Since the 13th century, Southeast Asia has played a strategic role as a crossroad of trade, and served as a vital point of pollination between diverse cultures, art, and religions.

Today, Southeast Asia is not only a strategic gateway to the vast Asian market, but is home to a group of resilient, dynamic ASEAN economies including Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. As of March 2010, ASEAN, a region of nearly 4.5 million square kilometers and home to SOME 600 million people, accounts for a burgeoning US$807,715 million export trade and US$726,109 million import trade, with a combined GDP of US$1.49 trillion.

As a dynamic region with diverse socio-political-economic structures adopted by its constituent countries, Southeast Asia is undergoing constant changes and renewal. With patterns of Cold War geostrategic rivalry beginning to recede, the security of Southeast Asia is entering a new era of great flux and fundamental transformation.  These changes will have an impact on the nascent security institutions driven by ASEAN processes since 1992. Notwithstanding key national security issues, economics remains a key template for maintaining stability in the region.  New uncertainties have accompanied the emergence of major power rivalry in the region, challenging the dominant role of the United States as China, India, and Russia play a more prominent role in regional affairs.

The fluid nature of security dynamics in the region also play out in more concrete and specific ways in relation to regional institutions.  In terms of new security challenges, regional security has to contend with counter-terrorism, maritime security, creation of viable institutional arrangements, new and traditional security issues, energy security, and the changing nature of the US bilateral alliance structure.

Notably, Southeast Asia’s importance has been recognized by Washington, and there is a renewal of interest for deeper engagement with the region under the Obama administration.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton chose Indonesia as her second stop in her 2009 Asia tour.  More recently, Secretary Clinton in her speech at the ASEAN Regional Forum in Phuket in July 2009 where she signed the ASEAN Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, remarked that the United States looked forward to “lay the groundwork for even stronger partnerships as we move forward.” The highest point was US President Barack Obama’s visit to Singapore for the APEC Summit in late 2009, where he held an unprecedented summit with ASEAN leaders. Following the success of the first meeting, a second US-ASEAN Summit is already being planned.

Against the backdrop of this strategic environment, the Bakrie Chairs for Southeast Asian Studies/Policy was established in two world-class institutions to deepen regional insights and analyze emerging trends in a dynamic area.