Europe in the World

EU-Asia Dialogue

Improving regional security architecture through an Asia-Europe strategic partnership

13 December 2011

“The EU is one of ASEAN’s (Association of South-East Asian Nations) oldest partners,” said Alistair Macdonald, counsellor for the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) in the European External Action Service (EEAS).

He said the EU was well on the way to acceding to a Treaty of Amity and Cooperation with ASEAN, and expressed hope that it would be signed in Brunei in April.

“ASEAN will remain at the centre of regional security architecture,” Macdonald predicted, hailing the establishment of ‘ASEAN+’ meetings on security, featuring the USA and Russia. “The EU has made no secret of its interest in taking part in these summits too,” he added.

Macdonald outlined in detail the EU’s efforts to help resolve the conflict in Mindanao, an island in the Philippines, which has seen hundreds of civilian fatalities and displaced hundreds of thousands of people.

“I chose to focus on Mindanao because it shows what the EU can do: mobilise civilian involvement in resolving long-term multinational conflicts. We’re not from the region, so we’re seen as neutral. Plus we’re respected as interlocutors,” Macdonald said.

Justin Davies, managing director of C2M Solutions, a company which specialises in giving advice and support regarding conflict and post-conflict management, focused in detail on the EU’s role in Aceh (Indonesia).

“Aceh came out of the blue for the EU. It wasn’t planned and it happened quickly. The tsunami of 2004 gave a renewed impetus to resolve the conflict,” said Davies, who is also a member of the governing board of ISIS Europe, a Brussels-based independent research and advisory organisation which works on the security, defence and peace policies of the EU and NATO.

Secret negotiations in Helsinki concluded with the signature of a Memorandum of Understanding putting an end to 30 years of civil war. “It became clear that a neutral adjudicator would be needed to monitor it,” Davies said.

Indonesia wanted ASEAN to play that role, but the rebels wanted the UN to do it. Each organisation was unacceptable to the other, so the EU stepped in instead. “It was ad-hoc and there is still no formal structure for EU-ASEAN security cooperation,” Davies said.

“The EU should only get involved when it has something to offer and when it is invited to do so,” he advised. “Local ownership of conflict resolution is crucial. Without it, you won’t succeed,” he warned.

 “An ad-hoc response according to local needs may be better than a formal structure. Perhaps it could resolve the conflicts in Mindanao and Southern Thailand too. But there is no ‘one size fits all’. Five years on from Aceh, the EU is no closer to formal security cooperation with ASEAN,” Davies said.

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