The ASEAN region cannot afford a security lapse as the digital domain is supposed to propel its development. ASEAN should lead in forging partnership in strategic cybersecurity.


THE NAYPYIDAW Declaration on the ASEAN Community’s Post-2015 Vision positions ASEAN as a rules-based and resilient community that is capable of upholding its centrality in the evolving regional architecture. Equally, an integrated ASEAN in the years to come should preserve its continued relevance by contributing and responding to global issues of common concern.


Ensuring that the region remains free of weapons of mass destruction is one way of achieving this vision. So, too, is strengthening maritime security and cooperation. But where ASEAN can really start to make a difference – to be proactive – to lead in partnership and to boldly underscore its bearing, is in the emergent area of strategic cybersecurity.


Urgency to Secure Cyberspace

As a developing region, Southeast Asia has the most advanced implementation of harmonised e-commerce laws. Nine of the 10 ASEAN countries have laws related to electronic transactions, while eight have those concerned with cybercrime. All but one have a national cybersecurity programme. This is, perhaps, of little surprise, given that economic prosperity (and the regulatory framework to secure that) as the basis for peace and security has been an ASEAN priority from the beginning.


Since the World Trade Centre attacks in the United States, as well, issues of terrorism related to cyberspace and cybercrime have featured in numerous ASEAN declarations and communiques. This growing recognition of the urgency to secure cyberspace has permeated discussions in the ASEAN Regional Forum with tentative initiatives, such as a work plan aimed at promoting confidence-building measures.


Where discussion has lagged in the ASEAN framework has been how state interactions with each other and non-state actors should be governed in cyberspace. Specifically, and, rather shockingly, for a grouping of relatively and mostly small states with a constellation of powerful dialogue partners, there has been little consideration about the role and applicability of international law in the conduct of relations in the virtual realm.