October 26, 2009 - Shorenstein APARC In the News
Morada and Jones on 'Hard Choices'
By Noel M. Moranda and Lee Jones
Edited by SEAF Director Don Emmerson and co-published in 2008-09 by APARC at Stanford and ISEAS in Singapore, Hard Choices: Security, Democracy, and Regionalism in Southeast Asia continues to attract attention. Excerpted below are two differing but equally thoughtful recent reviews:
Noel M. Morada is a professor of political science at the University of the Philippines-Diliman and director of the Philippines Progamme in the Asia Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) at the University Queensland in Brisbane, Australia.
Writing in Kasarinlan: Philippine Journal of Third World Studies, 23: 2 (2008), pp. 119-122, Prof. Morada found the title of Hard Choices “apt” because its authors “ask hard questions—including philosophical ones—on the merits and demerits of pushing for a more ‘people-centered’ ASEAN, the challenges and constraints in implementing Responsibility to Protect (R2P) principles in the region, as well as the possible directions that ASEAN may take in the near future.”
A “good thing” about the book, in his view, “is that the reader is left to make his or her own conclusions” about “the issues and arguments” that it presents. He notes the variety of backgrounds of the authors: from scholars based far from Southeast Asia, through local analysts on Track II, to an official from inside the ASEAN secretariat itself. Their chapters, in his judgment, contribute significantly to current debates about what balance that ASEAN should strike between “state-centered and society-centered conceptions of security,” including “the dilemmas and constraints” that state and societal actors face in pursuing a more “participatory” kind of regionalism in Southeast Asia.
Among the issues featured in Hard Choices, Morada cites “the thorny problem of intervention in the domestic affairs of [ASEAN] members,” including the challenge to regionalism posed by Myanmar’s rulers, and whether or not the ASEAN Charter can facilitate a response or may itself be an obstacle to reform. While highlighting the relative optimism of Mely Caballero-Anthony’s chapter on non-traditional security, he finds a consensus among the book’s authors that “ASEAN’s traditional norms—i.e., state sovereignty and non-interference—still rule.”
Prof. Morada ends his review thus: “This should be a required reading for graduate students specializing in Southeast Asia and a must have for ASEAN specialists and observers. More importantly, civil society groups would benefit immensely from reading this volume as part of their education about ASEAN, on which many remain uninformed. Many of my friends in the academic community in the region have in fact been quite disappointed with many civil society groups who simply want to push their agenda but have not done their homework on the workings of ASEAN. This book should help enlighten them further.”
Lee Jones is a lecturer in the Department of Politics at the College of Queen Mary, University of London.
Writing for a future issue of the ASEASUK Newsletter, a publication of the Association of Southeast Asian Studies in the United Kingdom, Dr. Jones, unlike Prof. Morada, misses a firmer editorial hand. “Theoretical engagement is relatively sparse,” writes Jones, “and the book would have benefited from an overarching framework to help structure and guide the contributions. Particularly given many contributors’ focus on Myanmar, ASEAN’s policies towards it, and ASEAN’s recent institutional evolution, an early chapter agreeing [to] a collective account of these matters would have left more space for analysis and argumentation.”
Jones singles out the chapter by “veteran official Termsak Chalermpalanupap” as “a highly informative overview of ASEAN’s institutional development which will be useful for all students of ASEAN.” Chapters by Simon Tay (on air pollution) and Michael Malley (on nuclear energy) are also praised by Jones as demonstrating that “democratisation does not (as other contributors imply) automatically produce either more liberal policies or enhanced regional cooperation.” On the contrary, writes Jones, “democratisation can give vent to illiberal, nationalist and uncooperative sentiments, particularly when dominated (as ASEAN polities are) by cynical oligarchs. It is disappointing, therefore, that none of the chapters engages in systematic analysis of the domestic social forces at work in ASEAN states.”
“On balance,” for Jones, “the evidence in Hard Choices seems to favour the pessimist viewpoint. The basis for concluding that civil society has shattered elites’ monopoly on policymaking is rather weak. None of the pro-intervention authors sufficiently counter[s] the pragmatist challenge that ASEAN coherence could not withstand the adoption of a more liberal-interventionist posture. However, this is a contingent judgment which should not lead us simply to endorse the status quo. … [T] he fate of individual countries and the overall direction and content of ASEAN regionalism depends ultimately on the struggles of ASEAN’s own citizens.
Concludes Jones: “A clear-sighted analysis of the respective strengths and weaknesses of the force of movement and reaction, without succumbing to the defeatism of endorsing authoritarianism or the romanticism of believing that democratic institutions alone imply the victory of civil society (or that ASEAN can do much to create such institutions), is therefore vital for understanding the region’s prospects.”