By Brian Harding
On August 29, Brunei will host the second ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting Plus (ADMM+), a forum established during Vietnam’s 2010 ASEAN chairmanship that consists of 18 members – the 10 ASEAN nations plus the United States, Japan, China, South Korea, India, Russia, Australia, and New Zealand. Although it will be the first ministerial-level meeting since the October 2010 meeting in Hanoi, the ADMM+ has been extremely active over the past 34 months, with annual meetings of senior officials (vice ministers, permanent secretaries, U.S. assistant secretaries, and their equivalents), mid-ranking officials (policy directors and equivalents), and a raft of substantial, military-military cooperation. Taken together, the ADMM+ has quickly filled a void in the regional security architecture, both allowing for senior defense officials to regularly discuss significant issues in a multilateral setting and providing a rational framework for regional militaries to cooperate multilaterally.
Organizationally, the ADMM+ has developed a remarkably coherent structure. Five “experts working groups” were established in 2011 (Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief, Military Medicine, Counterterrorism, Peacekeeping, and Maritime Security), which meet twice annually and report on their activities to the annual meetings of senior officials. While the subject matter of the groups is generally “soft,” their work has not been trivial. For example, the Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief Experts Working Group, co-chaired by China and Vietnam, and the Military Medicine Experts Working Group, co-chaired by Japan and Singapore, combined efforts to organize an 18-country military exercise in Brunei in June 2013. The United States and Indonesia, co-chairs of the Counterterrorism Experts Working Group, are leading planning for an 18-country military exercise in Indonesia in September; Malaysia and Australia will co-organize a maritime security exercise in September as well. At each working group meeting time has been allotted for discussion of policy issues, in addition to making plans for practical cooperation. Among the more intangible developments, the ADMM+ has provided a venue for U.S.-China military-military cooperation, given Japan and India an opportunity to play significant roles in regional security cooperation, and provided Myanmar a seat at the table. All told, in ASEAN terms, these developments have been at the speed of light, largely due to the commitment of successive ASEAN chairs – Vietnam, Indonesia and Brunei – to the success of the ADMM+.
When the 18 ministers meet in Bandar Seri Begawan, they will review progress made to date and set a course for the two years until they meet again in Malaysia in 2015. What they will find is an organization that has made significant progress in a short amount of time. While there remains much work to do to rationalize the activities of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) and ADMM+, as well as defining the agenda-setting role of the East Asia Summit and its linkages to the ARF and ADMM+, observers should note the positive role the ADMM+ is already playing and be optimistic about its future, especially in light of its strong track record to date.
Mr. Brian Harding served as Country Director for Southeast Asia in the Office of the Secretary of Defense (Policy) from August 2009 – August 2013. He can be reached at email@example.com. This post is adapted from CSIS Pacific Forum’s PacNet #65R: Don’t Underestimate the ADMM+ where it first appeared.