The S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) and the Centre on Asia and Globalisation, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP), co-hosted the RSIS-LKYSPP Workshop on “Exercising Regional Order” on 27 July 2022 at the PARKROYAL on Beach Road, Singapore. About 40 participants gathered to discuss the approaches of Asian countries towards joint military exercises (JMEs) and, more broadly, the extent to which JMEs supported the regional order.
JMEs have been a staple part of regional defence diplomacy, and have been credited for building confidence and enhancing interoperability among Asian countries. While much of the research elsewhere have focused on the operational and technical aspects of JMEs, the workshop examined their utility in terms of the broader political, diplomatic, and strategic elements.
Participants shared their quantitative and qualitative assessments on how Asian countries view the trade-offs and benefits of JMEs over the past two to three decades, how they put JMEs into practice, and how regional order is shaped as a result. They further examined why and how some types of JMEs are preferred over others, and what the strategic lessons and implications of JMEs for regional states are.
Variations in quality, intensity, and frequency of JMEs across the region could be explained by factors such as the degree of institutionalisation of the JMEs, as well as the domestic, strategic, bureaucratic, and historical drivers found within participating countries. These also affect how “networked” the countries are among the region’s overlapping and multi-layered web of JMEs.
Participants found that JMEs serve a number of purposes for Asian countries, such as strategic messaging and building the capacity of one’s own armed forces. Overall, JMEs would also contribute to a regional order that is beneficial for one’s own security interests, including through confidence building with partners and stabilising relations with rivals.