Lina A. Alexandra, Jakarta
The United Nations Security Council’s decision to allow Indonesia — as chair of ASEAN — to begin mediating the dispute between Thailand and Cambodia over the Preah Vihear Temple has enhanced Indonesia’s foreign policy work in ASEAN. After a period of foreign policy hibernation with little maneuvering, Indonesia has now returned to demonstrate its leadership potential.
This leadership does not mean the country will be telling others what to do. Instead, Indonesia is taking responsibility and encouraging and ensuring that the countries in the region observe the principles and norms that they agreed to as ASEAN members, including the peaceful settlement of disputes.
It so happens that the country’s aim to reestablish a strong leadership role in the region, as one its major foreign policy goals, faced significant challenges in the early period of its leadership in ASEAN this year.
The main focus of Indonesia’s chairmanship is to ensure that significant progress is being made in the community’s pillars. This would then open the way to fulfilling the second and third aims: to maintain ASEAN’s centrality in shaping regional architecture and to develop the vision of the “ASEAN Community in a Global Community of Nations” beyond 2015.
It is inevitable that positive developments will result from the Indonesia-led mediation process, contributing to the development progress of the ASEAN Political-Security Community (APSC).
On the other hand, the breaking down of the ceasefire and the unwillingness of Thailand and Cambodia to stay at the negotiating table has been noted as another symptom that it will be impossible to achieve the APSC by 2015.
Furthermore, the impact on our foreign policy formulation could be severe. Just a few years back there was discussion to push for a rethinking of Indonesia’s foreign policy that placed ASEAN as the cornerstone, with ASEAN issues seemingly overshadowing other matters.
It has also been claimed that Indonesia should not be too dependent on ASEAN since many of Indonesia’s progressive proposals to move ASEAN ahead have been abandoned and compromised to satisfy the “old-fashioned” way of thinking that keeps ASEAN stagnant and irrelevant in meeting new security challenges.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa in his remarks before the UN Security Council last week described the three objectives of the Thailand-Cambodia mediation process.
First, both parties will be strongly encouraged to adhere to the principles elucidated in the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation and the ASEAN Charter, namely the peaceful settlement of disputes and the renunciation of the use and the threat of the use of force.
Second, ASEAN supports the two warring parties respecting the ceasefire.
Third, efforts will be made to urge the two sides to return to the negotiating table. These goals must be achieved not only through good mediation, but more importantly it depends on the strong and serious commitment and willingness of Thailand and Cambodia to seek a peaceful solution to the dispute.
If the mediation process fails, which would happen if one side resorts to the use of force for their own selfish interests, people may think ASEAN has no hope. The Indonesian public may question why ASEAN bothered to try and mediate and even why the country has ASEAN as a cornerstone of their foreign policy if other member states do not respect ASEAN’s core principle to live in peace
Ideally, this case will create momentum to see the High Council mechanisms function as in Article 14 of TAC. The Rules of Procedure of the High Council, which were adopted in July 2001 by ASEAN countries, actually bind member states to use the High Council’s dispute settlement procedure.
Nevertheless, the willingness of both parties to accept the decision to use regional mechanisms with Indonesia having a mediating role should be appreciated, although both parties did seek the UN’s help instead of ASEAN’s. But this is the best solution so that the issue is not internationalized. Meanwhile, it is expected that the more fellow ASEAN member states are allowed to play a role, the more countries will believe in the impartiality of their fellow countries, which in turn will create confidence and comfort to invoke regional mechanisms such as the High Council in the future.
It is thus hoped that Indonesia will prove itself in filling the leadership vacuum in ASEAN. Strong leadership by Indonesia should be created through continuous and tireless efforts to develop capacities to initiate the use of regional conflict resolution mechanisms to deal with conflicts.
Indonesia should even seek out this proactive role not only during its short ASEAN chairmanship period but also beyond. This role can also be played to deal with protracted intra-state conflicts that carry the potential to spill over and disrupt regional peace and stability. If these mediating solutions continue, it seems we do not have too long to go before the APSC is achieved.
The writer is a researcher in the Department of Politics and International Relations, Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Jakarta.