ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF)

The ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) is a key forum for security dialogue in Asia. It draws together 27 countries which have a bearing on the security of the Asia Pacific region.

Background to the ASEAN Regional Forum

The ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) was established in 1994. It comprises 27 countries: the 10 ASEAN member states (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam), the 10 ASEAN dialogue partners (Australia, Canada, China, the EU, India, Japan, New Zealand, ROK, Russia and the United States), one ASEAN observer (PNG) as well as the DPRK, Mongolia, Pakistan, Timor-Leste, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

The ARF is a key forum for security dialogue in Asia, complementing the various bilateral alliances and dialogues. It provides a setting in which members can discuss current regional security issues and develop cooperative measures to enhance peace and security in the region.

Development of the ASEAN Regional Forum

The ARF is characterised by consensus decision making and minimal institutionalisation. The 1995 ARF Concept Paper set out a three-stage, evolutionary approach to the ARF's development, moving from confidence-building to preventive diplomacy and, in the long term, towards a conflict resolution capability.

In its first seventeen years, the ARF has focused on confidence building measures and has made modest gains in building a sense of strategic community. Efforts to develop tools of preventive diplomacy and conflict management are at an early stage.

At the ARF Ministerial Meeting in July 2009, a Vision Statement was endorsed, providing a roadmap to guide the direction of the ARF to 2020. This was followed by the adoption, in July 2010, of the Hanoi Plan of Action to implement the Vision Statement. The Statement and Plan of Action include an undertaking to develop an ARF preventive diplomacy capacity. In order to achieve this, Ministers adopted a Work Plan for Preventive Diplomacy in July 2011.

Australia's Involvement in the ARF

Australia was a founding member of the ARF and has been an energetic participant in the Forum's discussions and activities. Australia has been supportive of efforts for the ARF to develop preventive diplomacy tools, including as a key drafter of the ARF Work Plan for Preventive Diplomacy adopted in July 2011. In the 2012–13 ARF cycle, Australia co-chaired three of the four ARF Inter-Sessional Meetings (ISM), on disaster relief (with Indonesia), on counter-terrorism and transnational crime (with Vietnam) and on non-proliferation and disarmament (with the Philippines and Japan).

Disaster management and response has been a focus of ARF activity in recent years, with the ISM process driving practical activities to enhance regional capacities to respond to disasters. Australia and Indonesia co hosted a Disaster Relief desktop exercise (simulation) in Indonesia in May 2008. Following this, the United States and the Philippines co hosted a field exercise on Disaster Relief in May 2009 in the Philippines, the first live field exercise under the auspices of the ARF. A second field exercise was held in Manado, Indonesia in March 2011. The third field exercise was held in Hua Hin, Thailand in May 2013.

Australia has encouraged the ARF to address proliferation threats and to deliver clear messages to the DPRK regarding its nuclear and missile programs.

Australia has also been at the forefront of efforts to ensure the ARF makes a practical contribution to regional anti-terrorism efforts. In the 2013–14 ARF cycle, we will continue to co-chair the ARF intersessional meeting on non-proliferation and disarmament. We will also: co-chair: an ARF workshop on cyber confidence building measures with Malaysia; an ARF workshop on consular contingency with Indonesia, and an ARF seminar on the United Nations Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) with the Philippines.

ARF meetings and processes

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has responsibility for ARF policy, in consultation with the Department of Defence and other relevant agencies. ARF meetings are held at Foreign Minister level, annually in conjunction with the ASEAN Post Ministerial Conference (PMC). The chair of ASEAN, which rotates on annual basis, is also the chair of the ARF. The principal formal ARF document is the ARF chair's statement issued after every ARF Ministerial meeting.

The 20th ARF Ministerial meeting was held in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei Darussalam, on 2 July 2013. The meeting focused on key regional issues including the Korean Peninsula and the South China Sea.

The ARF is supported by the ARF Senior Officials' Meeting which meets annually in May or June. Two ARF Inter-Sessional Support Group (ISG) meetings on Confidence Building Measures and Preventive Diplomacy are also held at officials' level each year, co-chaired by one ASEAN and one non-ASEAN member. Australia last co-chaired the ISG process in 2010-11 (with Indonesia). Recommendations and outcomes of these ISG meetings feed into the ARF Senior Officials Meeting. The ARF conducts four Inter-Sessional Meetings (ISM) annually that represent focus areas of the forum. These are ISMs on Counter-Terrorism and Transnational Crime, Disaster Relief, Maritime Security, and Non-Proliferation and Disarmament.

Second-track (non-official) institutions, such as the Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific (CSCAP) and the ASEAN Institutes of Strategic and International Studies (ASEAN ISIS), have been instrumental in generating ideas and inputs for ARF ("first track") consideration. The second-track institutions and networks conduct a number of seminars and working groups on regional security issues, involving academics, security specialists and officials participating in a personal capacity. Where possible, these meetings are held back-to-back with the relevant ARF meeting. Through its discretionary grants program, the Department supports the activities of AUS-CSCAP (the Australian Member Committee of the Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific).

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