Managing Security Challenges in Southeast Asia

To start a success business in Asia or to bring an existing business to Asia requires a very good grasp of the culture you are working with. Culture is more than just the language they speak, or the clothes they wear. (Those are perhaps the least important things to grasp). Understanding history, religion, customs and manners can speak worlds regarding your intent and your hope. As an international studies major in college, I had a great opportunity to study global systems. One that I found extremely interesting was the multi-demensional integration issues of Southeast Asia. Especially as it pertained to global security.

The broad definitions and encompassing pressures that accompany the War Against Terrorism has left very little room for any nations of the globe to remain neutral, “Fence Sitters.” The necessity for international-interdependent communication and diplomacy has increased pressures for regions throughout the world to create a more unified and cooperative security network. This is especially true for the countries of Southeast Asia, as scattered terrorist cells flourish among elusive jungles and uncoordinated government efforts to stop them.

Efforts to coordinate regional security are not new for the countries of Southeast Asia. Emerging from the alliances of the Cold War, several Track I and Track II diplomacy efforts have been developed. These “official” and “secondary” efforts have developed into significant entities that currently shape significant policy making within the region. As coordination between this diplomacy develops, military spending and action have also escalated in the area, resulting in direct and sometimes semantically indirect cooperation from U.S. forces.

Although Southeast Asian terrorist groups are largely “home grown” and not necessarily part of an international terrorist network, the risks of drug trafficking, scattered attacks and information dissemination remain a sizeable and significant front in the War Against Terrorism. By orchestrating an appropriate balance between Track I and Track II diplomacy and cooperative military action, Southeast Asian nations will be able to develop and strengthen their infrastructure to eliminate the terrorist groups and poor policies that currently exist.


ASEAN emerged from the Cold War looking for a new basis from which to develop international security measures. Bilateral treaties with the U.S. and the Five-Power Defense arrangement that existed in Asia were inadequate to meet the growing needs of “non-military” issues, such as transnational crime, environmental hazards and illegal population movement. Moreover, a number of different international defense issues such as maritime policy and nuclear weapon development remained largely unresolved. (p. 6) The ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) was developed to bridge this gap and provide a forum of resolution for these complex matters.

Complexities within the ASEAN-Northeast Asian relationship have been largely serviced by the diplomacy of the ARF. Although ASEAN states remain the host and directing voice of all ARF meetings, the neutral ground provided by the ARF has allowed China, Japan and Korea an opportunity to voice concerns and provide helpful transparency regarding their actions. Although China has been suspicious and slow to accept full legitimacy of the ARF, a number of additional countries have stepped up to join the ranks, bringing global membership to twenty three countries, thus creating the most comprehensive security forum in the world. (p. 9)

Like ASEAN, decisions within the ARF are made by consensus and therefore can take a considerable amount of time to bring about resolution. Fear that countries will be pressured into making policy has also inhibited members from taking official minutes or having public hearings. This results in a very weak direct impact of the ARF on policy development.


The original ASEAN countries, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand had a number of Track II institutions already in place before the formation of the ASEAN alliance. It was clear early on however, that the ASEAN and ARF alliance was unable to handle a large number of security issues and a more developed Track II involvement would be useful. This diplomacy surfaced under the identity of the ASEAN Institute of Security and International Studies (ISIS), which drew from the region’s top academics, businesses, journalists, past politicians and other specialists. Regular meetings and international involvement lead the development and unification of a number of different Track II institutions to form the Councils for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific (CSCAP). Formed in 1993, CSCAP constitutes the broadest Track II security organization in the world (p.11).

CSCAP meetings are based on national delegations with no guarantee of continuity. Funding must be fronted by the nations interested in the discussion at hand. Direct results from the conferences are often identifiable, thought nearly always subtle.


As the Track II counterpart to the ARF, CSCAP often debates regarding how much of its agenda should lead or follow the ARF. Much of the information generated or collected from CSCAP meetings is supplemented material for the ARF and other Track I diplomacy entities. Although CSCAP and ARF often take different approaches to their proposed security solutions, the existing preventive diplomacy maintains a unified call for non coercion and both find numerous ways to cooperate and develop together. Cooperating key leaders among the ARF and CSCAP have achieved several significant milestones and show ever increasing signs of achieving even greater and more significant achievements to come.

Although CSCAP and ARF both work hard to avoid any involvement in domestic affairs, it becomes increasing difficult to separate international from domestic, when so many unkempt and disruptive internal issues spill out into other countries.
Although difficult to separate, the important and almost inescapable role of Track I and Track II diplomacy in domestic/international issues is especially transparent in the current fight against terrorism taking place in Southeast Asia. The added component of military and police force bring an ever increasing importance to the diplomacy that Track I and Track II entities such as ARF and CSCAP can offer.


As the War Against Terrorism continues throughout the globe, Southeast Asia has become a significant battle front. Southeast Asian terrorists groups are, for the most part, domestic threats, although scattered attacks and embryonic efforts at intelligence sharing within the region has begun. The reaction by Southeast Asian states to the U.S. War Against Terrorism ranges from enthusiastic endorsement to quiet backing. Specific concern lies with the domestic and political sensibilities of the Muslim members of the ASEAN nations. Malaysia and Indonesia are slow to fully support U.S. efforts, with Indonesia specifically refusing to incarcerate or even recognize known terrorist groups and activities.

The broad and varying rubric of terrorism allows ample room for adaptation and opportunity for each nation. Many Southeast Asian countries have fully embraced the war against terror, seizing the opportunity to weaken the ruling party’s opposition under the name of global cooperation and cleansing of terrorism.


The broad and complex factors involved in the War Against Terrorism are far too complicated and elusive to be tackled by any single country. Bilateral action with the U.S. and multi-lateral action with countries of the region, are sensitive but necessary steps.

Countries such as the Philippines have embraced cooperation with the U.S. by providing military space and joint training operations. In an effort to limit the shadow cast by U.S. forces, joint training such as Balikatan 02 provides the Philippine military with U.S. leadership and training without officially exercising direct military force. Similar programs are enjoyed by Thailand and Singapore through the Cobra Gold joint training program.

Arguably the most significant influence however, lies in the ability of the region to coordinate intelligence operations and security policies. Current political and social infrastructures are unable to handle to the logistics of a full-scale, unified-multi-lateral security system. It is important that existing structures are strengthened and in some cases, rebuilt to meet the critical need. Organizations such as the ARF and CSCAP, which have stepped up the level of involvement since the September 11th attacks, will continue to play a key role in the development of these international security measures.


Coordinated efforts between ARF and CSCAP have made slow, but significant progress in the development of regional defense policy. Although Southeast Asian terrorist groups are largely “home grown” and not necessarily part of an international terrorist network, the risk of drug trafficking, scattered attacks and information dissemination remain sizeable and a significant front in the War Against Terrorism. Efforts of the US government to achieve a limited level of involvement in military and policing operations in Southeast Asia with programs such as Cobra Gold and Balikatan 02, have also made a significant marked progress in the development of international security. While current infrastructure and systems of many Southeast Asian countries remain a breeding ground for terrorist activity and security failures, some improvement has been seen. The role of Track I and Track II diplomacy is increasingly important as peaceful and stable solutions regarding international security in Southeast Asia are approached. By orchestrating an appropriate balance between Track I and Track II diplomacy and cooperative military action, Southeast Asian nations will be able to develop and strengthen their infrastructure to eliminate the terrorist groups and poor policies that currently exist.

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