PostHeaderIcon Asian security forum to adopt rules for quick-reaction group

Senior officials of the ASEAN Regional Forum, a 27-member group that includes the U.S., China, Russia and the European Union, have agreed on the operating rules for the "Friends of the ARF Chair" — a group of three foreign ministers who will assist the ARF chairman in dealing with regional and international problems, Philippine Foreign Undersecretary Erlinda Basilio said. "After two years it will be adopted, it has been endorsed by the ministers," she added. ARF, founded in 1994 by the 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations, has been hobbled by the diversity of its members and its consensus-based decision making. Since its birth, it has focused on building trust among its members through dialogue and confidence-building measures.

The ad hoc group will be constituted for a specific task by the ARF chairman as the situation warrants, including in times of emergency and threats to regional peace and stability, according to a draft document obtained by The Associated Press. "This is a step beyond dialogue and confidence building into addressing real security challenges," M.C. Abad Jr., a diplomat who helps oversee the forum, said earlier. The group will be composed of the foreign minister of the incoming ARF country chairman, the foreign minister of a non-ASEAN ARF member, and the foreign minister of the immediate past ARF chair country. "The ARF chair, in consultation with all ARF participants, will decide on the specific composition of the FOC, depending on the issue at hand," the operating rules said. "The decision will take into account the need for a political balance among various interests and the paramount importance of regional stability and peace." It said the group will only be an advisory body and will not be intervention-oriented.

The ARF chairman — a position rotated yearly among the 10 ASEAN members — "will inform ARF countries before deciding when a situation warrants the constitution and convening of the FOC," it said. India and China initially had some reservations about the rules but China agreed to go along with the ASEAN consensus text. India dropped other suggestions as long as the terms specify that the chairman "will inform ARF countries" before deciding on the convening of the group, according to a memorandum circulated among ARF members, a copy of which was seen by AP. Aside from the "Friends of the Chair," ARF senior officials have also agreed to consider assigning a group of "Experts and Eminent Persons" that will "study and propose innovative ideas on the future development of ARF," a separate document showed.

The EEP can be mobilized to deliberate on sensitive security issues in the region and will be able to speak without constraint since its members do not necessarily represent official government positions, it added. The EEP held its first meeting in Jeju, South Korea, last year and submitted eight policy recommendations discussed by ARF senior officials. Every year, ARF brings together Asian and Western nations, providing a forum for discussing an array of threats from North Korea's nuclear ambitions to al-Qaida-linked terror threats in Southeast Asia.