A Strong Secretariat, a Strong ASEAN? A Re-evaluation

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    Executive Summary: "Strengthening the Secretariat" has been a recurrent entreaty and aspiration in ASEAN's diplomatic history. However, since the failure of ASEAN's foreign ministers to issue a joint communique in 2012, some commentators have increasingly tied the prospects of ASEAN's cohesion and centrality in Asian security to the status of its Secretariat in Jakarta. The discourse on "strengthening the Secretariat" is configured around two axes. First, that the Secretariat has always been 'weak' and 'powerless'. Second, that a Secretariat of the future designed along rational-legal lines will necessarily be 'strong' and 'powerful'. This paper problematizes both these assumptions. It does so by foregrounding an obscure history of Secretariat starting from its 'professionalisation' in 1992 following the end of the Cold War to its contemporary station in the shadow of the 2008 ASEAN Charter. The Secretariat's history discloses a perennial tussle between two models of how its bureaucracy may be fashioned: a rational-legal bureaucracy that asserts itself as a locus of power, and a patrimonial bureaucracy that enjoys power by harnessing, channeling, and borrowing the power of states firmly in the backstage of diplomacy.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1-12
    JournalISEAS Perspective
    Issue number8
    Publication statusPublished - 2016

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