The ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) is an important 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 European Union, India, Japan, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea, Russia and the United States), one ASEAN observer (Papua New Guinea), as well as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, 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 frank dialogue. 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, Ministers endorsed an ARF vision statement. The vision included an undertaking to move towards the ARF’s second phase - the development of a preventive diplomacy capacity. This was followed by the adoption, in July 2010, of the Hanoi Plan of Action to implement the Vision Statement.
Australia's Involvement in the ARF
Australia was a founding member of the ARF and has been an active 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.
In the 2015-16 cycle, we co-led with Malaysia work on counter-radicalisation under the ARF Work Plan for Counter-Terrorism and Transnational Crime and co-chaired with Singapore an annual meeting of the ARF’s Track 1.5 (i.e. officials and academics) Experts and Eminent Persons (EEPs) group. We also co-chaired with the Philippines and the US an ARF Workshop on National Maritime Single Points of Contact to enhance practical cooperation among maritime law enforcement agencies.
In the 2016-17 cycle, we will co-chair with Vietnam the 11th annual meeting of the ARF EEPs group. We will co-chair a workshop with Malaysia to combat online extremist messaging, as well as a workshop with the Philippines and the EU on preventing violent extremism in ARF countries. We will also continue to work with ARF partners on an initiative for a directory of cyber points of contact to facilitate communication and prevent escalation in crisis situations.
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 23rd ARF Ministerial meeting was held in Vientiane, Lao PDR, on 26 July 2016 . The meeting focused on key regional issues including South China Sea, Countering Violent Extremism and the Korean Peninsula. Foreign Ministers adopted a Statement on Enhancing Cooperation among Maritime Law Enforcement Agencies, a Statement on Recent Tragic Terrorist Attacks, and a Statement on Strengthening Cooperation in the Management of Cross-Border Movement of Criminals.
The ARF is supported by the ARF Senior Officials' Meeting (SOM) which meets annually around May/June. An ARF Inter-Sessional Support Group (ISG) meeting on Confidence Building Measures and Preventive Diplomacy is 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 (ISMs) annually, focusing 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 took place in Kedah, Malaysia in May 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 (i.e. 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. The Department has 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.
ARF documents 2016