ADMM and ADMM-Plus: What's Next for ASEAN Security in 2024?
Looking ahead at Southeast Asia's security landscape after the 2023 ASEAN Defense Ministers' Meeting and ASEAN Defense Ministers' Meeting Plus.
The latest round of ASEAN defense ministers’ meetings in Indonesia spotlighted key areas of focus in Southeast Asia and Indo-Pacific security looking ahead to 2024, even if they were drowned out somewhat by the attention on APEC summitry and the Biden-Xi meeting in San Francisco.
WonkCount: 1,619 words (~8 minutes reading time)
ASEAN Wonk is a reader-supported publication. To receive full posts and support our work, consider becoming a paid subscriber.
ASEAN Security After the ADMM and ADMM-Plus 2023: What's Next for Southeast Asia Defense and the Indo-Pacific Landscape?
Though ASEAN is at times criticized by outsiders for its slow decision-making and proliferating alphabet soup of institutions, the ADMM and ADMM-Plus are cases where momentum has successfully been built up as primary institutions for Indo-Pacific security. As noted before in these pages, even the first decade of the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting (ADMM) since its founding in 2006 witnessed the addition of the ADMM-Plus with external partners in 2010, an increased biannual frequency in 2013 and then annualization in 20171. There have also been other inflection points along the way amid ASEAN’s broader priorities, such as the addition of observer countries — including Canada, France and the UK — and a working group on cybersecurity since 2016, the seventh in the ADMM (the other six are counterterrorism; humanitarian assistance and disaster relief; maritime security; military medicine; peacekeeping operations; and humanitarian mine action)2.
The recent ADMM and ADMM-Plus took place amid a particularly contested security environment in the region itself (see table below), despite the hype around the meeting in San Francisco between U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping amid the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum. U.S.-China security competition was in full view in the region in the lead up to the meetings. China held the largest multinational exercise of that series with Southeast Asian states to date, and the United States announced a new security pact with Indonesia as part of an upgraded comprehensive strategic partnership (CSP), capping a series of Southeast Asia-related inroads in 2023 which included new defense sites with the Philippines, a new CSP with Vietnam and a tech partnership with Singapore3. Southeast Asia’s twin intraregional flashpoints of the South China Sea and Myanmar were also on display, along with ongoing developments like the Australia-China sonar incident4. We witnessed the latest Sino-Philippine war of words after Manila’s latest Second Thomas Shoal resupply mission, as well as battlefield inroads by resistance forces against the junta whose representation at ASEAN meetings and ignoring of the Five Point Consensus continues to be scrutinized5. The Israel-Hamas war fallout also loomed large, with Indonesia and Malaysia voicing the need for quick humanitarian assistance at a summit in Riyadh ahead of APEC6.
Select Indo-Pacific-Related Security Developments Ahead of ADMM and ADMM-Plus Meetings
Seen from this perspective, as much as the ADMM and ADMM-Plus may have been drowned out by other headlines, it offered a sense for some of the key agenda items in the defense space in Southeast Asia and the wider Indo-Pacific. The 17th ADMM was convened on November 15, and the 10th ADMM Plus was held on November 16 with ASEAN defense ministers (excluding Myanmar) and the grouping’s eight dialogue partners — Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, Russia, South Korea and the United States. Both, along with sideline meetings, were held in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, with Indonesia being the 2023 ASEAN chair7.
Policy-wise, the ADMM meetings spotlighted a few key Indo-Pacific-related items amid a challenging security landscape. ASEAN officials agreed to advance some action items, including the implementation of the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP) from a defense perspective which has been talked about for years but has regained momentum as AOIP has progressed more generally under Indonesia’s chairmanship8. Beyond the meetings themselves, there were also some important sideline engagements. Of particular note were the informal ministerial meetings with Japan and the United States9. Japan is getting ready to commemorate 50 years of friendship with ASEAN countries with a summit set for next month, and Japanese officials have been advancing several security-related priorities within Southeast Asia over the course of 202310. Meanwhile, the United States has been eying several new avenues for cooperation with ASEAN, including a follow-up ASEAN-U.S. maritime exercise after the inaugural one back in 201911. Indonesian Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto, in his remarks, also highlighted other agenda items, including the expansion of the ADMM-Plus observer program and the Israel-Hamas war (ministers also highlighted the issue during the deliberations, even though it did not appear in the eventual joint statement and divisions did not approximate APEC, with the release of a wholly separate minilateral statement directly responding to the chair’s statement 12.
The ADMM and ADMM-Plus meetings also provided a sense of the defense agenda for ASEAN as a grouping out into 2024. This includes not just a mix of new agreements and initiatives, but also workstreams and general priorities that could play a broader role in the future trajectory of ties (see table below with some key initiatives of focus with accompanying details).