April 2, 2010: Mr. Keith Luse, Ambassador Scot Marciel, Mr. Bronson Percival, Mr. Robert Scher, and Ms. Barbara Weisel

Why ASEAN Matters for America

(Click to enlarge) Ambassador Scot Marciel discusses U.S.-ASEAN relations.


(Washington D.C.) April 2–The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) could become an important regional partner for the United States as the organization develops its economic, diplomatic, and security capacities. In an East-West Center in Washington Asia Pacific Security Seminar, Mr. Keith Luse, senior professional staff member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee; Ambassador Scot Marciel, deputy assistant secretary for Southeast Asia and ambassador for ASEAN affairs, U.S. Department of State; Mr. Bronson Percival, senior advisor in the Center for Strategic Studies at the Center for Naval Analyses; Mr. Robert Scher, deputy assistant secretary of defense for South and Southeast Asia, U.S. Department of Defense; and Ms. Barbara Weisel, assistant U.S. trade representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, discussed the numerous connections between the United States and ASEAN, pointing to the opportunities and challenges that enhanced engagement with Southeast Asia will bring to the United States. At this special event, the East-West Center in Washington and the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) released the new initiative, ASEAN Matters for America / America Matters for ASEAN , which explores the important connections between the United States and the ten countries of ASEAN. For more information about ASEAN Matters for America, please visit


Ambassador Marciel explained that the Obama administration has in the past year demonstrated U.S. commitment to substantive participation in Southeast Asia through increased interaction with ASEAN, growing economic ties, and enhanced security engagement on traditional and non-traditional issues. He explained that in the coming years, the United States will emphasize “pragmatism and partnership” with the region, assisting in the development of ASEAN’s regional vision while at the same time continuing to address democracy and human rights issues where appropriate. A successful ASEAN community, Ambassador Marciel argued, is essential for the growth of a stable Southeast Asia and therefore an important part of U.S. strategy for the region.


Economic development will continue to be an important focus of U.S. engagement with ASEAN. Ms. Weisel noted that the growing economies of Southeast Asia provide enormous opportunities for the United States. She explained that ASEAN-led regional economic integration efforts focused on the standardization and liberalization of markets have been significant in promoting growth in the region, and that the United States is committed to assist in this growth through advice and training. Though she pointed out that the diversity of interests and economic goals within ASEAN makes it unlikely that the United States would pursue a free trade agreement with ASEAN as a whole in the near future, the United States remains committed to intensifying trade agreements and dialogue with the region.


In addition to economic cooperation, the United States is very interested in the development of security cooperation in the region. Mr. Scher argued that while the United States has long had important bilateral security cooperation with many countries in Southeast Asia, it will need to focus on multilateral security in the future. For example, the region has important maritime shipping routes that require coordinated protection. The region is also increasingly vulnerable to environmental and natural disaster threats that require multilateral responses. Mr. Scher explained that ASEAN countries and the United States share many common security goals, and that they would continue to work together to strengthen communication and cooperation to protect common interests in the region.


Despite the growth in the U.S.-ASEAN relationship and the opportunities for increased interaction, obstacles still remain. Mr. Percival reminded the audience of the past perception that the United States was not interested in Southeast Asia, noting that the region has indeed not received much attention in Washington due to a variety of reasons. He argued that despite recent concerted interest in the region, the United States lacks a well-rounded regional policy that can react as changes occur and new challenges emerge. For example, he noted that the United States will need to decide how to deal with Burma as a part of the larger ASEAN entity. Additionally, he pointed to a need for the United States to determine how to react to China’s interest in the region, specifically mentioning China’s controversial claims to large areas of the South China Sea.


Mr. Luse agreed with Mr. Percival, noting that Southeast Asia and ASEAN have long been underappreciated by Congress, presidential administrations, and the D.C. policy community. Though he was pleased that the current administration was placing more emphasis on the region, he worried that current engagement continues to be ad-hoc. He noted that while there have been critics of ASEAN, it has contributed significantly to the peace and stability of Southeast Asia, improvements that have benefited American businesses and regional security. Mr. Luse argued for the creation of a comprehensive plan that shows how ASEAN matters to the United States, and how the United States will remain committed to the region for a long-term partnership.


Keith Luse is Senator Lugar’s senior professional staff member for East Asian and Pacific Affairs at the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In addition, he is the Committee liaison to the ranking member of the East Asian and Pacific Affairs Subcommittee, and the ranking member of the International Economic Policy Subcommittee. Mr. Luse also assists with Senator Lugar’s ongoing oversight of the multilateral development banks, on anti-corruption and transparency issues. Mr. Luse joined Senator Lugar at the Foreign Relations Committee in 2003. Previously, he served as Senator Lugar’s staff director at the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry. Beginning in 1978, Mr. Luse worked in Senator Lugar’s Indiana Office, where he served as state director beginning in 1982. During Senator Lugar’s first term as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Mr. Luse assisted the chairman on ASEAN matters and coordinated visits of Asian officials to Indiana. Upon departing Senator Lugar’s Indiana Office in 1989, Mr. Luse served as chairman of the Indiana Republican Party. From 1991 through 1998, he traveled throughout East Asia while in the private sector, conducting a range of research for U.S. businesses. 


Scot Marciel currently serves as deputy assistant secretary, East Asia and Pacific Bureau, responsible for relations with Southeast Asia, and as ambassador for ASEAN Affairs. Ambassador Marciel, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, joined the State Department in 1985. His most recent assignments were as director of the Department’s Office of Maritime Southeast Asia, director of the Office of Mainland Southeast Asia, and director of the Office of Southeastern Europe. Ambassador Marciel also has served in Vietnam, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Brazil, and Turkey, as well as in the Economic Bureau’s Office of Monetary Affairs.


Bronson Percival, currently a senior advisor with the Center for Strategic Studies at CNA, is a respected specialist on Southeast Asia, terrorism, and maritime security. During his career as a U.S. Foreign Service Officer, he reported on political and security issues from Lebanon to Indonesia. After teaching at the U.S. Naval War College, he returned to the State Department to lead the Southeast Asia Division in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research and then coordinate counter-terrorism programs and policies in the East Asia Bureau. Mr. Percival's most recent book, The Dragon Looks South: China and Southeast Asia in the New Century (Westport, Conn: Praeger Security International, 2007), analyses China's goals and objectives in Southeast Asia, the region's response to China's initiatives, and the implications for U.S. interests.


Robert Scher is the deputy assistant secretary of defense for South and Southeast Asia within the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs. Mr. Scher's area of responsibility includes bilateral security relations with India and all other South Asian countries, excepting Afghanistan and Pakistan, the nations of Southeast Asia, plus Australia, East Timor, New Zealand, and the Pacific Island States. Prior to his appointment, Mr. Scher was an associate at Booz Allen Hamilton where he led efforts to provide assistance to Asian nations improving their defense and national security decision-making processes. Earlier, Mr. Scher worked for 15 years in the Departments of Defense and State, and held numerous posts covering Asian security and defense policy issues. Specifically, he served as chief-of-staff to the deputy under secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific Affairs, overseeing the operations of the OSD office responsible for bilateral and multilateral security relations in Asia. While at State, he served on the Secretary's Policy Planning Staff providing advice on Asia, counterterrorism and political-military affairs issues.


Barbara Weisel joined the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative in 1994 and was appointed to the position of assistant U.S. trade representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific in 2004. In this position, she is responsible for developing and implementing U.S. trade policy relating to countries in Southeast Asia and the Pacific. She is the lead negotiator for the Trans-Pacific Partnership initiative and led the U.S. Free Trade Agreement negotiations with Malaysia and Thailand. Prior to this, Ms. Weisel served as deputy assistant U.S. trade representative for bilateral Asian affairs, where she was the deputy lead negotiator on the U.S.-Australia FTA and worked on the Singapore FTA as well as other Southeast Asian and Korean issues. She previously served as director for Japan affairs. Before joining USTR, Ms. Weisel worked at the State Department from 1984-1994. During this time, she served in a variety of positions, including as international economist on Japan, the Persian Gulf, and North Africa. 





(From left to right) Mr. Keith Luse, Mr. Bronson Percival, Mr. Robert Scher, Ms. Barbara Weisel, and Ambassador Scot Marciel.