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When security community meets balance of power: overlapping regional mechanisms of security governance

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 February 2009


By now arguments about the varieties of international order abound in International Relations. These disputes include arguments about the security mechanisms, institutions, and practices that sustain international orders, including balance of power and alliances, hegemony, security regimes based on regional or global institutions, public, private, and hybrid security networks, as well as different kinds of security communities. The way these orders coexist across time and space, however, has not been adequately theorised. In this article we seek to show (A) that, while analytically and normatively distinct, radically different orders, and in particular the security systems of governance on which they are based (such as balance of power and security community), often coexist or overlap in political discourse and practice. (B) We will attempt to demonstrate that the overlap of security governance systems may have important theoretical and empirical consequences: First, theoretically our argument sees ‘balance of power’ and ‘security community’ not only as analytically distinct structures of security orders, but focuses on them specifically as mechanisms based on a distinct mixture of practices. Second, this move opens up the possibility of a complex (perhaps, as John Ruggie called it, a ‘multiperspectival’) vision of regional security governance. Third, our argument may be able to inform new empirical research on the overlap of several security governance systems and the practices on which they are based. Finally, our argument can affect how we think about the boundaries of regions: Beyond the traditional geographical/geopolitical notion of regional boundaries and the social or cognitive notion of boundaries defined with reference to identity, our focus on overlapping mechanisms conceives of a ‘practical’ notion of boundaries according to which regions’ boundaries are determined by the practices that constitute regions.

Research Article
Copyright © British International Studies Association 2009

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