Categories
International Relations

Middle Powers in International Relations

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Courtesy of fdecomite/Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

This article was originally published by E-International Relations (E-IR) on 8 May 2017.

Realism’s theoretical dominance in International Relations (IR) – especially its focus on the power of superpowers and its state-centric view of international society – has been challenged by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the global transformations characterising the post-Cold War era. One of those transformations is the way in which “states neither great nor small” are gaining increased recognition amid the disruptive multi-polarity of the current global disorder. Scholars such as Martin Wight and Carsten Holbraad, whose earlier writings about middle powers were overlooked in mainstream IR, are now acknowledged for their scholarly prescience. Bringing middle powers back into mainstream IR theorising is obviously overdue. There are two problems in the theorising of middle powers in contemporary IR scholarship that obscure their positioning and potential in post-Cold War international politics: (1) its intellectual history has been neglected; (2) “middle power” itself is a vague concept.

The neglected intellectual history of middle powers

The ranking of states hierarchically (big, small, middle sized) is by no means a modern (or even post-modern) invention. In ancient China and classical Greece the organisation of political communities and their status relative to each other was of great interest to thinkers as diverse as the Chinese sage Mencius (?372-289 BCE or ?385-303 BCE), and the Athenian philosopher Socrates (469-399 BCE).

Categories
Economy

Evaluating Malaysia’s ASEAN Chairmanship

Flag of Malaysia
Flag of Malaysia. Image: Eric Teoh/flickr

This article was originally published by the East Asia Forum on 5 December, 2015.

Malaysia ended its chairmanship of ASEAN as the grouping announced the establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in November 2015. The AEC intends to create a single market across the ASEAN region by standardising economic regulations including those on trade, flows of financial capital and labour migration. Malaysia is one of a few ASEAN countries that have pushed most strongly for initiatives to enhance intraregional economic cooperation. But there may be cause for disappointment in what Malaysia has achieved as ASEAN’s chair.

While ASEAN has announced that it has achieved more than 90 per cent of AEC targets, this does not appear to have brought many tangible benefits for either the region’s business community or ordinary people. Businesses continue to complain about overlapping rules and regulations that raise their costs when trading and doing business across borders. Though 10 countries have signed onto a framework that intends to direct the movement of skilled labour in the region, actual movement remains subject to the policies of individual nations. Ordinary people are yet to acknowledge that ASEAN initiatives have resulted in higher income and more job opportunities.

Categories
Human Rights Humanitarian Issues Regional Stability

Refugee Crisis Tests Limits of Southeast Asian Cooperation

Rohingya Woman in the rain. Image: Steve Gumaer/Flickr

This article was originally published by the IPI Global Observatory on 15 May 2015.

A growing Southeast Asian refugee crisis largely involving Myanmar’s persecuted Rohingya minority has strong echoes of the humanitarian disaster on Europe’s doorstep. International observers have similarly called on Myanmar; refugee destinations such as Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia; and regional bloc the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to face up to the challenge, as the European Union finally appears to be doing with its own crisis.

At first glance the Southeast Asian situation appears more easily managed: both the origin and intended destinations of the refugees are in the same region, and the main countries concerned are all members of ASEAN. This could theoretically provide the opportunity for a more coordinated response. The story is made more complex, however, by a history of limited official commitments to human rights in the region—and to refugees’ rights in particular—coupled with a traditional ASEAN policy of non-interference in member states’ domestic policies.

Categories
Development Economy

After Joining the WTO, What’s Next for Laos?

Image: Government of Thailand/Wikimedia

This article was originally published by the East Asia Forum on 9 August 2014.

Earlier this year Laos celebrated the first anniversary of its WTO membership. Laos’ accession to the WTO has been less talked about than that of its neighbours China and Vietnam, who joined the organisation in 2001 and 2007, respectively. This is partly due to Laos being a small, landlocked economy whose accession would not be expected to make a big impact on international trade.

But Laos’ clout is more than may first appear.

Categories
International Relations Foreign policy

A US-ASEAN Strategic and Economic Partnership

ASEAN US cooperation
ASEAN US cooperation. Photo: Abhisit Vejjajiva/flickr.

The transition between President Barack Obama’s first and second terms is the right time to develop a US-ASEAN Strategic and Economic Partnership (SEP). The move would serve to elevate and institutionalize existing US-ASEAN engagements. It would also compel US departments and agencies that have been compartmentalized and uncoordinated to raise their levels of engagement, share information, and align government mandates with strategic objectives.

President Obama made dual commitments with his ASEAN counterparts at the fourth US-ASEAN Leaders’ Meeting in Phnom Penh in November – to convert that forum into a summit, thereby indicating that the US president will participate annually, and to raise the US-ASEAN relationship to the “strategic level.” Creating the SEP could create a foundation for the president’s Asia-Pacific policy in his second term. It could lock in gains and allow the new national security, foreign policy, and economic teams to build on the progress of the past four years.