ASEAN, partners agree to guidelines for air encounters

ASEAN, partners agree to guidelines for air encounters


Indo-Pacific defense leaders are touting the world’s first multilateral agreement for military air encounters as a significant step toward reducing the likelihood of conflict over the crowded skies of Southeast Asia.

Defense leaders from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) signed the agreement at a conference in Singapore on October 19, 2018, Reuters reported. The agreement includes a pledge to exchange information on terrorism threats.

“I am happy to announce the first multilateral guidelines for air encounters between military aircraft have been adopted,” Singaporean Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen said. “This is a significant achievement.”

Contributing to Southeast Asia’s congested skies is an increase in military air traffic. Defense spending in the Indo-Pacific is projected to rise by 23 percent to more than U.S. $530 billion in 2020, according to a report by the New Straits Times, an English-language newspaper in Malaysia.

The new nonbinding agreement to manage military air encounters will add to an existing code for maritime traffic that was adopted in 2017 by ASEAN and its partners — Australia, India, Japan, New Zealand, the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Russia, South Korea and the United States.

The joint declaration by the defense ministers included a pledge to promote peace and stability and to deepen cooperation on counterterrorism and cyber security, according to The Jakarta Post newspaper. The document calls for the establishment of a virtual network of experts to counter chemical, biological and radiological threats.

The new Guidelines for Air Military Encounters, or GAME, are designed to reduce the prospects for accidents that could escalate into a military conflict. Although the guidelines are nonbinding, Ng said they still could prevent mishaps. “In a way they are like seat belts — not completely protective, but at least you’ll find some protection,” he said, according to Reuters.

Australia, India, Japan, New Zealand, the PRC, Russia, South Korea and the United States tentatively joined the agreement, according to a joint statement issued after a meeting of defense ministers. (Pictured: Defense ministers from members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and its partners, including U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, disperse after taking a group photo in Singapore.)

Ng emphasized that conflict prevention is the goal. “We all know that if there is a physical incident, it changes the name of the game. … It creates a cascade of activities that you cannot control,” he said.

The air code spells out acceptable and unacceptable behavior, such as keeping a safe distance, avoiding reckless maneuvers and refraining “from the use of uncivil language or unfriendly physical gestures.” The guidelines comply with existing aviation standards, national and international law, as well as ASEAN principles of transparency and mutual trust.