Forming an Abode of Peace: An Assessment of Brunei’s Role in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) from 1984-2020
How can small states reorder power relations to survive in the international system? Using a model inspired by the classical realism of Hans Morgenthau, this thesis argues that through the formation and maintenance of flexible, decentralized institutions, smaller states can balance between larger powers in the international system and survive. To examine this, what follows is a comprehensive study of the foreign policy of Brunei Darussalam since it joined the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) upon the resumption of its full independence in 1984. The role of this oil-rich sultanate of fewer than 500,000 people as an active player in the international system remains understudied. This thesis argues that Brunei can balance in the international system by utilizing a policy of “cooperative engagement,” whereby it develops broad-based but flexible partnerships in all aspects of its foreign policy. ASEAN provides a unique forum for Brunei to pursue this policy as a means of stabilizing the regional balance-of-power system in support of a favorable status quo. To prove this, the thesis uses a historical case study method to study Brunei’s foreign policy. Accordingly, this thesis covers three major periods of Brunei’s membership in ASEAN: its first years establishing itself as an active member state from 1984–2000, its growing leadership in the association from 2001–13, and finally its continued support for ASEAN unity despite facing multiple challenges from 2014–20. The study concludes that Brunei is a strong and successful model of a smaller state that relies on an active foreign policy and decentralized institutions to balance between competing powers in the international system.
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