ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF)

The ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) is a key forum for security dialogue in Asia. It draws together 27 members which have a bearing on the security of the Asia Pacific region.

Background to the ASEAN Regional Forum

The ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) was established in 1994. It comprises 27 members: the 10 ASEAN member states (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Burma, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam), the 10 ASEAN dialogue partners (Australia, Canada, China, the EU, India, Japan, New Zealand, ROK, Russia and the United States), one ASEAN observer (PNG) as well as the DPRK, Mongolia, Pakistan, Timor-Leste, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

The ARF is a key forum for security dialogue in Asia, complementing the various bilateral alliances and dialogues. 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.

Development of the ASEAN Regional Forum

The ARF is characterised by consensus decision making and minimal institutionalisation. The 1995 ARF Concept Paper set out a three-stage, evolutionary approach to the ARF's development, moving from confidence-building to preventive diplomacy and, in the long term, towards a conflict resolution capability.

During its first phase, the ARF focused on confidence building measures and made modest gains in building a sense of strategic community. At the 16th ARF Ministerial Meeting in July 2009, a Vision Statement was endorsed, providing a roadmap to guide the direction of the ARF to 2020. This was followed by the adoption, in July 2010, of the Hanoi Plan of Action to implement the Vision Statement. The Statement and Plan of Action include an undertaking to develop an ARF preventive diplomacy capacity. In order to achieve this, Ministers adopted a Work Plan for Preventive Diplomacy at their 18th meeting in July 2011.

Australia's Involvement in the ARF

Australia was a founding member of the ARF and has been an energetic participant in the Forum's discussions and activities. Australia has been supportive of efforts for the ARF to develop preventive diplomacy tools, including as a key drafter of the ARF Work Plan for Preventive Diplomacy.

During the 2013–14 ARF cycle, we concluded our period as co-chair of the ARF intersessional meeting on non-proliferation and disarmament. We co-chaired an ARF workshop on cyber confidence building measures with Malaysia; an ARF workshop on consular contingency with Indonesia, and an ARF seminar on the United Nations Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) with the Philippines.

In the 2014-15 ARF cycle, we will co-chair a workshop on multiyear strategic planning for regional disaster relief exercises with the US and Malaysia.

ARF meetings and processes

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has responsibility for ARF policy, in consultation with the Department of Defence and other relevant agencies. ARF meetings are held at Foreign Minister level, annually in conjunction with the ASEAN Post Ministerial Conference (PMC). The chair of ASEAN, which rotates on annual basis, is also the chair of the ARF. The principal formal ARF document is the ARF chair's statement issued after every ARF Ministerial meeting.

The 21st ARF Ministerial meeting was held in Nay Pyi Taw, Burma, on 10 August 2014. The meeting focused on key regional issues including the downing of MH17, the Korean Peninsula and the South China Sea.

The ARF is supported by the ARF Senior Officials' Meeting (SOM) which meets annually around May/June. Two ARF Inter-Sessional Support Group (ISG) meetings on Confidence Building Measures and Preventive Diplomacy are also held at officials' level each year, co-chaired by one ASEAN and one non-ASEAN member. Australia last co-chaired the ISG process in 2010-11 with Indonesia. Recommendations and outcomes of these ISG meetings feed into the ARF Senior Officials Meeting.

The ARF also conducts four Inter-Sessional Meetings (ISM) annually that represent focus areas of the forum. These are ISMs on Counter-Terrorism and Transnational Crime, Disaster Relief, Maritime Security, and Non-Proliferation and Disarmament.

The ARF includes a biennial civil-military disaster relief exercise, known as the ARF disaster relief exercise (or DiREx) that Australia participates in. The first DiREx was held in the Philippines in May 2009. The second DiREx was held in Manado, Indonesia in March 2011. The third DiREx was held in Hua Hin, Thailand in May 2013 and the fourth DiREx is scheduled for Malaysia in February 2015.

The ARF has a 1.5 track body called the ARF Experts and Eminent Persons group (the EEPs) that meets annually to provide advice and recommendations to ARF officials (known as Track One).

Second-track (ie. non-official) institutions, such as the Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific (CSCAP) and the ASEAN Institutes of Strategic and International Studies (ASEAN ISIS), also generate ideas and inputs for the ARF’s consideration. The second-track institutions and networks conduct a number of seminars and working groups on regional security issues, involving academics, security specialists and officials participating in a personal capacity. Through its discretionary grants program, the Department has supported the activities of AUS-CSCAP (the Australian Member Committee of the Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific).

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Last Updated: 13 September 2012