Credit by ©
Non-Intervention: Key Principle Barrier to ASEAN Integration

Non-Intervention: Key Principle Barrier to ASEAN Integration

ASEAN is one form of regionalism in Southeast Asia. The emergence of new actors in global politics has created new priorities, one of which is regional integration. The existence of this regional organization, in turn, will contribute to the national interests of each member country. It is expected that various cooperation within this organization will be able to maintain the stability of the regionalism process.

In the process of its formation, the presence of ASEAN cannot be separated from the Cold War rivalry. Therefore, it is not surprising that many regional organizations that emerged during the Cold War era were not far from the issue of politics and security. The development of regionalism in this era was based on several factors. First, there are similarities in terms of history and common problems among regional countries. Second, the interconnectedness of regional countries is greater than that of countries outside the region. Finally, the existence of international organizations provides a platform for establishing common rules of the game.

As a regional organization, there are still many parties who see ASEAN walking in place. With its original goal of preventing communist entry into Southeast Asia, ASEAN has yet to make a significant contribution to regional integration. One of the biggest obstacles is ASEAN's principle of non-interference.

Regional Integration that Should be Established

In general, the existence of regional organizations is able to increase regional integration because of the cooperation carried out in these organizations. In addition, regional organizations should provide exclusivity to its members in certain matters, such as providing convenience to its members in removing trade barriers, but not to non-member countries. In this case, ASEAN already has a visa-free policy between ASEAN countries for 30 days, but such integration policies are still very limited and not yet fragmented.

In fact, cooperation among ASEAN countries is more in the form of bilateral cooperation. ASEAN is only seen as a third party or mediator in this interstate cooperation. The lack of interdependence among member states has further hindered the integration process. The regional organization ASEAN does not play a major role in increasing trade activities in its member countries. Cooperation in ASEAN tends to be not only bilateral, but only among states, not among non-state actors.

Also, the degree of member engagement in ASEAN is not as strong. In the European Union organization, for example, there are agreements that bind its members, and penalties for members who violate the agreement. In fact, this binding agreement can form a strong degree of attachment. If the degree of attachment is strong, then the regional organization is more solid.

A Closer Look at ASEAN's Non-Intervention Principle

Although ASEAN has often held international forums, such as the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), it has unfortunately shown its ineffectiveness in negotiations. ASEAN's lack of formal institutions for crisis management and its inability to speak with unanimity is a weakness that affects ASEAN integration. Not to mention the principle of non-interference among ASEAN member states, as stated in the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation. Unfortunately, the existence of this principle has caused ASEAN to always have political attitudes that are very contradictory to each other, even though they are members of the same regional cooperation forum.

Historically, the intensity of war in Southeast Asia has been less destructive than the First and Second World Wars in mainland Europe. This can be used as a reason why the spirit of integration is much higher in Europe than in Southeast Asia. However, from a historical point of view, the majority of countries in Southeast Asia also have something in common: they were both colonized. Undoubtedly, the principle of non-interference in ASEAN arose because the issue of sovereignty is a sensitive one for ASEAN countries. However, in the end, this historical aspect also became a challenge in the ASEAN integration process.

The existence of regional organizations should be able to solve regional problems, but unfortunately ASEAN is unable to do so. For example, the 2011 territorial dispute between Thailand and Cambodia over the ownership of the Preah Vihear temple. ASEAN, as a regional authority, was unable to mediate the conflict and had to hand it over to the United Nations. ASEAN's intervention in response to Cambodia's request for assistance was rejected by Thailand on the basis of the prohibition against interfering in the internal affairs of member states. The number of conflicts among ASEAN countries, and the inability of ASEAN to intervene in these conflicts, is clearly an obstacle to ASEAN integration.

The Future of ASEAN

As a regional organization, ASEAN has a huge gap between the people and the ASEAN institution itself. ASEAN is more synonymous with cooperation between countries, governments and officials than between citizens. In other words, the existence of ASEAN itself is less effective because the existing cooperation is only at the government level. Not to mention that ASEAN's ineffectiveness can be seen in the economic disparities among its members. In fact, ASEAN is still unable to narrow the economic gap among its members.

As a regional organization, ASEAN's level of cooperation is still at the stage of intergovernmental cooperation and has no formal authority to regulate organizational policies. This also makes the organization horizontal. Unfortunately, this has an impact on the difficulty of ASEAN to control the state of the region, one of which is difficult to reduce regional conflicts. The bureaucracy in ASEAN is still not as high as in the European Union, the policies in ASEAN are not as massive, and the idea of regional integration is still not equally accepted by the Southeast Asian community, both in terms of political elites, NGOs, to formal and informal transnational groups.

In terms of law and policy enforcement, the principle of non-intervention must begin to be re-evaluated and changed to the principle of responsible care. The change in principle must also be based on the principle of deliberation and consensus, while prioritizing the interests of the people of the ASEAN region. In addition, openness and transparency should be promoted in every decision-making process to enhance trust among countries. ASEAN must also have a clear formal authority, an emergency policy-making mechanism, and a control mechanism that can bind its member states within the regional organization, especially to solve regional problems.

Nevertheless, ASEAN still has hope for better integration. One of them is to establish visa-free travel among ASEAN countries. This is not easy. For one country, opening its borders may increase the possibility of threats to the country. On the other hand, there have also been cooperation initiatives related to cross-border payments among several ASEAN countries. Although not all ASEAN countries are involved, this can be a hope for the future so that ASEAN can integrate better. It will take a long time to achieve optimal regional integration. Therefore, it requires sustained efforts across various sectors and with the commitment from all member states to achieve it.


  1. Peimani, H. (2020). Disintegration of the EU and the Implications for ASEAN. ADBI Working Paper 1140. Tokyo: Asian Development Bank Institute.

  2. Martin, Ali, Sugiarto Pramono. (2011). Faktor-Faktor Pendorong Integrasi Regional. Spektrum: Jurnal Ilmu Politik Hubungan Internasional, vol, 8, no. 1, pp. 27-38 

  3. Mahendra, Yustika Citra. (2016). Regionalisme Menjawab Human Security: Studi Kasus ASEAN dalam Permasalahan Human Security. Jurnal Transformasi, vol. 3, no. 1, pp. 66-69


What do you think?

Give a comment