Nassef is a lifelong learner of comparative study between Islam and International Relations. He co-founded the International Relations and Islamic Studies Research Cohort (Co-IRIS) and founded the Philippine International Studies Organization (PhISO).
Master in International Studies' Comprehensive Examinations
University of the Philippines-Diliman
August 17, 2009
Required question number ONE:
Should ASEAN intervene in the trial of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi? If yes, how and why? If no, why not? Explain your answer with reference to a specific theoretical perspective in international relations.
The trial of Daw Aung San Suu kyi has sparked widespread criticisms in the international community especially from democratic nations (which are mostly Western states and some ASEAN member states). It was interpreted by some hard-line critics as a ‘Kangaroo court’ because the judicial system of Myanmar (Burma) was heavily controlled by the military regime.
If we will based in a realistically manner – a common understanding of the existence of a reality – then we can easily assume that Realism or even Neorealism can be an appropriate International Relations theory to explain the situation, i.e., answering the question. However, the question also posited other theoretical notion(s) in international relations which may give alternative explanation, in theoretical manner, the hypothetical possibilities of ascertaining a different angle or side of the story of a particular situation.
Liberalism or even Liberal Institutionalism (Neoliberalism in short) can give its perspective to describes, explains, and predicts the overall outcome of the trial. David Baldwin in his work “Neorealism and Neoliberalism Debate in Contemporary World Politics” argued that every authors, writers, or scholars had ‘normative biases’ which were grounded from their upbringing and certain values.
In my own perspective, Realism can best answer the postulated query, from its interpretation of the conception of intervention to the simplistic rational outcome of the issue. This theory emphasized the centrality and autonomy of a state, which concentrates on the pursuit of its interest by means of power (only high politics issue area) as a leverage in an anarchical international system.
Member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have no right to intervene in the domestic affairs of each member as embodied in the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC) enunciated by the principle of non-interference. According to one of the core principles or epistemological assumptions of Realism, the autonomy and centrality of states is the most significant and important construction of state in the international system. The reason being is that it emphasized its authoritative power through sovereignty (Robert Jervis, Abiding Sovereignty).
Sovereignty is the supreme will of a state for it gives authority to hold a definite juridical territory with a given community of peoples. Other scholars would add the element of recognition to sovereign state by another state. These are the two kinds of sovereignty – the internal and the external sovereignties.
Realists contend that intervening in the domestic affairs of a state is a breach to its sovereignty. And even if ASEAN intervenes, the military regime in Myanmar will rationally maximized its self-centered interest as a form of their national interests by raising a veto in the decision-making system of the ASEAN, which permeates that when one member raised their objection through a veto regarding an issue in the ‘Leaders Summit’, then, that issue will not be decided or resolved. ASEAN follows the principle of consensus as the only decision-making process.
Further, if ASEAN compels to intervene in the trial, Myanmar will not comply to any actions made by the association for it will not be punished.
In sum, the court’s verdict to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was 3 years of imprisonment with heavy public community services but was downgraded to 18 moths of house arrest as ordered by the military regime. This resulted to a public outrage and havoc from the international community, even in the statements delivered by co-ASEAN members. The theory of Realism was the appropriate operational language in explaining this particular situation.