The first Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) joint military exercise, code-named ASEAN Solidarity Exercise 2023 (ASEX 2023), has just ended. Hosted by Indonesia from 19 to 23 September, it was the first ASEAN-wide military exercise not involving any external party.
The exercise was non-combat in nature, involving sea and land-based activities with Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR), maritime security, search and rescue, medical evacuation, and anti-piracy components. All ten ASEAN members participated, with Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore deploying warships.
There are a number of reasons for countries to participate in military exercises, including to create trust between military forces and pursue interoperability.
The participation of all ASEAN members was significant, given that ASEAN is not a military alliance. There was initial scepticism about whether the exercise would occur after Cambodia raised concerns about the proposed exercise location in the South China Sea. In the end, Indonesia, as host, shifted the exercise to Batam and the Natuna Islands.
What objective does ASEX 2023 serve?
First, the exercise could be interpreted as a signal to major powers that ASEAN has a stake in the security of regional waters and the agency to secure them. Given the tension between China and the United States, there have been concerns among ASEAN defence officials that any China–US military conflict will affect regional waters.
In addition, ASEX 2023 was held at a time of increasing Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea, from harassing several ASEAN members’ maritime activities within their exclusive economic zones (EEZ) to releasing a new map claiming nearly the entire South China Sea as its own.
In fact, the initial exercise location in the South China Sea suggests a signal by Indonesia to China that the latter’s claim to the entire South China Sea is contested.
Second, the exercise enabled ASEAN military forces to build trust with each other without the involvement of external forces. Trust leads to better communication, critical if ASEAN needs to harness the region’s military forces to deal quickly with a major crisis.
Currently, there are several regional multilateral arrangements to enhance maritime security. These include coordinated patrols between Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines to deal with security issues in the Sulu Sea, and the Malacca Straits Patrol Framework involving Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand to ensure the security of the Straits of Malacca and Singapore. But these are limited to specific geographical parts of the region and do not involve all ASEAN members.
Third, ASEX 2023 contributed to capability building for ASEAN naval forces. Interoperability is critical to executing humanitarian missions. The focus on non-traditional security, such as HADR and medical evacuations, was practical given the frequency of natural disasters in Southeast Asia. More than 50 per cent of global disaster deaths occurred in the region between 2004 and 2014.
Furthermore, interoperability among ASEAN military forces for humanitarian evacuation missions will be critical in any Taiwan contingency. More than 730,000 ASEAN nationals are working in Taiwan, and evacuating them to safety will be paramount in any future military conflict across the Taiwan Strait.
No single ASEAN member has sufficient air and sea-lift capabilities to evacuate their nationals from Taiwan. A joint ASEAN humanitarian mission may be necessary. Thus, ASEX 2023 could be the foundation to prepare ASEAN for such joint missions.
Do ASEAN’s military forces have the agency to conduct joint missions in a major crisis? Evidence from my PhD thesis research suggests yes.
Take the Third Indochina War (1978–1991) for example. Historical documents show several ASEAN leaders agreed in 1979 on a military contingency plan to defend Thailand after the Soviet-backed Vietnamese army marched into Cambodia. The Americans noted a joint plan between Singapore and Malaysia to ship their military equipment to the Thais. Indonesia and Singapore even considered deploying troops to Thailand if needed.
Then, in the early 1980s, ASEAN agreed to take a specific military measure to shape the outcome of the conflict in Cambodia, culminating in covert operations involving several ASEAN members and the CIA along the Thai–Cambodia border. These events demonstrated ASEAN’s potential agency to deal with a major regional crisis.
Whether ASEX 2023 is a practical avenue to prepare for a future contingency rests on two questions: will the exercise be repeated over the long term, even when the ASEAN chair has changed? If yes, will members agree to expand the scale and scope of future exercises to suit the evolving security threats? ASEAN must address these questions long after the hype over ASEX 2023 has ended.
In June, a UK Royal Navy destroyer and Dutch Royal Navy ship safely moored in Odessa, Ukraine, were spoofed to locations off-shore of a Russian naval base on Crimea. One week later, it was a US Navy ship moored in the same port that was spoofed (above). These are interesting cases in several ways. First, how […]
A massive fire broke out at the Port of Beirut on Thursday, incinerating a warehouse full of tires and oil within the port’s free zone. The same area was heavily damaged in the ammonium nitrate explosion that leveled the central port area and the adjacent waterfront on August 4. According to Lebanon’s civil defense agency, […]
Over the course of the past five days, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority arranged a medical intervention for an injured aboard a freighter in the Indian Ocean. On Saturday evening, the Spliethoff tweendecker Dolfijngracht called for assistance while under way about 1,000 nauical miles off the coast of Western Australia. A crewmember had sustained serious […]
The UK government’s new post-Brexit tariff regime will result in both winners and losers. The new regime is set to replace the European Union’s Common External Tariff from the end of the Brexit Transition Period on December 31, 2020. The UK’s commitment to the ongoing Brexit process and ending the UK’s transition from EU membership […]
As the shipping industry works to develop its path towards decarbonization, one large shipowner has decided to use the existing technology to start a conversion to methanol while longer-term solutions continue to be developed. Eastern Pacific Shipping, which has a fleet of containerships, dry bulk carriers, and tankers totally 15 million dwt, will work with […]
The First DP2, Twin-Hulled SOV in the World, NB72 Groene Wind met the Sea on September 29. 2020 in Yalova, Turkey. The Groene Wind will be directly chartered to Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy for the maintenance of the Rentel and Mermaid & Seastar (known as SeaMade) offshore wind farms in Belgium. This is the first DP2, […]
The U-Freight Group (UFL), with its considerable involvement in eCommerce logistics, says that the latest statistics showing that global e-commerce sales hit $25.6 trillion in 2018 are a further vindication of its decision to enter this sector of the international freight market several years ago. The latest available estimates, up 8% from 2017, were recently […]
DSV Belgium has solid experience in the transport of pharmaceutical products for different customers. With a pharma hub based at Brussels Airport a lot of experience and know-how has been built up over the years. Last weekend, the forwarder handled one hundred million mouth masks, an important milestone for its Belgian organisation that has put […]
With close to 100 daily cargo flights operated to a destination network spanning more than 65 cities across six continents, Emirates SkyCargo is delivering essential supplies and commodities to people around the world. The air cargo carrier is currently operating 11 Boeing 777 freighter aircraft, each with a capacity to transport about 100 tonnes of […]
Operators can continue to use pilots and other crew members who have unable to comply with certain training, recent experience, testing, and checking requirements due to the COVID-19 outbreak in support of essential operations. Additionally, this Special Federal Aviation Regulation (SFAR) provides regulatory relief to certain persons and pilot schools unable to meet duration and […]
Callan Marine is serving as the prime contractor to the Texas Department of Transportation for a maintenance dredging project located at the Bolivar Ferry Terminal, in Galveston, Texas. Work began in May and is estimated to be complete in late July 2020. The project consists of the removal of 600,000 cubic yards of material and […]
Astral Aviation has increased its intra-African network with cargo freighters during the pandemic. While there has been a reduction in capacity to, from, and within Africa, which has been caused by a stoppage of passenger flights and limited frequencies on freighter aircraft, Astral Aviation continues to operate cargo freighters from its Nairobi hub to 13 destinations […]
The naval forces of the US and Bahrain recently staged a joint force training exercise which showcased the interoperability between coalition warships operating I the Arabian Gulf. Coalition Task Force Sentinel executed combined exercise Sentinel Shield supporting Sentry and Sentinel patrols in the coalition’s area of operations. The guided-missile destroyer USS John Paul Jones and […]
Best known as a leading passenger airport serving Germany’s most populated federal state North Rhine-Westphalia, Düsseldorf has become transformed into a vital distribution point, during the COVID 19 pandemic, for medical equipment and other life-saving goods, mostly from China. Gerton Hulsman, managing director of cargo operations, reports that the handling teams are working hard to […]
Emirates SkyCargo has expanded its weekly scheduled cargo flight operations to cover 75 destinations across six continents. Through its wider reach, Emirates SkyCargo is able to transport essential commodities and other urgently needed cargo more rapidly across the world, allowing exporters and importers across markets to benefit from direct access to widebody cargo capacity. Some […]
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has released a Marine Accident Brief about an accident that occurred on April 15, 2019, involving the towing vessel DeJeanne Maria which struck the end of a submerged dredge pipeline while pushing two spud barges to the Gulf of Mexico. The incident occurred on the Mississippi River in Pass […]