The ASEAN regional forum was established in 1994.It draws together 23 countries which are involved in the security of the Asia Pacific region. It comprises the 10 ASEAN member states (Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam); the ASEAN dialogue partners (Australia, Canada, china, the EU, India, Japan, New Zealand, ROK, Russia and the United States), the one ASEAN observer (PNG); as well as the DPRK and Magnolia.
The ARF is premised on the idea drawn from the ASEAN experience i.e. an incremental process of dialogue can produce qualitative improvements in political relationship. It provides a setting in which members can discuss current regional security issues and develop cooperative measures to enhance peace and security in the region. Issues discussed at recent ARF meetings include the security, political and human rights situations in the Korean Peninsula, East Timor, Indonesia, and Burma; instability in the Pacific; nuclear testing in South Asia; WMD and missile issues; and transnational crime-including piracy, people smuggling and illicit trade in small arms. Members are encouraged to provide voluntary briefings on issues like defense policy and spending, as a means of enhancing transparency and building confidence.
The ARF is characterized by minimal institutionalization, and consensus decision making. It is premised on a gradual three-stage process of evolution-developing from confidence-building to preventive diplomacy and, in the long term, conflict resolution. Much of the ARF’s activity to date has been centered on confidence-building activities, including on subjects such as peacekeeping, piracy, conventional arms, and disaster relief. It has also done some work on security aspects of transnational crime. The ARF is beginning very slowly to move beyond confidence-building, to explore possibilities for preventive diplomacy; preventive diplomacy tools agreed by ARF members to date include an enhanced role for the ARF Chair in coordinating its positions so as to strengthen the Forum’s ability to respond to situations affecting the security of ARF members during the period between Ministerial meetings. Another mechanism is a register of ARF experts which, when operational, will provide a pool of expertise on regional security issues that may be drawn upon by the ARF Chair or individual ARF members.