U.S. Engagement in the 2015 ASEAN Regional Forum

Office of the Spokesperson
Washington, DC

On August 6 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Secretary of State John Kerry led the United States’ delegation to the 22nd 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 a regional foreign minister-level forum for promoting security, and this year it addressed pressing political and security issues including: marine environmental protection and conservation; the South China Sea; concerns over the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s proscribed nuclear and ballistic missile programs and human rights situation; the humanitarian crisis emanating from the irregular maritime movement of people in Southeast and South Asia and the Mediterranean; and regional cooperation on issues ranging from cyber-security to non-proliferation to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HA/DR). The ARF ministers adopted the U.S. co-sponsored Statement on Strengthened Cooperation on Marine Environmental Protection and Conservation and Secretary Kerry announced a new USAID Oceans and Fisheries Partnership with an initial commitment of $4.3 million that will address the threat of Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing in Southeast Asia.

Ministers also endorsed ARF activities that occurred during the past year and approved over 30 proposals 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 these areas and is committed to working through the ARF to shape a rules-based order that is stable, peaceful, open and free.

Preventive Diplomacy
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 July, the United States, Thailand, and New Zealand co-chaired the ARF Track 1.5 Symposium on Preventive Diplomacy in Bangkok, and last October the United States, China, Brunei, and New Zealand hosted the ARF Training Course on Preventive Diplomacy in Beijing. These events are aimed at promoting and shaping the advancement of Preventive Diplomacy within the ARF after 20 years of focusing on confidence-building measures (CBMs).

Building on momentum from these events, the United States with support from the United States Institute of Peace plans to partner with Vietnam and Brunei to hold a preventive diplomacy training course in Vietnam early next year. This event will capitalize on regional think tank and academic expertise to help develop an effective, comprehensive approach to regional preventive diplomacy.

The United States submitted input to the ARF Annual Security Outlook, which provides a comprehensive outline of U.S. security policies and capabilities in the region, to encourage full transparency in military resources and strategy among ARF members.

Maritime Security
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 movement and other lawful uses of the sea 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.

Together with Singapore, Vietnam, and China, the United States sponsored the ARF Statement on Strengthened Cooperation on Marine Environmental Protection and Conservation that was endorsed by the foreign ministers at the meeting. This statement acknowledges the vital importance of marine ecosystems and resources to food security, human health, and economic well-being in the Asia-Pacific and calls on ARF participants to cooperate on efforts to reduce pollution, conserve coastal and marine areas, manage fisheries and combat illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

IUU fishing practices threaten biodiversity, food security, and livelihoods in the region. Secretary Kerry announced a new USAID Oceans and Fisheries Partnership, with an initial commitment of $4.3 million, to address this threat and help to implement regional initiatives and projects. This program implemented in partnership with the Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center, includes measures designed to promote national policies that support sustainable and legal fishing, increase transparency of fishery supply chains, and facilitate international research cooperation.
The United States, Japan, and the Philippines hosted the Inter-Sessional Meeting (ISM) on Maritime Security in Honolulu in April, which is the first year of a three-year co-chairmanship. The agenda focused on building confidence and sharing best practices on multiple issues, including the marine environment, maritime safety, piracy, and combatting IUU 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 continues to encourage greater multilateral cooperation through increased transparency and confidence building as it continues its co-chairmanship of the Maritime Security ISM for another two years.

In March, Japan, Malaysia, India, and the United States co-chaired a seminar in Tokyo on counter-piracy. This event highlighted the challenges in addressing piracy and armed robbery, particularly for coastal countries in Asia.

Disaster Relief
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, using lessons learned to improve the capabilities of ASEAN’s Coordination Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management (AHA Centre) and its goal to achieve “One ASEAN, One Response” by 2020.

The United States participated in the 2015 ARF Disaster Relief Exercises (DiREx), a biennial exercise which was held this year in Kedah, Malaysia. Co-chairs Malaysia and China addressed sensitive but critical issues that can hamper effective disaster response, including customs, immigration and quarantine (CIQ) protocols, coordination mechanisms, and the need to consider the East Asia Summit (EAS) Rapid Disaster Response (RDR) guidelines. Since its inception in 2009, the United States has supported this event, including its role as the first co-chair. In order to strengthen regional cooperation and improve regional disaster response, the United States expects to continue to participate and support DiREx in the future with USAID’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, U.S. Pacific Command, and other U.S. agencies.
Climate change is a complex strategic factor 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, Thailand, and Brunei intend to co-chair a climate change adaptation workshop to build regional awareness and capacity to address this challenge.
The United States co-chaired a workshop with Australia and Malaysia to develop a common framework for the region’s numerous HA/DR exercises among its various fora—namely the ASEAN Committee on Disaster Management (ACDM), ARF, the ASEAN Defense Minister’s Meeting Plus (ADMM-Plus) and the East Asia Summit (EAS). This workshop marked the first time members have met to address regional HA/DR needs, capacities, and roles as well as synchronizing training activities and exercises in order to better coordinate life-saving relief efforts during future disasters.

Counterterrorism and Transnational Crime
The ARF addresses five core areas in its work on counterterrorism and transnational crime: illicit drugs; cyber security; counter-radicalization; chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) issues; and trafficking in persons (TIP). 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 CBMs 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. Participants in the events can use these activities as a basis for developing their respective national guidelines and enhancing regional capacity for preparedness and collective response to a biological event. An outcome of the first workshop conducted in August 2014 was a template for national bio-preparedness that ARF participants can use for these purposes. The next event is a tabletop exercise in Manila this month aimed at validating the draft template for national bio-preparedness.

In March, the United States and Malaysia co-chaired a workshop on mitigating demand for illegal wildlife trafficking in the Asia-Pacific. This joint U.S.-Malaysian effort attracted a high level of interest, with participants including the Malaysian Minister of Foreign Affairs and the U.S. Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment. This event complemented wildlife trafficking-related activities in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (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).

Also in March, the United States and Myanmar co-chaired in Nay Pyi Taw the ARF Workshop on Security, Stability, and International Migration in the ASEAN Region. This workshop reviewed ARF priorities in promoting the benefits of legal, safe, and orderly migration and in addressing the security challenges associated with irregular migration. Furthermore, the workshop emphasized the role of regional cooperation in promoting the rights of migrant workers and ways to strengthen regular migration processes at the national and transnational levels, including during times of crises.

In September, the United States and the Philippines are hosting the ARF Workshop on First Response Support for Victims of Terrorism and other Mass Casualty Events in Manila. This workshop will bring together policymakers and practitioners to promote good practices regarding the treatment of victims of terrorist attacks and other mass casualty events.

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.

Working with other ARF members, the United States led an effort to institutionalize the discussion on nonproliferation and disarmament issues in the ARF and to develop a work plan of activities that promotes balance across 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.

The agenda of the 7th ARF ISM on Non-Proliferation and Disarmament (NPD) considered international mechanisms as well as tools, resources, and capacity-building for WMD threat reduction together with preventing and countering WMD proliferation which included export control regimes, UNSCR 1540, the Proliferation Security Initiative, the Nuclear Security Summit, and assistance programs from other countries.
Space Security

Capitalizing on the first ARF Space Security Workshop, the United States, China, Russia, and Laos plan to co-chair a follow-on workshop to explore the benefits of outer space for ASEAN Member States, address current issues facing the space environment, and assess approaches to space security to ensure the benefits for future generations.