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ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute
Published in Contemporary Southeast Asia, 34(1) 2012: 1-22.
Explanations for ASEAN’s inability to more successfully influence Myanmar over the last decade have shifted from accusations that the organization does nothing to live up to its on-paper commitments to the belief that what it does is wholly ineffective. The reasons for this ineffectiveness are found in the normative and institutional architecture of ASEAN, specifically its lack of punitive sanction-based compliance mechanisms. Through focusing on ASEAN’s use of public pronouncements to express interests and desires, this article takes issue with such assertions. Specifically, ASEAN has been engaged in a strategy of rhetorical action to promote compliance with regional standards. To date it has been unsuccessful in that attempt not because of a lack of courts and commissions, but because it has been incoherent in its political strategy. At crucial moments ASEAN and its members remained more concerned with creating a unified position against external pressure than on developing a single policy towards Myanmar. This reaction fatally undermined the ability of ASEAN to influence Myanmar as it ensures the regime the continued external political cover from pressure that animated its desire to join ASEAN in 1997. This article suggests that correcting this shortcoming through the development of greater coherence is achievable within the existing ASEAN approach to managing regional affairs.