Association of Southeast Asian Nations

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An alliance currently of ten Southeast Asian states, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), starting on August 8, 1967, with Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand as the founders.

Its activities involve the "Three Pillars:[1]:

  • ASEAN Security Community
  • ASEAN Economic Community
  • ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community

State Date joined (*founder)
Indonesia 8 August 1967*
Malaysia 8 August 1967*
Philippines 8 August 1967*
Singapore 8 August 1967*
Thailand 8 August 1967*
Brunei Darussalam 8 January 1984
Vietnam 28 July 1995
Laos 23 July 1997
Myanmar 23 July 1997
Cambodia 23 July 1997


There has been a low level of international conflict in the area, although there are concerns about non-national actors, including ideologues and traditional pirates. Agreements and conflict resolution mechanisms were established both among the members, and in a broader ASEAN Regional Forum.

ASEAN, with some pride, observes that while there have been tension, there have been no armed conflicts, since its founding, among its members. Building on this experience, ASEAN is forming the ASEAN Security Community (ASC).

The members of the Community pledge to rely exclusively on peaceful processes in the settlement of intra-regional differences and regard their security as fundamentally linked to one another and bound by geographic location, common vision and objectives. It has the following components: political development; shaping and sharing of norms; conflict prevention; conflict resolution; post-conflict peace building; and implementing mechanisms.

The ASC is based on a number of agreements[2]:

Agreement Place Date
ASEAN Declaration Bangkok 8 August 1967
Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality Declaration Kuala Lumpur 27 November 1971
ASEAN Declaration on the South China Sea Manila 22 July 1992
Treaty on the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone Bangkok 15 December 1997
ASEAN Vision 2020 Kuala Lumpur 15 December 1997
Declaration of ASEAN Concord II Bali 7 October 2003

SEAN established the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in 1994. The ARF’s agenda aims to evolve in three broad stages, namely the promotion of confidence building, development of preventive diplomacy and elaboration of approaches to conflicts.

Regional agreements

The 1967 ASEAN Declaration, by the five founding members, established a pattern of cooperation. It was followed by a Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality Declaration, Kuala Lumpur, 27 November 1971;

Next, there was a 1976 Declaration of ASEAN Concord and a Treaty of Amity of Cooperation.

On a wider level, there were declarations on the South China Sea in 1992, and a Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon Free declaration 1997.

A forward looking plan formed ASEAN Vision 2020, declared on 15 December 1997; and a redeclaration of ASEAN Concord II in 2003.

ASEAN regional forum

Formed in 1994, present participants in the ARF include: Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Canada, China, European Union, India, Indonesia, Japan, Democratic Republic of Korea, Republic of Korea (ROK), Laos, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, New Zealand, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, the Russian Federation, Singapore, Thailand, the United States, and Viet Nam.

In 1994, ASEAN created a larger ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), charged with evolution, in three steps, to "the promotion of confidence building, development of preventive diplomacy and elaboration of approaches to conflicts."

Besides the ASEAN members, the ARF members are:

The ARF discusses major regional security issues in the region, including the relationship amongst the major powers, non-proliferation, counter-terrorism, transnational crime, South China Sea and the Korean Peninsula, among others. [3]

Given the geographical realities, such as Singapore's small size, there are mutual basing agreements; some of the Singapore military is in Malaysia and the Philippines. This is particularly important given the ASEAN concern over piracy.

There are annual ASEAN intelligence summits. With respect to intelligence cooperation, John Margeson poses the challenge, "Do arrangements such as ECHELON exist outside the relationships between "great" powers? Literature shows that broad relationships exist among regional powers for various reasons. In the case of ASEAN, states brought together to fight communist insurgency find that they can maximize security by cooperating in covert operations and intelligence sharing."[4]. See external security relationships for a discussion of alliances beyond the ASEAN members.

Technology has accelerated ASEAN intelligence cooperation. For example, Malaysia and Singapore jointly monitor the South China Sea electronically, presumably with SIGINT, maritime patrol by ships and aircraft, and possibly IMINT from commercial satellites.

External security relationships

There are both political and technical sensitivities in forming additional alliances, which can be useful but challenging.

One regional alliance has obvious common interest and even overlapping membership, the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA) of Australia, Great Britain, New Zealand, Singapore and Malaysia, which includes three members of the UKUSA alliance with strong national SIGINT organizations.

Regional conflict resolution

A series of conflicts directly involving two ASEAN members, Vietnam and Cambodia, as well as China, began to flare in 1978. These have been called the Third Indochina War. ASEAN diplomacy helped work toward a 1991 peace treaty, although the last Cambodian fighters did not surrender until 1999.

When the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia, the action was "deplored" with a statement from the then-chairman of the ASEAN Standing Committee, Indonesian Minister of Foreign Affairs Mochtar Kusumaatmadja; this became the ASEAN position. ASEAN members brought the matter to the United Nations Security Council. [5]

In this situation, Thailand, an ASEAN member, was the "frontline state". ASEAN faced a problem of showing support for Thailand, the "frontline state," but Indonesia decided that the apparent strategy there, of prolonging the war and "bleeding Vietnam white", was not in the interest of Southeast Asia as a whole. While always insisting on the central demand of Vietnamese withdrawal and Khmer (i.e., Cambodian) self-determination, Indonesia encouraged the Khmers and Vietnamese and their external sponsors to a more stable settlement. Negotiations for such a settlement began in 1982, and ended formally with the Final Act of the Paris International Conference on Cambodia on October 23, 1991. Mochtar and the next Indonesian foreign minister, were key in these negotiations.

Even though the eventual 1991 Paris Peace Accords for Cambodia mandated elections and a ceasefire, which was not fully respected by the Khmer Rouge. UN-sponsored elections in 1993 helped restore some semblance of normalcy under a coalition government. Factional fighting in 1997 ended the first coalition government, but a second round of national elections in 1998 led to the formation of another coalition government and renewed political stability. The remaining elements of the Khmer Rouge surrendered in early 1999. [6]


Spurred by terrorism concerns, the ASEAN states, in May 2002, agreed on an Action Plan that provided for enhanced cooperation in intelligence sharing and coordination of anti-terror laws[7].

In August 2002, ASEAN and the United States issued a “Joint Declaration . . . to Combat International Terrorism," which was followed by an ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) meeting on terrorism, to be jointly sponsored by Malaysia in the US. The US proposed that a regional counterterrorism training center be established in Malaysia. Accompanying the Anti-Terrorism Center is an intelligence-sharing agreement among Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Cambodia, and Thailand, a first meeting of which was held in Manila in January 2003. An obvious question, without a simple answer, is how much SIGINT capabilities these countries have.

Concerns of national identity, and in some cases domestic Islamic constituencies, find cooperation with the U.S. to be a delicate matter for the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Of the ASEAN members, Singapore seems most comfortable in exchanging intelligence information with the US, especially receiving SIGINT in return for HUMINT.

Singapore has established sharing between the United States Pacific Command Joint Intelligence Center and Singapore’s Joint Counterterrorism Center, and Singapore also is leading in accepting US goals for maritime security, with a Strategic Goods Control law in January 2003. That law made Singapore the first major port to meet US homeland security rules for cargo. Singapore wants more US X-ray equipment, and possibly MASINT sensors.

US relations to an ASEAN or other group may be more domestically acceptable, in countries suspicious of the US, than bilateral arrangements. There are obvious reasons for regional nations wanting US intelligence support, including SIGINT. Nevertheless, the eagerness of the US to help against Islamic groups strikes at local sensitivities.


As of 2006, the ASEAN member states had a combined population of about 560 million, a total area of 4.5 million square kilometers, a combined gross domestic product of almost US$1,100 billion, and a total trade of about US$1,400 billion.[8] The ASEAN Vision 2020 established an ASEAN Economic Community, with a goal of creating a single market.

Strengthen existing initiatives

  • ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA)
  • ASEAN Framework Agreement on Services (AFAS)
  • ASEAN Investment Area (AIA;

Market integration

This is not only a free trade and investment goal, but a conscious effort to look at regional integration, facilitating movement of investment and talent, in:

  • air travel
  • agriculture and fisheries
  • e-commerce
  • electronics,
  • vehicles
  • healthcare
  • tourism
  • rubber and wood products
  • textiles and apparel

Economic dispute resoution

Strengthen the existing ASEAN Dispute Settlement Mechanism to ensure expeditious and legally-binding resolution of any economic disputes.


  1. Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Overview
  2. Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Basic Documents
  3. ASEAN Security Community, vol. 2004/2005 ASEAN Annual Report
  4. "Cooperation Among Foreign Intelligence Services", Contemporary Perspectives and Review, 12 January 2007
  5. , Indonesia, ASEAN, and the Third Indochina War, Indonesia Country Studies
  6. Central Intelligence Agency, Cambodia, CIA World Factbook
  7. Sheldon W. Simon (June 2003), U.S. Policy and Terrorism in Southeast Asia, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
  8. Association of Southeast Asian Nations, ASEAN Economic Ministers (AEM)