Including ASEAN

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As I have argued in previous blog posts, regional entities are unique organizational and institutional elements of contemporary international relations. How we take them into account remains a question. In my view, they could represent significant new ‘state’ actors in the global and regional governance architecture.

And so we have included ASEAN in CIGI’s expanded BRICs constellation – BRICSAM. Paul Bowles, an economist at the University of Northern British Columbia (yes, there is such an institution – at Prince George and through the north and I am assured by Paul it is quite beautiful) has undertaken an examination of ASEAN in the context of CIGI Andy Cooper’s Economic Diplomacy Project (ably assisted by Agata Antkiewicz – Research Coordinator). This Project focuses on the Heligendamm Process of G7/8 and the O5 or G5 (Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa).

Entitled, “ASEAN and the G8: Potentially Productive Partners or Two Ships Passing in the Night?” the piece tackles the possibility of a fit of ASEAN with the O5 and in turn the relationship of these BRICSAM countries with the G7/8. In looking at ASEAN Paul has the additional burden of determining how to look at ASEAN – what is the leadership of this regional entity , and how to evaluate it’s impact and involvement with the other BRICSAM countries when it has no real presence, at this juncture, in the HP process.

A first order of business is to determine if ASEAN is a bona fide member of the BRICSAM club. As argued in an earler blog post, the HP process has identified at least two ‘structural’ BRICSAM categories, the traditional BRIC characterization – economic strength or leverage and a more behavioral characteristic – ‘diplomatic leverage.’ The first is created in the BRIC analysis of Goldman Sachs but as we point out, and notwithstanding the ground breaking research by Goldman Sachs, there is no necessary relationship between economic power and poltical influence in global and regional governance. It is the old debate of potential power versus its application. Thus, the CIGI BRICSAM analysis recognizes that what characterizes and separates the BRICSAM from other ‘large’ developing countries is both economic leverage but additionally, ‘diplomatic leverage.’ Now what about this later category?

As we’ve noted the HP Project has suggested that country engagement by these newly emerging large economies is a characteric for the BRICSAM countries. Now that leaves us with an operationalization issue that has not yet been tackled. It also leaves with an aggregation issue. Can we measure ‘BRICSAMness’ through some ‘combination’ of economic and diplomatic leverage? If we want to do that how do we measure the combination of potential and actual diplomatic involvement. Now Paul doesn’t tackle this problem but those of at CIGI will need to put our minds to it in the future.

Now if you look at the leadership question, some have argued that you can identify Indonesian leadership as an appropriate representative for ASEAN. The choice of Indonesia has attractions. The largest economy in the ASEAN 4 – the big countries of Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines or the ASEAN 5 – including Singapore or ASEAN 6 including Brunei Darussalam. It is the largest Muslim country in the world and as the tables presented by Paul identify a significant GDP, $364 billion (current USD) plus a significant average GDP growth rate of over 4 percent since 2000. Yet its GDP is larger but not significantly than South Africa – the smallest of the BRICSAM (and a question mark in the BRIC analysis and the reason for its non inclusion) and seems to have limited diplomatic engagement on its own.

If you look at economic leverage, however, and avoid just a country representativeness focus instead looking at a group leadership of some form – say the ASEAN 5, the GDP for the ASEAN 5 is $969 billion that is larger than any BRICSAM country except China and Brazil. And ASEAN has significant global trade. However, on diplomatic leverage there is little influence other than in the regional governanace context. There, especially the ASEAN plus three or APT – that is ASEAN plus China, Japan and the Republic of Korea – represents a signficant regional governance organization. But what the leadership of the organization remains hard to describe. I would not think the ASEAN Secretariat would be adequate and we’d like look at some executive committee including not just the Secretariat but Secretariat plus say Indonesia and Thailand or Philippines or Malaysia and/or Singapore. Yet even beyond this as Paul argues in an upfront conclusion in the chapter, “Economically, ASEAN remains important but its “diplomatic prowess” is open to question. On one reading, ASEAN is an ineffective organization and, as such, is unlikely to be of significant interest to a G8 seeking to enhance its own effectiveness.” indeed, Paul concludes not only is ASEAN not a likely target for extended G7/8 membership but ASEAN itself is more focused on its regional governance role. As Paul argues, “Participation of ASEAN’s Secretary-General or Indonesia’s Prime Minister as ASEAN’s representative in an expanded G8 offers much less in terms of both the broadness of participation and the influence over the agenda than ASEAN is able to achieve through its role in the wider East Asian regional formulation of ASEAN+3.” At least with respect to the G7/8 ASEAN may not be a good fit. Yet ASEAN may still be an important regional governance institution.