Indonesia and the Future of ASEAN Political Security Community

Pandu Utama Manggala-


Since its inception on 8 August 1967, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has developed many forms of cooperation as ways to achieve its objective to become a “prosperous and peaceful community of Southeast Asian Nations”. For over 40 years, ASEAN claims to have been successful in managing peace and stability in the region because there hasn’t been any major open conflict among its members (ASEAN Secretariat 2009). However, the Thailand-Cambodia territorial dispute and overlapping claims in the South China Sea undoubtedly have been a distraction for regional stability in the region.

As the security dynamics in the region are still far from stable, I  will examine the evolution of the ASEAN Political Security Community (APSC) pillar with the prospects and challenges involved. The focal question that will be addressed is ‘What will the ASEAN Political Security Community look like as an international institution with Indonesia taking the driving role?” Analysing future trends of APSC will be important because ASEAN has always been the first concentric circle of Indonesian foreign policy. Indonesia has an interest to create a peaceful and stable Southeast Asian region because it perceives national growth can be achieved through regional resilience. Therefore, it is important for Indonesian policy makers to identify ASEAN regional security outlook.

To that extent, this essay will be divided into two parts. First, it explains the narrative of the APSC and how it will likely configure the future of ASEAN; and the second part discusses the ‘Indonesia’ factor as one of the key drivers in shaping ASEAN.

ASEAN at a Critical Juncture

At the 9th ASEAN Summit in 2003, leaders of ASEAN agreed to transform ASEAN into a Community in 2015. This transformation will rely on 3 pillars: Political-Security, Economic, and Socio-Cultural. To uphold these 3 pillars, regional stability is thus required. Therefore in 2004, leaders endorsed the APSC Plan of Action to help set the institutional backbone of regional order. Not only does the Plan of Action entail a conflict prevention and resolution mechanism, it also sets ASEAN countries’ commitments to nurture common socio-political values and principles which include democratization, non-alignment, peace oriented attitudes, the avoidance of an arms race, and the renunciation of the use of force (Wibisono 2011, p. 3).

The basic premise of APSC pillar itself is derived from Karl Deutsch’s conception of a security community. Deutsch explained that a security community exists whenever there are integrated states that create reassurances between each other up to a point where they have a sense of community (p. 6). Thus the objective of APSC is to create a regional order that strengthens national resilience while promoting peace and security. It would be based on shared norms and rules of good conduct in the relations among states. Furthermore, APSC is set to be an open and outward-looking community which will have institutionalized mechanisms to prevent and resolve conflicts.

ASEAN leaders themselves have strived to ensure the completion of ASEAN Community by 2015. Members of ASEAN have set among its priorities significant progress in the attainment of the ASEAN Community 2015. However, while the progress in the ASEAN Economic and ASEAN Socio-Cultural pillars seem to be on track to secure the welfare and well-being of the peoples of ASEAN, the progress of ASEAN Political-Security pillar remains in question.

In practice, there is still a huge gap between ASEAN words and deeds. Instead of having institutionalized mechanisms, conflicts among ASEAN members are often resolved bilaterally. The Thailand-Cambodia territorial dispute is only the tip of the iceberg. There are plenty of other territorial disputes among ASEAN countries that have or will undermine ASEAN’s credibility as ASEAN does not have the capable mechanism to resolve the conflicts peacefully.

However on the positive side, even though differing views continue to persist, there is now mutual respect and open attitude towards collectively assessing possible solutions to common problems (Wibisono 2011, p. 3). In addition to that, ASEAN leaders often argue that they have achieved a breakthrough in the management of tensions. For instance is the adoption of the Guidelines to the Declaration on a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (Natalegawa 2011, p. 41).

Therefore, ASEAN is indeed moving in the right direction, but whether ASEAN will stay on the right track or not depends on several factors. ASEAN is indeed at a critical juncture. ASEAN cannot be a durable and successful regional grouping if there are still disputes that cannot be resolved by ASEAN mechanism. As peace and prosperity are intertwined and indivisible in ASEAN, it is thus important for ASEAN member states to strengthen the ASEAN Political Security pillar. I argue that one of the important factors that can strengthen the APSC pillar is the ‘Indonesia’ factor.

‘Indonesia’ factor in shaping ASEAN

Being the biggest country in the region, Indonesia has always been “the leader” of ASEAN. Indonesia always keeps taking “responsibility, encouraging, and ensuring that the countries in the region observe the principles and norms that they agreed to as ASEAN members” (Alexandra 2011). Therefore, Indonesia’s leadership in ASEAN is pivotal in determining the ASEAN future.

Indonesia’s roles have been instrumental in contributing to the development of ASEAN. For instance, the idea of ASEAN Community was thrown in during Indonesia’s chairmanship in ASEAN in 2003. Moreover, Indonesia has also played a key role in the management of a border dispute between Thailand and Cambodia, a role that gained the recognition of the international community at large. These are the examples of when Indonesia asserts its leadership role; there would be a significant development within ASEAN.

There have also been many ups and downs in Indonesia’s leadership in ASEAN. When the Asian financial crisis struck the region in 1997, Indonesia suffered the most domestic turmoil. At that time, Indonesia’s domestic problems had left it unable to lead ASEAN because its primary policy focus was on coping with domestic issues (Smith 1999, p. 248). When Indonesia shifted its primary policy from the region in 1997, there wasn’t any major development in ASEAN for almost 5 years (Wulan & Bandoro 2007, p. 34).

In the next 15 years, the likely future is promising for Indonesia. Buzz about Indonesia began to resonate far and wide as Indonesia has performed remarkably well during the past decade. Many international agencies have published reports for the future trends of Indonesia. Among those international agencies are McKinsey and financial houses. McKinsey Global Institute (2012) reports that Indonesia will be the world 7th largest economy in 2030, while financial houses predicts that Indonesia’s economy will soar and ultimately surpass Japan’s within 15 years.

Given these promising outlooks of Indonesia’s economy, in the near future there could be a strong Indonesia’s leadership in ASEAN. It will mean that Indonesia’s foreign policy will be purposefully designed to develop the ASEAN institution. Indonesia could strengthen the steps in promotion and protection of human rights; could take the lead in initiating the use of regional dispute settlement mechanism to deal with inter-state conflict; and could maintain ASEAN centrality through its intellectual leadership and capacity to engage and serve as equilibrium-maker.

On the other hand, the growing economy of Indonesia could also weaken Indonesia’s leadership in ASEAN. The promising outlook of Indonesia’s economy by various international agencies are also comprised some caveats. If the Indonesian government could not well managed the distribution of growth between the capital and provinces, there could  be a domestic turmoil which would negatively affect Indonesia’s leadership in ASEAN.

Therefore, the ‘Indonesia’ factor is indeed has a big influence in determining the future of ASEAN. If Indonesia is keeping its leadership pace towards the future then it is likely the APSC will be strengthened and become a more integrated political security community that has a permanent dispute settlement mechanism. In sum, the role Indonesia seeks to play in ASEAN will determine the future of ASEAN. Yet of course, what the future of ASEAN is likely to be not only depends on the ‘Indonesia’ factor, but also on how the idea of regionalism embedded in the region and to the extent ASEAN countries’ ability to overcome domestic impediments.


  • Alexandra, LA 2011, ‘Indonesia’s Mediating Role in ASEAN’, The Jakarta Post, viewed 1 September 2012,  <chrome://newtabhttp//>
  • Smith, A 1999, ‘Indonesia’s Role in ASEAN: the End of Leadership?’, Contemporary Southeast Asia, vol. 21, no. 22, pp. 238-260.
  • Suryadinata, L 1998, Politik Luar Negeri Indonesia di Bawah Soeharto (Indonesian Foreign Policy under Soeharto), LP3ES, Jakarta.
  • Wibisono, M 2011, ‘ASEAN Community and the Future Political & Security Challenges in Asia Pacific’, Journal of Foreign Affairs, vol. 28, no. 1, The Policy Analysis & Development Agency, Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Jakarta.
  • Wulan, AR & Bandoro, B (eds) 2007, ASEAN Quest for a Full-Fledge Community, CSIS, Jakarta.




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