What Would Happen If ASEAN Never Existed?

What Would Happen If ASEAN Never Existed?
Image by Indonesian Ministry of Finance

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has played a significant role in shaping the political, economic, and social dynamics of the region. But have you ever imagined how the world would have been different if ASEAN had never been formed? In this article, we will discuss some scenarios of what might have happened if ASEAN did not exist.

1. Lack of regional integration

As the new post-Cold War era begins, the central role played by ASEAN and the entities under its umbrella has been a solid pillar in maintaining regional order and standards. It is not just about Southeast Asia, but also provides a strong foundation for the broader order around it.

Consistently, ASEAN has been a regional platform that stands together to advance national policy agendas. In an international framework that tends to focus on individual states mediated by multilateral regimes, regional coherence and unity have a stronger impact than individual actions. Even for ASEAN's largest member, Indonesia, the benefits of collective membership remain significant. Similarly, smaller ASEAN member states, such as Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, and Singapore, naturally benefit enormously from this collective representation.

One of ASEAN's most important contributions has been to galvanize the countries of Southeast Asia into a more integrated entity. Without ASEAN, regional integration might be less advanced, and countries in the region might be more inclined to operate separately. As a result, many of the region's policy agendas have been undermined by the lack of cooperation among regional countries.

2. Greater potential for conflict

Without ASEAN, the risk of conflict between countries in the region may be higher. This is because the weakening of a diplomatic and negotiating forum like ASEAN could lead to more frequent and intense disputes.

First, the organization is able to address the different priorities and goals that exist among its members, thereby reducing the potential for conflict in the region. This is due to its policy of consensus-based decision-making. This approach prioritizes principles that are acceptable to all members. In addition, ASEAN is also a discussion forum for resolving disputes between regional countries and countries outside the region, such as the South China Sea dispute. Ultimately, ASEAN can become a diplomatic forum for conflict resolution, both within the region and outside the region.

This dynamic will continue to take place in a mutually influential interaction between ASEAN as a diplomatic community and the national environment and the broader external context.

3. Limited economic cooperation

ASEAN has developed strong economic cooperation through the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC). Without ASEAN, this cooperation may not have occurred to the same extent. Countries in Southeast Asia may find it more difficult to negotiate trade and investment agreements.

ASEAN countries strongly support trade and investment liberalization. This is ultimately what makes the economic strength of the countries in the region a force to be reckoned with globally. 

Removing ASEAN from the region's economic landscape could potentially undermine the rapid growth momentum that many Southeast Asian markets are now achieving individually. After all, ASEAN has a long track record of contributing to the economic stability of its member states. 

Through its economic policies, ASEAN has been able to reduce trade barriers and tariffs among its member markets and facilitate the mobility of workers seeking opportunities in other member markets. Doing the same elsewhere would have been much more difficult without ASEAN's help. In this way, ASEAN's economic role has opened the door to mutually beneficial cooperation in a dynamic global economy.

4. Limiting the impact on the global

ASEAN has a significant political influence on the international stage. Without ASEAN's presence, member states may have more limited influence on global issues such as trade, environment, and security.

More than a symbol, ASEAN is the leading hand in steering the direction of the region. Various initiatives for interregional cooperation have been initiated through ASEAN. Through structures such as the East Asia Summit, the ASEAN Regional Forum, and the ASEAN Defense Ministers' Meeting Plus, ASEAN has created a platform where dialogue, cooperation, and strategic balance can flourish. 

In ASEAN's view, the ultimate goal is not to provide answers to all problems, but to create opportunities for all countries to jointly contribute solutions to achieve strategic balance. Through positive interactions with ASEAN, not only do Southeast Asian countries grow, but global relations become stronger and more harmonious.

Over time, however, ASEAN has gained a wealth of experience in severing ties that have not always gone smoothly - some for good reasons, while others seem to have missed the point a bit. While it is difficult to prove with certainty in different scenarios, the fact that ten countries with different ideologies, forms of government, capacities, and interests have managed to come together to build the foundations of a long-term community remains an achievement worthy of applause. After more than half a century of following rules-based principles, it is hard to imagine how the region would have fared without ASEAN.

However, it is important to remember that ASEAN is a product of the will and cooperation of the countries of Southeast Asia. ASEAN's presence has brought benefits in many ways, but it also has its challenges and limitations. Over time, the forum must continue to adapt to changing regional dynamics. In any context, considering "What would happen if ASEAN never existed?" helps us understand the importance of regional cooperation in maintaining peace, stability, and progress in the Southeast Asian region.

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