ASEAN’s Treaty of Amity & Cooperation and the Nobel Peace Prize: Nomination for 2015?

As the great and the good of the region gathered in Nay Pyi Daw last month for the 21st ASEAN Regional Forum, there was a rather predictable if not dull feeling to it all. They came (with bold promises). They talked (about the South China Sea as always). They went home (after the obligatory photo session of course).

For critics, the whole spectacle was nothing more than a ‘Talking Shop.’ As a former lecturer once joked to this author, the ASEAN acronym stood for ‘all sitting, eating and nodding.’ Yet as any diplomat (or sane person for that matter) would agree, talking is always better than fighting – and this is where ASEAN should be praised. 

While there have been occasional outbreaks of violence in the region, including among ASEAN member-states themselves, the regional organization has always been consistent in its emphasis on dialogue, negotiations, and non-violent means to resolve differences between states in the region. Enshrining this belief is ASEAN’s Treaty of Amity & Cooperation, which to date has 27 signatories including the United States, China, Russia, and the European Union. Among the key principles found in the Treaty of Amity & Cooperation are: (1) settlement of differences or disputes by peaceful means; and (2) renunciation of the threat or use of force.

While detractors may point out that the Treaty’s High Council has never been utilized, only a few years ago Thailand and Cambodia came to deadly blows, and that the South China Sea issue continues to dog the region – they cannot deny that in the absence of ASEAN, the region would be a much darker place than the peaceful, stable and prosperous Southeast Asia that we find today. This speaks to the counterfactual value of ASEAN.

To demonstrate, one only needs to look at Indonesia. As the biggest country in Southeast Asia, Indonesia was not afraid to use force to get its way in the region in the past – launching military offensives in Malaysia, East Timor and West Papua in moves that destabilized the region. Fast forward to this year and Indonesia has signed historic agreements with the Philippines and just recently with Singapore to settle their maritime border disputes after years of negotiations in the spirit of ASEAN and its Treaty of Amity & Cooperation.

Another interesting development to take place this year was news that Article Nine of the Japanese Constitution has been nominated for the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize. A win for the Article, which renounces Japan’s sovereign right to wage war and use/threaten to use force to settle disputes, would build upon 2012 when the European Union was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Recalling that the European Union was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of turning a ‘continent of war’ into a ‘continent of peace’, a question raised in the author’s mind is: Why not ASEAN and its Treaty of Amity & Cooperation?

Certainly the above has demonstrated that ASEAN would be a fitting recipient. ASEAN has turned a region beset by war, conflict and violent political upheavals into one striving towards the ASEAN Community 2015. So if the 21st ASEAN Regional Forum had a predictable and dull feeling to it all, it is worth remembering that the so-called ‘Talking Shop’ spectacle illustrates the laudable fact that former enemies now trade with each other, governments now talk with one another at the negotiating table, and that young men are now no longer being sent to pointlessly die on the battlefield.

With December 31, 2015 being the date when Southeast Asia ushers in the ASEAN Community, the year 2015 may very well be a timely moment for ASEAN and its Treaty of Amity & Cooperation to be recognized for its achievements in securing peace for the peoples of the region: with a Nobel Peace Prize of its own!

 

Written by : A. Ibrahim Almutaqqi, The Habibie Center

Published in The Jakarta Post, 21 September 2014

22 November 2014

ASEAN’s Treaty of Amity & Cooperation and the Nobel Peace Prize: Nomination for 2015?

As the great and the good of the region gathered in Nay Pyi Daw last month for the 21st ASEAN Regional Forum, there was a rather predictable if not dull feeling to it all. They came (with bold promises). They talked (about the South China Sea as always).