Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Association of Southeast Asia (31 July 1961)

Organization of Southeast Asian nations designed to facilitate intergovernmental cooperation. The Association of Southeast Asia (ASA) was the first of a new type of regional intergovernmental organizations aimed at promoting Asian cohesiveness during the Cold War. In response to communist-led nationalist movements, the United States supported two rather different manifestations of Asian regionalism in the 1950s and 1960s. The Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) was initially more prominent, but its signatories were a minority. SEATO would be followed by a more resilient type of Asian regional organization, composed solely of Southeast Asian governments.

On 31 July 1961, the ASA was established by the foreign ministers of the Federation of Malaya, the Philippines, and Thailand. No formal treaty was signed or ratified. The first of the new Asian-only regional organizations, the ASA generated modest cultural and technical collaboration among its members. Because ASA economies were not complementary and depended to a great extent on agricultural production, intraregional trade was insignificant. However, the ASA set an important precedent by facilitating communication among foreign ministers of culturally and historically diverse independent states. This move toward multilateral cooperation benefited subsequent regional organizations, the most notable of which was the ASA's successor, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

After an initial media blitz upon its founding in 1961, the ASA experienced a temporary impasse over renewal by the Philippines of an old claim to Sabah (North Borneo). The ASA was revived following the 1965 collapse of Indonesian President Sukarno's alliance with military officers and communists and the election of President Ferdinand E. Marcos in the Philippines at the end of the year. U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson praised ASA-type regionalism.

The ASA was a harbinger of a new Asian regionalism. Despite its implicitly anticommunist orientation, foreign ministers of the ASA member states asserted that their purpose was not that of a military-security alliance, presaging elements of the Nixon Doctrine in Asia. Oftentimes, however, the ASA became a rubber stamp for U.S. policies in Asia. In 1967, the ASA's activities were subsumed by ASEAN.

Vincent Kelly Pollard


Further Reading
Gordon, Bernard K. Divisive Forces in Southeast Asia: Study S-101 IDA/HQ62–827. Washington, DC: Institute for Defense Analyses, International Studies Division, 1963.; Pollard, Vincent K. "ASA and ASEAN, 1961–1967: Southeast Asian Regionalism." Asian Survey 10(3) (1970): 244–255.
 

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