The New ASEAN in Asia Pacific & Beyond.

AuthorQuayle, Linda
PositionBook review

The New ASEAN in Asia Pacific & Beyond. By Shaun Narine. Boulder and London: Lynne Reiner, 2018. Hardcover: 308pp.

Shaun Narine's excellent new book interrogates the role the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is likely to play in the Asia Pacific over the next decade or so. The book's major strength is its insistence on viewing ASEAN's development in the broader regional context.

After a brief introduction, the first three substantive chapters cover ASEAN's history as far as the multiple crises of the late 1990s; its quest for internal reform through the creation of a three-pillared ASEAN Community; and its attempt to position itself at the centre of a web of intersecting regional organizations. The next three chapters profile the giants--China, the United States, Japan, India and Russia--that ASEAN seeks to engage and enmesh.

The concluding chapter argues that ASEAN's most critical role in the Asia Pacific is to function as a three-level facilitator of regional interaction: among its members, between those members and the Great Powers, and among the Great Powers themselves. Amid the uncertainties of a shift to a multi-polar environment, this is a niche that ASEAN could further exploit to its advantage (pp. 251-52). But it is also a role that is subject to notable constraints. ASEAN can influence the behaviour and interests of the Asia Pacific's Great Powers, but only marginally. It can create structures that nudge them towards certain rules and norms of conduct, but its influence reaches only as far as their willingness (p. 257). ASEAN does indeed occupy the "driver's seat" of the region's web of organizations, but the vehicle is more akin to a taxi than a private car. The driver can exercise creativity, but only limited autonomy (p. 259).

In his review of ASEAN's internal development and larger regional role, Narine's perspective is sober but sympathetic. Simplistic policy prescriptions are refreshingly absent, and the analysis demonstrates considerable nuance.

Given Southeast Asia's history, diversity and economic position, it is far from surprising that ASEAN's raison d'etre was--and still is--state-building (pp. 43, 257), and it was designed not to challenge sovereignty but to augment national and regional independence (p. 7). The ASEAN Community is therefore a long way from becoming "a meaningful reality" (p. 114). Nevertheless, it is not a vain enterprise. Efforts towards community-building seek to future-proof ASEAN by...

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