Strategic Resilience in Southeast Asia

STRATEGIC RESILIENCE has been touted as a break from the past towards a better prepared post-pandemic future in Southeast Asia. The term focuses on strategic supply chain resilience. However, within the regional context of a people-centred ASEAN, a more comprehensive understanding of strategic resilience is needed to move beyond a narrow focus on supply chains. Without a recalibration of the term, it may signal a snap back to a pre-COVID era or ‘old’ ways of thinking. The term captures the mutually reinforcing nature of strategic thinking and resilience. It is therefore timely to redress this imbalance to use strategic thinking to inform a more sustainable and resilient future in Southeast Asia.

Challenge of Cooperation within a Fragmented Global System

Regional cooperation within a fragmented global system has faced significant challenges in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic – from the disruption of supply chains and the movement of people, disproportionate effects on marginalised communities, poor pandemic preparedness planning, to the emergence of vaccine nationalism. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve, regional cooperation particularly in Asia has re-emerged as an important component in securing vaccines, recalibrating supply chains, negotiating travel lanes, and sharing knowledge of public health safety practices for the benefit of people in the region.

Given the successes achieved so far under crisis conditions, it is important to utilise this experience to move decision-makers’ mindsets away from reactive measures towards investing in a longer-term vision that engages people and builds a more sustainable and strategic resilience for the future. So, what does it all mean?

Key Elements for ASEAN

A more holistic understanding of Strategic Resilience aims to inform states, companies and societies how to recover quickly in times of disruption and become future-ready. It does so by securing four key elements: evidence-based decision making, institutional capability, organisational leadership and societal adaptability. Three of the four are reliant on the capability to ensure strong organisations, systems and human resources through learning, development, skills, and experience.

In ASEAN, there are key operational institutions that have been developed within sectors that have implications for wider ASEAN security governance from the well-established ASEAN Coordinating Centre on Humanitarian Assistance in disaster management to the more directly relevant announcement of the feasibility study on an ASEAN Centre on Public Health Emergencies and Emerging Diseases. These form the implementation arm of regional cooperation such as the ASEAN Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response.

The Need to Synergise Actions

However, linkages across sectors are limited and there is a need to synergise their actions with broader strategic resilience within the regional community. This would build a more robust system that would inform contingency planning for future pandemics and other potential scenarios. During the past year, it has become acutely apparent that not only does regional cooperation matter but also importantly includes engagement with extra-regional actors particularly those producing vaccines. It underlines the interconnections between countries in Southeast Asia and the wider world.

The COVID-19 pandemic has further caused restrictions on the movement of people both within and outside countries of residence. These restrictions have had a disproportionate effect on marginalised communities within countries of residence and curtailed the movement of people internationally. As countries gradually open up beginning with travel bubbles between those with a more effective pandemic response, it further underlines the importance of investment in effective governance systems. As countries in the region move forward, a greater focus on whole-of-society approaches that tackle the pandemic and its disproportionate impacts, such as through the implementation of the ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework, it will be important to consider potential future crises to develop a vision to achieve strategic resilience in the region.

By The Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies (NTS Centre)
S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS)
Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore