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(August 13, 2021) 54 years on, Asean needs new modality

After 54 years of being together, Asean is at the end of its tether. It has never been more divided than now, split within member states and across all 10 of them, dominated once again by divisive superpower rivalry and competition. In practice, this means Asean will appear increasingly ineffectual and inert. There will be much bureaucratic motion but few substantive organisational and policy outcomes amid unresolved challenges from within and from outside the region. Asean's best way forward may require unprecedented radical thinking towards a multi-track organisation to ensure relevance and momentum where it can be generated.

For roughly the first 25 years of its regional life in international affairs, Asean as we know it was together and divided at the same time. The five original founding members -- Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand -- were an amalgam but the rest of Southeast Asia was not included at the time. Thanks in part to the camaraderie of their leaders, the five founding members stuck together and got a lot done by carving out regional autonomy for individual national development during the Cold War in the face of the superpower showdown between the United States and the Soviet Union and their opposing systems of Western capitalist development and communist central planning.