Australian Mission to ASEAN

EAS Workshop on Regional Security Frameworks

EAS Workshop on Regional Security Frameworks

Australian Intervention by H.E. Simon Merrifield, Australian Ambassador to ASEAN

Towards a New Perspective on Regional Security Paradigms: 


7 October 2014



I would like to thank Indonesia for hosting the 3rd EAS Workshop on Regional Security Frameworks.  And I thank his Excellency Foreign Minister Natalagawa in absentia for sharing his proposal of an Indo-Pacific Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation.

Australia welcomes the opportunity to participate in an open exchange of views on how to foster a stable strategic environment.

It is important to have ongoing discussion on the effectiveness of our regional security frameworks as a means to manage and resolve regional challenges, as well as reinforce regional implementation of global norms.

Firstly, I would like to acknowledge all proposals that have been presented by EAS members on regional security frameworks for the region, from China, Russia, India and Indonesia. 

While these proposals vary in style and substance, all demonstrate the importance EAS members attach to stability in the Indo-Pacific.  All share a commitment to peace in our region.

For Australia, the Indo-Pacific represents the core of our economic and strategic interests; an arc stretching across the eastern Indian Ocean, through East and Southeast Asia, towards the United States on the far side of the Pacific Ocean.  It is our view that the best environment for the Indo-Pacific is one which favours open economies and societies, encourages economic integration, promotes strategic stability, is inclusive in its membership and outward looking in perspective.

As others have noted, we face multi-faceted security challenges.  These include issues of trust, territorial disputes and changing power dynamics.  They also include non-traditional security issues such as the threat posed by terrorism, disasters and pandemic disease.

In times of crisis, we continue to demonstrate our ability to work cooperatively and effectively together to address these challenges.  Most recently, our collaborative efforts in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines and the search for Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 show the strength of our partnerships.

In addressing the challenges we face in the Indo-Pacific region, we should not lose sight of the strengths and benefits of existing architecture.  The regional security system is supported by a diverse range of bilateral and regional arrangements.  Constructive and forward-looking bilateral relations in the Indo-Pacific region, particularly among the major powers, are fundamental to our common strategic and economic interests.

For Australia, as for many other countries in the region, our alliance with the United States is at the very heart of our security policy – it is the cornerstone of our strategic architecture.  The US network of relationships in the region - of which our alliance is a crucial part - has underpinned the region’s security, and thus its economic prosperity for the past 60 years.   A strong and consistent US presence in the region will continue to be as important in providing future confidence in the Indo-Pacific’s rapidly changing strategic environment as it has in the past.

The assurance provided by alliance security commitments shapes the security posture of US alliance partners in positive ways that have broader regional benefits, including for countries who are not covered by formal alliances. 

The US rebalance provides regional countries opportunities to build regional cooperation and capacity.   As US marines rotate through Darwin, our forces will be able to work together with our regional partners to support stability, including through provision of humanitarian and disaster relief support.

But the security of our region is more than a sum of our bilateral relationships. Regional institutions play an important complementary role in shaping a strong, resilient regional order.  Indonesia’s concept paper rightly reminds us of existing security frameworks in the region.   These include the ASEAN Charter and the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, the latter of which all EAS members have of course signed up to.    The Bali Principles adopted by leaders in 2011 also provide the EAS membership with a shared security framework for cooperation.

We also work together on regional security and stability in existing defence and security arrangements, including the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) and ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting Plus.  These ASEAN-led mechanisms are built on the understanding that regional integration can strengthen economies and help manage strategic tensions.  Australia appreciates ASEAN’s leadership in establishing our existing regional frameworks including the formation of the EAS. 

With US and Russia now EAS members, the EAS' composition neatly matches the Indo-Pacific footprint.  From Australia’s perspective the EAS stands out as the regional institution with the most potential to shape a strong and resilient regional order.  Its mandate embraces both the strategic and the economic – a crucial point at a time when the interplay between economic and strategic weight will define the strategic order of the region.  This makes the EAS the premier forum through which to build trust, increase cooperation and reinforce international norms.

We would like to see the EAS serve three objectives:

First, help ensure that regional financial and economic integration keeps moving forward.

Second, provide a vehicle to address transnational issues such as non-proliferation, terrorism and other non-traditional security issues.

And third, foster dialogue and collaboration on security issues.

This last point is the focus of today’s discussion. Over time, we would like to see the EAS go further than dialogue and collaboration, important as both those things are, and realise its potential as the premier vehicle for managing and resolving regional challenges.


This is especially important where those challenges touch on sensitive issues. Such will be inevitable in the shifting strategic environment in the region. But their escalation into conflicts certainly is not. 

For Australia, the question we are grappling with for now is not whether we have the right frameworks but what should be done to ensure our existing regional institutional frameworks are up to the task.  There is great potential there, yet there is some way to go.

We need to sharpen the operation of our existing regional architecture, especially the EAS, to be more responsive and relevant to the challenges of the day.  And in doing that we need to focus on three things: rules, norms and the way our leaders’ meetings are conducted.

Starting with rules, deepening regional understanding of, and compliance with, UN conventions and instruments which underpin the global security framework is one important area where we could intensify our efforts. Having clear rules that all key players abide by is fundamental to the security of us all.  We commend ASEAN's efforts to see the regional architecture evolve into more rules-based frameworks.

Codification of rules would be well-served by strengthening the role of the EAS in bringing clarity to our shared norms. The thing about norms is they go beyond written frameworks. They are about the patterns of behaviour we, as a grouping of regional countries, do and do not accept.

Important norms such as:

  • Respect for, and compliance with, international law
  • In the event of disagreements, exercise of self-restraint.
  • Refraining from the use or the threat of use of force.
  • Avoiding provocative actions that increase tensions.
  • Unimpeded trade and freedom of navigation.
  • Transparency of intentions
  • Consultation
  • Clarity – particularly of longstanding territorial claims, and
  • Information sharing, particularly to build a common picture that supports policy responses to regional issues

Clarifying our common understanding of what is meant by each of these norms would help bring greater certainty to regional behaviour.  Certainty underpins trust, and trust builds stability and security.   Certainty and predictability also mean that it is clear when there has been a transgression of these norms. And it would be in all of our interests to articulate that such transgressions are unacceptable.

As we know, regular leaders' meetings also underpin clarity and trust.   So we need to ensure that this annual three-hour opportunity offers our leaders the absolute best use of their time.  Of course leaders should be unrestrained in choosing the topics they wish to address. But in bolstering EAS effectiveness in addressing regional security challenges, we need to be sure the issues that are the most urgent, the most pressing - particularly those that pose the greatest risk in the event of a miscalculation - are the ones on the table.  Especially those issues for which resolution really requires a political-level decision. When the EAS becomes the first port of call in the event of a regional or even global security crisis, that’s when we know we’ve made it a success.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The EAS is the premier leaders-led forum. It has the right membership. It is therefore the vehicle through which our endeavours to enhance regional security should be directed – this perhaps, after all, is not an entirely new paradigm, but the deepening and expansion of one that began with ASEAN all those years ago. Habits of consultation and sustained attention and effort to bring clarity to endeavours, including through writing them down, go a long way towards improving peace and security. We need to translate the best of ASEAN’s success in that to our own work in the complex and evolving strategic environment of this region.

Thank you.