A. Regional Leadership in Southeast Asia: Can ASEAN Still Occupy the Driver’s Seat?
As the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) enters its 45th year, it arguably occupies a dramatically different position in the region than it had even a decade ago. Once written off as a “talk shop” whose member states were neither able nor willing to forge substantive regional cooperation, ASEAN is now drawing renewed attention as it moves toward the establishment of an ASEAN Community in 2015. In addition, Vietnam’s dynamic economy and Myanmar’s surprising steps toward apparent political reform are leading policy analysts to take a second look at the prospects for regional cooperation. At the same time, China’s rapidly growing regional influence and the Obama administration’s recent declarations that it intends to “pivot” its defense policy and diplomacy toward the Asia-Pacific raise questions about ASEAN’s ability to retain control of the region’s institutional structures. If the Asia-Pacific once again becomes the site of Great Power maneuvering, can ASEAN remain, in its own words, “in the driver’s seat” when it comes to regional cooperation?