EU-ASEAN Defense Partnership: What Future Holds for Them?

Josep Borell, visited Indonesia and the ASEAN Secretariat in June 2021 to discuss about how both EU and ASEAN could enhance the existing EU-ASEAN Strategic Partnership.

The EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borell, visited Indonesia and the ASEAN Secretariat in June 2021 to discuss about how both EU and ASEAN could enhance the existing EU-ASEAN Strategic Partnership. It bears fruit a collaboration between both regions to hold 17 webinars by EU Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Risk Mitigation Centers of Excellence (COE) sharing their knowledge on how to improve region biosafety and biosecurity by exchanging of experience and good practices among ASEAN and EU countries, And currently EU-ASEAN has implemented the plan of action to make pathway for ASEAN-EU Strategic Partnership plan that will go from 2023 until 2027 with many plans has been laid out for the future of both regions cooperations but most of the activities that has been planned in the plan of action are continuing existing cooperation of both organization. Then the question remains after all of those exchanges was: Is it possible for both regions to foster more comprehensive defense cooperation?

ASEAN and EU Defense Foreign Policy Similarity

ASEAN has known by others in history as an important region who values multilateralism in their foreign policy due the nature of their own members that consists of different nations with different history and government type, it exercise its multilateralism by engaging in various regional and international forums to promote cooperation and dialogue with direct example by looking at ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting Plus (ADMM-Plus) as a platform for ASEAN defense ministers to have dialogue with their counterparts from various countries such as United States, China, Japan, South Korea, Russia and the European Union. As in current geopolitics landscape in ASEAN, it has been threatened in many sectors especially maritime security where many ASEAN nations have dispute with China regarding South China Sea Exclusive Economic Zone.

As tension grows in the South China Sea, ASEAN need to navigate these dynamics while maintaining its independence and sovereignty, looking back at EU and ASEAN it shares many similarities in navigating such intricacies as both regional organization held firm by relying on prioritizing multilateral frameworks by working together they believe that they can amplify their voice and concerns in global geopolitics as independent bodies that doesn’t relies on any single great power, it helps them maintaining strategic autonomy in geopolitical landscape.

Strategic autonomy has become one of important goals of both EU and ASEAN in global arena, they tries it best to diversify their partnerships and avoiding excessive reliance on any single great power to allow them pursuing their own interests and value without being influenced by external pressures, European Union has shown its prowess to maintain their independence by focusing more on their internal policies to combat foreign powers influence, by building unified foreign policy that formed in hope to unify all members values, interests and priorities to make them able to speak with one voice and project its influence globally. ASEAN has also made similar progress to integrate its member states through various regional organization to foster cooperation, political stability and defense diplomacy.

Looking back at these similarities, we need to admit that in defense sector EU and ASEAN has significant differences while EU has integrated defense policies and a stronger defense industry so it can rely on itself when it comes to defense sector, in the other hand ASEAN has varying levels of defense capabilities even some countries have excessive reliance upon single great power in defense sector that in return makes them susceptible to foreign influence that would harm region independence from external pressure, from prior explanation we can see that EU can be an important partner for ASEAN to foster enhanced regional security and achieving its dream to gain regional integration level as high as EU.

Shared Challenges and Concerns

China and United States rivalries has become a rough wave for both EU and ASEAN, those great powers interaction affects their approach on keeping their sovereignty afloat. Majority of European nations have close relationship with US through the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) that puts EU in vulnerable area if their visions aren’t the same with US. In the other hand ASEAN forced to face directly with China due to geographical location and China has been harassing ASEAN members in defense and economy sector by aggressive military maneuvers made by Chinese Coast Guards in South China Sea that hinders many fishermen in said region to operate normally, China are taking advantage of ASEAN policy on noninterference in members internal affairs that makes them unable to take action as one as many ASEAN members have dependency with Chinese market to fulfill their economic needs.

Both of EU and ASEAN problems boils down into one: How do they suppress and face as one against external threats that are significantly bigger than them?

The Future of Cooperation Between EU-ASEAN

Stated in previous paragraph, it has shed a light to us that both regional organizations face similar issue in geopolitics arena where they are significantly affected by interactions made by US and China, but it has shown that ASEAN are the most vulnerable one from such effects. Comparatively speaking EU fare better to build resilience against foreign influence thus we see existing cooperation between EU and ASEAN could be enhance to prepare ASEAN against external pressure.

In technical sector we would expect ASEAN strengthening their existing regional security architecture by emphasizing the importance of ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting Plus (ADMM-Plus) to further broaden member state horizons and cooperation between actors to address shared security challenges and promote the shared feeling of belonging among member states, in the light of ASEAN values of non-interference with internal affairs of members we believe that we can build more trust with each ASEAN members to cooperate with EU in improving coordination and cooperation by doing capacity building and joint exercises.

Up until this point, we admit that what makes EU a force to be reckoned with is their interoperability where they have standardized procedures and training, to face such big threat as China ASEAN should learn and try to apply what has been done by EU to further increase the interoperability of member states militaries to ensure that they can work effectively as one when crisis arises.

Lastly, EU has integrated defense sector where their defense industries work with each other to further increase self-reliance in domestic sector, ASEAN defense industries can improve if they able to learn and work together as one by prioritizing their own defense capabilities and reducing dependence on external actors to strengthen each other military capabilities.

All of these efforts might sacrifice a sense of sovereignty of ASEAN member states, but when facing a great threat I believe building trust with each other through intricate collaborations and joint projects would help establish an extensive cooperation between EU and ASEAN, Both regions has same problems to begin with but EU has prove that they have establish greatest integration between member states especially in defense sector, ASEAN would benefit so much if existing cooperation between said regional cooperation can become more deep and complex to help them strengthen their defense cooperation to address shared security challenges, enhancing interoperability and building trust among member states.

Deni Yupinto Dinopit
Deni Yupinto Dinopit
International Relations Student from Andalas University, Indonesia. Interested in security and defense affairs.