ASEAN and UN Peacekeeping

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ASEAN and UN Peacekeeping

ASEAN will slowly develop and evolve regional peacekeeping coordination capacity.

ASEAN and UN Peacekeeping
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has set the objective of creating an ASEAN Community by the end of 2015. The ASEAN Community will be based on three pillars or communities: the ASEAN Political-Security Community, the ASEAN Economic Community and the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community.

After the ASEAN Political-Security Community is created, what role could ASEAN and the United Nations undertake in peace operations in Southeast Asia and globally? How would ASEAN’s existing capacity and structure have to change in order to deploy on peace operations?

These questions and other questions were posed at an international conference on “The New Landscape of Peace Operations: A Dialogue with South East Asia and Vietnam.” The conference was convened in Hanoi from April 15-16 under the co-sponsorship of the Swedish International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the Frederick Ebert Stiftung (FES) based in Germany, and the University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Vietnam National University.

The conference was the last in a series of similar conferences held regionally by SIPRI in Europe, Middle East, Africa, South Asia, South America, Central Asia and Northeast Asia. The Hanoi conference was attended by delegates from the United Nations, Europe, Southeast Asia and Australia. It was conducted under Chatham House rules.

The conference was held in Hanoi because Vietnam will become the newest member of ASEAN to contribute to peace support operations under the UN. Seven other members of ASEAN have participated in UN peace operations. As of January 31, total Southeast Asian contributions (including police, military experts and troops) stood at: Brunei (26), Cambodia (342), Indonesia (1,697), Malaysia (909), Philippines (703), and Thailand (33). Singapore contributed 22 personnel in 2013.

The Dialogue with Southeast Asia and Vietnam was preceded by an invitation-only national seminar titled “Contributing to Peace Operations: Experiences, Challenges and Priorities.” There it was announced that Vietnam has approved the setting up of a Peacekeeping Center and Vietnam will make a modest contribution by deploying two military observers to the Sudan this year. At the same time, Vietnam will commence detailed planning for further commitments, including humanitarian missions involving mine clearance and medical assistance.

The national seminar delved deeply into the obstacles and challenges that Vietnam faced in reaching a decision to commit to UN peace operations. Vietnam, in fact, refrained from making its annual UN levy on peacekeeping from 1975 until 1994. Vietnam currently contributes $1 million annually.

At the national seminar it was revealed that, due to lack of consensus among policymakers, Vietnam’s Master Plan on contributions to UN peace operations, originally scheduled for release in 2013, has been postponed to 2015. A key factor in this decision was uncertainty about public support for sending Vietnamese military personnel abroad, especially if there were casualties.

Vietnamese participants highlighted other obstacles and challenges. One major impediment was legal in nature. In 2013, Vietnam amended Article 64 in its state constitution and inserted the clause “[the people’s armed forces] shall contribute to the protection of peace in the region and in the world” to provide sanction for its participation in UN peace operations.

This year, Vietnam’s National Assembly will give legal effect to the constitutional amendment by passing a resolution providing for the deployment of armed forces personnel abroad in the service of the UN. The National Assembly will follow up later by drafting a Law on Peacekeeping authorizing Vietnam to meet its international obligations.

ASEAN Peacekeeping Centers Network

In 2003, Indonesia proposed a Plan of Action to assist in the creation of the ASEAN Political-Security Community by 2020 (since brought forward to 2015). The ASEAN Political-Security Community was proposed as a mechanism for ASEAN states to settle disputes and security issues among themselves. It included a proposal to create an ASEAN peacekeeping network.

In 2004, Indonesia proposed at a meeting of ASEAN senior officials the creation of an ASEAN peacekeeping force that could be deployed to assist in the settlement of internal disputes such as the conflicts in Aceh and the southern Philippines.

According to Marty Natalegawa, then Acting Director General for ASEAN Cooperation (and now Indonesia’s Foreign Minister):

What we are saying is ASEAN countries should know one another better than anyone else and therefore we should have the option for ASEAN countries to take advantage of an ASEAN peacekeeping force to be deployed if they so wish.

Natalegawa’s proposal was quickly scotched by Thailand and Singapore.

Nevertheless, individual ASEAN members have welcomed the role of outside military observers in conflict settlement. For example, in 2003 Indonesia permitted unarmed military monitors from Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand (as well as the European Union) to observe the ceasefire in Aceh. The following year, the Philippines invited Malaysian military personnel to Mindanao to observe Malaysian-mediated peace talks between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Four ASEAN members – Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand – contributed troops and civilian police to the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor. In 2006, the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste sought assistance from Malaysia (as well as Portugal, Australia, and New Zealand) to provide assistance in restoring stability after a domestic crisis erupted into large-scale violence.

In 2011, in a set back for ASEAN efforts to play a mediating role in the border clashes between Thailand and Cambodia, Thailand declined Indonesia’s offer to send military personnel to observe a ceasefire. At that time, Indonesia was chair of the ASEAN Standing Committee.

In a more positive development, Indonesia’s 2003 proposal for a network of ASEAN national peacekeeping centers gradually took shape. The Three-Year Work Program (2008-2010) adopted by the 2nd ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting  (ADMM) in 2007 included a provision for establishing a network among ASEAN peacekeeping centers in order to conduct joint training and exchange of experiences.

In 2009, the proposal for creating a network of ASEAN peacekeeping centers was included in the ASEAN Political-Security Community Blueprint. The 5th ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting (ADMM) in 2011 adopted the Concept Paper on the Establishment of ASEAN Peacekeeping Centers Network (APCN) and included a provision on networking in its second Three-Year Work Program (2011-2013).

The first meeting of the APCN was held in Kuala Lumpur in September 2012. It was co-hosted by Thailand and Indonesia and attended by Cambodia, the Philippines, and Malaysia. The second meeting was held in Bogor in September 2013 with the participation of all national peacekeeping centers as well as military representatives from Laos and Myanmar.


The international conference on “The New Landscape of Peace Operations: A Dialogue with South East Asia and Vietnam” did not adopt any formal recommendations. SIPRI, however, will prepare and publish a conference report offering a summary of the discussions.

In looking at the future, conference participants reached consensus that ASEAN, as a regional association, was unlikely to become involved in UN peace support operations outside Southeast Asia under the ASEAN flag.

The eight troop contributing countries were likely to continue to support traditional UN peace operations on an individual basis. They were less likely to support multi-dimensional or robust peacekeeping efforts.

Indonesia, which is currently ranked as the world’s seventeenth largest contributor to UN peacekeeping missions, has set itself the objective of becoming one of the top ten troop contributing countries. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono made this commitment when he opened the Indonesia Peace and Security Center in Sentul, West Java on April 7.

Participants found it difficult to identify realistic scenarios in which the United Nations would become involved in peacekeeping missions in Southeast Asia over the next five to ten years. Rather, ASEAN members preferred to operate through regional mechanisms, especially for peace-building missions. Participants also felt it unlikely that ASEAN would agree to assemble a standby force for regional contingencies in the near term.

Participants were generally in agreement that Southeast Asia’s norms upholding sovereignty and non-intervention, and the requirement of consent by the host state, would mitigate against any ASEAN-initiated intervention among its members. Participants from Southeast Asia also noted that these norms held stronger sway than the newer norms of the Responsibility to Protect and Protection of Civilians.

The most likely future development is expansion of the ASEAN Peacekeeping Centers Network to include all ten members. This was touted as an example of ASEAN connectivity. The APCN was also expected to promote specialist niches of expertise among its members.

The prospect of ASEAN interoperability and standby arrangements were viewed as long-term objectives. ASEAN, however, could be expected to take the lead in dealing with armed conflict between its members or the serious outbreak of domestic violence in a state.  But ASEAN would use primarily diplomatic and political tools such as those enumerated in Article 23 of the ASEAN Charter – good offices, consultation, mediation etc. – to meet its obligations. ASEAN and its members would resist the use of force.

Depending on the circumstances, individual ASEAN members might contribute to conflict resolution at the invitation of the host state or by the consent of the parties concerned.