Established in 1994, the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) is an important platform for security dialogue in the Indo-Pacific. It provides a setting in which members can discuss current security issues and develop cooperative measures to enhance peace and security in the region.
The ARF is characterised by consensus-based decision-making and frank dialogue. It comprises 27 members: the 10 ASEAN member states (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam); the 10 ASEAN dialogue partners (Australia, Canada, China, the European Union, India, Japan, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea, Russia and the United States); Bangladesh, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Mongolia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Timor-Leste; and one ASEAN observer (Papua New Guinea).
Australia's Involvement in the ARF
Australia was a founding member of the ARF. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has responsibility for ARF policy, in consultation with the Department of Defence and other relevant agencies. The ARF has five work streams: Counter-Terrorism and Transnational Crime; Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Security; Disaster Relief; Maritime Security; and Non-Proliferation and Disarmament. Australia has been an active participant in the ARF's discussions and activities since its founding. In recent years this work has included:
- Supporting ARF efforts to develop preventive diplomacy tools, including as a key drafter of the ARF Work Plan for Preventive Diplomacy.
- Australia is co-chair, along with Vietnam and the EU, of the ARF's Maritime Security Work Stream for the period 2018-2020. In this role, Australia has:
- co-chaired two ARF workshops on Enhancing Regional Maritime Law Enforcement Cooperation (18-19 January 2018 in Nha Trang, Vietnam, and 12-13 March 2019 in Da Nang, Vietnam)
- hosted the 2018 Inter-Sessional Meeting (ISM) on Maritime Security on 27-28 March in Brisbane
- co-chaired the 2019 ISM on Maritime Security on 14-15 March in Da Nang, Vietnam
- co-chaired, with Vietnam, a workshop on Implementing UNCLOS and other Legal Instruments to Address Emerging Maritime Issues on 26-27 February 2019 in Nha Trang, Vietnam.
- At the most recent ARF Ministerial Meeting, on 2 August 2019 in Bangkok, Ministers adopted two Statements co-sponsored by Australia: on Preventing and Countering Terrorism and Violent Extremism Conducive to Terrorism, and on Promoting the Women, Peace and Security Agenda at the ARF.
- In 2018, Australia co-sponsored an ARF Foreign Ministers' Statement on Disaster Management Cooperation with China
- Australia also co-chaired, with China and Thailand, an ARF Workshop on Regional Climate Change and Coastal Disaster Mitigation on 1-2 November 2018 in Tianjin, China.
- From 2015-2019, Australia served as co-lead, with Malaysia, of the Counter-Radicalisation priority area of the ARF Counter-Terrorism and Transnational Crime Work Stream.
ARF meetings and processes
Over the inter-sessional year, the five work streams each host one Inter-Sessional Meeting (ISM), and a number of workshops and activities. Each stream adopts a multi-year work plan, which identifies priority areas and co-chairs for that period.
The Inter-Sessional Support Group (ISG) is the key annual meeting for ARF working-level officials. Usually held in May after the completion of the five ISMs, and approximately one month before the ARF Senior Officials' Meeting (SOM), the primary function of the ISG is to table and consider new work plans, activity proposals, CBMs and preventive diplomacy initiatives, which are then submitted to the SOM for further consideration. The ISG also provides an opportunity for the co-chairs of ARF meetings and activities completed over the preceding inter-sessional year to report on the key discussions and outcomes from these events. Australia last co-chaired the ISG process in 2010-11 with Indonesia.
As the key preparatory meeting in advance of the ARF Ministerial Meeting, the SOM plays a central role in managing the ARF process. The key functions of the SOM are to endorse proposed ARF activities and meetings for the following intersessional year; consider proposed ARF ministerial statements; discuss ARF institutional matters; and exchange views on regional security issues at the senior officials' level.
The ARF year culminates with the annual foreign minister-level ARF, which is held in conjunction with the ASEAN Post Ministerial Conference (PMC) and East Asia Summit Foreign Ministers' Meeting. The chair of ASEAN is also the chair of the ARF. The role of ASEAN chair rotates annually between the ten ASEAN member states. The principal formal ARF outcome document is the ARF Chair's Statement, issued at the conclusion of the ARF Ministerial Meeting.
The most recent Ministerial Meeting of the ARF was held in Bangkok on 2 August 2019. The meeting focused on key regional issues including the Korean Peninsula, South China Sea, Counter-Terrorism and Cyber Security. At the meeting, Ministers adopted a joint proposal by Australia and Malaysia to establish an ARF Points of Contact Directory on Security of and in the Use of Information and Communications Technologies, which aims to facilitate the near real time sharing of information in the event of cyber security incidents of potential regional security significance.
The next Ministerial Meeting is scheduled to be held in Hanoi, Vietnam in 2020.
ARF Related Bodies
The ARF has a 1.5 track body called the ARF Experts and Eminent Persons group (the EEPs), which meets annually to provide advice and recommendations to ARF officials (known as Track One). Second-track (i.e. non-official) institutions, such as the Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific (CSCAP), ASEAN Institutes of Strategic and International Studies (ASEAN ISIS) and ASEAN Institute for Peace and Reconciliation (ASEAN-IPR) also generate ideas and input 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. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Department of Defence have supported the activities of AUS-CSCAP (the Australian Member Committee of the Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific) since its establishment in 1992.