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Explaining the resurgence of regionalism in world politics*


The past decade has witnessed a resurgence of regionalism in world politics. Old regionalist organizations have been revived, new organizations formed, and regionalism and the call for strengthened regionalist arrangements have been central to many of the debates about the nature of the post-Cold War international order. The number, scope and diversity of regionalist schemes have grown significantly since the last major ‘regionalist wave’ in the 1960s. Writing towards the end of this earlier regionalist wave, Joseph Nye could point to two major classes of regionalist activity: on the one hand, micro-economic organizations involving formal economic integration and characterized by formal institutional structures; and on the other, macro-regional political organizations concerned with controlling conflict. Today, in the political field, regional dinosaurs such as the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and the Organization of American States (OAS) have re-emerged. They have been joined both by a large number of aspiring micro-regional bodies (such as the Visegrad Pact and the Pentagonale in central Europe; the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU) and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in the Middle East; ECOWAS and possibly a revived Southern African Development Community (SADC, formerly SADCC) led by post-apartheid South Africa in Africa), and by loosely institutionalized meso-regional security groupings such as the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE, now OSCE) and more recently the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF). In the economic field, micro-regional schemes for economic cooperation or integration (such as the Southern Cone Common Market, Mercosur, the Andean Pact, the Central American Common Market (CACM) and CARICOM in the Americas; the attempts to expand economic integration within ASEAN; and the proliferation of free trade areas throughout the developing world) stand together with arguments for macro-economic or ‘bloc regionalism’ built around the triad of an expanded European Union (EU), the North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA) and some further development of Asia-Pacific regionalism. The relationship between these regional schemes and between regional and broader global initiatives is central to the politics of contemporary regionalism.

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1 For many analysts trends towards regionalism are well established. Dominick Salvatore, for example, believes that ‘the world has already and probably irreversibly moved into an international trade order characterized by three major trading blocs’: Salvatore Dominick, ‘Protectionism and World Welfare: Introduction’, in Salvatore (ed.), Protectionism and World Welfare (Cambridge: CUP, 1993), p. 10. Peter Drucker believes that the demands of what he calls the ‘knowledge economy’ ‘makes regionalism both inevitable and irreversible’: Drucker Peter F., Post-Capitalist Society (London: Butterworth Heinemann, 1993), p. 137. Aaron Friedberg argues that ‘recent rhetoric notwithstanding, the dominant trend in world politics today is towards regionalization rather than globalization, toward fragmentation rather than unification’: Friedberg Aaron L., ‘Ripe for Rivalry. Prospects for Peace in a Multipolar Asia’, International Security, 18, 3 (Winter 1993/1994), p. 5. See also Rostow W. W., ‘The Coming Age of Regionalism’, Encounter, 74, 5 (June 1990); Rosecrance Richard, ‘Regionalism and the Post-Cold War Era’, International Journal, 46 (Summer 1991); and Ohmae Kenichi, ‘The Rise of the Region State’, Foreign Affairs (Spring 1991).

2 For quantitative data on increased involvement in regional organizations in the 1980s see Taylor Paul, International Organization in the Modern World. The Regional and Global Process (London: Pinter, 1993), pp. 24–8.

3 Nye Joseph S., Peace in Parts: Integration and Conflict in Regional Organizations (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1971).

4 The term ‘new regionalism’ has been used by several writers including Palmer Norman D., The New Regionalism in Asia and the Pacific (Lexington: Lexington Books, 1991); and Hettne Bjorn, ‘Neo-Mercantilism: The Pursuit of Regionness’, Cooperation and Conflict, 28, 3 (September 1993).

5 Most surveys tend to focus overwhelmingly on Europe, e.g. Webb Carole, ‘Theoretical Perspectives and Problems’, in Wallace Helen, Wallace William and Webb Carole (eds.), Policy-making in the European Community (Chichester: Wiley, 2nd edn, 1983); and more recently Hix Simon, ‘Approaches to the Study of the EC: The Challenge to Comparative Polities’, West European Politics, 17, 1 (January 1994). For a broader approach see Archer Clive, International Organizations (London: Routledge, 2nd edn, 1992), especially chapter 3.

6 See, e.g., Russett Bruce M., ‘International Regimes and the Study of Regions’, International Studies Quarterly, 13, 4 (Dec. 1969); Cantori Louis J. and Spiegel Steven L. (eds.), The International Politics of Regions: A Comparative Approach (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1970); Thompson William, ‘The Regional Subsystem: A Conceptual Explication and a Propositional Inventory’, International Studies Quarterly, 17, 1 (1973); and Vayrynen Raimo, ‘Regional Conflict Formations: An Intractable Problem of International Relations’, Journal of Peace Research, 21, 4 (1984).

7 A good example is Nye Joseph S. (ed.), International Regionalism: Readings (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1968).

8 See Russett Bruce, International Regions and the International System (Chicago: Rand McNally, 1967).

9 For a still very relevant discussion of the problems of classifying regional systems see Grigg David, ‘The Logic of Regional Systems’, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 55 (1965).

10 Hormats Robert D., ‘Making Regionalism Safe’, Foreign Affairs (March/April 1994), p. 98.

11 Contrast with Christopher Bliss's definition of an economic bloc: ‘[Yet] coordination of policy, whether with regard to trade or exchange rates, is at the heart of the idea’. Bliss Christopher, Economic Theory and Policy for Trading Blocks (Manchester: Manchester U.P., 1994), p. 14.

12 For a fascinating study of this phenomenon see Lowenthal Abraham F. and Burgess Katrina (eds.), The California-Mexico Connection (Stanford: Stanford UP., 1993).

13 Emanuel Adler, ‘Imagined (Security) Communities’, paper presented at 1994 Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, New York, 1–4 September 1994. See also Smith Anthony, ‘National Identity and the Idea of European Unity’, International Affairs, 68 1 (January 1992) and Wallace William, The Transformation of Western Europe (London: Pinter for RIIA, 1990), chapter 2.

14 For an example of these perspectives see Neumann Iver B. and Welsh Jennifer, ‘The other in European self-definition: an addendum to the literature on international society’, Review of International Studies, 17, 4 (October 1991).

15 Young Oran, International Cooperation. Building Regimes for Natural Resources and the Environment (Ithaca: Cornell UP., 1989), p. 25.

16 Krasner Stephen D., ‘Structural Causes and Regime Consequences: Regimes as Intervening Variables’, in Krasner (ed.), International Regimes (Ithaca: Cornell U.R, 1983), p. 1.

17 Although designed to reinforce state power, there may still be an important difference between intention and outcome. The mushrooming of cooperative arrangements may set in motion changes that ultimately tie down states in a process of ‘institutional enmeshment’ that alters the dynamics of regional politics. See Zacher Mark W., ‘The Decaying Pillars of the Westphalian Temple: Implications for Order and Governance’, in Rosenau James N. and Czempiel Ernst-Otto (eds.), Governance without Government: Order and Change in World Politics (Cambridge: CUP, 1992).

18 One of the most important classic works is Balassa Bela, The Theory of Economic Integration (London: Allen and Unwin, 1961). For an up-to-date analysis of the evolving process of European integration see Tsoukalis Loukas, The New European Economy. The Politics and Economics of Integration (Oxford: OUP, 2nd edn, 1993).

19 Smith Peter H., ‘Introduction—The Politics of Integration: Concepts and Themes’, in Smith Peter H. (ed.), The Challenge of Integration. Europe and the Americas (New Brunswick: Transaction, 1992), p. 5.

20 Taylor, International Organization in the Modern World, especially chapter 4.

21 Ruggie John, for example, describes the EC as a ‘multiperspectival polity’ ‘in which the process of unbundling territoriality has gone further than anywhere else’: ‘Territoriality and beyond: problematizing modernity in international relations’, International Organization, 47, 1 (Winter 1993), pp. 171–2. The notion of ‘neo-medievalism’ (and the parallel idea of a ‘Grotian moment’) was developed by Bull Hedley, The Anarchical Society (London: Macmillan, 1977), pp. 264–76.

22 The useful distinction between ‘outside-in’ and ‘inside-out’ approaches to regionalism has been developed by Neumann Iver B., ‘A Region-Building Approach to Northern Europe’, Review of International Studies, 20, 1 (January 1994). See also Cloke Paul, Philo Chris and Sadler David (eds.), Approaching Human Geography: An Introduction to Contemporary Theoretical Debates (London: Paul Chapman Publishers, 1991), pp. 813.

23 The most influential statement of the structural realist position has been Waltz Kenneth, Theory of International Politics (Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1979).

24 See, in particular, Walt Stephen M., The Origins of Alliances (Ithaca: Cornell U.P., 1987).

25 For a strong restatement of the realist position see Mearsheimer John, ‘Back to the Future: Instability in Europe after the Cold War’, International Organization, 15 (Summer 1990).

26 On the multiple uses of the idea and institutions of Europe see Ash Timothy Garton, In Europe's Name. Germany and the Divided Continent (London: Vintage, 1994).

27 On traditional realist accounts in which states will always be fearful of unequal power, bandwagoning will be an exception. However, if, as Stephen Walt argues, states seek to balance threats rather than simply power, and if factors such as ideological commonality and institutionalization play a role, then accommodation with the hegemon becomes a less anomalous policy. For Walt's modification of traditional balance-of-power logic, see The Origins of Alliances, especially chapter 1. For a restatement of the view that states will always balance unequal power see Waltz Kenneth, ‘The Emerging Structure of International Polities’, International Security, 18, 2 (Fall 1993).

28 This argument has recently been made in relation to the Asia-Pacific region by Crone Donald, ‘Does Hegemony Matter? The Reorganization of the Pacific Political Economy’, World Politics 45, 4 (July 1993). In relation to Latin America see Hurrell Andrew, ‘Latin America and the New World Order: A Regional Bloc in the Americas?’, International Affairs, 68, 1 (January 1992).

29 Thus in Power and Interdependence, which largely set the agenda for this scholarship, Keohane and Nye ‘sought to integrate realism and liberalism using a conception of interdependence which focused on bargaining’ (my emphasis). Keohane Robert O. and Nye Joseph S., Power and Interdependence, 2nd edn, (Glenview: Scott, Foresman and Company, 1989), p. 251.

30 O'Brien Richard, Global Financial Integration: The End of Geography (London: Pinter for RIIA, 1992); Ohmae Kenichi, The Borderless World (London: Fontana, 1991). For a healthy dose of scepticism see Wade Robert, ‘Globalization and Its Limits: The Continuing Economic Importance of Nations and Regions’, in Berger Suzanne and Dore Ronald (eds.), Convergence or Diversity? National Models of Production and Distribution in a Global Economy (Ithaca: Cornell U.R, forthcoming).

31 See Keohane and Nye , Power and Interdependence, pp. 247–51; and Haas Ernst, The Obsolescence of Regional Integration Theory (Berkeley: Institute of International Studies, 1975).

32 See Wyatt-Walter Andrew, ‘Regionalization, Globalization and World Economic Order’, in Fawcett and Hurrell (eds.), Regionalism in World Politics.

33 See, for example, Papers from the International Conference on the NAFTA, Mexico City, March 1993’, Review of Radical Political Economics, 25, 4 (December 1993). For arguments linking regionalism to ‘a crisis of global economic order’, see Gill Stephen, ‘Restructuring Global Politics: Trilateral Relations and World Order “After” the Cold War’ (York University, CISS Working Paper, September 1992).

34 On the importance of changes in the world economy for understanding the 1992 process in Europe see Sandholtz Wayne and Zysman John, ‘1992: Recasting the European Bargain’, World Politics, 42, 1 (October 1989). See also Sharp Margaret, ‘Technology and the Dynamics of Integration’, in Wallace William (ed.), The Dynamics of European Integration (London: Pinter for RIIA, 1990).

35 Most of this work has focused on economic interdependence. For a discussion of regional strategic interdependence and the concept of regional security complexes see Buzan Barry, People, States and Fear (London: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 2nd edn, 1991), chapter 5.

36 The classic texts are Haas Ernst B., The Uniting of Europe: Political, Social and Economic Forces (London: Stevens, 1958); and Lindberg Leon N., The Political Dynamics of European Economic Integration (Stanford: Stanford U.P., 1963).

37 More recently there has been a good deal of attention on the dynamics of legal integration and the idea of ‘legal spill-over’. See, for example, Weiler J. H. H., ‘Journey to an Unknown Destination: A Retrospective and Prospective of the European Court of Justice in the Arena of Political Integration’, Journal of Common Market Studies, 31, 4 (December 1993).

38 Haas , The Uniting of Europe, pp. xvxvi.

39 See, for example, Moravcsik Andrew, ‘Preferences and Power in the European Community: A Liberal Intergovernmentalist Approach’, Journal of Common Market Studies, 31, 4 (December 1993), especially pp. 474–80; Keohane Robert O. and Hoffman Stanley, ‘Conclusions: Community politics and institutional change’, in Wallace (ed.), Dynamics of European Integration; and Tranholm-Mikkelsen Jeppe, ‘Neo-functionalism: Obstinate or Obsolete? A Reappraisal in the Light of the New Dynamism of the EC’, Millennium, 20, 1 (1991).

40 The literature is enormous. See, for example, Keohane Robert O., International Institutions and State Power (Boulder: Westview, 1989); Keohane , After Hegemony. Cooperation and Discord in the World Political Economy (Princeton: Princeton U.P., 1984); Baldwin David A. (ed.), Neorealism and Neoliberalism (New York: Columbia UP., 1993); Rittberger Volker (ed.), Regime Theory and International Relations (Oxford: OUP, 1993); Milner Helen, ‘International Theory of Cooperation Among Nations: Strengths and Weaknesses’, World Politics, 44 (April 1992).

41 Keohane Robert O., ‘Institutionalist Theory and the Realist Challenge After the Cold War’, in Baldwin (ed.), Neorealism and Neoliberalism, p. 274.

42 Because it takes states as central this is often seen as a realist theory (for example by Hix, ’Approaches to the Study of the EC). Unlike realism, however, institutionalism accords a major role t o institutions and accepts that sustained cooperation is possible.

43 See, for example, Keohane Robert O. and Hoffmann Stanley (eds.), The New European Community. Decisionmaking and institutional change (Boulder: Westview, 1991).

44 For a discussion of these trends in the European case see Wallace, ransformation of Western Europe.

45 Cooper Richard N., ‘Interdependence and Co-ordination of Policies’, in Cooper, Economic Policy in an Interdependent World: Essays in World Economics (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1986).

46 Petri Peter A., ‘The East Asian Trading Bloc: An Analytical History’, in Frankel Jeffrey A. and Kahler Miles (eds.), Regionalism and Rivalry. Japan and the United States in Pacific Asia (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), pp. 42–3. See also Stephan Haggard's comment on Petri, pp. 48–52.

47 Onuf Nicholas used the term ‘constructivism’ in his study of rules in international relations, World of Our Making. Rules and Rule in Social Theory and International Relations (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1989). Its more general use has arisen out of critique of both Waltzian structural realism and rationalist theories of cooperation. For a particularly clear account of constructivism see Wendt Alexander, ‘Collective Identity Formation and the International State’, American Political Science Review, 88, 2 (June 1994). See also Keohane's distinction between rationalist and reflectivist approaches: ‘International Institutions: Two Approaches’, in International Institutions and State Power (Boulder: Westview, 1989), chapter 7.

48 For a discussion of the weaknesses of Deutsch's views and the contemporary relevance of the concept of ‘security community’ see Adler Emanuel and Barnett Michael, ‘Pluralistic Security Communities: Past, Present and Future’, Working Paper Series on Regional Security, 1 (University of Wisconsin, 1994).

49 Wendt , ‘Collective Identity Formation’, p. 385. As this quotation indicates, constructivism can be seen as a systemic theory. Whilst perceptions of a non-regional ‘other’ can indeed reinforce regional identity, it is constructivism's analysis of strategic interaction and cognitive interdependence within the regional that is most relevant for our purposes.

50 For an excellent example see Judt Tony, ‘The Past is Another Country: Myth and Memory in Postwar Europe’, Daedalus, 121, 4 (Fall 1992).

51 Waever Ole, ‘Three Competing Europes: German, French and Russian’, International Affairs, 66, 3 (1990), and ‘Territory, Authority and Identity’, paper for EUPRA Conference on European Identity, Florence, 8–10 November 1991.

52 The literature is expanding very rapidly. But see especially Small Melvin and Singer J. David, ‘The War Process of Democratic Regimes’, The Jerusalem Journal of International Relations, 1 (1976); Rummel R. J., ‘Libertarian Propositions on Violence Within and Between Nations’, Journal of Conflict Resolution, 29 (1985); Doyle Michael W., ‘Kant, Liberal Legacies, and Foreign Affairs’, two parts, Philosophy and Public Affairs, 12, 3 & 4 (1983); Maoz Zeev and Russett Bruce, ‘Normative and Structural Causes of Democratic Peace, 1946–1986’, American Political Science Review, 87 (1993); and Russett Bruce, Grasping the Democratic Peace (Princeton: Princeton U.P., 1993).

53 Deutsch K. W. et al., Political Community in the North Atlantic Area (Princeton: Princeton U.P., 1957); Deudney Daniel and Ikenberry G. John, ‘The Logic of the West’, World Policy Journal, 10, 4 (Winter 1993/1994); Burley Anne-Marie, ‘Law among Liberal States: Liberal Internationalism and the Act of State Doctrine’, Columbia Law Review, 92 (December 1992).

54 Cohen Raymond, ‘Pacific Unions: A Reappraisal of the theory that “Democracies do not go to War with each other”’, Review of International Studies, 20, 3 (July 1994).

55 For a comparative treatment of this issue see Whitehead Laurence, ‘Requisites for Admission’, in Smith Peter H. (ed.), The Challenge of Integration. Europe and the Americas (New Brunswick and London: Transaction Publishers, 1992).

56 In both cases, however, domestic factors may still have played an important role: changes in societal values and attitudes towards the United States in the case of Mexico; increased awareness of shared social, economic and political values in the case of ASEAN.

57 As Milward Alan writes, ‘domestic policy was not in the end sustainable unless this neo-mercantilism could be guaranteed by its Europeanization’. The European Rescue of the Nation-State (London: Routledge, 1992), p. 134.

58 See Hix , ‘Approaches to the Study of the EC’, pp. 78.

59 For relevant discussions of the ‘levels of analysis’ problem see Walker R. B. J., Inside/outside: International Relations as Political Theory (Cambridge: CUP, 1993), especially pp. 130–40; and Moravscik Andrew, ‘Introduction. Integrating International and Domestic Theories of International Bargaining’, in Evans Peter B., Jacobsen Harold K. and Putnam Robert D. (eds.), Double-edged Diplomacy (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993).

60 See Waltz Kenneth, ‘A Response to my Critics’, in Keohane Robert O. (ed.), Neorealism and Its Critics (New York: Columbia, 1986), p. 329.

61 Moravscik , ‘Introduction’, pp. 617. A good example is Stephen Walt's modification of neorealist alliance theory, noted earlier (see n.27). His argument that states seek to balance against threats and perceived intentions rather than unequal power is certainly plausible. However, enquiring into such perceptions leads unavoidably to an analysis of domestic-level political and cognitive factors, thereby vitiating the much-vaunted parsimony of neorealist theory.

62 For an important move in this direction see Moravscik, ‘Preferences and Power’.

* This article draws (with permission) on material in Louise Fawcett and Andrew Hurrell (eds.), Regionalism in World Politics (Oxford: OUP, forthcoming 1995). The author would like to thank Louise Fawcett, Ngaire Woods, William Wallace, Andrew Wyatt-Walter, Robert O'Brien and the journal's referees for their helpful comments.

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Review of International Studies
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