“Revolutionising ASEAN Defence Cooperation?”, by Jason Salim

Commentaries 2016/7, 22 April 2016.


The ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM) should establish a set of principles to define its parameters in order to further regional security cooperation. Singapore Defence Minister Dr Ng Eng Hen made this proposal in a speech at the 4th Putrajaya Forum in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on 19 April 2016. 

Dr Ng proposed three principles for consideration: (a) respect for the sovereignty of each member state; (b) cooperation on a voluntary, non-binding and flexible basis; and (c) maintaining an open and inclusive regional security architecture with ASEAN at the centre. By clearly differentiating individual member states’ primary responsibilities from areas where countries can provide assistance to each other in the spirit of collective responsibility, these principles will allow ADMM to set the necessary limits, within the existing ASEAN framework, to take defence cooperation to a new level.   


If adopted, these principles will dramatically redefine ADMM’s existing modalities in two ways.  Firstly, casting security cooperation as “voluntary, non-binding and flexible” allows for more dynamic and forward-looking initiatives through the “ASEAN minus X” formulation, thus alleviating the pressure on member states who are uncomfortable with at the speed and direction of cooperation. Secondly, these principles as a whole affirm the important role that extra-regional actors play in regional security whilst affirming ASEAN centrality. 


Given the emerging challenges to regional security, ranging from the South China Sea to the insidious rise of ISIS sympathisers in the region, ASEAN members should welcome this attempt to lay the groundwork to establish norms and rules of behaviour. 


Jason Salim is Research Officer, ASEAN Studies Centre, at the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute, and Assistant Production Editor of ASEANFocus. 


The facts and views expressed are solely that of the author/authors and do not necessarily reflect that of ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.  No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form without permission.