ASEAN must focus on human security to maintain relevance

JAKARTA (JP): Focusing on achieving freedom from fear, freedom from want and other issues of human security would maintain the relevance of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for future generations, speakers at a seminar in Jakarta said on Friday.

Researcher Dewi Fortuna Anwar told the one-day talk entitled “ASEAN at a Crossroads” that she disagreed with another speaker’s suggestion to “disperse” the 31-year-old organization, given its apparent failure to extend help to members undergoing political and economic crises.

ASEAN, which now has nine member nations should “shift its focus from the discourse between non-interference and flexible engagement to human security”, she said. Referring to the debate in the region on whether or not a member government should meddle in another’s affairs, she said concerns such as good governance and environmental policies would further determine what would constitute “interference.

The other speakers, Bantarto Bandoro of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, and Ikrar Nusa Bhakti of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, had said ASEAN should do away with its “ASEAN way” of decision-making and its principal of non-interference which was no longer in tune with changing times.

“We should no longer be alarmed if an official of Thailand, for instance, makes remarks on Indonesia or Malaysia,” Ikrar said, because issues which may have been regarded as internal affairs in the past are now often regional issues. He cited the recent reaction of Malaysian politician Baba Ghafar towards the Indonesian press, which he had lambasted for its coverage of what he said was Malaysia’s domestic affairs.

ASEAN members include the Philippines, Brunei, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

The latest challenge to ASEAN’s principal of non-interference came from Philippine President Joseph Estrada on Thursday when he threatened to boycott next month’s Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), citing the imprisonment and reported beating of Malaysia’s former deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim. His press secretary said the remark was “personal.

Ikrar raised the new meaning of “security approach” referring to human security instead of its association with, for instance national security.

Human security, he said, included “freedom from fear, of want, hunger, assault, cruelty, imprisonment without a fair trial and various forms of discrimination.

Familiar aspirations are obvious in ASEAN’s “Vision 2020,” he said, a formula drawn up at the organizations’ 1996 First Informal Summit in Jakarta.

Among others the Vision includes “a community of caring societies” in which societies would all enjoy “the opportunities for total human development.

Sticking to non-interference would render the Vision “just a lot of talk,” Ikrar said, of which ASEAN has had so much.

Bantarto had suggested ASEAN should even disperse as it was at the “brink of disintegration” given its incapability to extend help to members in the midst of political and economic crises.

Dewi, also the Assistant for foreign affairs to the Minister/State Secretary, reminded that among ASEAN’s achievements, regional security was based precisely on the principal of non-interference, which had led the region away from the more volatile characteristics of the 1950s to 1960s.

Besides, she said, as an organization individual states were more”confident” in the international forum.