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Why is not ASEAN regionalism as successful as the EU

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: International Relations
Wordcount: 5408 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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 Since the end of WWII, integration and regionalism has been the main focus for the study of international relations.  Peace was the main reason for creating a regional body, but since the fall of communism in the Soviet Union, the main focus on regionalism was on the economic.  The success of the integration in Europe had given the foundations of most of the earlier studies, which they tend to take Europe as a blueprint for the success in regionalism. Many third world regional bodies such as the ASEAN also look at Europe seriously because of its success.  By taking a comparative look at both organizations by their reasons to create a supranational body, the structures of both organizations; and evaluate them in terms of their successes, we can better understand both organizations. The integration process of Southeast Asia is very different from that of the EU in many ways that it creates the sense of uniqueness apart from the other regionalism around the world. Although it hopes to enjoy the same success as in Europe, there are many arguments whether it can achieve as much as Europe, such as in its past, the authoritarian style of governments, its economy structure, and its inability to solve disputes. The questions here lay in the future of ASEAN on which way is it going to go, and what it has to do to engulf successes of Europe. Right now regionalism that is undergoing in Southeast Asia is in a changing direction, economic success is seen as the main goal. The adaptation towards the European model acts as the guideline for the transformations. Nevertheless the need to understand the comparative work is very important towards future transformation in order to function as effectively as the EU model and to maintain the uniqueness of the ASIAN integration. The reasons behind ASEAN’s failure are the lack of institutions to enforce the structural co-operations from the members.  Part of understanding the background of both regions, looking into the history of the identity processing is necessary. There are debates about integration concerning the communal identities and the ideological structure that supports this. The comparative question over the identities of both organizations is why is it that the forming of the identity of Europe was more successful than the Southeast Asian region. What is the arguments concerning the identities of both organizations. With the EU, the question is based upon what are the factors that made up the European identity, and what determines what European is and what is not. Since there are many debates concerning that many of the benefits that helped built up the identity of Europe came from Asia, such as its polity, and its religion. The question concerning the ASEAN identity is whether there is a Southeast Asian identity in the first place and is the way things are set today, the proper way that things should be functioning? The fact that integration is a science that makes use of the pre-existing relationships between states members, an analysis of these prior relationships that build up both identities is critical in understanding the effectiveness of both organizations

Research Questions

Why is not ASEAN regionalism as successful as the EU?

What are the main different characteristics of both organizations?

What are the main similar characteristics of both organizations?

Research Methodologies

This study is a comparative analysis that focuses on secondary sources in order to obtain information pertaining the background, reasons, structures, and values of the EU and ASEAN.


ASEAN regionalism is considered as a failure when compare to the EU in the degree of their reasons of their establishment, the differences in their values and structures.


The European Union

Security is the main concern for the EU since its beginning.  The threats form security exist both externally and internally.  The key actors here for the external security reasons were the Soviet Union, and the US, the threats of the Soviet Union for Europe was so great that America had to step in to help Europe in its rebuilding process in order to prevent Communist influences while keeping capitalism alive.  This involves pouring massive amount of money into reviving West Germany to an economically giant of Europe.  The formation of the EU was also received full support from the US, because of the integration process will benefit America by creating a bigger market for it to invest in, and a bigger trade bloc to trade to.  The forming of the EU will also allows the US to establish military bases in strategic locations in order to exercise its military power against Soviet threats. The building of the EU will also relieve the US from some of its responsibilities in the world stage, creating a middle actor in the balancing of power from the US and the USSR.  Therefore the US support was very essential for the building of EU.  Internally, Europe at the time a war weary continent was going through a massive challenge in building itself.  Europe had gone through series of devastating wars; the most demolishing one of all was WWII.  After the end of the Second World War, most of Europe's infrastructures were left destroyed from the strategic bombing from both the Allies, and the Nazi.  Europe was left to the state of rebuilding its infrastructure as same as its economy.  Most importantly it cannot afford another devastated war, the backdrop of this was the signing of the Coal and Steel Treaties, which was the major signing that will lead to the period of peace and security.  The Coal and Steel Treaties takes a look at the cause of European warfare in terms of the resources needed to build a war industry.  The main industry was steel and coal was needed to process it into weapons.  The idea was if Europe could break down the two industries, which were the resources that could lead to war and control and regulated it by a supranational governing body, then there will be a monitoring on the use of the two resources preventing another arm race from any country.  This is an example of a strong foundation of a strong supranational institution that limits some of the sovereignty that nation states use to have.  As later we will discuss the preambles written in this document in order to determine weather it was successful or not.  Although this treaty was not the foundation document of creating the EU, it was very important in the aspect of internal security and keeping peace and stability in the economy.


For SEA, security was also the main factor in forming a regional body.  Same as Europe, the Communist threats were the main threats from the external force as well as an internal force, so SEA had got a lot of support from America.  The theory behind this was called the Domino Effect Theory produced by George Kenneth, the secretary of state of the US administration during that time.  SEA was battling another front in the Cold War, and it was a potentially vulnerable front as well.  The fall of Vietnam then Laos then Cambodia gave the Domino effect theory it's name, because countries who battle against communism in this region falls one by one similar to the dominoes, and the influence of the communism spread through the neighboring country.  Massive money was injected into the region in order to create strong capitalistic economic structures.  Military Dictatorship was very common in most of the countries, because it processed the strong authoritarian rule needed to counter communism.  External conflict lays solely on the threat from Vietnam, while an internal conflict was on the communist influences domestically that were big threats creating fragmentation in each country.  The evidence was the numbers of communist parties and their violence handling in each countries of SEA. For example, the bloodshed in Indonesia with General Suharto actions against PKI rallies which left many scholar to believe the number of death are between 200,000 to 500,000.  

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Although during this time, both regions are very similar in the external and internal reasons to strengthen co-operations in creating a secured community from communism, one major difference was that of the non-interference agreement signed by ASEAN members in the Bangkok Declaration, the founding treaties establishing ASEAN.  In Europe, the governments of the members had agreed in giving up limited sovereignty by creating supranational institutions to monitor, and to exercise its power such as the pooling of resources like coal and steel.  While ASEAN nations did not agreed on giving up any sovereignty by signing the non-interference agreement.  This will produce massive effects in the lacking of co-operations and monitoring body in ASEAN.  During this time each countries were focusing on building its own domestic economy by trading outside of their regions such as markets of Japan and the US rather than focusing on the intra trading activities.  Ironically ASEAN co-operations was nothing more than an agreement not to co operate, focusing on building prosperity separately without intervening on each other's affairs.  Until recently that ASEAN sees an essential need to integrate and co-operate regionally in order to prosper economically.


In this part of the paper, we are looking at the completely different sets of values that will in turn influence the last point of the paper, which is organization structure drastically.  The contrast between two sets of values that lies in the organizations here is clear.  Regionalization of the SEA is very much different than the one of Europe. Because of the Asian way of thinking which tend to be authoritarian, many had argued that, SEA needed to find its own path rather than following Europe's model of integration.  Unlike the EU, which had a strong foundation of regional/continental identity, the ASEAN identity had been a recent created identity.  The Southeast Asian people did not come up even with the technology employed to define national boarder lines but it was done from colonialism.  There was no common language like Europe had of Latin that was used to communicate in religion and states affairs.  There was no common religion like Christianity.  There was no common law and order like Europe had from the Roman Empire or the establishment of democratic values from Greece.  Asian values tend to be authoritarian rather than liberalism in Europe. Authority is the most important thing above everything in Southeast Asia, while individualism and human rights is emphasized in Europe1.  The evidence determining this is in democracy, during the signing of the Treaty of Rome, each leader of the members were democratically elected leaders, while in Southeast Asia, leaders were military juntas and authoritarian ruler.  The reason behind this was the need for the strong ruling against the backdrop of communist threats from Indo China.  The military juntas were Field Marshall Thanom of Thailand, Marcos in the Phillippines, and Surhato in Indonesia, while the authoritarian leaders were Mahadthere in Malaysia, and Lee Guan Yuu of Singapore.  This is the very big difference we can see between the two different styles of polity.  This authoritarian value came from the pre-colonial period when the polities of SEA were in forms of Kingdoms and Sultanate states.  Power was circulated within the family like in the form of absolute monarchy.  Territories existed in a form of sphere of influence rather than a clear borderline.  This could explain the struggle of ASEAN nations to adapt to democracy during the post-colonial period.  Although democracy tendencies and structures were introduced and left behind by the colonial countries, the effect of communism just forced democracy backward, because of the need for a strong authoritarian rule to keep out communism This has made it more complicated during the post-Cold War era to switch from a military authoritarian rule to democracy.  This difference can be seen as authoritarianism of ASEAN versus democracy of EU, which contributed to the vast difference in value structures of both organizations.  In effect, the governments of ASEAN tend to focus domestically in keeping their legitimacy and to remain in power rather than co-operating together.  As a result, this has made any regional interactions and decision-making done at the top level of the society by government leaders rather than benefitting people in all levels of the society.  This has made it acceptable for non- democratic countries like Burma, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos to later join.  With the EU, it is a completely different story, according to the Copenhagen Criteria, the EU does not allows the joining of a non democratic countries, the criteria also includes the respect of human rights in each member countries and the opening up of a free market. Having standards of criteria for acceptance makes cooperation easier for the EU, when compared to the ASEAN where similar common grounds and agreements cannot be found.

 Prior to the European colonization, the polities of SEA were in a form of kingdom, which was ruled in the form of monarchies. There were no clear boundaries or drawn territory of these kingdoms. Rather, the influences of these kingdom existed in form of a sphere of influences, which were submitted to China. There were no common languages, religion or shared sense of identity like existed in Europe. Since the beginning, the creation of national identities had been defined and brought on by western civilization during colonialism. The territorial boundaries were purely derived from an imaginary concept by the process of the competition among Western colonizers to gain the economical edge. Therefore, the cooperation that we can see in this period of this region was not between one another, but rather towards external influence. And the conflict between the colonizers had fueled the sentiment towards fragmentation between each nation state. A good example would be the position of Thailand who sits as a buffer state between the French in Indo-China and the British in Burma and Malaya. The movement that could indicate a certain level of interaction during the colonial period between member countries would be the struggle for independent movement against the colonizers. These interactions however were done in a very small level and tended to be in the underground. Colonization had brought Asia its creation of modern national identities, along with a strong sense of non-interference between states in this region. This is a clear example of how external forces played a significant influence upon the region.  As a result, an external conflict that Southeast Asian found itself upon would lead to an internal conflict in the region that will be potentially threatening during the post-war era. The rivalries between Thailand and Myanmar which had already been going on for the last fifty years along with current issues over the refugee and drug trafficking, the territorial dispute between Malaysia and Indonesia over Sabah, and the genocidal conflict of Cambodia and Vietnam. These conflicts would prove to be issues that are obstacles for the regional body to climb. Nevertheless, the regional body had to be formed due to a-threatening-growing-Chinese-influences with the enthusiastic support by the U.S. in a plan to combated communism. Although it was form under a security purposes there was little progress towards the economical interactions. This is due to the external trading ties each member countries had already been involved in. Due to the colonial legacy in this region, countries tend to look upon trading partners outside the region. Intra-trading level was very low considering making up only twenty percent of the regional income.

Theses different mind sets for both organizations will reflects towards the different organization structures, as we will discuss this on the next chapter of the paper.  We are going to take the different perspective view of the EC on its institutions that aided integration process and the theories behind EU integration.  ASEAN integration structure is not as varies as the EU but it is worth comparing it to the EU anyways.

Integration Structures

Supranational VS Authoritarianism

Integration is a linkage between two or more independent actors to extend or broaden the authority through economic co-operations, losing sovereignty by changing domestic regulation and policy moving to the supranational body. The question here is why do some integration so successful and why do some don’t? The EU is one of the few organizations that had been successful with its integration. A big part of its success comes from its capability to establish institutions and policies that became clearly defined sets of rules. These sets of rules therefore became superior to domestic law of the member states of the Union. This structure that had been created by the European polity has given planting ground for intraregional trade and investment. And it had replaced and brought a war-torn Europe that was known for inner continental warfare and economic differentiations, prosperity and stability. But when comparing the EU’s success to ASEAN, it is too soon to determine if the ASEAN organization is a success or a failure. Although the ASEAN is trying to copy EU success by using and adapting to the methods used in Europe, the two regions are very different in terms of backgrounds creating their identities and the nature to co-operation between each other.

  The difference level of success of any regionalism lays on it how much the regional actor can enforce their rules over national domestic law. This brings us to the institutionalization of integration. By joining the organization, state actors are expected to give up its sovereignty to the communal authority. With the case of the EU the institution that monitors the integration process is the European Court of Justice or the ECJ. The ECJ provides the jurisdiction over varies of actions, such as the actions brought to them by member states, or an individual within the community. It established the framework for the constitutionalization of the Treaty by providing links between the Court and sub national actors to their lawyers, and sub national courts. An example for this was the case of Gend and Loos in 1963 when their attempt to import goods did not fall in the legal framework of the Dutch government, but was accepted according to the Treaty of Rome, which was the product of the EU institutionalization. They have brought their case to the ECJ to determine whether they needed to follow the Dutch domestic law or the EU’s. As it turned out the Dutch government lost to the Rome regulations. This had marked the start of the EU as the correct regulation to be applied. It also marked the power of the regional body like the ECJ over the domestic national government such as the Dutch. This is one of many examples of how national government body had given up its power to the supranational authority. Therefore government has to react to the demand for integration.

The court plays vital roles in monitoring and enforcing role in integration. The effectiveness of the EU lies on its ability in its enforcing mechanism. The Supremacy doctrines states that the EU has primacy over national legislation, while the Direct Effect doctrine provides the rights for the citizens of the member country the direct access to the EU court without having to go through the national government. Individuals can choose to take direct legal actions against their own government if the government fails to meet up with the rules that were agreed with the EU.  The direct intervention of the third party of a supranational institution such as the ECJ is one of the greatest successes of integration in Europe.

There are numbers of different theories supporting the EU integrations in creating the supranational institution; the most common ones that are worth mentioning are theories of Functionalism, Neo-Functionalism, and Intergovernmentalism.  These are the theories circling the study of International relations that most political scientists have agreed upon.

    Functionalism is an international relations theory that became widely known from president Woodrow Wilson's fourteen points speech. It expressed strong concern over the role of the State as a form of social organization that was becoming out of date and ineffective. It offers a counter view from that of Realism that view nation states should be driven by their own individual self-interest, functionalists’ focus on common shared interests by states and non-state actors. It view that functionalism is an effect of the process globalization which integration is triggered by the fading of state sovereignty and the advances in knowledge shared by scientists and experts effecting the tradition of policy-making.  Functionalism proposed to build a form of authority based in functions and needs, which linked authority with needs, scientific knowledge, expertise and technology, creating a supranational concept of authority.  The Coal and Steel Treaty is the evidence of the raise of a supranational body that was a product of Functionalism, which gave the body, controls and regulations to all of the coal and steel production of Western Europe.

   Neo-functionalists focused their attention in the process of integration among states, i.e. regional integration. Initially, states integrate in limited functional or economic areas.  Thereafter, partially integrated states experience increasing momentum for further rounds of integration in related areas. This "invisible hand" of integration phenomenon was termed "spill-over." by the neo-functionalist school. Although integration can be resisted, it becomes harder to stop integration's reach as it progresses.  There are two kinds of “spill-over”, which are functional spillovers and political spillovers.  Functional spill over explains the interconnections between various economic sectors and issues areas.  Political spillover explains the setting up of international institutions like the European Union and the United Nations.

    Intergovernmentalism is the theory arguing Neo-Functionalism, and rejects it.  According to Standley Hoffman, any increase in power at supranational level, he argues, results from a direct decision by governments. He believed that integration, driven by national governments, was often based on the domestic political and economic issues of the day. The theory rejects the concept of the “spill-over” effect that neo-functionalism proposes. He also rejects the idea that supranational organizations are on an equal level in their political influence as national governments.  His argument lays on the fact that if Neo-Functionalism is the main theory that drives integration, then how do you explain the period of inertia in regional co-operation when there was a diverge national interests.  And the role of governments is in the unparallel national policies.

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    Realism is the international study theory that explains the anarchy nature of international affair could be use to conceptualize Southeast Asian states.  McCormick's comparison between Functionalisms to Realism below could be use to characterized EU to ASEAN.  As the ASEAN nations tend to focus on military security in the early stage, the evidence in this is the non-interference agreement that was signed by each member states.  While the Coal and Steel Treaty aims to maintain peace and to promote prosperity from pooling of resources through co-operation between member states.  In turn, EU nations were trying to promote security by collaborating with each other while ASEAN was trying to maintain security through building domestic power by non-interference.  The nations of SEA make their policies with the use of military force and economy, while the EU uses negotiation.  ASEAN is also known for the lack of continuity of policies from the constant shift of control over the authority and power. The EU nations, on the other hand, focus on low politics like economical and social issues.  International organizations has very limited power because the states simply do not listen to them, in the contrary, in Europe the role of government is limiting as the international organization has power to regulates policies which governments has to obey.  These points clearly show the drastic contrast between the two organizations.

Comparing Functionalism to Realism

John McCormick compares Functionalism's fundamental principles with Realism's thus (comments added to emphasize key distinctions):


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Dominant goals of actors

Military security

Peace and prosperity

security through: Power vs collaboration

Instruments of state policy

Military force and economic instruments

Economic instruments and political acts of will

State policy of assertion vs negotiation

Forces behind agenda formation

Potential shifts in the balance of power and security threats

Initial emphasis on low politics, such as economic and social issues

Agenda sought: maintenance of position vs reaching consensus

Role of international organizations

Minor; limited by state power and the importance of military force