Abstract. This article examines the stages of establishing a Southeast Asian regional complex from the end of the 1940s to the present day. The prehistory of creating a regionwide organization that would allow the building of a collective regional identity is described. Insight is gained into the concept of creating the ASEAN community and its individual components. The historical evolution and current state of the mechanism by which ASEAN functions are described. It is noted that ASEAN’s collective efforts to cultivate interregional ties, a conscious design of a special ASEAN identity within Southeast Asia facilitate the establishment of a regional complex.

An internal integrational community that has a collective consciousness and thus a shared identity is usually referred to as a regional complex.1 Southeast Asia’s regional complex in the form we know today began forming after World War II, when the region’s colonial countries started to gradually gain their independence. Indonesia and Vietnam declared the creation of sovereign states in 1945; the Philippines, in 1946; Burma (now Myanmar), in 1948; Laos, in 1949; Cambodia, in 1953; Malaya, now Malaysia, in 1957; Singapore, in 1965; and Brunei Darussalam, in 1984. The latest changes to the political map of Southeast Asia came in 2002, when Timor-Lesti (East Timor) declared its independence.

Southeast Asia initially described itself as a “geopolitical environment” in the sense of that term proposed by the Russian foreign-policy expert A.D. Bogaturov. This is an inert, passive medium whose function is to “politically personify a geographical expanse, be part of its raw material resource landscape, and serve as a cultural/civilizational component or factor of regional social and political thought.”2 Over time, however, the environment began to consolidate as it advanced along the path of regional integration, acquiring features of subjectivity. A natural result of this evolution was the formation of a regional complex personified by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

ASEAN celebrated its golden jubilee on August 8, 2017. It was on that day 50 years earlier that the five founding countries (Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and the Philippines) signed the Bangkok Declaration, laying the institutional foundation of regional integrational processes.

Prehistory of ASEAN’s Creation

The first proposals to create a regional organization for cooperation between the nations of Southeast Asia were made toward the end of the 1940s. Calls for political unification of the peoples of Southeast Asia, who had suffered under the yoke of colonial rule and were striving to gain independence, were heard repeatedly from the mouths of prominent national figures of that time. In 1946, General Aung San, the architect of Burmese independence, came forward with the idea of creating a United States of Indochina in the form of Burma, French Indochina, Malaya, Thailand, and Indonesia. Other leaders of Southeast Asian countries advanced unification initiatives as well.3 However, the international political situation in the region prevented these projects from coming to fruition.

The growing confrontation between the superpowers led to the creation in 1954 of the military and political Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) under the aegis of the United States, which had a clearly expressed anti-Communist orientation. The Asian countries that belonged to it were Pakistan (when it still included the territory of today’s Bangladesh), Thailand, and the Philippines. The military and ideological core of SEATO consisted of the United States, Great Britain, France, Australia, and New Zealand. Despite its declared goal of ensuring collective security, SEATO was essentially an instrument for conducting American policy in the region. It is noteworthy that SEATO’s organizers included South Vietnam in its sphere of influence, as a “free” nation resisting “Communist aggression” from North Vietnam.4 The creation of SEATO met with the categorical displeasure of most Asian countries, which did not want to be drawn into the confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union.

In response to the creation of SEATO, a conference of Afro-Asian solidarity attended by 29 countries was held in 1955 in the Indonesian city of Bandung. Southeast Asia was represented at the conference by Burma and Indonesia (two of its organizers), Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, the Philippines, North Vietnam, and South Vietnam.5 This was perhaps the first attempt at trust-based, constructive cooperation between the countries of the region, which adhered to different social and political platforms and ideological tenets. The principles of peaceful coexistence supported by the delegates to the Bandung conference would subsequently lie at the heart of the ideology of “national and regional perseverance” reflected in ASEAN’s founding documents.

The idea of regional integration in Southeast Asia was once again on the agenda in the late 1950s and early ‘60s, thanks to the leadership of Malaya, which had launched an initiative to create a Southeast Asia Friendship and Economic Treaty (SEAFET) Organization. It was proposed that along with Malaya itself, the latter would include the Philippines, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Thailand, and South Vietnam. The initiators of SEAFET were of the opinion that economic, not military or political, principles should lie at the heart of the association. However, despite the emphasized apolitical nature of this integrational project, Kuala Lumpur’s proposal was not supported by the presumed participants (with the exception of the Philippines and Thailand).6

Convinced they would be unable to persuade the region’s non-Communist countries to join their ranks, official representatives of the Federation of Malaya, the Philippines, and Thailand gathered in Bangkok in late July and early August 1961 to ceremoniously announce the creation of a new subregional organization, the Association of Southeast Asia (ASA). ASA was noteworthy in that it became the first integrational grouping created by the countries of the region themselves, without the direct participation of outside forces. Although it had clear anti-Communist leanings, the founding countries especially emphasized that “the Association is in no way connected with any power or bloc, and it is not directed against any other country.”7

However, despite the ideological similarity of Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, and Manila, there were definite disagreements among them that hindered effective operation of the Association. The Philippines particularly protested the intention to bring Malaya, Singapore, and Brunei, Sarawak, and Sabah – the British protectorates on the island of Borneo (the Malay name), also known as Kalimantan (the Indonesian name) Brunei, Sarawak, and Sabah – into the Malaysian Federation, insisting that Sabah was traditionally a Philippine territory. A similar position of “confronting Malaysia” was held by Indonesia, which was not part of ASA but, like the Philippines, laid claim to the British territories of northern Kalimantan.

In an attempt to propose an alternative to the Malaysian Federation’s proposal, the Indonesian government launched an initiative to create a subregional organization that would include all countries with a predominantly Malay population. In March 1963, the heads of government of three such countries (Indonesia, Malaya, and the Philippines) held a conference in Manila at which an agreement was reached on creating a Greater Malayan Confederation (also known as Maphilindo) in order to “solve Asian problems in the Asian way and by the Asians themselves.”8 However, Maphilindo fell apart after the formation of the Malaysian Federation on September 16, 1963. The Philippines left ASA, and the operations of the latter were de facto paralyzed. The Association, a forerunner of ASEAN, existed formally for another four years, until it dissolved itself in 1967.

Even though the Philippines did not initially recognize Malaysia, relations between the two countries were normalized a year later with the United States acting as an intermediary. As early as June 1966, both countries were present at the founding conference of the Asia-Pacific Council (AZPAC) in Seoul, in which nine non-Communist countries participated. This regional “club of the like-minded” brought together all of Washington and London’s Asian allies: Japan, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Taiwan, South Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines, and Malaysia.9 Despite its formal representativeness, however, the creation of AZPAC was a step backward when compared to ASA, since it turned the countries of the region into a model of “imposed” cooperation that bound them to essentially “be friends” against other countries of Southeast Asia (especially socialist North Vietnam). The creation of AZPAC thus did not facilitate the processes of regional integration in Southeast Asia; instead, it most likely hindered them by strengthening the existing division of its countries into Communist, anti-Communist, and neutral. At the same time, the need for a political association of the countries of Southeast Asia within the confines of effective regional institutions had not lost its relevance. The Philippines returned to ASA after diplomatic relations between Manila and Kuala Lumpur were restored, but the organization already did not meet the needs of the time. A new inclusive format had to be developed which allowed for changes that had taken place in the region: the fall of Sukarno in Indonesia and the coming to power of the anti-Communist General Suharto, who had ended the campaign of “confrontation with Malaysia”; the emergence of an independent Singapore on the political map; the start of the Cultural Revolution in China, and the activation of radical leftist groups supported by Beijing in the countries of Southeast Asia; and the internationalization and escalation of the Vietnamese conflict.

All of these events were a prologue to the emergence of the next integrational initiative, this time bringing together Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, and Thailand, which essentially became the successor to ASA. The new subregional organization was dubbed the Association of East Asian Nations (ASEAN). At an August 1967 meeting of the quintet’s foreign ministers in Bangkok, there were few who could have predicted its future with certainty. Territorial disputes between Thailand and Malaysia, Malaysia and Indonesia, and the Philippines and Malaysia continued to cloud bilateral relations. These countries were nevertheless ready to set aside their mutual claims for the sake of solving more pressing problems affecting the entire region.

The next attempt to create an East Asian integrational group was made under conditions where the region’s non-Communist countries had to consolidate in the face of foreign and domestic threats. The open interference of the United States in the conflict between Hanoi and Saigon turned Southeast Asia into the epicenter of American-Soviet confrontation, evoking fear among nonaligned countries and American allies alike. The “Communist threat” had another domestic dimension for the countries of the region: the need to combine efforts in combating radical leftist insurgent groups sponsored by China, who brought the Cultural Revolution onto their territory.

As Russian researcher V.G. Orlov notes, ASEAN was created by applying interregional processes to extraregional challenges. Having arisen with the approval of the United States and Great Britain as a counterweight to pro-Communist regimes that were oriented, to one degree or another, toward the Soviet Union, it quickly ceased participating in direct confrontation between systems, marking its existence as an active player in the international arena.10 It may, therefore, be said that ASEAN’s historical success was due to mighty centripetal factors of an interregional nature that were stronger than the centrifugal tendencies fostered by extraregional powers.

Despite ASEAN’s anti-Communist character, the founding countries had from the beginning planned for other regional countries to join the Association. Its founding document, the Bangkok Declaration of 1967, stated directly that ASEAN was “open for participation to all states in the Southeast Asian region subscribing to [its] aims, principles, and purposes.”11

Burma was invited to join the Association multiple times in the 1960s and 1970s; in January 1984, a similar invitation was accepted by Brunei, which had gained its independence from Great Britain.12 However, large-scale expansion of the Association became possible only after the end of the Cold War and overcoming the region’s split between the Communist and anti-Communist blocs. Vietnam joined ASEAN in July 1995; Myanmar (formerly Burma) and Laos, in July 1997; and Cambodia, in April 1999.13 Despite the predictions of skeptics, the Association thus successfully survived the inevitable crises of growth and demonstrated its viability in practice.

ASEAN’s Legal and Regulatory Base

In analyzing ASEAN’s legal and regulatory base,14 we can distinguish five stages in the Association’s institutional development.15

Self-awareness (1967-1976). In the first period of its existence, ASEAN was a fairly ephemeral political and economic construct whose member countries were primarily trying to overcome the discord that existed between them and develop coordinated approaches to solving common problems. A detailed list of the problems facing the members of the Association was drawn up in the Bangkok (ASEAN) Declaration, which their foreign ministers signed in August 1967. It stated the intention of the Association’s founders to create a framework mechanism of regional cooperation to achieve three main goals:

  • stimulating economic growth, social progress, and cultural development on the basis of joint actions;
  • strengthening peace and security in Southeast Asia;
  • developing cooperation and mutual assistance in matters of common interest in economic, social, cultural, technical, scientific, and administrative spheres.

It is clear from the above that ASEAN was originally thought of as a “mutual assistance club” and not as an economic union or military and political bloc. Problems of guaranteeing security were permanently part of the Association’s agenda, due to the complicated international situation in the region.

Coming of age (1976-1992). The first ASEAN summit was held on the Indonesian island of Bali in February 1976, and a new stage of the organization’s institutional development began. It was in this period that the foundations were laid for the regionwide ideology later dubbed “the ASEAN Way.” Its key principles were laid down in the 1976 Bali Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia:

  • mutual respect for the independence, sovereignty, equality, territorial integrity, and national identity of all countries;
  • the right of each country to freedom from foreign interference, submission, and compulsion;
  • noninterference in one another’s domestic affairs;
  • resolving conflicts and disputes by peaceful means;
  • rejecting the use of force or threats;
  • effective mutual cooperation.

Accepting the resolutions of the ASEAN Way meant all interested parties would participate in informal consultations aimed at seeking agreement on one problem or another.16 If no consensus was reached during negotiations, a decision on the matter was deferred indefinitely. This mechanism of decision-making traces its origins to the traditional principles of deliberation (musyawarah, in Bahasa Indonesia) and reaching agreement and solidarity (mufakat), where a compromise version acceptable to all participants of a debate is proposed in the course of discussing different points of view.

Since ASEAN was created under conditions of regional instability and mutual distrust among the founding countries that was sparked not only by ethnic, linguistic, and religious divisions but by ideological conflicts and territorial disputes as well, this way of decision-making proved to be the most effective tool for building mutual trust and developing pragmatic cooperation within the Association.

Among the important political documents of this period was the Manila Declaration, signed in December 1987 immediately after ASEAN’s third high-level meeting and summarizing the results from the first twenty years of the Association’s existence. An important point of the Manila Declaration was its statement of the ASEAN countries’ intent to create a Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone (NWFZ).17 This initiative showed the Association was prepared to solve the problems of security in the region through dialog with the great powers.

Expansion (1992-1999). ASEAN’s fourth jubilee summit was held in Singapore in January 1992. The Singapore Declaration adopted at it summed up the Association’s main achievements over the past quarter century and laid out key guideposts of its future development. It particularly stressed the open character of the organization, its readiness to discuss problems of regional security with all countries of the region (including the socialist states of eastern Indochina) and extraregional partners in dialog. As a practical step toward realizing this goal, it called for the creation of an ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), a negotiation mechanism of preventive diplomacy capable of extinguishing conflicts in their early stages and facilitating the peaceful resolution of disputes. The first session of the ARF took place in Bangkok in July 1994, and one has been held every year since.

It was also decided at the Singapore summit to hold meetings between the leaders of the sextet regularly (once in three years) instead of “when needed,” as was stipulated in earlier documents.

Having signed the Bali agreement, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos acquired the status of permanent ASEAN observers in July 1992, and Vietnam was officially admitted to the Association in July 1995. During the fifth ASEAN summit, held in Bangkok in December 1995, the leaders of the Association’s septet conducted informal negotiations with the heads of state of Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar.18 Based on their results, ASEAN’s intent to bring all ten of the Southeast Asian countries into its ranks by the end of the century was stated in the summit’s closing declaration. As is well known, this task was successfully completed.

The program declaration ASEAN’s Vision for 2020, adopted at the second informal ASEAN summit held in Kuala Lumpur in December 1997 was another important document signed during this period. Along with political documents, this declaration emphasized the importance of the region’s economic integration. The resolve of the Association’s member countries to create an ASEAN free trade area (AFTA), stated in the Singapore Declaration of 1992, was stressed in particular. Also set were the goals of creating an ASEAN investment zone, a unified ASEAN energy system, trans-ASEAN gas and water pipelines, and developing renewable sources of energy.

Yet another program document, the Hanoi Development Plan, in which concrete steps toward achieving the goals set in the ASEAN Vision for 2020 were described, was adopted at the sixth ASEAN summit, held in Hanoi in December 1998. In addition, the Hanoi Declaration stressed the need for further intensification of regional integration processes.

Institutionalization (1999-2007). ASEAN summits (official and unofficial) started to be held annually in the late 1990s. Since the mid-2000s, they have been held twice a year. A trend toward the functional development of mechanisms for intra-ASEAN cooperation has been noted during this period. If the heads of state and government of the ASEAN countries were limited earlier to adopting ceremonial declarations on the next anniversary of the Association’s founding, their agenda in the new stage of its development was enlarged by meaningful documents regulating ASEAN’s activities in concrete spheres of mutual interest to the member countries.

The Bali Declaration of ASEAN Concord II, a revised version of the 1976 Declaration of ASEAN Concord, was presented at the ninth official meeting of the leaders of the ASEAN ten, held on the Indonesian island of Bali in October 2003. The document stated for the first time the intention of the region’s countries to build an ASEAN Community based on three pillars: cooperation in the sphere of politics and security, economic cooperation, and sociocultural cooperation. The Declaration contained a detailed description of all three components of the ASEAN Community, stressing its fundamental difference from defensive pacts, military alliances, protectionist blocs, and other customary forms of regional cooperation. The Vientiane Action Program for creating the ASEAN Community and its individual components between 2004 and 2010 was approved at the next summit, held in Laos in November 2004.

The Association’s thirteenth summit, held in Singapore in November 2007, was marked by the adoption of a historic document: the ASEAN Charter, which took effect on December 15, 2008. It confirmed the then-existing structure of the Association’s governing bodies: the ASEAN summits; the ASEAN Coordination Council, consisting of the Association’s foreign ministers; the ASEAN Community Councils; the ASEAN Sectoral Ministerial Bodies; the ASEAN Secretariat; the ASEAN National Secretariats; and the Council of Permanent Representatives of the ASEAN member countries. The Charter also called for establishing an ASEAN fund and a special ASEAN bureau of human rights. The existing mechanism of consultation and consensus was designated as the fundamental basis of cooperation between the member countries.

In addition, the group of ten initiated the creation of the ASEAN Maritime Forum to act as a venue for dialog and the exchange of experience between government experts and the academic community on a wide range of issues for ensuring freedom of navigation. Representatives of the ASEAN ten and eight regional partner countries participate in the Forum: Russia, the United States, China, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand. The inaugural meeting of the Maritime Forum was held in Surabaya, Indonesia, in July 2010.

Transformation (2007-present). ASEAN’s evolution is at today’s stage determined by program documents approved in the early 2000s. Of special importance among the documents adopted in this period is the 2009-2015 Road Map for an ASEAN Community (Thailand, March 2009), which summarized the tasks of its projects in the spheres of politics and security, an economic community, and a sociocultural community during that interval in the course of building the ASEAN Community.

Also worthy of mention are the Bali Declaration of ASEAN Accord III (Indonesia, November 2011), which presented an adjusted action plan for 2013-2017, and the Bandar Seri Begawan (Brunei, October 2013) and Neipido (Myanmar, November 2014) declarations, two visions of the ASEAN Community after 2015.

It was ceremoniously announced at the 27th ASEAN summit, held in Malaysia in November 2015, that the agreement to establish the ASEAN Community would take effect from December 31, 2015. In addition, the Association’s heads of state and government adopted the latest program document, titled ASEAN 2025: Forging Ahead Together, which presented the main lines of the Association’s subsequent evolution over the next ten years. It included projects for developing the Community in the spheres of politics and security, an economic community, and a sociocultural community; a general plan for achieving connectivity;19 and a third working plan of Initiative for ASEAN integration in the period 2015-2025.

A conceptual document titled ASEAN Leaders’ Vision Statement on Partnership for Sustainability, which listed ten key principles of continuity and sustainability, was adopted at the 32nd summit, held in Singapore in April 2018. Of interest are the list’s eighth and tenth points, where regional sustainability is linked directly to “strengthen[ing] ASEAN identity” and “promot[ing] and protect[ing] human rights and fundamental freedoms.” It should be noted that this does not mean the liberal interpretation of human rights and freedoms; rather, it refers to the one set forth in the 2012 ASEAN Declaration on Human Rights. In other words, the ASEAN leaders view strengthening the ASEAN identity and honoring basic human rights and freedoms in the context of “Asian values,” the spirit of which permeates this document.

As authors at the RAS IFES have noted, “Regional identity is based neither on geographical proximity nor a common history, and not even on political unity or similarity of culture and experience. These are all undoubtedly important elements, but they are not enough for regional identity. It is born through close cooperation between governments, and relies on support from broad strata of society. The rise of multilateral institutions in recent decades and the growing trend toward regionalism have created a definite sense of regional identity in Southeast Asia, with national identity being preserved in each country.”20 Regional identity thus does not exclude national identity; on the contrary, the former is built on the latter, as it were, creating among the population of the region’s countries a sense of belonging to a single community.

How ASEAN Operates

According to the ASEAN Charter, the ASEAN summit is the Association’s highest body, bringing together its heads of state and government. Each summit defines ASEAN’s political goals and makes key decisions on how to achieve them, and how to emerge from crisis situations in accordance with the principles of deliberation and unanimity. The high-level meetings are held twice a year under the supervision of the organization’s chairman-country. The chairmanship of ASEAN is transferred annually from one member of the Association to another in English’s alphabetical order, but there have been exceptions to this rule (for example, Myanmar had to forfeit its chairmanship in 2004 for domestic political reasons).

The governing body second in importance is the ASEAN Coordination Council, which consists of the member countries’ foreign ministers, who meet a minimum of two times a year to prepare the agendas for the ASEAN summits and monitor the observance of their resolutions. This task also includes coordinating the three councils of the ASEAN communities to ensure the complementary dependence of their strategies, improve their effectiveness, and bring about coordinated interaction between them. The ASEAN community councils are in turn responsible for the activity of the corresponding sectoral ministerial bodies and are answerable to the Association’s heads of state and government. Their sessions are held a minimum of twice a year and are overseen by the ministers of the Association’s member countries responsible for specific spheres: security, economics, and sociocultural cooperation.

An administrative body of the Association that is no less important is its Secretariat, which is headquartered in Jakarta, Indonesia. The Committee of Permanent Representatives to ASEAN, in which each country of the ten appoints its own permanent representative of ambassador rank, was created on the base of the Association’s Secretariat to improve cooperation between the member countries. In addition, ASEAN national secretariats were created in the member countries to coordinate the execution of ASEAN resolutions on the national level, while informing the local public and business community about the opportunities offered by the Association.

ASEAN’s General Secretary is appointed to a five-year term by the chief executives of the member countries and cannot serve more than once. Certain demands are made of those who aspire to this post. They must be citizens of the Association’s member countries. They must be rotated in alphabetical order (according to the English names of the ASEAN countries). The abilities, professional experience, and sex (in order to observe the principle of gender equality) of each candidate must be considered in selecting them. The General Secretary participates in sessions of the ASEAN summits, the Coordination Council, the Council of Communities, and other events that require his (or her) presence, and represents ASEAN in cooperating with the Association’s international partners.

ASEAN’s International Ties

Since the mid-1970s, there has been a tradition of holding joint meetings for dialog between the ASEAN countries’ ministers of industry and foreign affairs and their colleagues from the Association’s partner countries.21 Such talks have been dubbed postministerial conferences, since they are organized after the representatives of the ASEAN countries have discussed all important issues among themselves and arrived at a coordinated position on each one. Postministerial conferences traditionally follow a “10+1” format. In addition, high-level meetings between ASEAN and its dialog partners (Russia, the United States, the European Union, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, China, and India) have been held in the “10+1,” “10+2” (ASEAN + Australia and New Zealand), and “10+3” (ASEAN + China, Japan, and South Korea) formats since the late 1990s.

Alongside postministerial conferences and summits, another venue for dialog with the Association’s international partners is the Asia-Europe Meeting (ACEM) forum, the inaugural session of which was held in Bangkok in March 1996. Taking part in the first meeting of the Asia-Europe format were the seven ASEAN countries; China, Japan, and South Korea; the fifteen EU countries; and the Chairman of the Eurocommission. The membership of the ACEM forum grew considerably afterward. The structure today comprises 51 countries and two regional organizations (ASEAN and the European Union), and it meets once every two years. Russia has been an ACEM member since October 2010.

Continuing the idea of interregional forums, ASEAN began institutionalizing ties with Latin America in the late 1990s. Singapore and Chili coordinated the process of creating the new association, which was dubbed the Forum of East Asian-Latin American Cooperation (FEALAC). The first meeting of foreign ministers, at which a framework document specifying the aims, principles, and main lines of FEALAC operations was approved, was held in Santiago, the capital of Chile, in March 2001. Thirty countries, divided equally between East Asia and Latin America, were present at the conference. These meetings were first held once every three years, and then once every two years. As with the ACEM, the events alternated between one region and the other.

Yet another initiative with the participation of the ASEAN countries is the Asia Cooperation Dialog (ACD), the founding session of which was held in Cha-Am, Thailand, in June 2002. Representatives of 18 countries were present, including Bahrain, Qatar, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, China, Japan, and South Korea. The organization now comprises 34 countries (including Russia, which became an ACD member in 2005). The Dialog’s main aim is to create a new instrument of interregional cooperation that would be a bridge between Asian regional groupings (e.g., ASEAN, ASEAN+3, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf, the Economic Cooperation Organization, the Eurasian Economic Community, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization), and the leading structure of Asiawide cooperation in the future.

Along with interregional negotiating venues, ASEAN began creating an East Asian summit – an annual consultative forum for the exchange of opinions between the leaders of the region’s countries. The first East Asian summit, convoked under the aegis of ASEAN, took place in Kuala Lumpur in December 2005. Taking part alongside the ASEAN ten were representatives from Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, China, and India. Russia and the United States joined the forum’s participants in 2011. Since then, these summits have been held regularly in connection with the autumn high-level ASEAN meetings.

At the initiative of Vietnam, a resolution to create a mechanism of meetings between ASEAN’s defense ministers and its eight main dialog partners (the ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting-Plus (ADMM-Plus)) was adopted in April 2010. The first meeting in this format was held in Hanoi, Vietnam, in October 2010. Taking part in the conference were representatives from the ASEAN ten, Russia, the United States, China, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand. A joint declaration in which ADMM-Plus was defined as a key component of the regional security architecture was issued on the basis of its results. Practical work in this forum is done on the level of defense agency senior officials and experts, and within the confines of six specialized working groups: military medicine, humanitarian cooperation and emergency response, maritime security, countering terrorism, peacekeeping, and humanitarian landmine clearing.


In its 50 years of existence, ASEAN has thus followed a long, winding road from a subregional grouping torn by internal conflicts to a full-fledged regional organization that is actively developing a partnership with the largest world powers and thereby setting the international agenda.

Looking back, it may be said with confidence that the ASEAN countries chose the correct course of regional integration (and perhaps the only true one, under those historical conditions). This allowed them to overcome mutual distrust and ensure the “unity and diversity” that was their motto and the calling card of the Association. The success of the ASEAN model of integration was due to the large regional powers – China, Japan, and South Korea – being involved in integrational processes as preferred dialog partners. At the same time, ASEAN remembered to balance relations with leading extraregional players with direct interests in the region – India, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United States, the European Union, and of course Russia – to maintain the peaceful and stable international environment required for its sustainable growth and development.

Since the 1970s, ASEAN has successfully followed a strategy of “concentric circles,” oriented toward the gradual growth of integrational efforts, first within the Association itself; second, in the format ASEAN+3; third, in the framework of relations with its Asia-Pacific dialog partners (China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia, and New Zealand); fourth, in relations with world centers of power (Russia, the United States, and the European Union); and fifth, within such broad interregional organizations as APEC and ACEM.22 The popularization of integrational priorities has been supplemented by the conscious building of a special ASEAN identity limited by the confines of Southeast Asia.23 It is thought these two factors are driving the further evolution of the ASEAN Community as a regional complex and will bring the integrational processes in the region to a new, qualitatively different level.


1Whittlesey D., ed. Regional Study with Special Reference to Geography. Washington, D.C. Division of Geology and Geography, National Research Council, National Academy of Sciences, 1952, p. 48. For more detail, see Yefremova K.A., Sravnitel’niy analiz teoreticheskikh podkhodov k opredeleniyu regional’nogo kompleksa [A Comparative Analysis of Theoretical Approaches to Defining a Regional Complex], Sravnitel’naya politika, # 2, 2019, pp. 5-19.

2 Bogaturov A.D., Sreda – protiv liderov. “Prostranstvennaya struktura” samoorganizatsiyi mezhdunarodnykh otnosheniy v Vostochnoy Aziyi [Community vs. Leaders: The “Spatial Structure” of the Self-Organization of International Relations in East Asia]. Ocherki teoriyi i metodologiyi politicheskogo analiza mezhdunarodnykh otnosheniy [Outlines of the Theory and Methodology of Analyzing International Relations], Scientific Educational Forum on International Relations, Moscow, 2002, p. 272.

3 Maletin N.P., ASEAN: Chetyre desyatiletiya razvitiya [ASEAN: Four Decades of Development]. Moscow, Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO-University), 2007, p. 8.

4 Ibid., p. 8.

5 Zaklyuchitel’noye kommyunike Konferentsiyi stran Aziyi i Afriki (Bandung, 24 aprelya 1955) [Final Communiqué of the Asia-Africa Conference (Bandung, April 24, 1955)], Dvizheniye neprisoyedineniya v dokumentakh i materialakh [The Nonaligned Movement, in Documents and Materials], Nauka Publishers, Moscow, 1975, p. 51.

6 Orlov, V.G., Politicheskaya obstanovka v YuVA v seredine 1960-kh godov i predposylki obrazovaniya ASEAN [The Political Situation in Southeast Asia in the Mid-1960s and the Prerequisites for the Creation of ASEAN], Vostok. Afro-aziatskiye obshchestva: istoriya i sovremennost’, # 6, 2009, p. 85.

7 Maletin, N.P., Ibid., p. 12.

8 Maletin, N.P., Ibid., p. 14.

9 Maletin, N.P., ASEAN: Ibid., p. 15.

10 Orlov, V.G., Politicheskaya obstanovka v YuVA…, p. 94.

11 The ASEAN Declaration (Bangkok Declaration). Bangkok, August 8, 1967. Available at: https://asean.org/the-asean-declaration-bangkok-declaration-bangkok-8-august-1967/ (Retrieved on December 6, 2019.)

12 It was originally planned that the Sultanate of Brunei would join the Malaysian Federation along with Sarawak and Sabah. However, a 1962 uprising led by the People’s Party of Brunei put an end to these plans. Brunei remained a British protectorate until January 1, 1984.

13 Cambodia’s admission to ASEAN, planned for July 1997, was delayed because of a domestic political crisis inside the country.

14 Materials of the ASEAN Official Website. Available at http://www.asean.org. (Retrieved on December 6, 2019.)

15 In analyzing the stages of establishing ASEAN’s regional complex, we relied on the periods proposed by N.P. Maletin [Maletin, 2007].

16 Sumskiy, V.V., Opyt regionalizma na aziatskom Yugo-Vostoke i poisk otvetov na noviye vyzovy [The Experience of Regionalism in Southeast Asia and the Search for Responses to New Challenges], Mezhdunarodniye protsessy, Vol. 15, # 3, 2017, pp. 7-8.

17 The Southeast Asian Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone Treaty was signed at the fifth ASEAN summit, held in Bangkok in December 1995.

18 Myanmar became an ASEAN permanent observer in July 1996.

19 The concept of “connectivity” traces its origin to terminology proposed by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) for the countries of Indochina. In 1992, the ADB announced it was launching a program for economic cooperation in the Greater Mekong subregion, the main stated aim of which was achieving “3C”: connectivity, competitiveness, and community. The term “connectivity” referred to the practical development of transport, energy, and telecommunications infrastructure; “competitiveness,” to ensuring the competitiveness of regional goods and services; and “community,” to the joint solving of such social, humanitarian, and ecological problems as fighting poverty, epidemics, and the degradation of the environment. [See, The Greater Mekong Subregion…, 2007, p. 3.]

20 Lokshin, G.M., Kobelev, Ye.V., and Mazyrin, V.M., Soobshchestvo ASEAN v sovremennom mire [The ASEAN Community in the World of Today], Forum, Moscow, 2019, p. 111.

21 Koldunova, Ye.V., “Dialogoviye partnyorstva” vo vneshney politike ASEAN [“Dialog Partnerships” in ASEAN’s Foreign Policy]. Mezhdunarodniye protsessy, Vol. 15, # 3, 2017, pp. 59-60.

22 Baikov, A.A., Sravnitel’naya integratsiya: Praktika i modeli integratsiyi v zarubezhnoy Yevrope i Tikhookeanskoy Aziyi [Comparative Integration: Practice and Models of Integration in Transborder Europe and the Asia-Pacific Region]. Aspekt Press Publishers, Moscow, 2012, p. 119.

23 It is noteworthy that there are only two ASEAN observers: Papua New Guinea and Timor-Lesti. Both are located on islands of the Malay Archipelago and have overland borders with Indonesia.