The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is an alliance promoting economic and political cooperation by fostering dialogueamong its ten members: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. Now experts say the group may pursue a bigger role in the region to help its members cope with the global financial crisis. As the downturn shifts the geopolitics of the region--potentially increasing China's sway as a source of capital--ASEAN and the United States may look to tighten their economic and security ties to prevent the rise of a hegemon in Southeast Asia, experts say. With Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's stop in Indonesia on her first trip abroad in February 2009, the new Obama administration signaled interest in boosting U.S. engagement with ASEAN. In Jakarta, Clinton pressed for stronger U.S.-ASEAN ties and said the United States would reconsider signingthe 1976 Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC). Though ASEAN has made gains in promoting economic and political coordination and fostering peace, the group has yet to grow into a major multilateral actor.
Addressing Regional Security Issues
ASEAN was formed in the midst of the Vietnam War in 1967, uniting Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand against the potential threat of communist-led insurgency. It was intended as a security community, promoting social and political stability during a turbulent time, says CFR Senior Fellow Sheila A. Smith. In addition to preventing intraregional flare-ups, ASEAN provided a way for the countries to create "a voice for themselves in the broader Cold War arena so the Southeast Asian area would speak as one on particular issues," she says. To that end, in 1971 ASEAN signed a declaration that Southeast Asia was a Zone of Peace,...