Think Tank (3/2023)
Dr Stéphanie Martel
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Enacting the Security Community: ASEAN’s Never-Ending Story
06 Jun 2023

On 6 June 2023, the Centre for Multilateralism Studies (CMS) hosted a seminar titled “Enacting the Security Community. ASEAN’s Never-ending Story.” Dr Stéphanie Martel, Assistant Professor from the Department of Political Studies at Queen’s University, Canada, presented research from her new book which examined discourses of the ASEAN Security Community.

Dr Martel observed that existing studies on ASEAN stem mainly from mainstream international relations approaches such as realism and constructivism. Other methods, particularly the practice turn and discourse analysis, have been rarer. Dr Martel argued that language allows political actors to make sense of reality, shapes identities, and influences their behaviours on the international stage. Discourse analysis helped in uncovering multifarious and interwoven aspects of “meanings-in-use” in the ASEAN Security Community.

According to Dr Martel, ASEAN elites, non-state actors, and others engaged in contested discourse, played an instrumental role in realising the security community. To her, the ASEAN conception of “security community” constitutes a constellation of discourses, making it polysemic and highly contentious in nature. Dr Martel analysed the ASEAN Security Community in three aspects. The first is the notion of “non-traditional security” which focused on ASEAN’s collective responses towards challenges such as climate change, drug trafficking, and maritime piracy. The second part tackled traditional security, which largely entailed how ASEAN seeks to preserve its centrality between major powers amid intensifying geopolitical competition for regional supremacy. The third conception is ASEAN’s “people-centred security” which tended to focus on human development aspects such as women empowerment, poverty, and human rights. Despite all three dimensions of the ASEAN Security Community having overlapping qualities, Dr Martel contended that these dimensions may also contradict one another depending on contexts. Yet, rather than being a weakness, this omnidirectionality served as a strategic asset, giving ASEAN flexibility in dealing with evolving threats in the region.

The seminar concluded with a Q&A session as Dr Martel engaged in a lively discussion with the audiences on the blind spots and implications of utilising an interpretive-based approach in analysing the ASEAN Security Community as well as the possibilities of whether ASEAN can harmonise these three aspects into a consistent framework of its security community.

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