ACCUMULATING PERIPHERALS


Groups are inherently indecisive, which is why unilateralism works so well by mattsteinglass
July 28, 2008, 2:33 pm
Filed under: Asia

I was just reading The Economist on ASEAN’s shortcomings in Burma and in the current Thai-Cambodian border standoff…

If ASEAN were unable to prevent [a clash between Cambodia and Thailand], the world’s doubts about the block’s relevance would only deepen…A senior relief-agency official [in Burma] says ASEAN’s involvement has eased the flow of aid workers and supplies down to the delta. But he says much of the credit is due personally to George Yeo, the foreign minister of Singapore (ASEAN’s current chair), and Surin Pitsuwan, ASEAN’s secretary-general, who are “pushing the envelope” of the block’s rule of non-interference. Mr Yeo said Myanmar had hinted that Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s opposition leader, might soon be freed from house arrest. Embarrassingly, his Burmese counterpart swiftly denied this. In its communiqué ASEAN used its strongest language yet to demand that Myanmar release Miss Suu Kyi and other political prisoners, and hold fair elections. But the Burmese generals know that the block is still far from taking any action to back its words. The summit sought to make progress on a new ASEAN human-rights body but the Burmese said it must not have powers to monitor or investigate abuses—only a toothless one would do.

Singapore’s prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, reminded ASEAN leaders that they had, in 41 years of summitry, honoured only 30% of the fairly modest agreements they had signed. Other, broader Asian forums are developing, he noted, posing a danger that ASEAN might be sidelined.

…and I was wondering: what is the big multilateral body that’s so swift-acting, single of purpose, and strict of enforcement that it shows up all these other bodies as wimpy meanderers? Aren’t these the same litany of complaints that are constantly leveled at every multilateral body: the UN, the EU, the African Union, the Organization of American States?

I think we need a new set of criteria to distinguish between groups which are truly ineffectual and groups which are actually reasonably effective or just indispensable but which demagogues like to accuse of ineffectuality for political reasons.

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