posted on Wed 29 Jan 2020 6:32 PM
Briefing on Cooperation between the UN and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations

Tomorrow (30 January), the Security Council will hold a briefing on cooperation between the UN and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). This will be the first Council meeting focused on cooperation with ASEAN. Secretary-General António Guterres and ASEAN Secretary-General Dato Lim Jock Hoi will brief the Council. According to the concept note circulated by Viet Nam, which is also the incumbent chairman of ASEAN, the purpose of the meeting is to explore ideas to advance cooperation on peace and security issues between ASEAN and the United Nations.

Chapter VIII of the UN Charter envisioned a role for regional organisations in the context of local disputes, thus providing a path for possible cooperation and partnership between the Security Council and regional and sub-regional organisations. Concurrent with the increase in cooperation with regional organisations over the course of the last decade, briefings on the relationships with different organisations have become a regular feature of the Council’s programme of work. Council members have held annual joint consultative meetings with members of the AU Peace and Security Council (AU PSC) since 2007, and the Council has convened annual briefings on the work of the OSCE and on UN-EU cooperation since 2001 and 2010, respectively.

While ASEAN cooperates regularly with other parts of the UN, including with the General Assembly and various peacekeeping operations, its relationship with the Council is less developed. The most recent direct cooperation between the Security Council and ASEAN took place in 2011, during a border dispute between Thailand and Cambodia in the vicinity of the Preah Vihear temple complex. On 14 February 2011, following exchanges of fire across the Thailand-Cambodia border, the Council held a private meeting on the border situation at the request of Cambodia. At the meeting, the then-chairman of ASEAN, Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, briefed the Council, and representatives of Cambodia and Thailand made statements. In a press statement issued after the meeting, Council members welcomed ASEAN’s mediation efforts and encouraged the parties to cooperate with the organisation.

Ministerial-level meetings on ASEAN-UN cooperation have taken place annually since 2000. The relationship was further enhanced in 2011 with the adoption of the Plan of Action to Implement the Joint Declaration on Comprehensive Partnership (2016–2020) by the leaders of ASEAN and the then-UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. The plan contains 22 action lines in the field of peace and security, including on non-proliferation, counterterrorism, cross-border security and more. The concept note circulated before tomorrow’s debate maintains that increasing the cooperation between ASEAN and the Security Council could help with the successful implementation of the current action plan and with the development of the new plan for the period 2021-2025. Increased cooperation on security issues could also advance ways for ASEAN to “remain responsive and relevant in peacekeeping, conflict prevention and conflict resolution”. Currently, ASEAN member states have approximately 5,000 military and police personnel deployed to United Nations peacekeeping missions.

The concept note for tomorrow’s briefing raises the following questions:

  • How can ASEAN better complement the work of the UN in addressing threats to peace and security?
  • How can the UN as a whole and the Council in particular better engage ASEAN in international efforts with respect to conflict prevention, conflict resolution, peacekeeping and post-conflict reconstruction?
  • In the light of emerging non-traditional, cross-sectoral threats to peace and security, how can ASEAN and the UN pursue effective coordination and synergies between ASEAN sectoral bodies and relevant UN agencies?
  • What are potential areas and forms of cooperation between ASEAN and the UN in contributing to the maintenance of international peace and security?

In line with the suggested areas of discussion, Council members are likely to focus on the ways in which the Security Council can develop a stronger relationship with ASEAN and on the organisation’s role in maintaining peace and security in its region. Council members might be interested to hear more about ASEAN’s regional mechanisms of peace and security, such as the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), and its methods of addressing transboundary threats such as terrorism and drug trafficking. Dato Lim may brief members on ASEAN’s priorities for 2020 which were discussed at the ASEAN foreign ministers’ retreat in Nha Trang, Vietnam, on 16-17 January.

Several members may be interested in ASEAN’s role in regional disputes such as the situation in Myanmar, which is a member of ASEAN. The most recent uptick in violence in Myanmar in August 2017 led to the exodus of an estimated 745,000 Rohingya refugees to Bangladesh. Since then, the refugees have been housed in the town of Cox’s Bazar, joining almost 200,000 refugees that were there following previous waves of displacement. Bangladesh and Myanmar signed a bilateral agreement on repatriation in November 2017, but tangible progress on returns has been elusive. In 2018, ASEAN decided to play a role in facilitating the repatriation of the Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh. In line with decisions made during the 2018 ASEAN summit, ASEAN sent a team to Rakhine State in May 2019 to conduct a preliminary needs assessment to identify areas of cooperation in the repatriation of Rohingya refugees. Following the assessment, it was decided that ASEAN can assist by such measures as increasing the capacity of reception and transit centers in Myanmar and by supporting the provision of basic services.

During the January 2020 ASEAN foreign ministers’ retreat, members reiterated ASEAN’s intention to play an enhanced and visible role in Myanmar, through the provision of humanitarian assistance, facilitation of the repatriation of Rohingya refugees, and the promotion of sustainable development in Rakhine State. During tomorrow’s debate, members may be particularly interested in hearing from Dato Lim, who led the preliminary needs assessment, on steps that have been taken to address the needs of the Rohingya as well as ASEAN’s role in facilitating the repatriation process of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.

Some members may be interested in exploring ways in which the Council could cooperate with ASEAN on Myanmar, as it has been difficult for the Council to agree on any action on this matter. Some members might view the fact that two ASEAN members—Indonesia and Viet Nam—are currently serving on the Security Council as an opportune moment for greater cooperation on this issue. Members may also refer to the 23 January ruling by the International Court of Justice which ordered Myanmar to take measures to prevent all forms of alleged genocide against the Rohingya and to ensure preservation of evidence about alleged genocidal acts.

Another issue that may be raised is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). The ARF is one of the few forums that the DPRK participates in and members may be interested in discussing how this forum could be used for promoting dialogue with the DPRK. Another, less likely, issue that members may refer to is the dispute in the South China Sea, where China and four ASEAN countries—Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Viet Nam—claim sovereignty. ASEAN and China are currently negotiating a Code of Conduct, which is expected to be finalised in 2022 and will provide regulations for how countries act in the South China Sea.