The modern miracle that is Asean

The modern miracle that is Asean
Mr S. Rajaratnam (right), then Singapore's Foreign Minister, at the historic 1967 Bangkok meeting, which saw the founding of ASEAN. With him are envoys (from left) Narciso Ramos from the Philippines, Adam Malik from Indonesia, Thanat Khoman from Thailand and Tun Abdul Razak from Malaysia.

LIKE all great men, Mr Lee Kuan Yew left behind many legacies.

Some are obvious. The transformation of Singapore from Third World to First World is one of them. So, too, is the strong multiracial and multicultural fabric of Singapore.

But some of his legacies are not so obvious. They will be uncovered over time. One such legacy will be ASEAN.

Sadly, even though Singaporeans benefit greatly from the strategic "umbrella" that ASEAN provides for Singapore, few in Singapore are aware how remarkable ASEAN is. Even fewer know that ASEAN is the result of the work of a few remarkable men, including Mr Lee.

This is one reason why my next book will be on ASEAN. Singaporeans and the world need to understand this remarkable organisation better.

To describe ASEAN succinctly, let me assert that ASEAN is a living and breathing modern miracle.

Why do I say this?

After World War II, many regions launched regional organisations. Many of them failed or barely stayed alive. Amazingly, even some initiatives launched by the Europeans have failed.

For example, the much-vaunted Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe failed to prevent war in the Balkans and in Ukraine.

Other organisations, like the Organisation of American States (OAS) and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) sputter on.

There are only two really successful regional organisations - the European Union (EU) and ASEAN.

The most successful is the EU and it remains so despite the recent problems with the euro. Its economic achievements are spectacular but its security achievements are far more spectacular.

Today, there are not just zero wars between any two EU member states. There is zero prospect of war. This is the highest civilisational achievement any organisation can have.

ASEAN has not yet achieved zero prospect of war between its member states. But it is moving solidly in that direction. And in some respects, ASEAN's success in preventing war is more remarkable because it is a far more diverse region than Europe.

Virtually every major culture and civilisation can be found within the ASEAN fabric. By contrast, the EU remains a mono-civilisational Christian club. Indeed, South-east Asia was described as the Balkans of Asia.

When the Cold War ended, it would have been more natural to have wars in the Balkans of Asia than in the Balkans of Europe. Instead, the opposite happened. War broke out in Yugoslavia.


As I outline in a chapter on "the ASEAN ecosystem of peace" in my forthcoming book, many factors led to this extraordinary peace. One of these key factors was leadership, especially the leadership provided by Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

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