Strengthening ASEAN’s Political-Security Pillar through Pool of Sovereignty

Written by Turin Airlangga, student at the Graduate School of Asia Pacific Studies (GSAPS), Waseda University Tokyo, Japan. He can be reached


ASEAN as an entity and Southeast Asia as a region emerged as important key players in the global political landscape after 51 years of its establishment. Economic growths and prosperity has propelled ASEAN member countries to important roles in the world. However, ASEAN still face challenges in dealing with certain issuespredominantly due to the non-interference and consensus-based principles it adheres to. How can ASEAN move forward as new challenges and opportunities emerge? This article examines the importance of giving ASEAN greater mandate through pool of sovereignty, requiring a more progressive approach to the political-security pillar that will result in stronger mandate and power for ASEAN governing bodies.

Keywords: pool of sovereignty, political-security pillar, ASEAN.



The year 2018 marked the 51st anniversary of ASEAN. After its establishment in 1967, half a century has passed since the five original founding members signed the Bangkok Declaration (Keling et al., 2011; Intal, Jr.&Chen, 2017).The momentum of ASEAN establishment correlated deeply with the global political situation at the time, mainly due to the heightened tensions between the two camps during the Cold War. At that moment, it was understandable for all founding members to put political and security issues at the top of the priorities to address for the newly established association, especially when the fighting in Vietnam has developed a concern that it could have had tremendous impacts and affected the entire region. After 51 years, however, Southeast Asian countries prove that it could transform as one of the fastest and robustly growing sub-region in Asia Pacific. ASEAN as an entity has been praised as one of a success story of regional integration that brought not only peace and security among its member countries, but also wider socio-economic growth and has seen tremendous increase in general prosperity (Minh, 2017).

In achieving and becoming ASEAN as we know today, the ‘ASEAN way’has been a core principle among its member countries, especially when it touches upon a highly sensitive issue of non-interference principle among the member countries. Ultimately, through non-interference principle, ASEAN member countries can manage the regional dynamics without disturbing the security balances among the members, particularly due to the fact that Southeast Asian region is, until today, one of the most politically and culturally diverse region where political unrest can trigger massive domino-effects throughout the region (Masilamani & Peterson, 2014). Through the ASEAN way, member countries can utilize informal approaches to resolutions and peaceful dialogues that could address the situation without causing considerable damages and affect to other countries (Masilamani & Peterson, 2014). The political and security pillar as one of the fundamental elements of ASEAN, has been under heavy scrutiny when national interests and security-related issues became a major roadblock for some ASEAN member countries to move forward and achieve specific milestone on certain issues because each member countries put forward their national interests beyond the regional interests as a whole and often times cited ASEAN’s non-interference principle as the basis of such deliberation (Mogato&Grudgings, 2018).

As ASEAN needs to continue moving forward to have greater regional integration dynamics that are more robust, progressive, and inclusive, how can the member countries approach the political-security pillar? Should a different approach be applied in order to strengthen ASEAN’s political bargaining position in the global world?

Pool of sovereignty forstronger ASEAN Governing Bodies

The non-interference principle that ASEAN chose to embed in its political culture has been widely debated in the academic and professional realms (Jones, 2009). The debates have been revolving mainly on the humanitarian issue and the sovereignty issue, the majority of which ended in deadlock and left more questions than it tried to initiallyanswer. ASEAN’s governing body in Jakarta did not sit idle on the matter either. The ambitious Political-SecurityCommunity (APSC)laid out a comprehensive plan which ASEAN member countries aimed to achieve, particularly building a community of nations based on rule of law, oriented towards the prosperity of its people, and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms (ASEAN Secretariat, 2017). As stipulated on the APSC, the existing and emerging challenges require ASEAN to adopt a ‘comprehensive approach’ to security issues (ASEAN Secretariat, 2017).

When we think of existing and emerging challenges, traditional and non-traditional security threats came to our minds, such as territorial disputes among or with other countries, or newly emerging threats such as terrorism and piracies. However, I argue that one of the most important issues to address in the APSC is how ASEAN member countries pool their sovereignty into making the ASEAN governing body stronger as an entity. More often than not, ASEAN member countries opt to preserve their sovereignty by advocating for the non-interference principle, fearing that allowing outside involvement will inevitably translate to breach of one’s own sovereignty. Now, I am not advocating ASEAN to rebuild the entire political-security pillar as a mean of engaging the emerging challenges that ASEAN and its member countries face (Camroux, 2008; Ha, Thuzar, Das &Chalermpalanupap, 2016),yet as intra- regional dynamics become more complex and global opportunities emerge, ASEAN member countries need to embark on a new set of political-security approach that will effectively bring forward the member countries in one direction.

In order to effectively move forward in addressing challenges, ASEAN member countries need to bestow greater mandate to the ASEAN governing bodywhich result in more efficient policy-decision making for the greater good of the region instead of individual member countries. An international organization harness its authority based on two factors: membership and scope of policy it possess (Hooghe& Marks, 2014). This means the greater size and responsibility of an organization will decide whether the central governing body of that organization can be effective in delivering results or will it be constrained by the interests of its members.Pooling of sovereignty does not necessarily translate to loss of it per se, but rather a process where joint decision is formulated, consisting of three principal factors: rules where member countries formulate a decision, ratification of the decision, and legally-binding mechanisms after they are ratified (Hooghe& Marks, 2014).

When ASEAN member countries pool their sovereignty together to the ASEAN governing body, they harness stronger political bargaining for ASEAN because all member countries have the firm support and legitimacy from the other members instead of going it alone in the international fora.

Insofar, the non-interference and consensus-based principles that ASEAN adhere to have been proven to mimic the function of a brake when the challenges that the region faces required a full function of a throttle. The consensus-based principle hinders the ability for all member countries to move forward as an entity because one disagreement from a member will translate to failure as a whole. Consequently, when all member countries have veto powers, the barrier to reach considerable reform will be difficult, if not relatively impossible (Hiep, 2016).

As ASEAN needs to continue progress forward to achieve better regional integration and more comprehensive organization that delivers greater results for its member countries, non-interference and consensus-based principles need to be reevaluated. Sudden changes such as complete abolishment of the two will most likely to deliver faulty results or worse. If ASEAN member countries realize that having greater power as one entity could very well translate to greater bargaining position in the international stage, ASEAN governing body can have stronger mandate in dealing with the challenges that the region faces. While the socio-cultural and economic pillars have received more attention for growth and integration, political-security pillar will function as a firm foundation within ASEAN that will provide a forward trajectory as an entity. Consider such issue: if one member countries decide to cast its own political trajectory independent of what ASEAN has decided to pursue, this leeway can be a loophole for bigger powers to divide ASEAN. When critical issue such as the South China Sea disputes require tremendous political commitments from the member countries, having one member divert from the others will only cause internal rift that could result in

As regionalism becomes more important and governments realize that their individual size and power can be multiplied through the membership and power of ASEAN as a regional entity, political-security integration will embark on a fresh start which includes new sets of policy aims and goals for the interests of all ASEAN member countries.The APSC blueprint provides yet another firm trajectory for the region as a whole, but a leap forward in realizing the different approach on the pool of sovereignty among the members can provide ASEAN governing body greater political and bargaining power in the future.


Five decades have passed since the formation of ASEAN and new challenges as well as opportunities are emerging to the surface. As one of the fastest growing regions in the world, Southeast Asia and ASEAN itself needs to reconsider its political-security approach in order to form a solid foundation to address numerous challenges both in the regional and global levels. By pooling of sovereignty, thus adding a firm structure at the political-security pillar and giving more mandates to the ASEAN governing body, member countries can enjoy more bargaining power and greater political prowess in the global political arena. Doing so will require ASEAN member countries to rethink its political-security approach which accommodates for greater political integration in the future.

Converging into a more comprehensive approach to the political-security pillar might take considerable efforts and time by the ASEAN member countries as each regime must come to understand that the regional interests are more important to achieve greater integration and forward progress. Consensus-based and non- interference principles shall be reconsidered to harness ASEAN’s potential prowess in the global fora, thus creating effective decision-making mechanisms within the ASEAN governing body and interests that represent the entire region. ASEAN’s tremendous potential in innovation and resilience can be further increased if all member countries come together and realize that in today’s hyper-connected global dynamics, standing alone in the global fora is not a favorable position to be in. ASEAN has come a long way, and being resilient and innovative will require more than solely national interests; it require stronger ASEAN that delivers and promotes prosperity for its members. New approach to the political-security pillar might just be the key towards achieving that goal.




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