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Exploring Regional Domains: A Comparative History of Regionalism

Author(s): Louise Fawcett

Source: International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944-), Vol. 80, No. 3,
Regionalism and the Changing International Order in Central Eurasia (May, 2004), pp. 429-446
Published by: Wiley on behalf of the Royal Institute of International Affairs
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a comparativehistoryof regionalism


This article sets out some elements of a comparative history and analysis of
regionalism: elements that are essential to understanding its current progress
worldwide, but which have a particularrelevance to those parts of the world in
which regionalism is either poorly developed or of relatively recent vintage. I
am concerned not with a detailed discussion of 'actually existing regionalisms'
in the Central Asian or any other space, but with setting the scene from a broad
perspective. In so doing, I hope to provide a framework for discussion of
different regions. Regionalism and regionalization-both terms which need
defining-in any given area do not take place in a vacuum. While their pro-
gress is necessarily informed by geographical, political, economic, strategic and
cultural concerns that are region-specific, they also take place in an environment
that is in turn informed by norms, trends, values and practices that relate to
different regional and global settings. Hence a comparative survey is particularly
helpful in understanding current patterns and the development of regionalism.
Here regionalism is treated as a 'good' that states and non-state actors desire
and encourage, and one that merits promotion by regional and international
communities. For those concerned with international order, regionalism has
many positive qualities. Aside from promoting economic, political and security
cooperation and community, it can consolidate state-building and democrati-
zation, check heavy-handed behaviour by strong states, create and lock in norms
and values, increase transparency, make states and international institutions
more accountable, and help to manage the negative effects of globalization.
Recent examples from Europe, the Americas, Africa and parts of Asia support
this assessment.
To draw attention to these benefits of regionalism is not to deny its negative
and worrying aspects, which I will also touch on below. Here the discussion is
about voluntary regionalism as opposed to the coercive regionalism of the Co-
Prosperity or Warsaw Pact type, though that distinction can be a subtle one. Still,
regions could become 'enclaves of reaction', as Richard Falk warns.' Another
Richard Falk, 'The post-Westphaliaenigma',in Bjom Hettne and Bertil Oden, eds, Globalgovernance
the21st century:
alternative on worldorder(Stockholm:Almkvist& Wiksell, 2002), p. I77.

InternationalAffairs 80, 3 (2004) 429-446

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Louise Fawcett

downside is that regional actors and their networks can also be a source of
disorder: of terrorism and other crimes. But just as terror and crime can be
regional problems, they also invite regional solutions, and there has, since
September I , been some progress along these lines.2 This, however, merely
reinforces the point that in a world of complex and diverse threats and
challenges, where state power is inadequate and existing multilateral institu-
tions face severe overload or find their agendas heavily skewed to favour key
states, regionalism is both desirable and necessary. Geographically, ideationally
and functionally it is well suited to address questions of regional governance.
Not all would share this view. In certain circles there persists a belief in the
principle of universality, of the primacy of the United Nations and other multi-
lateral institutions, particularly in matters of peace, security and development.
The founding fathers of the League of Nations and of the United Nations
initially opposed the dilution of global goals-as do contemporary advocates of
cosmopolitan governance-and in current approaches to international
problem-solving the global level remains the first port of call. Less idealistically,
regional actors and states support universalism, or a UN-first approach, as a
check on the possible misuse of hegemonic power. One flip side of this liberal
coin is provided by realists, who call the belief that cooperation can mitigate
international anarchy utopian and take the view that institutions-regional or
not-can render only 'modest services'.3 Nor is this view without validity from
the perspective of certain parts of the world today. In some regions, state power
acts as a continuing brake on regional initiatives; for some states, including the
United States in its current foreign policy phase, regionalism is a useful, but
dispensable, source of legitimacy.
The aim here is to stand back from the debate about US unilateralism and
the evolution of a set of policies that, at least since the events of 9/II, have
been regarded as unfriendly to institutions in general and regionalism in
particular. Simplistically, we can agree that there has been something of a break
with previous policy, both in respect of behaviour towards organizations of
which it is a member, like the UN or NATO, and in respect of region-
building-for example, in Latin America through the processes associated with
the North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA) and Free Trade Area of the
Americas (FTAA). But this pattern of regional and institutional engagement
and disengagement has always fluctuated and shifted, in response to both
internal debate and outside threat, and its current form is unlikely to be
permanent. The same is also true of other regional great powers, whose interest
in regionalism may similarly wax and wane. More interesting is a longer view
which maps the development of regionalism over time: one which suggests
that the steady growth and expansion of interdependence since the Second
World War has generated an institutional and regional momentum that started

WalterLacqueur,No endto war(New York: Continuum, 2003), p. 234.
3 StanleyHoffman,JanusandMinerva:essaysin thetheoryandpractice
of international
Westview, I987), p. 75.


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Exploringregionaldomains:a comparativehistoryof regionalism
in the Americas, the Arab states and Europe, but has since taken hold in a
generalized, if highly unequal way so that there is now no part of the world
where it has failed to make an impression on state behaviour at some level.
This regional momentum has proved unstoppable, constantly extending
into new and diverse domains. Whether in reaching out to AIDS victims in
Africa, launching free trade areas, building democracy in Central America,
providing post-conflict services and support in war and disaster zones, shaping
responses to terrorism or fashioning new institutions in Central Asia, regional
initiatives-from civil society networks and NGOs at one level, to trade
alliances and formal state-based institutions at another-play out roles that have
a daily impact upon peoples and states, softening the contours of globalization
and state power. Thus conceived, regionalism has large, if untapped, potential.
It is not, as some have argued, an alternative, but a significant complementary
layer of governance. Some tasks can be performed better by states, multilateral
institutions or non-governmental organizations. But what is emerging is a de
facto, albeit often ad hoc, division of labour, sometimes consensual, sometimes
contested, where regional actors take on increasingly important roles, contri-
buting to what Jan Aarte Scholte has called 'the contemporary turn towards
multilayered governance'.4
In what follows I look first at some problems of definition, arguing the case
for a more expansive and flexible understanding of regions and regionalism
than has hitherto been usual. I then offer a historical and comparative analysis
of regional processes, before moving on to look at the contemporary balance
sheet and the challenges and opportunities that regionalism faces. While that
balance sheet will necessarily look different depending upon the region in
question, it is nonetheless useful to reflect on the current state of the art, since
the process offers many lessons for successful regions as well as for those that have
little experience with regionalism, or whose experience to date has been patchy.

Regions, regionalism and regionalization are contested and often fuzzy con-
cepts. There is little agreement on what the terms encompass or on their
significance for the theory and practice of international relations. All relate, in
subtly different ways, to interactions-formal and informal, deliberate and
spontaneous-at the regional level. But what is the regional level? The term is
freely used. If regional agency matters, we must define what that agency
comprises, and for what purposes it is suited. Understanding regionalism requires
a degree of definitional flexibility, and I propose here a multilevel and multi-
purpose definition, one that moves beyond geography and beyond states.
While this may appear outlandish in regions where state-building itself remains
incomplete, moving beyond narrow definitions is important since they tend to
4 Jan Aarte Scholte, 'Global civil society', in Ngaire Woods, ed., The political economyof globalization
(London: Macmillan, 2000), p. I85.


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Louise Fawcett

be self-limiting and to exclude the newer and expanding domains of regional

For some, the term 'region' may denote no more than a geographical
reality, usually a cluster of states sharing a common space on the globe. This
kind of region may be a large continent, or a small group of contiguous states.
For present purposes this simple territorial definition is unlikely to take us very
far; we need to refine regions to incorporate commonality, interaction and
hence the possibility of cooperation. From another perspective regions could
be seen as units or 'zones', based on groups, states or territories, whose mem-
bers display some identifiable patterns of behaviour.5 Such units are smaller
than the international system of states, but larger than any individual state; they
may be permanent or temporary, institutionalized or not. Another approach
likens a region to a nation in the sense of an imagined community: states or
peoples held together by common experience and identity, custom and
practice.6 A useful, if statist, mid-point is that offered by the US scholarJoseph
Nye, who defines a region as a group of states linked together by both a geo-
graphical relationship and a degree of mutual interdependence.7 Most regions
that identify themselves, or are identified by others, as such share some or all of
these characteristics, though often in different quantities and combinations.
Regions, though, do not need to conform to state boundaries. They may
comprise substate as well as suprastate and trans-state units, offering different
modalities of organization and collaboration.
Precision in defining the size and membership of a region can be enormously
important for some states and actors. At one level, higher levels of cohesion,
commonality and cooperation might prevail in a smaller, tightly defined geo-
graphical area, or what is often termed a sub-region. At another level, where
regional spaces and tasks are contested as we have seen in Europe, South-East
Asia, southern Africa and now Central Asia regions can be deliberately inclu-
sive and exclusive, keeping welcome states in, and unwelcome ones out. The
history of regionalism shows how regions have been defined and redefined in
such selective terms. The South African Development Community (SADC) was
conceived to exclude the then apartheid South Africa; the Malaysian-inspired
East Asian Economic Grouping to exclude the United States as a major regional
player; and more recently different groups in the broader OSCE space have
articulated distinctive claims to regionness.
In proposing a multipurpose definition, I argue for an inclusive typology
that includes state-based as well as non-state-based regions, and regions of
varying size and composition. Hence the Commonwealth states may form a
region, or the Islamic countries; in a different way, so does the 'South' and
different southern groupings and coalitions. Examples of non-state actors that
5 See e.g. KaleviJ. Holsti, Thestate,war,andthestateof war(Cambridge:CambridgeUniversityPress,
I996), I42-3.
6 See pp.EmanuelAdler, 'Imagined
e.g. securitycommunities:cognitive regionsin internationalrelations',
Millennium26: 2, I997.
7 Joseph Nye, International (Boston:Little,Brown, I968), p. vii.


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Exploringregionaldomains:a comparativehistoryof regionalism

operate regionally are the many different peasant, labour or environmental

groups in South America. If we are to make sense of the role and scope of
contemporary regionalism, and its increasingly non-governmental and trans-
national qualities, we need both to recognize all these different levels of activity
and to identify the different roles that these diverse actors can usefully play.
The importance of defining a region becomes obvious when we move to
our central concern-regionalism-which implies a policy whereby states and
non-state actors cooperate and coordinate strategy within a given region. Here
aspects of regime theory are particularly helpful in identifying norms, rules and
procedures around which the expectations of different actors converge.8 The
aim of regionalism is to pursue and promote common goals in one or more
issue areas. Understood thus, it ranges from promoting a sense of regional
awareness or community (soft regionalism), through consolidating regional
groups and networks, to pan- or subregional groups formalized by interstate
arrangements and organizations (hard regionalism).
Regionalism thus conceived-as policy and project-evidently can operate
both above and below the level of the state; and sub- or suprastate regional
activity can inform state-level activity, and so on. Indeed, a truly successful
regionalist project today presupposes eventual linkages between state and non-
state actors: an interlocking network of regional governance structures, such as
those already found in Europe, and to some extent in the Americas, as demon-
strated in the NAFTA process. However, despite a large and growing body of
literature on transnational and substate movements, the state continues to play
the predominant role in most regional arrangements, and the bulk of the litera-
ture on regionalism still focuses on the more measurable institutional forms of
interstate cooperation. Certainly, while none would deny the salience of what
I have called soft regional processes in helping to shape regional options and
choices, it is the hard processes that chiefly interest contributors to this issue of
InternationalAffairsin terms of their potential to influence local and international
The third term I mentioned was 'regionalization': it is a term that is
sometimes confused or used interchangeably with 'regionalism', and I would
like to draw out some distinctions here. If regionalism is a policy or project,
regionalization is both project and process. Like globalization, it may take place
as the result of spontaneous forces. At its most basic it means no more than a
concentration of activity at a regional level. This may give rise to the formation
or shaping of regions, which may in turn give rise to the emergence of regional
groups, actors and organizations. It may thus both precede and flow from
regionalism. The regionalization of trade and its consequences are familiar
territory for students of international political economy and regional integration.
Such regionalization has yielded trade alliances, blocs and formal institutions.
In the security domain, regionalization is used to refer to regional responses to

8 See
e.g. S. D. Krasner,ed., International
regimes(Ithaca:Cornell UniversityPress:I983), p. 2.


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Louise Fawcett

conflicts that have themselves often become regionalized-in which inter- and
intrastate wars spill over borders, impinge on and draw in neighbouring
countries and actors, and attract the attention of the international community.
These region-level conflicts do not involve only local actors and institutions. In
regions whose own institutions are weak or non-existent, we have seen a
growing trend towards the involvement of 'out-of-area' regional institutions:
two recent examples are the engagement of NATO in Afghanistan, and of the
EU in South-East Europe and the Congo.9
The importance of regionalization to contemporary debate has been made
apparent by the attention it has received in diverse multilateral fora. No longer
competing metaphors, regionalization and globalization offer complementary
rather than alternative routes to global order. Of concern in the context of this
article is the salience of regionalization in discussions in the United Nations and
related circles about the appropriate division of labour in the promotion of
international peace and security, or with reference to aid, trade and develop-
ment policy. In this framework regionalization is about developing power and
responsibility and devolving them to the appropriate regional level. Post-Cold
War international crises-including examples from Africa (Liberia and Sierra
Leone), Asia (East Timor), Europe (former Yugoslavia) and the former USSR
(Tajikistan and Georgia)-have been the scene for diverse experiments in
regionalizing peace and security. Indeed, the success or failure of regionalism
on the security level has increasingly come to be measured with reference to
the ability of regional groups to act as security providers inside and outside their
respective areas, to contribute to what has been called an 'evolving architecture
of regionalization'. Io
The above discussion was driven by the need to define the terms and scope
of regional action. It is not the intention here to focus excessively on defini-
tions, or indeed to be confined by them. Ultimately, regions and regionalism
are what states and non-state actors make of them. To make sense of the idea of
regionalism, a certain amount of both definitional and theoretical flexibility is
required; there is no 'ideal' region, nor any single agenda to which all regions
aspire. Regions, like states, are of varying compositions, capabilities and aspira-
tions. They may also be fluid and changing in their make-up. Regionness, like
identity, is 'not given once and for all: it is built up and changes'. On a
practical level, the United Nations Charter is deliberately imprecise and all-
encompassing in its definition of regional agencies. Any regional or subregional
group of which the UN approves may qualify.I2

9 See furtherthe InternationalPeace AcademyReport, The UN andEuro-Atlantic organizations:

beyondEurope(New York: InternationalPeace Academy,2004).
'0 Louise Fawcett,'The evolving architectureof regionalization',in Michael
Pugh and W. P. S. Sidhu,
eds, The UnitedNationsandregionalsecurity:
Europeandbeyond(Boulder,CO: Lynne Rienner, 2003), pp.
I I-30.
I Amin Maalouf,In thename identity
of (London:Penguin, 2003), p. 23.
12 Danesh Sarooshi,The UnitedNationsandthe collective
of security:thedelegationby the United
Nationsof its ChapterVIIpowers(Oxford:Oxford UniversityPress, I999), pp. I-2, 142-6.


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Exploringregionaldomains:a comparativehistoryof regionalism
While regionalism and regionalization are clearly global phenomena, it
might well be observed from what has been said so far that their greatest and
most durable successes are still to be found in Europe or the North Atlantic
area. But I am concerned here not only with Europe and the variety of models
it offers. In thinking comparatively and theoretically about regionalism, it is
important to achieve a broader analytical and comparative focus, pulling
together evidence from different regions and practices. The African, Latin
American or South-East Asian, and more recently the Central Asian cases offer
insights that Europe cannot: indeed, for those countries engaged in new
experiments with different types of cooperation, the lessons from such regions
may be more appropriate in the short term.
Certainly, in contemplating the various regional phenomena, we must
recognize that the make-up of each region under discussion is vital to under-
standing its prospects and possibilities. In this respect the modified realism
suggested by Mohammed Ayoob, combined with a constructivist approach,
can be useful.13 We must also consider levels of interdependence, particularly
in the areas of security and economics, as well as linkages between different
interest groups and the possibilities of functional cooperation; but likewise,
shared or divided identities, as well as the nature of states and regimes, are
crucial. The last factor is central to any discussion of regionalism, though it
would be unwise to discount regions because of regime type or state instability.
Regionalism may thrive better in a democratic environment where civil society
is relatively advanced, but it is not the exclusive preserve of democracies, as
examples from South-East Asia show. Democracy and trade proved a strong
combination in the creation of a Southern Cone Common Market (Mercosur);
their absence has helped prevent the development of an Arab one, moves to
promote a Greater Arab Free Trade Area by 2008 notwithstanding. Similarly,
security regionalism has worked better for some areas (West Africa) than others
(the Gulf states), and so on. The point here is to discover and develop those
functions which particular regional groups are most adept at performing at a
given time. It is also appropriate to think of different ways to improve regional
capacity; and here there is a role for the international community.
The next part of the article reviews the history of regionalism from a
comparative perspective, an exercise which helps to illuminate the present state
of affairs. It is also salutary to remind ourselves that while for some parts of the
world-including those discussed in this issue of InternationalAffairs-regional-
ism is a very recent and rather shallow phenomenon, there are important
antecedents that may reveal the limitations and prospects of current practice.

13 See e.g. MohammedAyoob, 'Inequalityand theorizingin internationalrelations',and MichaelBarnett,

'Radicalchic? Subalternrealism:a rejoinder',International
StudiesReview4: 3, pp. 27-48, 49-62.


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Louise Fawcett

in historicalperspective
Broadly speaking, regionalism has always been with us. Regions as empires,
spheres of influence, or just powerful states and their allies have dominated in
different international systems. Regions-like Europe in the nineteenth
century-were world leaders, since for those who lived in them, their region
was the centre of the world. But in a more modern sense, since regionalism and
regionalization are distinguished from other entities, including the universal,
and thus represent activity that is less than global, we might profitably startwith
looking at the international system that emerged after the First World War.
The 1920s provide an arena for considering the place of regional groups in the
context of a League of Nations system which accorded them legitimacy; the
period is also important in respect of its contributions to persisting debates
about universalism versus regionalism, sovereignty and collective security.I4 A
particularlesson of the League, and one reaffirmedtoday in the United Nations,
was that the organization could not act as a key security provider when the
great powers reserved enforcement for themselves.
Outside the League-beyond functional cooperation, reflected in the
growth of international agencies-formal institutions were few (one exception
was the Inter-American System) and non-state-based organizations fewer: the
Comintern was an unusual example. That any institution could deliver peace
and security, provide a vehicle for economic cooperation and integration or
promote a common ideology was a novel idea, and one that failed the test of
the I930s. Security was sought unilaterally through ententes and alliances of
either a permanent or an ad hoc nature. Economic interdependencies were
deep in many instances, but this was not sovereignty pooling in any sense.
States called the tune. But the League, like the United Nations later, encour-
aged states and peoples to think differently about peace, security, equality and
development, contributing to a new definition of international relations and a
changed normative architecture. Similarly, the experience of the 1930s
informed cooperative efforts in the new European institutions formed after the
Second World War.
Once embedded, such ideas persisted, to be refurbished in the UN era,
which in turn came to embrace regionalism more fully. Following lobbying
from different sources, notably Arab and Latin American states, the United
Nations legitimized regional agencies, offering them, in Chapter VIII, Article
52 of the Charter, for example, a formal if somewhat undefined role in conflict
resolution. Regional economic and social commissions were also an early and
integral part of UN activity, drawing in a wide range of different actors. In
short, the principle of regional action and cooperation was firmly established.
The Charter link is important here for the endorsement and legitimacy it
supplied and the accountability it demanded.

14 The relevant article of the League Covenant is Article 21. See Alfred Zimmern, The League of Nations
and the rule of law (London: Macmillan, 1945), p. 522.


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Exploringregionaldomains:a comparativehistoryof regionalism
At one level the possibility of regional action, or of meaningful relations
evolving between the United Nations and regional agencies, was curtailed by the
Cold War and the composition of the Security Council. But the region as unit
of analysis was elevated by the East-West divide, which created an exemplary
regional system. With the United Nations subject to evident constraints, peace
and security were delivered unilaterally or regionally, through the Warsaw
Pact, NATO and related institutions. At another level, the European Com-
munity project, built around the idea of economic community, but with security
and democratic consolidation as key priorities, became a powerful model.
This empowerment of regional actors, despite their dependence on super-
power support, and the relative irrelevance of the United Nations, together
created an important precedent. The postwar period saw a proliferation of
regional organizations-notably 'panregional' groups like the Organization of
African Unity, the Organization of American States and the League of Arab
States, as well as the NATO-inspired security pacts like SEATO, ANZUS and
CENTO. Some, like the United Nations and Bretton Woods institutions,
spawned a set of related organizations-regional development banks and the
like: huge bureaucracies drawing on regional as well as external funds and
expertise. Their records were necessarily mixed: some reached an early plateau
and failed to thrive, others expanded and survived. The dual challenges of
decolonization and the Cold War made coherence difficult and rendered some
institutions susceptible to hijack by powerful members or outside actors. These
were key years for regionalism, however, teaching lessons not only in
economic integration and institutional development, but in balancing power,
non-alignment and the development of security communities. Transnational
and non-governmental actors, multinational corporations, aid agencies and the
like, many with a regional focus, also began to encroach on the international
scene, shifting the normative frame of regional operations.
For developing countries in particular, regionalism had the added appeal of
an 'independence movement',I5 like the reformist Third Worldism expressed
by groups such as the Non-Aligned Movement and the Group of 77. As
exemplified notably by the Arab states in OPEC, which raised oil prices in
response to the Arab-Israel War of 1973, regionalism was a 'southern' issue.
There are many parallelstoday, with the continuing representation of develop-
ing country interests in diverse multilateral fora, where 'contesting globaliza-
tion' has become a recurring regional theme.
Also interesting from a contemporary perspective was the round of so-called
subregional cooperation which took place in the late Cold War period. This
saw diverse regional actors in more assertive post-independence mode, seeking
new roles for themselves in shaping the local economic and security environ-
ment. Changing economic orthodoxy, the example of Europe and a more
narrowly defined set of security concerns pushed states into new cooperative
I5 Joseph Grunwald, Miguel S. Wionczek and Martin Camoy, Latin Americanintegrationand US policy
(Washington DC: Brookings, 1972), p. II.


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Louise Fawcett

projects, among them ASEAN, CARICOM, ECOWAS, SADC, SAARC,

ECO and the GCC.'6 Two further organizations with origins in this period
but with quite different geographical reach and orientation were CSCE and
OIC: the former demonstrating the application of the lowest common security
denominator to a still diverse political and ideological regional framework, the
latter representing a statist attempt to appeal to a transregional identity: Islam.
All of the above groups, whether they aspired to panregional or subregional
status, were products of the Cold War era, yet have survived to the present.
Many have adapted their agendas and even charters to fit the new economic
and security architecture that has since evolved. As we now witness ever more
impulses to regionalism, which at times complement and at times contradict
older patterns and trends, the lessons of the past remain relevant.

Thenew regionalclimate
If the Cold War proved to be an arena for selective but cumulative regional
growth and projects, the period after its end offered new scope and oppor-
tunities. Although in retrospect it may appear that many of the older limitations
and constraints on regional behaviour had not been removed, expectations
soared that the conclusion of the Cold War would indeed offer new incentives
to international organizations. Despite, or partly because of, the parallel process
of globalization, regionalization has grown in salience. Both the number and
membership of regional organizations, as well as interest in what was dubbed
the 'new regionalism', have grown exponentially. The process appears irrever-
sible, no longer to be dismissed by critics as a mere fad.
The regionalism of the I99os was promoted by the decentralization of the
international system and the removal of superpower 'overlay'.17 Changing
regional power balances found expression in new institutional forms and prac-
tices. There was also a trickle-down effect from the UN and also the EU in
respect of the empowerment and perceived capability of international institu-
tions. The example of the EU generated competitive region-building in both
the Asia-Pacific region and the Americas. Economic regionalism was spurred
on generally by doubts and fears about globalization and the nature of the
multilateral trading order. And the Bretton Woods institutions, despite the
reforms they have undergone, still remain inhospitable to all but the more
robust developing economies.
As regards security, the proliferation of intrastate wars and growing pressure
on the United Nations promoted, in turn, further task-sharing with regional
organizations, with terms like 'regionalization' and 'subsidiarity' creeping into
the vocabulary of cooperation.I8 Successive UN Secretaries General have called
I6 See further William Tow, Subregionalsecuritycooperationin the Third World (Boulder, CO: Lynne
Rienner, I990).
17 Barry Buzan, People, states andfear (London: Harvester Wheatsheaf, I99I), p. 208.
I8 Thomas G. Weiss, ed., Beyond UN subcontracting: task-sharingwith regionalsecurityarrangementsand service-
providing NGOs (London: Macmillan, I998).


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Exploringregionaldomains:a comparativehistoryof regionalism
for a greater role in this regard, notable among them Boutros Boutros Ghali in
his much-quoted Agendafor peace. There, and in his 'Agenda for democratiza-
tion', he has written of the new regionalism not as 'resurgent spheres of
influence but as a complement to healthy internationalism'; and of regional
action as not limited to state-directed activity, but extending to NGOs.'9 So in
many ways the post-Cold-War environment demanded a greater regional
awareness and involvement, and was actively promoted by a range of inter-
national actors. The larger space that has thus been opened up for regionalism is
important both to the more competent regional groups, and also to those
regions which lack viable structures, or whose own institutions are weak.
If regionalism has expanded to meet new demands and needs, it has also
prospered in a more permissive international environment where regions have
been freer to assert their own identities and purposes. There is little doubt that
most regional actors and groups welcome this development and the oppor-
tunity it has brought to increase their voice and representation. For weaker
states regionalism has provided a point of entry into a western-dominated order
in which their interests are often perceived as marginalized, and also a forum
where interaction and agenda-setting are possible. It may guarantee a seat at the
negotiating table. These impulses are necessarily poorly developed in regions of
the 'periphery' where organizations are weak or new.20 But there is growing
awareness of the possibility of regional groups influencing developments within
their own areas and, over time, contributing to the creation of norms; and
there are quite robust examples, from Europe certainly, but also from the
Americas, South-East Asia and Africa, to show how this can be done. A lesson
here for emerging states that may yet have only poorly developed institutions,
or for those that have traditionally relied on the politics of power, is that they
cannot afford to ignore the potential of regionalism: and it is a lesson that has
not been lost on the states of the former Soviet bloc.
Up to a point, engaging in regionalism is just doing what others do, or filling
voids left by the demise of former groups. Like democratization, it is a project
that can attract aid and development funds. Cynically, regionalism may provide
a mere veneer of respectability and legitimacy to traditional state endeavour. In
a world where established states are regionally organized, no state wishes to
remain outside current trends: hence the interest of an outlier state like China
in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Even strong states, which might
eschew the limitations and constraints it imposes, like to speak the language
and adopt the practices of regionalism.

'9 Boutros Boutros-Ghali,Agendaforpeace(New York: United Nations, I992); BoutrosBoutros-Ghali,

'An agendafor democratization',in BarryHolden, ed., Globaldemocracy, keydebates(London:
Routledge, 2000), pp. I 0-I 3.
20 Bjorn Hettne, AndreasInotai and Osvaldo Sunkel, eds, 'Regionalism,securityand development:a
comparativeperspective',in Bjorn Hettne et al., Comparing implications
regionalisms: forglobaldevelopment
(London: Palgrave, 2001), pp. 4-5.


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Louise Fawcett

When we speak about the expansion of regional activity or of regional em-
powerment and burden-sharing with the United Nations as characteristics of
the post-Cold War era, what do we mean in concrete terms? What has
changed in existing institutions and what new institutions have evolved? There
has been much rhetoric, and at times little evidence of concrete achievement,
so some precision is required. Again we need to look at the two tracks of
regionalism: state and non-state. For evidence of the 'new regionalism', an
expression coined in the I990s, one could single out the sheer growth in num-
bers, as well as the expansion of capacity, membership and range of tasks, of
different organizations.2' Also important is the phenomenon of interregional
cooperation, where different regions craft and coordinate common strategies
and policies. A final dimension relates to the growth of transnational advocacy
networks, civil society groups and NGOs, which enter and increasingly
participate in the regional domain.22
Let us consider just a few institutional examples of this new regionalism. If
we look at the WEU, ASEAN, OIC, ECOWAS or the OAS and OAU (now
African Union), we can identify increased commitments to unity among mem-
bers, expansion of tasks and services, and charter reform. The numbers of
members of both European and Asian institutions have swelled. In terms of
new organizations, the former Soviet space stands out for the range of projects
emerging, from the Commonwealth of Independent States to the Central Asian
Cooperation Organization (CACO). Following Iranian prompting, ECO was
expanded to include the six former Muslim republics of the USSR and Afghan-
istan.23 Outside this area of activity, new projects have taken root in the Asia-
Pacific (ARF, APEC and most recently the ASEAN Plus Three Forum APT)
and South America (Mercosur). The type of security cooperation developed
within ASEAN suggests the possibility of a distinctive Asian security agenda,
built around the concept of 'regional reconciliation', while Mercosur has
shown some agility in balancing subregional and hemispheric agendas while
creating a viable political and security community in the Southern Cone.
Consider also the latest initiatives of the AU to promote regional security and
development, of which the New Economic Project for African Development is
but one example. Reflecting the presence of newer security threats, strategies to
combat terrorism have been added to existing conventions in the EU and
OAS, as well as other groupings.24 Following the Madrid bombings of March
2004, the EU took the lead to upgrade further its own anti-terrorist capacity.

Louise Fawcettand Andrew Hurrell,'Introduction',in Louise Fawcettand Andrew Hurrell,eds,
in worldpolitics:regionalorganization
Regionalism andinternational
order(Oxford:Oxford UniversityPress,
i995), P. 3-
MargaretKeck and KathrynSikkink,Activistsbeyondborders: networks
advocacy in international
York: Cornell UniversityPress, I998).
23 CACO and ECO are discussedin the articles
by Annette Bohr and EdmundHertzigin this issue.
24 See Paul Wilkinson, Terrorism
(London:FrankCass,2001), p. I92.


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Exploringregionaldomains:a comparativehistoryof regionalism
In security and other areas the potential for interregional cooperation is
considerable. The principle of EU and NATO cooperation with other regions
and regionalisms is already well established, and is indicative of a trend towards
the growth and expansion of interregional networks of which ASEM, the
Asia-Europe Meeting process (discussedin the contribution byjoakim Ojendal),
is one example.25 Links between different African and Latin American group-
ings, for example those between Andean and Southern Cone countries, are
growing in importance.
Lagging behind in all these areas, notwithstanding the existence of formal
arrangements, are the Middle East and South Asia. For the latter, SAARC has
yet to mature into a vehicle for overcoming regional divisions, despite the
upbeat rhetoric of its Islamabad summit early in 2004. For the former, its own
institutions, notably the Arab League and the GCC, have proved notoriously
weak in the face of persistent crisis and war, and continuing discussion about
the best way to pursue cooperation in the wake of the US intervention in Iraq,
alongside the current 'road map' for promoting a viable Palestinian state, as
well as the 'Greater Middle East Initiative' to be launched at the G8 summit
meeting in June 2004, focus almost exclusively on externally driven and designed
initiatives, which pay insufficient attention to the nature of the regional
domain.26 Somewhat more promising, though limited in its results, is the
Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, or Barcelona Process, launched in I995. It is
unsurprising that these two regions, the sites of the two most recent US-led
interventions, remain outside the zones of 'new regionalism', although some
efforts have been made to bring Afghanistan into contact with relevant regional
groupings like the OSCE. Broadly speaking, not unlike the Central Asian
region, they are characterized by a still anarchic system, within which impulses
to foster regional society, despite a high degree of cultural affinity, are poorly
The picture is necessarily diverse: regionalism remains a work still in pro-
gress. Still, it is hard to escape the conclusion that overall it is a picture of growing
regional empowerment. While the European case has been distinguished by
further, if incomplete, moves towards integration and constitutional design, as
well as membership expansion, changes in doctrine and institutional capacity
have been a characteristic of African and American institutions, which have
moved into the fields of democratization and human rights protection, as well
as upgrading security and peacekeeping provision. To this we could add the
still under-theorized role of non-state-based regionalisms, whose weight has
increased significantly, as their presence at population, environment and trade
fora demonstrates. Just as important is their security role in post-conflict peace-
building as deliverers of aid, relief and related services. The numbers of such

25 The NATO case is discussedin Pugh and Sidhu, eds, The UnitedNationsandregional security.For the EU
case see MartinHolland, TheEuropeanUnionandthe ThirdWorld(London:Palgrave,2002), pp. 140-64.
Kenneth Pollack, 'Securing the Gulf, ForeignAffairs82: 4, July/Aug. 2003, pp. 2-I6; Naomi Bar-
Yaacov, 'New imperativesfor Israeli-Palestinianpeace', Survival45: 2, Summer2003, pp. 72-90.


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Louise Fawcett

groups have increased exponentially, though as yet there is no clear distinction

between mainly regional, as opposed to international, civil society and non-
governmental actors.
From a theoretical perspective there are a number of ways of approaching and
explaining the progress of contemporary regionalism.27 As suggested above,
aspects of realism have crucial explanatory value when applied to the regional
initiatives of many emerging as well as established states. Regionalism remains
tightly constrained by the exigencies of state power and interest, and the systemic
influences that produce patterns of balancing and bandwagoning by states. The
structuralist notion of core and periphery in terms of regions remains a useful
one: core regions set the economic, political and security agendas; peripheral
regions have more limited choices and room for manoeuvre. Yet more liberal
theories of interdependence, neo-functionalism and institutionalism also have
particular value in examining patterns of cooperation in highly developed
regions such as Europe. Some have started to gain more purchase elsewhere
too as regions pass from the early to the later, more mature, stages of regional-
ism: here one thinks of Latin America in particular.
The politics of identity, captured by theories of social constructivism, which
prioritize shared experience, learning and reality-as against crude measure-
ment of state power-also offers some interesting clues. Alone, it does not
explain the success or failure of a given regional project. Yet identity invariably
looms large at some stage of the regional process. In the case of the Middle
East, identity-as Arabism or Islam-explains important aspects of alliance
behaviour, even if there remains a striking disjuncture between shared ideas
and institutions.28 In East and South-East Asia, the notion of an Asian way
appears to have some salience in framing regional options. In the European
case, construction of a shared identity has proceeded slowly, hand in hand with
institutional development and deepening integration.

Problemsand prospects
These theoretical considerations serve as a backdrop to consideration of the
present state of affairs:a discussion of some of the difficulties most commonly
associated with regionalism, as well as a review of some of the arguments in its
favour, before some tentative conclusions are offered. Three related issues
remain particularlypertinent to discussing contemporary regionalism: capacity,
sovereignty and hegemony.
First, the ability of any group to have a genuine impact on any given regional
space depends on the capacity of its members. The mere creation of a regional
grouping, usually through the signing of multilateral treaties and agreements,
27 For two usefulsurveyssee Andrew Hurrell,'Explainingregionalismin world politics', Reviewof
Studies21:4, 1995;FredrikSoderbaumand Timothy M. Shaw, Theories of newregionalism
(London: Palgrave, 2003).
28 See Michael
Barnett,'Identityand alliancesin the Middle East',in Peter Katzenstein,ed., Thecultureof
national security(New York: Columbia University Press, I996), pp. 400-47.


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Exploringregionaldomains:a comparativehistoryof regionalism

may have no more than rhetorical consequence if members are unable or

unwilling to proceed to further stages of cooperation.
The limited capacity and resources of many groups, especially outside the
advanced industrialized countries, are clearly an obstacle to action, whether in
the military, economic, diplomatic or institutional sphere. Such limitations are
augmented by charter constraints which accord a high priority to principles like
sovereignty and non-interference. Where suspicion, rivalry and competition
persist, the prospects for cooperation are further reduced. It is not unfair criticism
to note that a number of institutions have never gone beyond the debate and
discussion stage, and thus exist only as talking-shops. Such was the case with a
number of attempts to ape the early EC-style institutions in developing
countries, and it certainly remains the case with some groups today. Not all the
new institutions formed since the Cold War will endure, or produce significant
results; but some will, and the reasons for that success will relate to state
capacity, domestic as well as external pressures and influences, levels of inter-
dependence, and the growth and development of shared interests. Since none
of these conditions are fixed, groups whose roles are currently limited could
assume new functions. Mercosur in South America is an example of a grouping
which built on the experience of the i96os to re-emerge more forcefully as an
organization with not only a viable economic purpose, but also a political and
security dimension.29
The bigger point to stress here is that the limited capacity of states is a short-
term impediment to cooperation. It will, along with the nature of the regional
and international environment, crucially affect the success or failure of any
regional project, as many examples from the sphere of peacekeeping demon-
strate.3? Hence the relative newness or fragility of states may be an important
factor; in an unstable system cooperation is likely to be sporadic and superficial,
limited to one or two functions, and driven by powerful insiders and outsiders.
However, from such unpromising beginnings a stable system can emerge, and
an appreciation of the time-frame is important in judging the prospects for
regionalism in any context: conditions change, and with them the prospects for
further cooperation. Perhaps the best analogy, again, is that of the early experi-
ence of developing countries, whose initial attempts at cooperation took place
in conditions not so dissimilar to those prevailing today in the Soviet successor
The capacity of states to cooperate is linked to their willingness to do so, and
here the constraints that sovereignty imposes play a central role. While for
some regionalism sets the stage for a decline in the salience of states, for others
it can be seen as a means for their individual or collective advancement: this
was the fear of the functionalist writer David Mitrany.3I States cooperate in
A strong case for the advances of Latin American regionalism generally is made in Victor Bulmer
Thomas, ed., Regional integrationin Latin Americaand the Caribbean:the political economyof open regionalism
(London: Institute for Latin American Studies, 2001). See especially the editor's introduction, pp. I-I3.
30 See Paul F. Diehl, Internationalpeacekeeping(Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, I993), p. I26.
3I David Mitrany, A workingpeace system (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1944).


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Louise Fawcett

regions as they do in alliances, in self-regarding fashion, and in furtherance of

their security interests. It is sovereignty that still matters for states, and the
attachment to sovereignty will always check and balance any cooperative
project-particularly where that sovereignty is fragile, having only recently
been obtained. Hence new statesare particularlysensitive to such encroachment.
Though much cited, the sovereignty argument does not constitute a con-
vincing case against regionalism. Boutros-Ghali has famously observed that 'the
time of absolute and exclusive sovereignty ... has passed',32 and this comment
is relevant to the work of international institutions. Certainly the principle has
become more porous in the light of UN action, where new norms in respect of
intervention for humanitarian and other purposes are emerging: the same could
be said for NATO and other European institutions. Similarly, changes may be
observed in the Charters of the AU and OAS-the Inter-American Demo-
cratic Charter of 2001 is of particularnote-while smaller groups like ECOWAS
and Mercosur have sidestepped the once sacrosanct principle of non-
interference under certain prescribed conditions. Others adhere strictly to the
principle. Respecting sovereignty does not, however, preclude regional-level
activity, as the South-East Asian case demonstrates.In its proactive and consensus-
based response to the Cambodian crisis, ASEAN contributed to a more secure
regional environment. Its members would not undertake intervention in East
Timor, but did ultimately contribute forces to the Australian-led mission in
A third and related problem for regional groups is that of the dominant state
or hegemon. While state sovereignty reduces the capacity of regionalism,
strong states are likely to abuse it. Critics argue that regional groups merely
serve the interests of one state or another. It is indeed often the case that one
major actor-maybe one instrumental in the regional organization's creation
and maintenance-sets the agenda in that organization. In some cases the
dominant role may pass from one state to another. All regional activity in the
Americas, whether bandwagoning in NAFTA or balancing in Mercosur, is
predicated on the dominant role of the United States. The Monroe Doctrine
has long legitimized and conditioned the US special sphere of interest on the
American continent. It is easy to see how, in an emerging region like Central
Eurasia, institution-building has much to do with balancing or bandwagoning
with the local strong power, often Russia, but also possibly China, Turkey,
Iran or even Uzbekistan.34 Outside these areas we can see how the achieve-
ments of ECOWAS (in Liberia or SierraLeone) depended on Nigerian muscle,
or how the Saudis still regard the OIC as very much their own project. Seen at
its most negative, regionalism can be viewed as an instrument for the assertion

32BoutrosBoutros-Ghali,Agendafor peace,para.17.
33Mely Caballero-Anthony,'The regionalizationof peace in Asia',in Pugh and Sidhu, eds, The United
Nations and regionalsecurity,pp. 206-7.
34 Roy Allison, 'Regionalism,regionalstructuresand securitymanagementin CentralAsia',in this issue of


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Exploringregionaldomains:a comparativehistoryof regionalism
of hegemonic control.35 One might further argue that hegemons, by their very
nature, eschew deep commitment to institutionswhich will limit their free-
dom of action (some recent parallelsare pertinenthere: the US sidesteppingof
NATO in the Afghanistanand Iraqiinterventions,for example).
The existenceof hegemony is a bad reasonfor decryingregionalaction:it is
an argument,rather,for setting standardsand guidelines;for promoting insti-
tutionaldemocratization.Strongstatescan and do play a vitalrole in promoting
regionalpeace and security,actingwhere othersare unableor unwilling to do
so. Parallelcooperation with UN structuresand guidelines can help modify
behaviour, mitigatinghegemony and increasingaccountability(althoughthis
can give riseto an additionalproblemof primacyor hierarchybetween different
organizations).Institutionscan promote greatertransparency,but importantly
also supply legitimacy that unilateralefforts may lack. States may choose to
ignore internationallaw and institutions,but such actionshave costsat the level
of both domestic and internationalpublic opinion. Regional hegemons may,
to some extent, be reinedin by those organizationsthey have been instrumen-
tal in creating.Thus for LatinAmericanstatesthe OAS has acted as a vehicle,
albeita limited one, for containmentof their powerfulnorthernneighbour.

The above note is an appropriateone on which to end a review of the history
and prospectsof regionalismat a time when those prospectsappearto have
been seriouslyjeopardizedby the behaviourof the world'sleadingpower. For
some, the events of 9/I I, the subsequentdevelopmentof strongunilateralism
on the part of the United States and the correspondingpull of bilateral,as
opposed to multilateral or regional, understandings between the US and its
allies suggest that regionalism is disposable: indeed, that any liberal global or
regional order is moribund or dead. This view is both simplistic and short-
sighted, but also reflective of a too rosy view of the processes of regionalization
and globalization. There is rarely a clear divide between unilateral and multi-
lateral choices; more often than not, cooperation with others is 'not an option,
but a necessity'.36
We have, of course, been reminded of the limits of regionalism, and recent
events provide a useful cautionary lesson. But if a review of the history of
regionalism shows precisely how bumpy its progress has been, it also demon-
stratesits relative robustness and progressive, if uneven, development. We have
witnessed a variety of experiments with different regional types, from those
with a broad reach to narrower subregional projects. The range of activity has
been similarly diverse, from economics and politics to security and culture.
JamesH. Mittelmanand Richard Falk,'Hegemony: the relevanceof regionalism?',in Bjorn Hettne,
AndreasInotai and Osvaldo Sunkel, eds, Nationalperspectives
on newregionalism
in theNorth(London:
Macmillan, I999), p. 175.
36 StewartPatrick,'Multilateralism and its discontents',in StewartPatrickand ShepardForman,
and USforeign policy(Boulder,CO: Lynne Rienner, 2002), p. 2.


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Louise Fawcett

Often, charter pronouncements which profess an apparently neutral economic

agenda may overlie political or security intentions; in other cases, institutions
can evolve and adapt to acquire new functions-indeed, some of the
regionalisms discussed here have already done so. All this does not, in itself,
necessarily indicate deep cooperation or integration, in the sense of uniting
previously disparateparts to form some identifiable new whole.37 What it does
indicate is that participation in, and ultimately accountability to, international
institutions may have an importance that transcends the agenda of any one
powerful regional state and hence can modify patterns of behaviour. In this
respect regionalism has an important, if complex, relationship to international
order. In the light of early twenty-first-century developments, one might take
the view that, first, terrorism will generate new alliances and alignments which
could feed further into regional processes (which has to some extent already
happened); and second, regionalism will expand rather than contract to meet
the challenge of unipolarity (for which there are precedents). Few serious or
permanent reversals are to be found in the history of regionalism.
It would be wrong to take a starry-eyed view of regionalism's prospects, or
to present regionalism as an alternative paradigm to any global or state-led
order. In exploring regional processes and domains this article has highlighted
the possibilities but also the many limitations of regionalism. Functional coopera-
tion between states and non-state actors is likely to continue where there are
obvious functions that different parties can agree upon and share. Sustained
high-level cooperation remains unlikely outside core regions: this would require
more stable and durable regional systems to emerge, ones in which state power
is consolidated, in which rivalries are mitigated, and in which shared interests
can be identified and fostered. International cooperation and support are also
important: states can benefit and learn from the aid and experience of others. In
these and other areas outlined here, the lessons of the past continue to prove

37 Peter Smith, Thechallenge EuropeandtheAmericas(CoralGables:N-S Centre Press,1993),

of integration:
p. 5.


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