The ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM) marks its 10th anniversary in 2016. The establishment of the ADMM in 2006 is arguably an achievement in itself given that past suggestions for multilateral defence initiatives had been met with reluctance and resistance from Southeast Asian countries. While the ADMM is not the only multilateral forum for defence diplomacy and cooperation, it stands out for being the top-level ministerial defence mechanism that is directly accountable to the ASEAN leaders. Moreover, it is to date the only formal platform to annually convene all 10 defence ministers of the Association. With the launch of the ADMM-Plus in 2010—currently a biennial meeting involving the defence ministers of the ASEAN countries and their eight dialogue partners—defence diplomacy in the region undoubtedly developed a step further.
Both the ADMM and ADMM-Plus contribute towards the realisation of an ASEAN Political-Security Community (APSC), which is itself one of the three pillars that make up the ASEAN Community. The agendas of the ADMM and ADMM-Plus, as well as their associated mechanisms such as the ADMM-Plus Experts’ Working Groups (EWGs) focusing on specific non-traditional security areas and the ASEAN Defence Senior Officials’ Meetings, have thus far concentrated on enhancing confidence building and practical cooperation among regional countries to combat transnational security challenges. While the forums have arguably done well in these areas, they continue to face challenges arising from the evolving political dynamics in the region, the capacity gaps among member states, as well as the overstretching of limited resources across several similar security-related mechanisms.
To examine in detail the strengths and weaknesses of the ADMM and ADMM-Plus and trace the forums’ evolution, the Regional Security Architecture Programme, Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies (IDSS), S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), hosted a roundtable on “The Future of the ADMM/ADMM-Plus and Defence Diplomacy in the Asia Pacific” on 17 November 2015 in Singapore. The aim of the roundtable was to take stock of the ADMM and ADMM-Plus meetings, in terms of the successes, challenges and the way forward. In light of these objectives, two questions were posed to structure the discussions at the roundtable. They were:
- What are the strengths of and challenges facing the ADMM and ADMM-Plus?
- What are the future direction and areas for defence cooperation in the region?
The 12 articles in this volume penned by experts from the region and beyond capture the discussions and debates at the roundtable. Five articles tackle the two questions directly from ADMM perspective, and four more articles from the ADMM-Plus perspective. There are two articles that focus on ADMM and ADMM-Plus cooperation specifically in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) and military medicine, respectively. These two issues have been selected for deeper discussion given the urgency of having effective mechanisms to manage the impact of natural disasters in the region. Finally, this volume also includes an article that provides an historical overview of how the ADMM and ADMM-Plus have developed since they were established.
The discussions at the roundtable and articles here reveal a consensus among all participants of the importance of the ADMM and ADMM-Plus meetings to the regional security architecture, and to the member states’ national strategies. The emergence of both meetings have been positive developments, and the level of cooperation achieved, albeit in the realm of non-traditional security, has been impressive taking into account their relative short lifespans. All states should continue to work hard and invest adequate resources to strengthen these meetings. However, the participants also noted several challenges. These are discussed as follows along with the policy implications.
First, major power rivalries and interests continue to pose a challenge to ASEAN centrality. The fact that many ASEAN countries remain reliant on their respective bilateral relations with the dialogue partners for their security needs could potentially result in the Association being vulnerable to divisions among the member states. The absence of a joint communiqué—a result of a disagreement over the South China Sea disputes—during the 2012 meeting of ASEAN’s foreign ministers in Cambodia is a case in point.
In this regard, there is a need to ensure that the ADMM continues to take the lead in ADMM-Plus cooperation and speak with a single voice—as reflected in another disagreement over the South China Sea issue, this time at the Third ADMM-Plus in November 2015. Rather than being stymied by divisions among the ASEAN states, the lack of a joint declaration at the Third ADMM-Plus was precisely because the ADMM member states stayed united vis-à-vis the extra-regional partners. At the same time, there is a risk that the extra-regional partners could lose interest in the ADMM-Plus process should the ADMM overplay the ASEAN centrality card. The ADMM should thus be conscious of maintaining a balance between preserving ASEAN centrality in the ADMM-Plus and engaging the dialogue partners in a meaningful way.
Second, the cooperative atmosphere built by ADMM and ADMM-Plus initiatives in the non-traditional security areas appear yet to have positive spill-over effects in other domains. Practical cooperation conducted within the frameworks of both forums have made considerable progress, particularly since the ADMM and ADMM-Plus have access to military assets, personnel and resources which could be mobilised for exercises and operations. The ADMM-Plus is also considered more geographically focused than the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), which makes it easier for joint activities to take place. These characteristics of the ADMM and ADMM-Plus have resulted in enhanced cooperation especially in the areas of HADR, defence interactions and establishing networks among defence and security agencies.
However, a trust deficit remains in the region over traditional security issues in particular, such as the South China Sea territorial disputes. Political sensitivities also continue to limit regional defence cooperation to the non-traditional security areas. While the ADMM and ADMM-Plus have typically shunned addressing the more controversial issues, the forums are likely to face increasing pressure to move beyond functional non-traditional security cooperation as regional political dynamics evolve. It would thus be prudent for the ADMM to start thinking about how it could deal with the more politically sensitive issues in a manner that it is comfortable with, rather than having to scramble for a stopgap solution when pressured by elements beyond its control.
Third, and related to the above point, the ADMM would need to intensify measures to enhance transparency among its member states. While the establishments of the ADMM and ADMM-Plus are remarkable achievements for a region that had historically rejected multilateral defence cooperation, it is perhaps time to take on more actionable initiatives within these frameworks to improve mutual understandings and share information. Preparing and publishing the ASEAN Security Outlook—which is already listed as a deliverable in the ADMM Three-Year Work Programme—would be a useful way for the ADMM countries to exchange perspectives and enhance transparency. This would help to reduce the trust deficit in the region, and lay the foundations for management of the more politically sensitive issues.
Fourth, the ADMM currently faces an inconsistency in terms of its institutional capacity, meaning that the agenda and achievements of the ADMM would vary from year to year depending on the capacity and leadership of the country that assumes the ADMM Chair. Consequently, there is a need to narrow the capability gaps among the ASEAN countries, to ensure that the performance of the ADMM remains relatively consistent from year to year. With more consistent leadership, the ADMM would also be able to remain more united in the face of extra-regional interests and agendas.
Fifth and finally, the ADMM and ADMM-Plus should work at consolidating present cooperation. Both forums have proposed many initiatives to drive practical cooperation, but not all have been implemented. To sustain the momentum for ADMM and ADMM-Plus cooperation in the long-term, it would be necessary to review existing mechanisms and assess their progress. Simply suggesting more initiatives without actual consideration of member states’ limited resources would not benefit the ADMM and ADMM-Plus. In this regard, the ADMM might perhaps also consider dissolving initiatives that no longer have any value-add. At a broader level, this consolidation of existing cooperation should also take into account the complementarity of the ADMM and ADMM-Plus agendas with that of other security-related mechanisms.
By examining the strengths, challenges and future of the ADMM and ADMM-Plus, this volume hopes to contribute to a better understanding of the dynamics in the two forums and the ways in which they could continue to enhance defence diplomacy and cooperation in the region.
List of Contributors
The ADMM and ADMM-Plus: Progressing Slowly but Steadily?
See Seng Tan
Strengths and Weaknesses of the ADMM and ADMM-Plus
Tan Seng Chye
Prospects and Challenges of the ADMM
Tang Siew Mun
Defence Diplomacy in Southeast Asia: A Review
Challenges for the ADMM and ADMM-Plus: A Philippine Perspective
Raymund Jose G. Quilop
The Future of the ADMM
Vu Tien Trong
Strengths and Weaknesses of the ADMM-Plus: Challenges and Opportunities for Cooperation
Luke R. Donohue
The ADMM-Plus: Anchoring Diversified Security Cooperation in a Three-Tiered Security Architecture
The Future of the ADMM-Plus
The ADMM-Plus: Move Backwards to Move Forward
One ASEAN, One Response: ADMM and ADMM-Plus: Contributions to Humanitarian Assistance
Alistair D. B. Cook
Military Medicine Cooperation under the ADMM-Plus: Progress, Challenges and Ways Forward
East Asia and Asia Pacific / International Politics and Security / Policy Reports / Regionalism and Multilateralism / Southeast Asia and ASEAN
Last updated on 25/04/2016