Sunday, December 09, 2007

Regional Integration and Sovereignty

“We gather here today with high hopes and aspirations. There is much work to be done, and the road ahead will not be easy."

- Chairman of 13th Asean Summit and Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong-

I. International Integration.

There is no clear cut standard on how to define the concept of international intergration – does it refer to a process or an end product. Finn Laursen in his paper “Comparing Regional Integration Schemes: International Regimes or Would- be Politics,”[1] wrote:

Karl Deutsch, for instance, defined integration as “the attainment, within a territory, of a ‘sense of community’ and of institutions and practices strong enough and widespread enough to assure, for a ‘long’ time, dependable expectations of ‘peaceful change’ among its population.” When a group of people or states have been integrated this way they constitute a “security community.” Amalgamation, on the other hand, was used by Deutsch and his collaborators to refer to “the formal merger of two or more previously independent units into a single larger unit, with some type of common government.”

Early efforts to study regional integration mainly concentrated on the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) from 1951 and the European Economic Community (EEC) from 1957. In Ernst Haas's classical study of the ECSC, The Uniting of Europe, integration was defined as:

… the process whereby political actors in several distinct national settings are persuaded to shift their loyalties, expectation and political activities to a new center whose institutions possess or demand jurisdiction over the pre-existing national states.

In Leon Lindberg's study of the early EEC, The Political Dynamics of European Economic Integration, integration was defined without reference to an end point:

... political integration is (1) the process whereby nations forgo the desire and ability to conduct foreign and key domestic policies independently of each other, seeking instead to make joint decisions or to delegate the decision-making process to new central organs; and (2) the process whereby political actors in several distinct settings are persuaded to shift their expectations and political activities to a new center.

Either as a process or as an end product, Laursen further writes that, integration would require the establishment of a regime that would provide for the establishment of an international regime.[2]

The most often used model for integration is that of the European Union. This political and economic integration however happened through a period of 60 years.

Dr. Axel Berkofsky, Senior Policy Analyst of the European Policy Centre in his paper “Comparing EU and Asian Integration Processes: The EU as a role model for Asia”[3] wrote :

Political integration and reconciliation in Europe began with European economic integration after centuries of war and conflict. Co-ordination of inner-European economic activity in key sectors such as coal and steel was the basis of Jean Monnet’s vision for a united and peaceful Europe and lead to the establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). The Treaty of Rome triggered the EU’s process of integration over the years and the free movement of goods has been extended from steel and coal to manufactured goods. Later on then, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) was established as the EU’s market for agricultural products. The EU dealt with monetary affairs in the 1970s which lead to the establishment of the European Monetary System (EMS) in 1979. The EMS supported the stability of European currencies and was the forerunner of the euro, established in 1999. The literature suggests that one of the main factors that fostered European integration was the response of EU policymakers response to the challenge posed by the growing economic interdependence through the project of a European common market. No EU Member State wanted to be left behind and undertook individual and increasingly common initiatives to achieve the goal of European economic and political integration. Today, the EU is fully integrated: politically, economically and it has a common market, a common currency and (at least on paper) a common foreign and security policy (CFSP).

II. Integration: The Asean Way.

ASEAN is a rather loosely-organised regional body. However, ASEAN has moved towards being a more rules-based organization in order to better meet the challenges posed by regional integration, the expansion of its external linkages and rapid globalisation, and in so doing, remain an effective player on the international stage. In this context, the ASEAN Charter is expected to set the framework and lay the legal foundation for ASEAN to restructure its existing mechanisms and improve its decision-making process to enhance efficiency and ensure prompt implementation of all ASEAN agreements and decisions. The Charter is expected as well to provide ASEAN with a legal personality.

ASEAN Secretary-General Ong Keng Yong says that “the ASEAN Charter will serve the organisation well in three interrelated ways, such as, formally accord ASEAN legal personality, establish greater institutional accountability and compliance system, and reinforce the perception of ASEAN as a serious regional player in the future of the Asia Pacific region”.

There are 13 Chapters, 55 Articles, and 4 annexes in the ASEAN Charter.

It was drafted by the High Level Task Force on the Drafting of the ASEAN Charter, consisting of one representative from each of the 10 Member States. After its signing, the Charter will have to be ratified (or formally accepted to be bound) in every Member State.
It will come into force on the 30th day after the deposit of the tenth instrument of ratification (or instrument of acceptance) with the Secretary-General of ASEAN.
After that, the Charter will be registered with the Secretariat of the United Nations.

III. A critical review of the ASEAN Charter.

While governments of ASEAN have praised the charter as a “historic agreement” that would establish the group as a legal entity, creating permanent representation for members at its secretariat in Jakarta and committing heads of state to meetings twice a year, and adopted a blueprint for economic reforms designed to create a European-style economic community by 2015, with free-flowing goods, services, investment and skilled labor, the agreement itself is not a perfect document.

"What they ended up with is very diluted, to a point where it doesn't make any new ground," said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute of Security and International Studies in Bangkok. "What we have is the codification of existing norms."[4]

This opinion is shared by the non-government organization, Solidarity for Asian People’s Advocacies (SAPA). In its position paper on the Charter, it offered the following analysis:
The Charter is a disappointment. It is a document that falls short of what is needed to establish a “people-centered” and “people-empowered” ASEAN. It succeeds in codifying past ASEAN agreements, and consolidating the legal framework that would define the Association. However, it fails to put people at the center, much less empower them. The Charter is all about how Governments will interact with each other, but not about how they also should interact with the people. There are no clear spaces created or procedures established to institutionalize the role of citizens and civil society organizations in regional community-building. And where the Charter is able to protect sovereign interest of Governments, and enshrine confidence building though consensus, it lacks the necessary details for the settlement of disputes, dealing with internal conflicts, and disciplining or sanctioning Members who are remiss in their obligations.
The market-oriented language of the Charter expresses its bias for the economic project in the region, without recognition that this may be in conflict with the social and economic justice that the Charter is also supposed to uphold. The centrality of redistribution and economic solidarity to the goals of poverty eradication, social justice and lasting peace, is not acknowledged. Furthermore, the market orientation betrays the preference for a “one-size fits all” economic policy of trade and financial liberalization, failing to recognize the heterodox economic thinking that formed the basis of economic successes in the region in the past.

The Charter is gender blind and does not recognize the primacy of the regional environment.
Finally, the landmark inclusion of human rights in the Preamble and in the statement of Principles is belied by the lack of detail in the long-awaited human rights body.
This critique of the charter can perhaps be traced to what Dr. Axel Berkofsky described in his afore-quoted policy paper as the Asean institutionalization process, which is usually referred to as “nascent.” The description, Dr. Berkofsy argues is brought about by Asean’s “principle of non-interference in internal affairs, which will remain an obstacle to further economic and political integration.”

Berkofsky further writes:

“Unlike in Asia, EU integration was accompanied by an institutionalization process. Indeed, institutionalisation and institution-building is not considered beneficial in the Asian context. There are fears that institutions will oblige governments to give up sovereignty in key policy areas. From an Asian perspective, regional integration does not have to be supported by institutions imposing legally-binding rules and norms on their members. Institutionalised regional economic integration will not become a priority for Asian nations any time soon and Asian governments will continue to advocate and pursue export growth regimes and economic strategies above all in their plans for attracting FDI. The lack of EU-style political and economic institutionalised integration is not necessarily a weakness but rather a strength for Asian countries as it keeps the integration processes “flexible” and preserves its legally non-binding status. The reluctance of Asian countries to promote efforts to institutionalise their relations can also be explained by a shared feeling of distrust that regional bureaucratic structures will become independent of their state sponsor. While regional organisations and forums in Asia (APEC, ASEAN, ARF and others) are already playing a role fostering trans-national networks, they have yet to become policy-making institutions.

How can the relative weakness of formal institutions in Asia be explained? A comparison with the EU suggests two answers: different international norms and domestic state structures in Asia and Europe. Whereas the introduction of the norm of multilateralism was a key strategy of US foreign policy in Europe after World War II, US foreign policy in Asia, on the other hand, has advocated bilateralism and bilateral alliances. In Asia, it was not in the interest of the US to support or create regional institutions that would constrain American foreign policies. Instead, the US established a system of bilateral alliances with Asian nations. Today, US support for multilateralism in Asia is lukewarm at best as it threatens to reduce American economic and political influence.

Western literature argues that domestic state structures in Asia do not favour and support the establishment of formal institutions operating with legally-binding decisions, rules and laws.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), established in 1967 as an initiative to co-ordinate economic and foreign policies amongst Southeast Asian nations, constitutes a regional institution without the instruments and capabilities to implement legally-binding policies. Unlike the EU, ASEAN acts according to the principle of non-interference in internal affairs of its Member States. This principle, formulated in the ASEAN Charter, is indeed ASEAN’s key principle, significantly limiting the association’s influence on Member States’ policymaking. The EU and its highly rationalised bureaucracies, on the other hand, are well equipped to deal with public law and formal institutions.

Western authors also typically underline that the lack of democratic structures and “truly” Western-style democratic institutions in many Asian nations are an obstacle to integration in Asia. The existence of the so-called “one-party democracies” in Asia, the argument, is an obstacle to any meaningful political integration.

Whereas Western policymakers argue that democratic structures are the very precondition for meaningful (codified and legally-binding) economic and political integration, Asian governments, on the other hand, advocated the socalled “network- style” of integration, making use of interpersonal and informal relations to pursue what they referred to as Asian-style integration.”

This view of Berkofsy would involve what Laursen describes as a “pooling and delegation of sovereignty.” This is also what Jean Monet, the founding father of the EU identified as the creation of a “joint sovereign authority,”[5] or what other authors referred to as a supranational institution.

But this western model of a “joint sovereign authority” is not the Asean way, so to speak. Kavi Chongkittavorn of Bangkok’s Independent Newspaper said, that the very core of the charter is the asean way at work – “agree on the least objectionable ideas, not the most desirable way.”[6]

The Asean way is clearly non-confrontational and adopts a passive non-interference approach. Will this work for Asean in a globalized environment where competition, and persistence, sometimes bordering on aggression abound? Only history will tell us this. At the moment, it seems that economic integration is the only model for Asia, political integration as they say is a piper’s dream.

[1] Policy Research paper submitted to “The Jean Monnet Chair, University of Miami, Miami, Florida, September 2003”
[2] Back in the early 1980s Stephen Krasner gave what has become known as the consensus definition of international regimes:

Regimes can be defined as sets of implicit or explicit principles, norms, rules, and decision-making procedures around which actors’ expectations converge in a given area of international relations.

Regional integration schemes may well include more than one ‘given area of international relations.’ They may set out to create free trade, a customs union or a common market, as we have seen. But they may also include co-operation related to security issues. Usually they affect expectations and political activities. Sometimes economic co-operation is
most important, like in Mercosur and NAFTA. Sometimes security related co-operation precedes efforts to create free trade as happened in the case of ASEAN. Sorting out security related issues before economic integration started was also important in the case of Mercosur. In Europe, from the initial plans for a common market to Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) economics have taken a central place. Political co-operation developed slowly in parallel with economic integration, first through European Political Co-operation (EPC) from 1970, later through the EU’s second pillar, Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), introduced by the Maastricht Treaty in 1992. But the original Schuman Plan in 1950, which started the process of integration in western Europe, was also very much motivated by security concerns, viz. the age old Franco-German problem.

[3] Japan-EU Think Tank Roundtable, “Next Steps in Global Governance”Tokyo 13-14 January 2005
[4] “Historic ASEAN Chater reveals divisions,” Wayne Arnold, International Herald Tribune, 20 November 2007
[5] Jean Monnet, “Memoirs,” (New York: Doubleday, 1978) p. 295
[6] Published 15 October 2007