Does ASEAN Matter? A View From Within
By Marty Natalegawa
ISEAS—Yusof Ishak Institute, 2018, 258 pp.
Natalegawa, a former Indonesian foreign minister, is a strong believer in the value of the ten-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and its often-derided process of constant meetings and declarations, for dampening conflict and getting the attention of outside powers. He gives blow-by-blow accounts of some of his toughest negotiations within the group. He helped persuade Myanmar to accept international aid after Cyclone Nargis, mediated Cambodian-Thai talks over the contested Preah Vihear Temple, worked to pull ASEAN member states back together after a split over the South China Sea, and pushed the group to adopt a declaration of principles on human rights. Natalegawa’s stories constitute a primer on the dark arts of diplomacy, including the value of ambiguity, the cultivation of personal relationships with fellow leaders, creative word and punctuation choices, the profligate use of the passive voice—and just showing up. As the most populous and most active member of ASEAN, Indonesia has been accused of “overactivism” by other members. Natalegawa is proud to own the label.