The ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), a regional security forum launched in 1994, has recently developed some modest structures and capacities towards preventive diplomacy. Institutional steps such as strengthening the ARF chair, the development of a Register of Eminent and Expert Persons (EEP) and establishment of an ARF unit within the ASEAN Secretariat have been taken.
The EEPs have not yet been formally activated, beyond sporadic invitations to senior officials meetings with their respective governments when the subject is relevant to preventive diplomacy. The first step to look at how to operationalise the EEP has just been taken in Cheju Island on 29-30 June 2006. Korea hosted the first formal meeting of all ARF EEPs during these two days to review the security environment in the Asia-Pacific region, assesses the performance of the ARF and discusses its future direction. More importantly, EEPs brainstorm their roles and operation in the ARF process so as to come up with a future plan of action.
The meeting was co-chaired by elected EEPs, Mohamed Jawhar Hassan, from Malaysia, ARF Chair country and Chung-In Moon, from the ROK, host country. 34 EEPs and 22 observers from 21 countries, and the Chairman of the ARF attended the meeting.
H.E. Kyu-hyung Lee, Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, ROK delivered a welcoming speech, stressing an active role of the EEPs in promoting peace and stability in the Asia Pacific region through their collective wisdom.
The keynote address to the meeting was delivered by The Honourable Dato’ Seri Syed Hamid Albar, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Malaysia and Chairman of the 13th ARF. He began his address by briefly sketching the successes of the ARF process to-date. He then outlined his views on some of the areas for the ARF to focus on in the future, including a shift in ARF activities towards responses to non-traditional security threats such as terrorism, maritime security and disaster management; the convening of an ARF Defense Ministers Meeting; and the establishment of an ARF Secretariat.
According to The Guidelines for the Operation of the ARF EEPs, adopted at the 11th ARF meeting in Jakarta, in July 2004, the role of the EEPs is to “provide non-binding and professional views or policy recommendations to the ARF through the ARF Chair, or to serve as resource persons to the ARF on issues of relevance to their expertise.” An updated register of the EEPs exists. It consists of some 110 leading experts in their fields from 22 ARF countries. Although procedural groundwork has been laid out, no operational or specific substantive role has been allocated to the EEPs thus far. As a professional resource, practical roles and outcomes for the EEPs were suggested and discussed. Participants agreed on the need to set a path for more effective and efficient use of EEPs that is distinguished from existing Track II support by identifying specific roles for EEPs.
Some of the recommendations made by participants on the future role of the ARF and EEPs included:
- Commission the EEPs as a vision group for the ARF to propose innovative ideas on the future development of the ARF, including proposals for institutional innovation and capacity-building.
- Integrate the EEPs into the ARF mechanism, and have them play an advisory role at the ARF meetings such as ISGs, as well as utilize selected EEPs individually, as envisaged in the EEP Guidelines, more actively in fact-finding missions, as special envoys, etc.
- Mobilize the EEP resources to deliberate on salient regional security issues such as the Northeast Asia security dilemma and disarmament.
- Conduct desk top and scenario-based planning exercises for the ARF on subjects such as international terrorism, maritime security, disaster management, pandemics, and peace-keeping operations.
- Distinguish the role and functions of the EEPs from those of Track I (e.g., ISG) and Track II (e.g., CSCAP and ASEAN-ISIS).
- Hold EEP meetings at regular intervals, annually or biennially, to discuss recommendations concerning pragmatic measures in ARF areas of focus in confidence building and preventive diplomacy.
- Appoint a liaison officer or secretary to maintain contact among the EEPs.
- Establish a section in the ARF website to publicize the works of the EEPs and exchange information.