Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 12/2012

ASEAN's Future and Asian Integration

Joshua Kurlantzick

November 2012

Council on Foreign Relations


In a region largely bereft of regional organizations and long divided by the Cold War, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has been the most significant multilateral group for the past forty-five years. Since the end of the Cold War, ASEAN has grown increasingly influential. While much of the West and most emerging markets continue to suffer because of the 2008 global recession, the leading ASEAN economies have recovered and are thriving. Perhaps most important, ASEAN has helped prevent interstate conflicts in Southeast Asia, despite several brewing territorial disputes in the region. Yet ASEAN lags far behind its full potential. Most Western leaders and even many of Southeast Asia’s own top officials do not consider the organization capable of handling any serious economic or security challenges, including the current dispute in the South China Sea. In previous times of severe economic downturn, ASEAN members have looked to lenders outside the group for assistance. Because it lacks unity and high-profile leadership, ASEAN’s members have resorted to addressing disputes either bilaterally or with U.S. involvement.