Kudos for Hard Choices

It is widely acknowledged that Southeast Asia stands at a fork in the road. The ratification and adoption of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Charter in 2008 has given the regional body new found legal status, and the proposed establishment of an ASEAN Political-Security Community, Economic Community, Socio-Cultural Community and human rights body raises the potential for the rise of a strengthened form of regionalism in Southeast Asia, where ASEAN becomes not merely a forum for communication between Member States but an actor in its own right. However, working against this momentum has been a discernible stalling of democratisation and continuing commitment to traditional principles such as non-interference and consensus decision-making, which, in the eyes of some critics, produced a lowest common denominator approach to drafting the Charter. Both of these positions are canvassed and reviewed in this excellent collection, which offers sober and well-informed analysis of the predicaments that the region now confronts. Combining broad assessments of the relationship between security, democracy and regionalism with detailed analysis of the Charter and reform process, and telling insights into major controversies, such as the question of human rights in Myanmar, the problem of the haze in Indonesia, and the question of nuclear security, this is a model of balanced and sensible analysis.
 
The book is organised into four main sections, the first being a deeply insightful introduction by the editor. Too often, editorial introductions do little other than summarise the preceding chapters, but in this volume, Emmerson carefully places the key concepts in their proper context, neatly sets out the nature of the dilemmas currently confronting the region and provides insight into some of the most important contemporary crises – especially that relating to Myanmar. Subsequent sections focus on: ‘Assessments’ – of ASEAN and its reform process; ‘Issues’ – spanning democratisations, Myanmar, non-traditional security, the haze and nuclear security; Sukma’s discussion of democratisation and Caballero-Anthony’s account of non-traditional security stand out here; and ‘Arguments’ – namely, David Martin Jones’ calling for the privileging of prudence and decency over idealism and hasty democratisation, and Erik Martinez Kuhonta’s setting out the pros and cons of non-interference and intervention for human rights.
 
Overall, this book is very hard to fault. It combines a range of perspectives, including academic and policy perspectives, canvasses a number of relevant issues and provides the reader with a very good sense of the critical concerns. In short, those interested in understanding Southeast Asia’s contemporary fork in the road should start by reading this excellent volume.
 
Reviewer: Alex Bellamy, Asia-Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, School of Political Science and International Studies, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.  This review is reproduced with the permission of Asia Pacific Viewpoint.