Friday, October 12, 2012

Why ASEAN Is More Deserving of the Nobel Peace Prize

Today the Nobel committee announced that it had awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union. According to the Washington Post,

“The EU is currently undergoing grave economic difficulties and considerable social unrest,” Nobel Committee president Thorbjoern Jagland said in Oslo. “The Norwegian Nobel Committee wishes to focus on what it sees as the EU's most important result, the successful struggle for peace and reconciliation and for democracy and human rights. The stabilizing part played by the EU has helped to transform most of Europe from a continent of war to a continent of peace.”

Personally, I think the choice of the EU is inspired but perhaps misses the mark a little. The EU was founded as an economic bloc that took on political characteristics.  Although the EU does fund worthwhile aid and development projects, and has engaged in fruitful diplomatic efforts around the world, it is still relatively young and undeveloped as a political actor.  Only recently did the EU create an EU diplomatic corps headed by Baroness Ashton.  NATO and the Organization for Security and Cooperation (OSCE) are European entities that actually contributed more to peace through their own efforts, one could say.   Both entities contributed to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of Soviet Communism as a threat to world peace.

The main contribution of the EU to peace was not in anything that it did politically, but merely through its sheer existence.  The creation of the European common market wedded postwar Germany to the rest of Europe and quashed the nationalistic urges which had led to two World Wars in Europe.  Eastern European countries modernized and set aside conflicts to meet EU membership criteria.  In other words, the process of applying and joining the EU served the purposes of peace; in that regard, perhaps the appropriate EU representative at the Oslo ceremonies should be the EU enlargement commissioner.  Yet ironically, the EU membership process seems to have stalled out after the impending membership of Croatia, with Turkey and many others waiting for consideration.  The main tool of the EU for promoting peace is not actually being used at the moment.

In any event, if the EU qualifies for the Nobel Peace Prize, then let me be the first to nominate ASEAN for the Nobel Peace Prize.  Unlike the EU, ASEAN was specifically designed as a political entity first, and an economic entity later.  Since its founding, ASEAN has by and large promoted peace throughout Southeast Asia, with no two ASEAN members having gone beyond border skirmishes.  In fact, the ability of ASEAN to tamp down regional disputes, such as in last year’s Preah Vihear dispute, demonstrates why it has contributed more to peace (as an active participant) than the EU has.   ASEAN also was instrumental in bringing about reforms in Myanmar, both through Myanmar’s participation in ASEAN and through the increased engagement of ASEAN institutions in Myanmar.

However, the Nobel Peace Prize would be even more deserved if ASEAN could solve some of the intractable regional issues such as the South China Sea island disputes and transboundary haze. The ASEAN Secretariat could certainly use the prize money of 10 million Swedish kronors, which is the equivalent to 10% of its annual budget. Let’s hope that ASEAN can continue to develop itself as a regional institution and win that Nobel Peace Prize one day.