The ASEAN Miracle: A Catalyst for Peace.

AuthorSaravanamuttu, Johan
PositionBook review

The ASEAN Miracle: A Catalyst for Peace. By Kishore Mahbubani and Jeffrey Sng. Singapore: Ridge Books, NUS Press, 2017. Hardcover: 264pp.

Published in the year in which the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) celebrates its golden jubilee, Kishore Mahbubani and Jeffrey Sng opine that ASEAN deserves the Nobel Peace Prize on the grounds that it has been the most successful regional organization next to the European Union (EU). Stripped of its hyperbole, the book presents a highly readable account of ASEAN's achievements, its remarkable consolidation of interstate peaceful coexistence in a geographical area previously wracked by political turmoil in, arguably, the most culturally diverse region of the world. The authors also demonstrate persuasively the indispensable role of ASEAN in the Asia-Pacific region as a foil to check major power excesses. Although the authors lament the lack of recognition of the "ASEAN miracle" by contemporary observers, they are quick to add that ASEAN is not without its weaknesses. Let me examine some of the book's truth claims and point out some of its weaknesses and finally present my own view on ASEAN.

ASEAN's success was due to fear, luck and leadership (Chapter Two). Political divisions engendered by the Cold War were resolved when the fear of communism was overcome by the absorption of the communist states into the regional body in the second half of the 1990s. Such a move demonstrated the wisdom of its founding leaders to "hang together or hang separately" in the words of Singapore's former foreign minister, S. Rajaratnam. Having trumped communism and embraced the market economy, ASEAN was on its way to develop a dense regional network for an "ecosystem of peace" (p. 48 ff.). ASEAN initiatives included the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in 1994, the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) in 1996, ASEAN Plus Three (APT) in 1997 and the East Asia Summit (EAS) in 2005.

The book shows that dealing with the major powers has been both ASEAN's forte as well as its Achilles heel (Chapter Three). Mahbubani draws on his considerable experience as one of Singapore's foremost diplomats to deliver a hard-hitting analysis highlighting how major powers such the United States, China, Japan and India could have done better in dealing with ASEAN. He singles out the EU and its Myanmar policy as being misconceived. In Mahbubani's opinion, Myanmar's transition to democracy is an indictment of the EU policy of sanctions and a...

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