Influence of Non-intervention on the Asia-Pacific strategic environment



Nonintervention in military studies refers to the situation in which foreign policy is designed to prevent political leaders from allying with foreign nations while at the same time maintaining a good level of diplomacy and avoiding wars that do not involve self-defense. It is policy that restricts states from interfering with external affairs of another nation state without its approval. This policy is based on the principle of sovereignty of nations that disallows nations from interfering with the political affairs of other nations. It enhances strategic independence of a given nation; hence influencing its strategic environment.

This essay provides a discussion of the positive and negative influences of nonintervention on Asia-Pacific strategic environment. The main impact of non-intervention is that it enhances sovereignty of the ASEAN.[1] This sovereignty comes with both negative and positive effects on the Asia Pacific strategic environment. The positive aspect is that it enhances strategic independence; hence enabling the Asia Pacific nations to pursue its strategic activities without interference. This will in turn enable those nations to achieve their strategic objectives because the strategic activities will be directed to the needs of the Asian Pacific nations. On the negative side, non-intervention will restrict strategic support from other nations. It may also lead to isolation from other nations of the world. These negative effects may cause failure in the achievement of strategic objectives.

Background of Non-intervention in ASEAN

Non-intervention in the ASEAN has been a key component in the strategic environment of the Asia Pacific since the creation of ASEAN in 1967. The countries in this region decided not to form a strategic military alliance. Instead, they chose to operate within a framework that is guided by non-intervention principle. The purpose of this principle is to guarantee the member states some independence and sovereignty.

The principle of non-interference was first stipulated in ASEAN’s original document referred to as the Bangkok declaration which was issued in 1967.[2] The Bangkok declaration clearly stated that the ASEAN countries are committed to non-intervention from foreigners in order to enhance stability both internally and regionally. The principle of non-interference was also reiterated in the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC) in1976 and the 1997 Kuala Lumpur Declaration.

Before the establishment of the non-interference principle, there were several factors that undermined sovereignty of nations in the Asia Pacific region. One of the factors was the colonial rule. Another factor was the Cold War. Chinese acts of attempting to export communism also undermined sovereignty of other nations.[3] Therefore, it was necessary to establish the non-intervention principle in order to enhance stability, independence and sovereignty of ASEAN states.

The main aim of forming the ASEAN was to overcome the challenges of power rivalry between the East and West Asia.[4] The best way to overcome the rivalry was to develop a sovereignty norm whereby each nation pursued its own internal affairs without interference from other nations. This non-intervention approach was developed through consensus and consultation among member countries of the ASEAN.[5] The ASEAN was also formed to allow its nations to engage in constructive dialogue.

Following the Cold War, ASEAN became essential for regional economic development in the Asia Pacific region and an avenue for security dialogue and consensus among member countries. This has strengthened the Asia Pacific countries gave them power to engage in regional affairs. ASEAN has also become a key driver of international security by influencing the international affairs of the world’s great powers.

Despite its great influence in both domestic sovereignty and international security, the ASEAN has triggered great debate in its legitimacy and effectiveness. Non-interference policy which is the central pillar of the ASEAN has become a barrier to the region’s attempts to overcome its challenges.[6] Narine (2008) also suggests that the non-interference principle upon which the ASEAN was built has bcome the major hindrance to economic development in the Asia Pacific region.

Influence of globalisation on non-intervention

Non-intervention has changed in the past decade as the impact of globalisation becomes greater each year. Foreign policies in the global world now emphasize key issues such as the environment, democracy, and human rights. UN Vienna Conference of 1993 provided that each nation should maintain domestic human rights as its main concern.[7] The US has reaffirmed the need to promote domestic democracy and sovereignty of nations by denying military assistance to nations with their own military.

However, the influence of globalisation has made it difficult for nations to maintain sovereignty. This is because globalisation has enhanced closer economic and political cooperation among countries of the world. The presence of IMF and the World Bank brings the governance and economy of nations into the global front. The use of internet and international media also exposes the domestic affairs of various nations. These aspects of globalisation influence the impact of non-intervention. Security issues also move from one country to another, causing inter-state cooperation; hence the principle of non-intervention is undermined.

Due to these impacts of globalisation, the ASEAN has been motivated to reconsider its non-intervention principle in a new dimension. This new dimension is particularly taken in relevance to the western community, the civil society and international media.[8] The ASEAN has been influenced by globalisation to address economic and environmental issues, enhance inter-state cooperation, and promote democracy and human rights in neighbouring countries.[9]

These global changes have caused challenges in the implementation of the non-intervention principle. However, there still great positive aspects of non-intervention that can still be enjoyed in the Asia Pacific strategic environment even as globalisation grows.


Theoretical perspectives on the effects of Non-intervention

Realism and non-intervention

Realism brings out the positive effects of non-intervention on the Asia Pacific strategic environment.[10] According to realism, norms, laws and institutions are the representations of the existing balance of power, or the legitimizing principles of existing political power.[11] So, strategic perspectives of a nation are not determined by its norms but self-interests. Some of these interests include domestic social and economic security, international hegemony, and peace.

In order to serve its self-interests as suggested by the realism theory, ASEAN countries have adopted some form of non-intervention which is not a norm but a manifestation of self-interests among member countries. Each country wants to have its own sovereignty and independence in order to maintain domestic stability in terms of economic and social order. These self-interests lead to the development of non-intervention principle as a legitimizing source of domestic stability and balance of power.

Constructivism and non-intervention

In a theoretical perspective, the influence of nonintervention on the Asia Pacific strategic perspective can be discussed using constructivism. According to constructivists, shared norms are the guiding principles of a given community. According to Finnermore (2003), state practices and evolution of shared norms determine the interests if that country. As a result, the legitimacy of intervention is derived from the ability of such intervention to meet the interests of the country which reflect its shared norms.

In the Asia Pacific region, the shared norm is that of non-intervention, sovereignty, consensus and diplomatic conflict resolution. However, constructivists argue that intervention may be used by states to maintain social order.[12] Therefore, non-intervention contributes negatively by preventing social order which could have been enhanced through intervention. Constructivism focuses on norms that are often shared and consensual. Intervention leads to the change in social purpose of a given state so that it is in line with the shared norms of that state. In this case, non-intervention prevents the achievement of such a social purpose.

The Importance of Non-intervention Principle in Asia Pacific Strategic Environment

One of the major challenges that the non-intervention principle seeks to overcome is inter-state trust. Friedrichs (2012) argues that the regionalism of Asia Pacific has enhanced interstate trust. This regionalism is an important outcome of the non-intervention principle upon which the ASEAN was built. Following the conflict of Malaysia and Indonesia between 1963 and 1966, the ASEAN contributed to the diplomatic reconciliation of the two nations. The baseline was non-interventionism which was the key topic in the diplomatic relations of the Asia Pacific countries. Inter-state trust builds confidence among Asia Pacific nations; hence contributing to resolution of conflicts.

This is an important contribution to Asia Pacific Strategic environment because East and South Asia regions are commonly known for negotiation and conflict resolution by discussions and consensus rather than through war and military action. Inter-state trust contributes positively to the Asia Pacific strategic environment because it enables states in the region to engage in diplomatic reconciliation, consensus and discussions easily and successfully. If a nation gains independence and sovereignty through non-intervention, inter-state trust occurs and the strategic approach of consensus in the Asia Pacific becomes more successful in dealing with security issues.

Non-intervention has also enhanced peaceful change in Asia Pacific region. The aspect of peaceful change is based on the non-intervention principle as enshrined in the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation of Southeast Asia signed in 1976.

Another key aspect in the Asia Pacific strategic environment is economic security. Economic security is a domestic function which has been attained in Asia Pacific region mainly through international cooperation. Non-intervention principle in the region has allowed international cooperation in terms of foreign direct investment and trade. This is enhanced through regional integration. However, the principle also guards the nations from military and political intervention so that the country uses its sovereignty to improve its economic growth through international trade and investment.

Threats of domestic stability have also been overcome through the nonintervention principle. Nonintervention in the face of international cooperation promotes effective management of non-traditional security threats. Non-traditional security as perceived by China and other Asia Pacific nations is used to overcome transnational threat to domestic stability.[13] The authoritarian regimes of East Asia benefit significantly from this concept of non-traditional security. According to the authoritarian regimes, regional security cooperation can be attained only through management of non-traditional threats to domestic stability. This is achieved if the state is allowed to manage its own domestic affairs through non-interference.

The principle of non-interference has prevented ASEAN member states from destabilizing each other. Cooperation involves intrusion to a nation’s sovereignty; so non-intervention should be embraced first in order to enhance domestic stability among Asia Pacific nations and promote state security.

Another key positive contribution of non-intervention in the Asia Pacific strategic environment is that it strengthens the focus of nations on internal security matters. When a nation is detached from other nations through non-interference, it will pursue its own domestic affairs more independently. Focusing on internal security matters is an essential strategy in the pursuit of international security. This is because a country is able to defend itself more successfully from external security threats if the domestic strategic environment is free of security threats. For instance, the ASEAN member states were affected by social and political disorder after the Cold War which needed to be addressed before the states could engage in external affairs.[14] Therefore, it was important for the states to gain independence through non-interference in order to solve such disorders and handle domestic security issues first before becoming ready to engage with the international community.

Non-interference has also portrayed the aspect of sovereignty as a responsibility, and has enhanced a shift from the narrow traditional scope of sovereignty to a greater understanding and appreciation of sovereignty as a political responsibility of nations. For instance, Singapore has moved from the narrow ideas of sovereignty.[15] The Philippines has also accepted the principle of non-interference as a measure of adopting consensus as a means of enhancing democracy and sovereignty of ASEAN member states.

Non-intervention has also become important in the strategic environment of the Asia Pacific region because it discourages countries in the region from colluding with opposition movements in the neighbouring countries.[16] One of the examples of interventions from neighbouring countries through the support of opposition movements is the case Malaysia and Filipino. The two nations supported Muslim groups in Sabah and Mindano. Other examples include Malaysia’s support for Malay opposition group in Thailand, and the support of the Malayan communist party by the Thai. The principle of intervention prevents the escalation of insurgencies to unprecedented levels.

This is important for the strategic environment of the Asia Pacific region because it enables countries to deal with their own domestic opposition groups using their own resources in order to defeat them. If the insurgents get support from powerful neighbours, the country affected will have a big challenge to defeat the insurgents because the insurgents will have a stronger base and support.

Another positive impact of non-intervention in the strategic environment of Asia Pacific region is that it assures weaker nations that unfavourable policies will not be imposed on them. This enabled such countries to develop their own mechanisms resolve their own differences among the elite; hence avoiding the need to use various forms of pressure to pursue their national military strategies. In simple terms, non-intervention enabled Asia Pacific nations to move from containing divisions to supporting leaders. Leadership support is a key element in military strategic environment.

Another key importance of non-intervention in the Asia Pacific strategic environment is that it enhances stability among member states and the ASEAN region as a whole. Stability is enhanced because non-intervention reduces conflicts among member states. This stability is in turn essential for international peace and security.[17] Non-interference also enables member countries to pursue their own economic and social policies; hence eliminating poverty, illiteracy, hunger and disease. Individual sovereignty enhanced through non-intervention is used alongside cross country cooperation to enhance socio-economic development. This strengthens the strategic position of member states because it leads to higher levels of social, human and physical capital needed for strategic military development and engagement.

Negative Effects of Non-Intervention in Asia Pacific strategic environment

Non-intervention has certain negative effects on the Asia Pacific strategic environment. It has already been established that the Asia Pacific strategic environment is characterised by diplomatic relations, consensus, discussions and negotiations rather than military war. Although non-intervention has more advantages than disadvantages in fostering the above key features of Asia Pacific strategic environment, it also hinders Asia Pacific region from enjoying the benefits of economic and military cooperation.[18]

Inter-state cooperation in the Asia Pacific region has been greatly affected by the principle of non-interference. This is because non-interference reduces cooperation among member states. As a result, nations with comparative disadvantage in certain areas such as military and economic resources may not get assistance from other ASEAN states because they are restricted by the non-interference policy. As a result, the affected nation may not overcome its strategic challenges effectively.

This negative effect of non-interference has led some countries such as China to break the rule of non-intervention in order to foster positive cooperation. For instance, China sponsors non-traditional security cooperation through the China-ASEAN Special Relationship.[19] This goes beyond the traditional conventions of non-intervention in the ASEAN. Defense diplomacy is carried out across borders under the special relationship. Chinese defense consultations in Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia are contrary to the principle of non-interference which has been the founding pillar of ASEAN. China and Singapore held a joint counterterrorism exercise which further illustrates China’s intervention in the security issues of other nations.

USA has also interfered with security issues of nations such as Syria, Pakistan and Iraq.[20] These interventions are against the principles of non-intervention. They show that non-intervention has failed to support the strategic environment of Asia Pacific region successfully.



It is clear from this discussion that non-intervention has been a key principle guiding ASEAN since the Cold War. This has influenced the strategic environment of the entire Asia Pacific region as other nations in the Asia Pacific such as China get involved in various security issues of the region. Several challenges have affected the Asia Pacific strategic environment, especially in this era of globalisation. For instance, globalisation has prevented nations from exercising their sovereignty and independence in the most secure way possible.

Certain theories explain the effects of non-intervention on strategic environment of Asia Pacific. The theory of constructivism which focuses on the influence of norms on the interests of a nation suggests that intervention helps a nation to protect its norms and values; hence non-intervention prevents such protection. Realism theory holds that the Asia Pacific region seeks to maintain its self-interests by implementing the non-intervention policy; hence it contributes to the domestic stability of the nation.

Other positive effects of non-intervention in Asia Pacific region include increased sovereignty and independence, increased balance of power, increased social and economic security, and improved social order in the domestic strategic environment. It also fosters the effective administration of consensus building, diplomatic relations, discussions and negotiations among Asia Pacific countries as a way of enhancing Asia Pacific strategic environment. However, non-intervention also has the negative effect of preventing international trade and foreign investment in the domestic environment. It also prevents military and economic support from stronger nations.



[1] Katsumata, H. 2003. Reconstruction of diplomatic norms in Southeast Asia: the case for strict adherence to the “ASEAN way”. Contemporary Southeast Asia, 25(1): 104-121.

[2] Katsumata, p. 107

[3] Jones, L. 2011. Beyond Securitization: Explaining the Scope of Security Policy in Southeast Asia. International Relations of the Asia-Pacific, 11(3): 403–432.

[4] Dosch, J. 2011. Southeast Asia: ASEAN and the challenge of regionalism. In: M. K. Connors, R. Davison, and J. Dosch, eds. The new global politics of the Asia Pacific. 2nd ed. London: Routledge

[5] Aggarwal, V. K. and chow, J.T. 2010. The perils of consensus: How ASEAN’s meta-regime undermines economic and environmental cooperation. Review of International Political Economy. 17(2): 262-290.

[6] Tan, S. S. (2011). Is Asia-Pacific regionalism outgrowing ASEAN? The RUSI Journal, 156(1): 58-62.

[7] Funston, J. 2000. ASEAN and the Principle of Non-Intervention: Practice and Prospects. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

[8] Jones, L. 2011. Beyond Securitization: Explaining the Scope of Security Policy in Southeast Asia. International Relations of the Asia-Pacific, 11(3): 403–432.

[9] Katsumata, p. 116

[10] Jones, L. 2011. Beyond Securitization: Explaining the Scope of Security Policy in Southeast Asia. International Relations of the Asia-Pacific, 11(3): 403–432.

[11] Legro, J.W. and Moravcsik, A. 1999. Is Anybody Still a Realist? International Security, 24(2): 23-24.

[12] Finnermore, M. 2003. The Purpose of Intervention: Changing Beliefs about the Use of Force. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

[13] Katsumata, H. 2003. Reconstruction of diplomatic norms in Southeast Asia: the case for strict adherence to the “ASEAN way”. Contemporary Southeast Asia, 25(1): 104-121.

[14] Katsumata, H. 2003. Reconstruction of diplomatic norms in Southeast Asia: the case for strict adherence to the “ASEAN way”. Contemporary Southeast Asia, 25(1): 104-121.

[15] Jayakumar, S. 2005. Statement by His Excellency Professor S. Jayakumar, Deputy Prime Minister, Co-ordinating Minister for National Security and Minister for Law of the Republic of Singapore at the High-level Plenary Meeting of the 60th Session of the United Nations General Assembly. New York: United Nations.

[16] Funston, J. 2000. ASEAN and the Principle of Non-Intervention: Practice and Prospects. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

[17] Funston, J. 2000, p. 5.

[18] Jones, L. 2011. Beyond Securitization: Explaining the Scope of Security Policy in Southeast Asia. International Relations of the Asia-Pacific, 11(3): 403–432.

[19] Callahan, W.A. 2012. China’s strategic futures. Asian survey, 52(4): 617-642.

[20] Friedrichs, p. 756.

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