This article argues that ASEAN has been, will remain, an essentially contested institution. No one has claimed, or could claim, that ASEAN is a flawless organization, but at the same time, the characterization of ASEAN as a dysfunctional entity or a talk shop is misplaced. The reality lies in taking the middle ground as the articles in this special issue show. Research and debate on ASEAN should be based on comparing its record with other regional associations in the developing world and using some agreed criteria about what success or failure means. And disagreements about ASEAN's role should be welcomed as part of a healthy debate.