The ASEAN Security Community: A Misplaced Consensus1

AuthorNicholas Khoo
Published date01 August 2015
Date01 August 2015
Subject MatterArticles
The ASEAN Security
Community: A Misplaced
Nicholas Khoo1
Is the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) a security community?
To many theorists and Southeast Asian specialists, the answer is a resounding
yes. This article interrogates this consensus. The author contends that a greater
sensitivity to empirical evidence and theoretical rigour leads to the conclusion
that the claims of security community theorists are far less compelling than
is claimed.
ASEAN, security community theory, identity, norms
At best, fast food political science explanations of Southeast Asian politics are likely
to give us…is a mixture of truths, half-truths, and invidious confusions. (Woodside,
1978, p. 228)
At the Ninth Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ (ASEAN) Summit meeting
in October 2003, the leaders of the organization formally declared their aim of
establishing an ASEAN community, with the security dimension receiving pride
of place (Declaration of ASEAN Concord, 2003). The aspiration to become a
security community has strengthened with time. ASEAN has declared the year
2015 as the date by which it is to realize its security community vision (ASEAN
Secretariat, 2009). Amid the flurry of activity, a basic question needs to be posed:
Are interpretations of ASEAN as a security community convincing? Or, do they
1 Senior Lecturer, Department of Politics, University of Otago, New Zealand
Corresponding author:
Nicholas Khoo, Department of Politics, 4N4, Arts (Burns) Building, Albany Street, University of
Otago, Dunedin, 9054, New Zealand.
Journal of Asian Security
and International Affairs
2(2) 180–199
2015 SAGE Publications India
Private Limited
SAGE Publications
DOI: 10.1177/2347797015586126
Khoo 181
represent, to borrow from Alexander Woodside (1978, p. 228) a misplaced ‘fast
food’ consensus, confusing, rather than enlightening? If one were to consult a
good portion of the academic literature on this topic, the answer to the question
posed is clear: with appropriate qualification for individual differences of opinion,
ASEAN can be interpreted as a security community (Acharya, 1995, 2001, 2009,
2012; Bellamy, 2004; Collins, 2007; Dewi, 2003; Peou, 2005; Sopiee, 1986;
Sukma, 2003), even if there is divergence on whether this is to be welcomed (or
not) (Kuhonta, 2006, p. 339; Kupchan, 2012, p. 218; Burke & McDonald, 2007,
p. 14), or if progress is anything more than marginal (Acharya, 2009, pp. 297–298;
Emmerson, 2005, p. 181; Khong, 1997, p. 337, 2004, pp. 190–192). There are
only a few dissenting voices to this view (Cotton, 2002; Ganesan, 2005; Jones &
Smith, 2001, 2007; Jones, 2012, pp. 223–224; Khoo, 2004, 2014).
This article evaluates the near consensus that ASEAN can be satisfactorily
interpreted with reference to the security community concept. Its central claim
is that the concept illuminates neither intra-ASEAN relations nor ASEAN’s
relations with China, its leading trading partner and major security concern. The
argument will be laid out in the following stages. First, the concept is defined.
Second, we interrogate the concepts of identity and norms that analysts claim
have played a central role in the evolution of ASEAN as a security community.
Next, we examine the empirical record for systematic evidence as to whether
ASEAN is a security community. Finally, ASEAN has attempted to project its
security community model of conflict resolution onto the wider East Asian
region. We explore this effort via ASEAN’s interactions with China over the
South China Sea issue.
Security Community Theory
In referring to ASEAN as a security community, ASEAN policymakers and schol-
ars are drawing on a concept that was first introduced to the academic literature
by Karl Deutsch and his colleagues in the 1950s, as a way to understand European
integration (Deutsch et al., 1957). The concept found its way to the field of
Southeast Asia’s international relations in the mid-1980s (Sopiee, 1986, p. 229).
Formally defined,
a security community is considered as a group which has become integrated, where
integration is defined as the attainment of a sense of community, accompanied by for-
mal or informal institutions or practices, sufficiently strong and widespread to assure
peaceful change among members of a group with ‘reasonable’ certainty over a ‘long’
period of time. (Deutsch, 1961, p. 98)
The relations between states in a security community are characterized by the
absence of war and the absence of significant organized preparations for war, such
as military contingency planning. Competitive military build-ups or arms races
between members of the security community should also be absent (Deutsch,
1961, pp. 98–99).

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