This week the ASEAN foreign ministers agreed to support the bids of Malaysia and Thailand to the United Nations Security Council as a grouping. That means that Malaysia’s bid for the 2015-16 term and Thailand’s bid for the 2017-18 term would be made as a representative of ASEAN, rather than only in their individual capacities.
ASEAN members have served on the UN Security Council, of course. ASEAN members have also worked together to support candidates for international organizations, such as Dr. Supachai Panichpakdi’s candidacy for WTO director general and UNCTAD secretary general. ASEAN countries coordinate their work at the WTO and other international forums, and have standing committees in various foreign capitals to coordinate their foreign policy. The ASEAN countries look to Indonesia as their representative to the G-20.
This agreement represents another step in ASEAN operating as a bloc, something envisioned by the ASEAN Charter.
The question will become whether an ASEAN member serving on the UN Security Council can represent all of the bloc if there are internal conflicts within the bloc? Would Malaysia represent the bloc or only Malaysia if there were another incursion by Philippine rebels into Sabah? Would Thailand put national concerns over ASEAN-wide concerns should the International Court of Justice, another UN entity, rule in favor of Cambodia in the Preah Vihear case? Diplomatic disputes among members of a regional bloc are not new – this a regular occurrence in the EU with the United Kingdom and France. But in less mature grouping such as ASEAN such disputes carry more risk to the grouping.
How these members would prioritize and handle their national and ASEAN responsibilities as UN Security Council members, now that they would speak for ASEAN, will be another test of the ASEAN institutions. Let’s hope that they will give priority to their ASEAN responsibilities, much as Indonesia and others have done for the grouping in other contexts.