ruling elite may be responsible in their personal capacity for the destruction of the forest cover (and the haze). (See Table 7.)

(c) Human Rights

Larger issues of human rights, democratisation, liberalisation, globalisation will continue to impinge on state sovereignty.

In times to come, the ARF will have to deal more and more with the security of these intangible frontiers and the whole question of state sovereignty.

Table 7. Changes in Forest Cover in South-East Asia, 1990-1995

('000 ha)

Country 1990 1995 Annual change

(per cent)

Brunei 448 434 -0.6

Cambodia 10,649 9,830 -1.6

Indonesia 115,213 109,791 -1.0

Laos 13,177 12,435 -1.2

Malaysia 17,472 15,471 -2.4

Myanmar 29,088 27,151 -1.4

Philippines 8,078 6,766 -3.5

Singapore 4 4 0

Thailand 13,277 11,630 -2.6

Vietnam 9,793 9,117 -1.4

Source: FAO, The State of the World's Forests, 1996, www.fao.org

4. Potential Dangers to Multilateralism

Here it is important to see how a multilateral (security) institution can be subverted/controlled by interested parties. The more powerful a state, the more keenly interested it would be in controlling the direction and speed in which a multilateral security forum is headed.

l By sowing the seeds of self-introspection and raising doubts about its own intrinsic worth and fundamental values on which it has been built up. This may be done with a view to replacing an existing agenda with a new one.

l By controlling who may and may not join its membership.

l By capturing its leadership or controlling those who are its leaders.

l By controlling the pace at which the given organisation should proceed.

l When all else fails, by initiating parallel organisation/s which serve the same function but are more pliable and subserve your interest more closely.

Lest this appear too crude a depiction of the realism pursued by nation-states, let it be said that even realism does not succeed without an adequate dose of liberal theology. Most states tend to follow a more complex mix.

(a) Questioning the "ASEAN Way"

There is a demand for "reforms" in ASEAN functioning by some countries, which could be a source of tension. There is a fear that the "ASEAN way" is under threat. This effectively could threaten ASEAN multilateralism, especially in the aftermath of the economic crisis.

What does this ASEAN way constitute? It includes such components as "Asian values" and the policy of consensus: musywarah and mufakat. Within ASEAN itself, there is a difference of opinion on the hitherto accepted unwritten ASEAN principle of non-interference in internal affairs: Thailand's and the Philippines' idea of "flexible engagement" or "constructive intervention" in each other's affairs; Kuala Lumpur had differences with Indonesia and the Philippines over support to Anwar Ibrahim. Manila offered hospitality to Anwar's wife, Ms Wan Azizah Ismail, Kuala Lumpur regarded it as interference in its internal affairs.

Whether it is the affairs of Cambodia, Indonesia (East Timor) or Myanmar, there is a greater tendency to influence the trend of events in these countries. The aim is often to question the human rights track record of these states. In such a situation, it makes greater sense for these countries to explain themselves at a forum like the ARF which is dominated by countries of the region which are more or less similarly placed and hence better able to empathise with them rather than the more powerful states. In addition, the threat of interference in the internal affairs of less powerful states appears to have increased following the changed doctrine of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), extending its reach for intervention purposes.

(b) Expanded ASEAN/ARF Membership: Bane or Boon?

Just as quantity often translates into quality, numbers sometimes tend to start impacting on policy matters. Differences among the members can be discerned regarding the expansion of ASEAN and ARF membership. When Vietnam and Laos joined, there were some who had reservations as these countries were considered a liability because of their relative economic backwardness. The European Union (EU) saw Myanmar as a liability for ASEAN for different reasons. But this is not necessarily the view held by the larger ASEAN membership. A number of countries which are members of the EU have sought separate membership of the ARF.

Table 8(a). ASEAN Members

Date joined ASEAN/ARF

Brunei 1984/1994 Myanmar 1997 /1996

Cambodia 1999/1995 Philippines 1967/1994

Indonesia 1967/1994 Singapore 1967/1994

Laos 1997/1994 Thailand 1967/1994

Malaysia 1967/1994 Vietnam 1995/1994

Table 8(b). ARF Members

Date of joining

ASEAN States Japan 1994

Australia 1994 Korea(S) 1994

Canada 1994 Mongolia 1998

China 1994 New Zealand 1994

EU 1994 PNG 1994

India 1996 Russia 1994

USA 1994

The ARF is the only existing Track-I security framework for the Asia-Pacific region. Based on the European example, some analysts say South-East Asia should develop security systems at various levels.10 Europe has security mechanisms at the bilateral sub-regional, regional and inter-regional levels. It has a three-tiered system comprising the EU-WEU (Western European Union) defence mechanism; NATO; and the OSCE (Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe). In comparison, East Asia (with the sub-regions of South-East Asia and North-East Asia) has only ASEAN as a sub-regional group and the ARF as a large regional group. Critics argue that a large grouping reduces efficiency in terms of consultations and activities. They suggest a smaller political and security grouping for East Asia apart from ASEAN and the ARF based on the European example and in the interest of greater efficiency.

While the point of efficiency is well taken (and the ARF will have to build up appropriate institutions for that), a transplantation of the European example in the South-East Asian context may not be the most sensible thing to do. A forum like the ARF has its own advantages. A large regional group (so long as it does not become unwieldy) has the merit of having within it more than one sub-region which can understand the other's problems due to the proximity of one to the other. Secondly, it often utilises for balance of power politics, the military potential of powerful non-regional countries. Thirdly, it provides the countries of the region a forum to interact confidently with countries of another regional group.

A look at the size of the ASEAN states shows that most of them are medium or small states.

Table 9. Relative Size of the ASEAN States

Large State Medium State Small State

Indonesia Thailand Singapore

Vietnam Myanmar Cambodia

Philippines Laos

Malaysia Brunei

It is no secret that after ASEAN membership finally touched ten, there was talk of even further expansion. This time possibilities were raised about East Timor becoming a new member if it gains independence following the August ballot. And if East Timor becomes independent, would other regions be far behind? This raises the problems associated with micro-states and the likelihood of their being manipulated by larger more powerful states.

(c) Leadership Issue

There is competition for the leadership of the ARF. It is now being asked whether it should be ASEAN-led or not. There is talk of rotation of the ARF leadership outside ASEAN. There is a linkage between the role of ASEAN in the ARF and within ASEAN of bigger states like Indonesia. With the possible unravelling of large states like Indonesia and likely expansion of ASEAN, a qualitative change in the character of ASEAN can be anticipated. While it will weaken Indonesia's position within ASEAN, it will also weaken ASEAN's leadership within the ARF.

It would be wrong to look at the ARF through the rose-tinted glasses of the liberal paradigm. The liberal paradigm is often a smokescreen for the pursuit of narrow national interests. If a country chooses to join the ARF, it is with the hope that it would promote its interests and for so doing, it would be in a position of leadership, and failing that, at least its voice would count.

ASEAN wants to retain the leadership so that it can utilise the ARF for balancing one Great Power against another. This explains the ASEAN keenness in including China within the ARF and for wanting to keep the US engaged in the region. Just as the US follows the policy of engagement of China, the ASEAN states follow the policy of engaging the US and the rest of the Great Powers. ASEAN has learnt some of its lessons from the Great Powers.

The US would like to remain in a position where it can shape all the major decisions taken by the ARF. In case that is not possible, it would like to turn to bilateral alliances with individual countries in the region and to help in the formation of multilateral forums which are more in tune with their world outlook. Another option that has been only openly voiced (by no less than former US Defence Secretary William Perry) is that a security dimension be added to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), primarily an economic organisation but dominated by the US. It would not like the movement of its forces to be subjected to controls in any part of the world. A report by the US Congressional Research Service says that a "problem would arise if East Asian governments used the ASEAN Regional Forum and other future regional security consultative organisations to restrain the United States from acting on certain security issues..."11 It may also be recalled that though all the South-East Asian countries have signed the South-East Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone Treaty, the United States (like the other P-5 countries) has not yet signed the protocol to the treaty.

It is important that the leadership of the ARF remains in ASEAN hands—not only in name but also in real terms.

(d) Pace of the ARF

Perhaps the most important issue which concerns the ARF and for which no direct answer is forthcoming is, how quickly is it willing to change? The ARF Concept Paper mentions three stages: Confidence Building Measures, Preventive Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution. A close study of the ARF members' responses reveals there are differences on how to interpret the implementation of these phases. One view is that the three phases were meant to be implemented sequentially, not simultaneously. Another view is that confidence-building mesures (CBMs) and preventive diplomacy and (PD) must progress together. However, PD does imply voluntarism. It is possible only when the parties concerned agree.

The fear of PD becoming coercive diplomacy has made countries like China uncomfortable. Some of them have expressed reservations vis-a-vis PD. They suggest that the best PD would be enhanced CBMs in the Asia-Pacific region; given the strategic perceptions of the members, it would be a kind of threat which would have a negative impact on peace in the region. They also suggest that the pace of the ARF is not as important as the national interest of the members concerned. As proof that China is not against PD, it is pointed out that China has agreed at bilateral and multilateral fora that it would not use force to settle the South China Sea issue. It is, in fact, taking regional responsibility, especially in South-East Asia's economic crisis. That PD does not imply the use of force and interference in the interal affairs of states perhaps needs spelling out by the ARF.

The American view is that there is a danger in being over-enthusiastic about PD in as much that Beijing may feel excessively pressured, especially since it goes against the Panchsheel principle (of non-interference in others' internal affairs). However, on the other hand, if the ARF did not do anything meaningful in preventive security, it would become irrelevant in the future. To fix the "pace" problem, there is need for more frequent meetings.

Since ideological differences no longer divide the SEA region and the whole of SEA is now within ASEAN's ambit, the time may be ripe to consider cooperation on defence matters on a multilateral plane, which had hitherto been confined to a bilateral or, at best, trilateral level. But ASEAN is constrained not to sign a military pact because of the unique situation it finds itself in, which is very different from that of Europe. It would invite the hostility of those powers whose cooperation is required for the prosperity of this region. It has, therefore, been suggested that ASEAN could cooperate in such areas of defence as surveillance of sea lanes.12

There have been suggestions to strengthen the ASEAN institutions:

l Hold summit meetings more regularly and more often. This was followed up with the convening of informal summit gatherings.

l Institutionalise the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting (AMM) to be headed by a foreign minister.

l Make the standing committee "into an institution of permanent representation for each Asean member country at the Asean Secretariat."13

l Strengthen the ASEAN Secretariat with more staff and resources.

l Strengthen the hands of the ASEAN secretary general by giving him more powers.

In case fundamental changes to the ARF are not acceptable to the entire membership, perhaps incremental changes within ASEAN could be more acceptable. The ARF is seeking to strike the right balance between continuity and change, and on this will hinge its success and long-term viability.


Continued Relevance of ARF for India

What are India's expectations from the ARF and what should be our expectations in times to come? For that we have to know our response to questions relating to the membership, leadership and pace of the ARF. It would be in our interest to see the ARF strengthened--and that means actually reinforcing its institutions and mechanisms. It would not be wise to question the "ASEAN way" but we could seek to make it more efficient in its working. There is globalisation of the economy and globalisation of security. But the dominant interest is US-led. In this complex web of international relations, we find self-interest is given a deceptive multilateral packaging. Yet the ARF for India is not a mere "talking shop": it is part of our "Look East" policy.

Secondly, we need to monitor the membership of the ARF. While India cannot afford to be seen as obstructing the entry of states like Pakistan, we cannot also turn a blind eye to the reality that an unbridled expansion of the ARF entails.14 It could make the ARF totally ineffective in the time to come but that too would not be in our interest. We have to guard against fatalism in our approach. A decline in multilateralism would not be a healthy trend for India.

There is also not sufficient justification in being part of a forum which does not directly or indirectly subserve our national goals. The ARF's membership is important to us and it would not serve any purpose to fall in line with those who label it as a mere "talking shop." The ARF needs to be strengthened and that is possible by a more dynamic pursuit of our "Look East" policy. This can be done through enhanced military to military contacts at the bilateral level with ASEAN, including greater participation in military exercises and training. There could be greater collaboration on dealing with issues relating to insurgency, matters relating to maritime piracy and maritime pollution. A great effort will need to be put in to make the Inter-Sessional Groups (ISGs) and Inter-Sessional Meetings (ISMs) more meaningful.

The ARF is also important in gauging what the region considers are the challenges/threats emanating from India. We need to appreciate the genuine concerns of countries of the region and to assuage them with adequate confidence building measures. It would help if the state to state level military contacts are strengthened. This could help reduce the dependence which some countries like Myanmar have placed on China.

The leadership of the ARF must remain in ASEAN's hands.

India needs to realise that having joined the ARF as a full-fledged member, we must utilise it to the fullest to promote those ideas and values (pertaining to security) which we as a nation cherish. It may be recalled that when India was not included when the ARF was formed, there was a lot of heartburn. We must set about convincing other state actors (and wherever required non-state actors as well) about the validity of those objectives. Indian security concerns which have a bearing on our perceptions relating to domestic, regional and global spheres must find expression in our dealings with the ARF. This could well include our decision about what to discuss and what not to discuss at the ARF. Our diplomacy must seek to influence decisions at the agenda-making stage. What gets included (or excluded) in the ARF agenda could have a direct bearing on our security. Further, there could be an identity of views between India and ASEAN on this. Having identified areas of potential agreement between India and ASEAN on security issues, we must have them translated into statements of policy and articulated through such instruments as communiques and statements which the ARF periodically issues. Conversely, we must prevent those decisions from being taken which could be detrimental to our interest.

The ARF is a multilateral forum which has representatives from not only the regional powers but all the Great Powers of the world. It is a suitable forum for putting across our point of view in a congenial and informal setting where the "comfort-level" of members is kept in consideration. A long-term policy on ARF matters needs to be evolved so as to prevent fire-fighting or ad-hocism since the date and venue for the upcoming ARF session is fixed well in advance and our representatives can be well prepared. They should be fed with inputs from all the relevant government agencies and, equally importantly, the non-governmental agencies and think-tanks. It is significant that all the ASEAN states have realised the importance of think-tanks and second-track diplomacy and some of them have developed it into a fine art. Through their Institutes of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) network, their diplomacy has become very responsive. We too need to evolve a network of security think-tanks, which could be useful for brainstorming purposes and for dipping into for ideas.

When the South-East Asian environmental disaster in the form of the haze crisis occurred in 1997, many feared that it could affect India as well. After all, the Nicobar Islands are situated only 25 miles off the northernmost Indonesian island of Sumatra where the forest fires occurred in the first place.15

Some of the ARF members would like the ARF to be pro-active. In the aftermath of the May 1998 nuclear blasts, some members sought to put India on the defensive. The oblique criticism that India had to face at the last (1998) meeting for the nuclear tests could gather momentum in case Pakistani propaganda again attempts to internationalise the Kashmir issue through the use of nuclear blackmail. Pakistan's recent armed intrusions across the Indian side of the Line of Control (LoC) have served to expose Pakistan's designs and put a halt to its plea for inclusion in the ARF. It must be remembered that a policy of isolation would never benefit India. It would appear from ARF Chairman Siazon's own statement last year (1998) that criticism of India's nuclear tests was not ASEAN inspired but was external to the region.16

In so far as security is multi-dimensional, India's cautious approach in opening up its economy has been vindicated; the economic crisis did not affect us in the same way as it did the ASEAN countries because we did not make the capital account fully convertible. Indochina countries that are marked by greater state control were also not affected by the economic crisis to the same degree as the rest of South-East Asia was. It bears reiteration that wars can be lost by the physical movement of troops from across the border as also by a more insidious intrusion into our economy, our information system and our cultural ethos. Just as a policy of isolation in the diplomatic sphere cannot return us any dividends, in the economic arena too, a policy of shutting ourselves from an increasingly interdependent world would not be in our interest. However, having stated that, it needs to be reiterated that if the supreme national interest requires taking a different position, we should not hesitate in pursuing it.

India's Interests in ARF Post-Kargil

The ARF held its sixth session at Singapore on July 26, 1999. The high level delegation from India was led by External Minister Jaswant Singh. India sought to project an image of a mature nuclear power which knows how to handle a grave provocation like the Kargil crisis with utmost restraint.

The success of our diplomacy at a multilateral forum like the ARF can be judged by the yardstick of our ability to influence its agenda, pace, leadership and membership.

(a) Agenda of the Sixth ARF Session

The Chairman's Statement issued by the ARF Chairman and Singapore Foreign Minister S. Jayakumar summing up the day-long deliberations said: "The (ARF) Ministers noted support for encouraging States that had tested nuclear weapons last year to exercise restraint, including by adhering to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and to revive the Lahore process."

Unlike last year (Manila ARF), India did not have to dissociate itself from the chairman's statement because it did not have any problem with what the current chairman, Singapore's Foreign Minister S. Jayakumar said. India's External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh regarded it as "an unqualified success" Among the issues which came up for discussion were the relationship among Great Powers, regional issues such as North Korea-South Korea relations and the Taiwan problem.

l Kargil: There was no mention of Kargil or Kashmir but only a call to exercise restraint. The Kashmir question did not figure in the ARF chairman's statement and emphasis was laid on revival of the Lahore process. Pakistan had lobbied with some ARF members and it was feared that Australia, New Zealand and Japan may raise the Kargil issue This confirmed India's position on bilateralism. Also India's concerns about the spread of small arms and cross-border terrorism were included.

l South China Sea: Earlier during the year, China had added some structures on Mischief Reef. The South China Sea has six claimants (4 of them ASEAN states); the oil-rich islands are a cause of concern. The ARF called for a "peaceful settlement of disputes in accordance with the recognised principles of international law and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea" and commissioned a regional Code of Conduct in the South China Sea to defuse the tensions and turn the focus on joint development efforts.

l Non-proliferation issues: While reference in the chairman's statement last year on the nuclear test in May had led India to regretfully dissociate itself from it, this year's statement was considered by Jaswant Singh as a vindication of India's constructive approach to non-proliferation and disarmament. It took note of the calls for "all states to sign and ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and to accede to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as soon as possible". The ARF wanted all states to sign and ratify the CTBT and accede to the NPT as soon as possible. But it also urged the P-5 countries to make "further efforts towards achieving the ultimate objective of eliminating nuclear weapons".

It called on the nuclear weapon states to "make further efforts towards achieving the ultimate objective of eliminating nuclear weapons". The ARF called on the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva to conclude on priority basis, the negotiations for banning the production of fissile material meant explicitly for making atomic weapons.

The ARF called upon "all states to exercise restraint in the development, testing and export of ballistic missiles and other delivery means" employed in deployment and use of WMD.

India also renewed its offer at the ARF on July 26 to sign the protocol to the Treaty on SEA as a Nuclear Weapon Free Zone.17

Our own experience with Pakistan sending intruders across the Line of Control (LoC) with a view to destabilising peace on the subcontinent provided an opportune moment to acquaint the world community with the dangers of state sponsored terrorism, the need to tackle proxy war, and the spread of light weapons.

Other issues which were discussed included.

l The Taiwan problem.

l The Korean problem: North Korea's missile tests last year and a suspected underground facility were the subjects of concern, especially by Japan.

l Great Power relations: China raised concerns about the US-Japan security guidelines.

(b) Membership

The ARF is quite ambitious and looks to the Asia-Pacific as its legitimate area of concern. It follows the concept of "geographical footprint" and its membership has expanded to 22 now.

India's recent diplomacy towards South-East Asia was initiated with the Look East policy in the early 1990s and it graduated from being a sectoral-dialogue partner of ASEAN to full-fledged dialogue partner. It became a member of the ARF in 1996. Pakistan has languished at the sectoral-dialogue partner level. This placed India in an advantageous position vis-a-vis Pakistan. It may be recalled that in 1998 there was an attempt by the Philippines to invite Pakistan as an observer to the fifth ARF session at Manila which did not succeed. India, without appearing in any way to obstruct Pakistan's entry into any multilateral forum, can have little regrets now at the growing opinion within the ARF against Pakistan's membership. The developments at the Singapore ARF meet regarding membership have been to India's advantage. First, it prevents the possibility of the forum being converted into an arena to settle bilateral issues. As it became increasingly evident to the world community that Pakistan has no locus-standi on the Kargil issue. India's position was strengthened which adversely impacted on all attempts by that country at entry into the ARF. It became obvious to all concerned that India and Pakistan cannot be equated. India is committed to a "no first use" of nuclear weapons and Pakistan refuses to make any such commitment. It was Pakistan, which showed an irresponsible streak by threatening to use the nuclear weapon against India. New Delhi, on the other hand has all along stood for universal nuclear disarmament. Second, it will put an end to pressure from individual EU member countries for separate membership of the ARF. Therefore, the danger of the ARF becoming too unwieldy has been warded off for the time being.

(c) Leadership of the ARF

The limit on ARF membership will also help in ensuring that the ARF continues to remain ASEAN-led, something which India has always favoured.


In conclusion, it can be said that the ARF sees a larger, Asia-Pacific-wide security role for itself. With regard to the nuclear issue, the ARF basically does not regard India's nuclearisation as a threat in itself. In fact, it is possible that it may indeed look upon it as a check on Communist China. This will perhaps never be articulated openly by ASEAN members for obvious reasons. It would be in India's interest to have discussions on global nuclear disarmament rather than having its focus on South Asia only. The ARF seeks to instil in its members "a collective commitment to regional peace and stability."18 The several linkages already established among countries of the region supplement this.

ASEAN has taken up the challenge of reduction in US forces in the region by accepting some security responsibilities itself. The leadership has been quick to sense the change in the regional situation. Its willingness to include former adversaries (like Vietnam) within the organisation and to engage in dialogue with countries with which it may have differences, only shows its adaptability and flexibility. Secondly, the ARF has chosen to progress incrementally by first promoting CBMs, then development of PD mechanisms and finally the development of conflict-resolution mechanisms. Thirdly, the unwillingness of ASEAN to hand over the security agenda to another forum such as the APEC shows not only its farsightedness but also its steadfast quality. Fourthly, the growing self-confidence of ASEAN as a regional organisation whose members have witnessed swift economic progress and who are willing to cooperate among themselves, is reflected in the discussions within the ARF. Its tremendous adaptability and willingness to involve members representing diverse cultural, ethnic, religious and historical backgrounds in security dialogues has contributed greatly to resilience in a region not previously accustomed to such cooperative endeavour. The resilience so fostered over a period of time could play an important part in overcoming the problems encountered in a period of transition. But, even as it progresses as a forum for dialogue, the possibility of ideological or principled differences among members cannot be ruled out.



1. P.S. Suryanarayana, "Back with a Bang?", The Hindu, June 6, 1999.

2. F.J. Khergamvala, "China Sees a Conspiracy", The Hindu, June 6, 1999.

3. Alice Ba, "The ASEAN Regional Forum", International Journal, Autumn 1997.

4. See, for details, Udai Bhanu Singh, "Growth of Military Power in South-East Asia," Asian Strategic Review 1994-95, (IDSA, 1995), p. 311-351.

5. Faust, p. 56.

6. C. Raja Mohan, "America's Expanding Asian Alliance", The Hindu, May 3, 1999.

7. K.S. Balakrishnan, "Asian-Pacific Security and the ASEAN Regional Forum: Lessons for the GCC" The Emirates Occasional Papers No. 25, (The Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research, 1998).

8. For further details, Udai Bhanu Singh, "Political Violence and Instability in Myanmar," Aakrosh, January 1999, vol. 2, no. 2.

9. For details, see Singh, n. 4.

10. It has been argued that the ARF has not as yet proved itself to be so indispensable that innovation outside the forum may not be attempted.

11. Larry Niksch, "Regional Security Consultative Organisations in East Asia and Their Implications for the United States", CRS Report for Congress (Washington DC: Congressional Research Service, January 14, 1994), pp. 13-14. Cited in Michael G. Schechter, ed., Future Multilateralism: The Political and Social Framework (London: Macmillan, 1999).

12. Jusuf Wanandi, "Looming Challenge for Asean", Far Eastern Economic Review, January 23, 1992.

13. Ibid.

14. According to one point of view, if the ARF chooses to get bogged down in South Asian problems, it will only harm itself and we should be reconciled to this.

15. Harvey Stockwin, "The Haze Shrouding South-East Asia Edges Towards India", Times of India, September 26, 1997.

16. M.D. Nalapat, "ASEAN Limits Lobbying by China, US: Draft Statement 'Deplores' N-Tests", Times of India, July 28, 1998.

17. India had made this offer for the first time at the Manila ARF session in 1998. The protocol provides for accession only by the P-5 countries. Proponents of India's support to the Protocol believe if India too is asked to become a signatory (to the Protocol) by ASEAN, it would strengthen India's case for being accepted as a nuclear weapon state. See, P.S. Suryanarayana, "India Offers to Endorse Asian N-Arms Protocol", The Hindu, July 29, 1999. Meanwhile ASEAN established the SEANWFZ Commission on July 24. For details see, "Nuke-Free Zone Panel for South-East Asia", The Hindu, July 23, 1999.

18. The Hindu, July 26, 1998.