ASEAN should Take Account of the Guidance from Neo-Functionalism

ASEAN should Take Account of the Guidance from Neo-Functionalism
illustration ©



By: Mahbi Maulaya

The presence of Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) deemed to be a vehement splice of thunderbolt that making world society being jolted. The deadly virus has brought death to individuals and imported a large scale of economic recession to the plethora of states in Southeast Asia. The prominent intergovernmental organizations in the region, Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), is also the actor facing insurmountable obstacles, whether in carrying out its role as a regional body or in achieving their short and long-term objectives.

Albeit facing some criticism for its slow response (Gomez, 2020), ASEAN has done and planned plenty of endeavors to encounter the virus. Among other instances, aligning the commitment and collective action of its member states through a series of meetings via video conference, actively involved in information sharing, and planning to establish ASEAN COVID-19 Response Funds (ASEAN, 2020; ASEAN b, 2020), a channel to grant essential medical supplies for frontline actions and preventive efforts in all member states (Septiari, 2020).

Needless to say, COVID-19 is a global issue. Thus, it may not even be far-fetched to suggest that International Relations (IR) studies is able to incorporate a role in giving significant advice for, or, discussing it. 

As the notion of ASEAN vs. COVID-19 has been echoed, a question then surface; “What IR’s theory that capable of providing guidance for ASEAN?”. 

Neo-Functionalism is a theory embedded under the yoke of Liberalism school of thought. The theory originated from Ernst B. Haas’s work entitled “Beyond the Nation-State: Functionalism and International Organization”, which published in 1964. 

Despite having stamped by its creator as an obsolete theory, Neo-Functionalism has been labeled as one of the most relevant theories in explaining the blood, veins, organs, and maneuvers of regional integration/body. 

Neo-Functionalism argues that the efforts of regional body and the cooperation between states to enhance people’s well-being can be made effectively if the professionals (who mastered certain fields, such as medical doctors, engineers, economists, lecturers, and etc.) are given more dominant role (Hadiwinata, 2017). In other words, the politicians’ role, which in certain circumstances bring forth particular self-interest, is vaguely limited (yet, it does not mean that it is abolished).

Three fundamental reasons why Neo-Functionalism prefers to believe in experts rather than a politician to achieve regional cooperation goals; 1.) the professionals’ success is greater since they are good in the goal-related field, 2.) the professionals are generally indoctrinated to learn from mistakes, 3.) the professionals assume that responsibility is a very important thing to bear on.
Keterangan Gambar (© Pemilik Gambar)

So far, arguably, ASEAN still eager to enhance the leverage of the politicians over the experts. Considering that the ASEAN atmosphere of cooperation only colored by a large number of government meetings, this opinion then is not baseless. According to ASEAN official site, there have been at least fourteen meetings, whether it among ministries or the head of government of ASEAN member states, in the range of March and April.

The government’s cooperation is essential. Yet, the cooperation should not only rely on ‘number’ or ‘data’.  

In the decision-making process, ASEAN leaders should not neglect the experts’ perspectives and participation. Besides lack of self-interest, the experts are the actors whose job to analyze the reality in the ‘battlefield’. They recognize each problem what COVID-19 has caused with an in-depth look of scientific-based spectacles. Therefore, it is sensible to argue that they are the actors who could come up with more relevant analysis and suggestion.

The ASEAN leaders have indeed involved the experts in dealing with COVID-19. Yet, the playground of the experts is still not significant. 

If the ASEAN leaders are suggested to provide large swathes of participation for the experts, what should they do?

Let us learn from what ASEAN has done.

To create a forum for dialogue on security and defense issues, ASEAN has established a platform named as ASEAN Defense Minister's Meeting (ADM). In achieving its objective, ADMM did not feel reluctant to invite the experts to participate. Take a look at one example when it held 12th ASEAN Defense Minister's Meeting Plus Experts' Working Group on Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (ADMM-PLUS EWG on HADR) in 2018.

To this matter, ASEAN could establish a platform for experts in dealing with COVID-19 by learning from what it has done in security-related issues. The experts cannot escape from the reality that they do not have an executive role. By the established platform, at least, their analysis, opinions, and bits of advice, are surfacing in front of the government’s face. 

The preceding discussion makes it abundantly clear that Neo-Functionalism intends to offer one guidance for ASEAN. In Neo-Functionalism’s lens, ASEAN should give a ticket of admission for professionals and experts to work together under its shade. The nationality of those experts and professionals is not worthy of being attentive, as long as they have reputable expertise in the field of the cooperation that will be managed.

Explicitly speaking, ASEAN’s efforts to stabilize its member states’ economic endurance should well-associated with financial experts.

In another dimension, ASEAN’s endeavors to find the antidote of the virus should focus on supporting medical researchers and doctors. These examples also intercourse with other fields.

*The author is a Research Assistant at Centre for Development and International Studies (CEDIS) of Universitas Muhammadiyah Yogyakarta (UMY). The author can be contacted at: [email protected]




Association of Southeast Asian Nations. (2020). Declaration of the Special ASEAN Summit on Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). Retrieved April 20, 2020, from


Association of Southeast Asian Nations b. (2020). Statement & Communiques. Retrieved May 3, 2020, from


Gomez, Jim. (2020, April 10). ASEAN Ministers Endorse New COVID-19 Response Fund. The Diplomat. Retrieved April 20, 2020, from


Hadiwinata, Sugeng, Bob. (2017). Studi dan Teori Hubungan Internasional; Arus Utama, Alternatif, dan Reflektivis. Yayasan Pustaka Obor Indonesia; Jakarta.


Septiari, Dian. (2020, April 14). Leaders support establishment of ASEAN COVID-19 response fund. The Jakarta Post. Retrieved April 20, 2020, from

Akhyari Hananto

I began my career in the banking industry in 1997, and stayed approx 6 years in it. This industry boost his knowledge about the economic condition in Indonesia, both macro and micro, and how to More understand it. My banking career continued in Yogyakarta when I joined in a program funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB),as the coordinator for a program aimed to help improve the quality of learning and teaching process in private universities in Yogyakarta. When the earthquake stroke Yogyakarta, I chose to join an international NGO working in the area of ?disaster response and management, which allows me to help rebuild the city, as well as other disaster-stricken area in Indonesia. I went on to become the coordinator for emergency response in the Asia Pacific region. Then I was assigned for 1 year in Cambodia, as a country coordinator mostly to deliver developmental programs (water and sanitation, education, livelihood). In 2009, he continued his career as a protocol and HR officer at the U.S. Consulate General in Surabaya, and two years later I joined the Political and Economic Section until now, where i have to deal with extensive range of people and government officials, as well as private and government institution troughout eastern Indonesia. I am the founder and Editor-in-Chief in Good News From Indonesia (GNFI), a growing and influential social media movement, and was selected as one of The Most Influential Netizen 2011 by The Marketeers magazine. I also wrote a book on "Fundamentals of Disaster Management in 2007"?, "Good News From Indonesia : Beragam Prestasi Anak Bangsa di dunia"? which was luanched in August 2013, and "Indonesia Bersyukur"? which is launched in Sept 2013. In 2014, 3 books were released in which i was one of the writer; "Indonesia Pelangi Dunia"?, "Indonesia The Untold Stories"? and "Growing! Meretas Jalan Kejayaan" I give lectures to students in lectures nationwide, sharing on full range of issues, from economy, to diplomacy Less
View all posts

Thank you for reading until here