ASEAN: Rhetoric v Reality

By Ryan Thomson

Ryan is a Strategic Policy Officer at the Department of Defence. He attended the NATO Young Leaders Summit and Manama Dialogue as a Global Voices delegate.


There is a consistent theme in academic literature that suggests that as a region, Southeast Asia is characterised by increasing complexity and rising volatility (Ul-Hassan, 2014). This theme is often followed with challenges to the centrality of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as being insufficient for the security architecture of the region in dealing with this increasingly complex environment. The escalating tensions between claimants and China over disputed territories in the South China Sea, the resurgence of great power rivalry from China, Japan and India and a lack of political will within ASEAN to lead on these issues has resulted in a view that not only is the centrality of ASEAN an illusion (Shekhar, 2015), but that it also has limited utility for the region (Singh & Wesley, 2009).  Indeed many commentators have suggested even if ASEAN is examined strictly as a trading bloc compared to the European Union (EU) or the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the economic benefits are far from being realised.

This paper will therefore explore the challenges to ASEAN and will contend that that there are three key themes which should inform policy planners in furthering Australia’s engagement within the region: (i) The rhetorical aspirations of ASEAN have not always aligned with practical outcomes and therefore further consideration is required on understanding the limitations of ASEAN, (ii) the net benefit of ASEAN in promoting peace, stability and prosperity in the region will come from stronger external support which in turn supports the existing rules based global order and (iii) that high expectations upon ASEAN to resolve significant strategic challenges of the region can undermine its effectiveness and value to the region. These key concerns should be incorporated in policy planning to further engagement in line with the Australian Government’s approach to Southeast Asia.

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Australia: A global member for the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation

Melissa Houston attended the 2012 Nato Leaders Summit in Chicago where she represented the Department of Defence. Melissa is an airborne Tactical Coordinator in the Royal Australian Air Force and she is currently studying a Masters of Science, focusing on Operations Research and Statistics.


Over the last decade, Australia has strengthened its relationship with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). At the last two NATO summits, the Australian Prime Minister has been in attendance and this practice will continue at the 2012 NATO Summit in Chicago this month. NATO was initially formed as an instrument for safeguarding North Atlantic security and values. The Alliance achieves this through a strong membership of 28 European and North American nations and an extensive partner network including the Mediterranean Dialogue, the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, Istanbul Cooperation and Partners across the Globe, including Australia.   

This paper will address NATO’s development and evolving security roles. It will demonstrate the growing need for an adaptive organisation, one which includes global members. Firstly, the paper will discuss a shift in geographic reach and developing military and peacekeeping roles. The importance of collective defence will then be considered with respect to NATO’s latest Strategic Concept.  The concept reflects an ‘indirect approach’ to Asia Pacific security. The paper will then discuss Australian relationships with NATO nations and commitment to NATO led operations. Next, the 1949 North Atlantic Treaty’s relevance is addressed with a view to global stability and security in the 21st century. The paper will conclude with member nations’ views on Asian additions to the Alliance.  

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