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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NATO's mission in Afghanistan

Farooq attended the 2012 NATO leaders summit in Chicago representing the Department of Defence. Farooq is a public servant working in the Department of Defence's International Policy and Strategy Group focusing on Afghanistan. He holds a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) and a Masters in Counter-Terrorism Studies from Monash University.


The decade plus mission in Afghanistan led by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) first major operation reaching beyond its European backyard.  Securing Afghanistan has become a priority for the alliance in its effort to tackle the spread of global terrorism. 

Afghanistan will require significant support from the international community for the remainder of this decade at least.  Failure to stabilise Afghanistan is likely to lead to broader instability in the region. This could allow Afghanistan to become a safe haven for al Qaeda. This is predominantly why success for the NATO/ISAF mission in Afghanistan is vital. 

Long-term success in Afghanistan will not, however, simply come from the swift toppling of the Taliban regime, which has evidently supported al Qaeda and its affiliates.  This will be marked as a significant achievement, but success in Afghanistan overtime will also require the implementation of a genuine political strategy and Afghanistan will need to address the many challenges it faces today, including in areas of development and gender equality.  This should be coupled with the training and development of a capable and efficient Afghan security force that is able to provide stability for the people of Afghanistan.  

Since President Obama’s decision to employ the current counterinsurgency strategy and send in a 30,000 surge force to support those troops already on the ground, there has been enough evidence to suggest that the strategy will succeed despite some setbacks.1The NATO/ISAF mission in Afghanistan will succeed because the mission will have achievable standards and benchmarks.  It will not be possible to address all of Afghanistan’s issues before security responsibility is handed over to the Afghans, but NATO will achieve its main goals (i.e. degrade the insurgency, target al Qaeda and place Afghan forces in the lead in a responsible manner). 

This short paper will attempt to outline how NATO will succeed in Afghanistan and explore what mission success is likely to look like in that country.

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