On August 10 in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar, Secretary of State John Kerry led the United States’ delegation to the 21st Meeting of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), an annual gathering of foreign ministers and senior officials representing 26 countries from Pakistan to the Pacific Rim, and the European Union. The ARF is the region’s main foreign minister-level forum for promoting security, and this year it addressed pressing political and security issues including: maritime cooperation in the South China Sea and diplomatic solutions to decrease tension among claimant states; concerns over the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s nuclear program and human rights situation; the conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza; and regional cooperation on issues ranging from cyber-security to nonproliferation to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HA/DR). The ministers adopted statements on cooperation for offshore oil spill incidents and maritime and aeronautical search and rescue.
The ARF ministers also endorsed ARF activities held during the past year and approved over 20 proposed activities for the coming year. These activities cover several key security areas, including: preventive diplomacy; maritime security; disaster response; counterterrorism and transnational crime; and nonproliferation and disarmament. The United States is actively engaged in all areas and is committed to working through the ARF to shape a rules-based order that is stable, peaceful, open and free.
A top priority for U.S. engagement in the ARF is advancing the forum from a body focused on confidence building to one capable of preventive diplomacy. Preventive diplomacy refers to timely, non-coercive and peaceful methods consistent with international law to deal with disputes and conflict.
- In March, the United States, Brunei, China, and New Zealand hosted a Roundtable on Training Resources for Preventive Diplomacy in Wellington, New Zealand that established a foundation for future preventive diplomacy training in the ARF.
- Building on momentum from the Wellington roundtable, the United States with support from the United States Institute of Peace will partner with China, New Zealand, and Thailand to hold a preventive diplomacy training course later this year.
- Leveraging regional think tank and academic expertise is important to the development of an effective, comprehensive approach to regional preventive diplomacy. To this end, the United States will co-chair with New Zealand and Thailand a Preventive Diplomacy Symposium to facilitate the exchange of ideas between governmental and non-governmental experts on how best to implement preventive diplomacy training in the ARF.
- The United States submitted input to the ARF Annual Security Outlook, which provides a comprehensive outline of U.S. regional security policies and capabilities in the region, to encourage full transparency in military resources and strategy among ARF members.
With over 40 percent of the world’s seaborne trade flowing through the Asia Pacific, maintaining open sea lines of communication and ensuring freedom of navigation and other lawful uses of the seas are critical for regional security and stability. As a Pacific nation, the United States continues to prioritize maritime security cooperation through the promotion of freedom of navigation, international law, the peaceful settlement of disputes, and unimpeded lawful commerce.
- In May, the United States, Indonesia and the Republic of Korea hosted the Inter-Sessional Meeting (ISM) on Maritime Security in Bali, Indonesia, concluding a three-year co-chairmanship. The agenda focused on building confidence and sharing best practices on safety of navigation, maritime search and rescue, and combatting illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. Participants also exchanged views on pressing maritime security issues in the region, including concerns over recent developments in the South China Sea, where tensions have risen over disputed territorial and maritime claims. The United States will continue to encourage greater multilateral cooperation through increased transparency and confidence building as it continues its co-chairmanship of the Maritime Security ISM for another three years, partnering with Japan and the Philippines.
- The United States, through a partnership with Brunei, China, Japan, and Singapore, promoted positive maritime cooperation through two marine environmental protection workshops that focused on offshore oil spills, leading to the ARF Ministers’ Statement on Cooperation.
- The United States will also co-chair a seminar next year on counter-piracy with Japan, Malaysia, and India, that will address challenges faced by coastal countries in addressing piracy and armed robbery in Asia.
Seventy percent of all natural disasters occur in the Asia Pacific, costing the region $68 billion annually over the past ten years. Through continued, dedicated efforts, ARF participants have made considerable progress in the area of disaster relief, taking lessons learned, including from the recent super typhoon Haiyan, and working to improve the capabilities of ASEAN’s Coordination Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management (AHA Centre).
- The United States has participated in three ARF Disaster Relief Exercises (DiREx), including as co-chair in 2009. In order to strengthen regional cooperation and improve regional disaster response, the United States will continue robust participation and support for DiREx in 2015, led by USAID’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, and supported by U.S. Pacific Command and other U.S. agencies.
- Climate change is a complex strategic driver with significant economic, societal, and political implications. Initiatives to adapt to a changing climate are already underway in the Asia Pacific, including in the ARF, where the United States and Brunei will co-chair a climate change adaptation workshop to build regional awareness and capacity to address this challenge. The United States is also working with Singapore and Vietnam to promote the use of renewable fuels within the U.S.-Asia-Pacific Comprehensive Energy Partnership.
- The United States is working with Australia and Malaysia to develop a multi-year strategic exercise plan for the region’s various HA/DR bodies and mechanisms—namely the ASEAN Committee on Diaster Management, ARF, the ASEAN Defense Minister’s Meeting Plus and the East Asia Summit— to prepare us to better coordinate delivery of life-saving relief in future disasters.
Counter-terrorism and Transnational Crime
The ARF addresses four core areas in its work on counterterrorism and transnational crime: illicit drugs; cyber security; counter-radicalization; and chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) issues. The ARF is making efforts to improve collaboration among regional governments to address these issues:
- The United States is working with Singapore to conduct the next in a series of cyber workshops focused on developing confidence building measures for the region. As national security interests are increasingly tied to cyberspace, the development of confidence building measures that facilitate increased transparency, greater cooperation, and improved capacity within the region is essential to reducing the risk of future conflict.
- The ARF Cross-Sectoral Security Cooperation on Bio-Preparedness and Disaster Response project, led by the United States and the Philippines, is a series of workshops and activities designed to implement the best practices approved by the 20th ARF. ARF participants can draw from their best practices to develop their respective national guidelines and enhance regional capacity for preparedness and collective response to a biological event .
- This year the United States, Indonesia, and Myanmar will host a workshop on migration and human security to strengthen regional knowledge and capacity to address the human security challenges of migration and to promote the benefits of legal, safe, and orderly migration.
- The United States and Malaysia will co-chair a workshop on mitigating demand for illegal wildlife trafficking in the Asia Pacific. Wildlife traffickers have become increasingly well-armed and organized, and what was once small scale or opportunistic killing has escalated into the coordinated slaughter of endangered and protected wildlife commissioned by terrorist organizations and organized crime syndicates. This joint U.S.-Malaysian effort will complement wildlife trafficking-related activities planned in APEC and other fora, as well as the work of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC).
Nonproliferation and Disarmament
The ARF is the premier regional venue for multilateral cooperation on nonproliferation and disarmament issues through tangible capacity building programs and open discussions to coordinate efforts and build common understanding.
- The United States partnered with other members to institutionalize the discussion on nonproliferation and disarmament issues in the ARF and to develop a work plan that promotes balance for the three central pillars of the global nonproliferation regime: preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, promoting the peaceful use of nuclear technology, and advancing global disarmament efforts.
- This year, the United States, the European Union, and Singapore will host a technical workshop on nuclear forensics.
Capitalizing on the first ARF space security workshop, the United States, Indonesia, and Japan will lead a workshop to explore the benefits of space assets for ASEAN states, address current issues facing the space environment, and assess approaches to space security to ensure the benefits for future generations.