Regionalism and the Emerging (Intrusive) World Order

Regionalism and the Emerging (Intrusive) World Order : Sovereignty, Autonomy, Identity

Paper Prepared for the Conference on “After the Global Crisis: What Next for Regionalism?”,
Center for the Study of globalisation and Regionalisation,
The University of Warwick, 16-18 September 1999
Amitav Acharya
Department of Political Science
York University, Toronto, Canada, Fellow Asia Center,Harvard University

Regionalism, Sovereignty and Third World Security in the Post-Cold War Era



Two momentous events of the late 20th century have underscored both the potential and the pitfalls of regionalism in shaping world order in the new millennium. The crisis over Kosovo hastened the decline of Westphalian sovereignty in the inter-state system. The financial meltdown in Asia around mid-1997 highlighted the challenge to sovereignty in the global economy. In Kosovo, a regional alliance, NATO, led a successful assault against sovereignty after it had paralyzed the UN’s hand in the crisis. The Asian crisis, on the other hand, indicated that regional institutions (in this case ASEAN) that stick to the principle of absolute sovereignty (and its corollary, the principle of non-interference) are poorly equipped to offer security against the onslaught of globalisation.

Regionalism and regional institutions, argues this paper, are increasingly being challenged and conditioned by the sovereignty-eroding effects of globalisation and – for the lack of a better term – “humanitarian intervention”. Regionalism is becoming, and facing the pressure to become, more “intrusive” and less sovereignty-bound, in the sense of going against the norms of non-interference and non-intervention that had underpinned the Westphalian international system. Furthermore, intrusive regionalism is providing a new basis of regional identity building, especially in Europe, but also in parts of the Third World. Where regional identity during the Cold War had been defined, functionally speaking, in the process of organising collective defense against external threats, it is could now be constructed on the basis of a shared commitment to intrusive action in promoting human rights and democracy and coping with the challenges of economic globalisation. In developing this central argument, this paper seeks to perform two functions. The first is to provide a brief intellectual history of regionalism in world politics. The purpose of this exercise is not just to identify the main forms of regional organization that have emerged in the post-Second World War period, but also to examine the underlying linkage between regionalism and sovereignty. The second aim of the paper is to explain some of the key trends in regionalism which may have a crucial bearing on world order in the early 21st century. The discussion will focus on the changes in the traditional functions of regionalism and the emergence of what has been called “new regionalism”. The latter became a popular construct in the late 1980s and early 1990s by drawing attention to the informal, non-hegemonic, comprehensive, and multi-dimensional nature of newly emerging regional interactions and processes. But even with new regionalism, argues this paper, the task of redefining the theory and practice of regionalism remains incomplete. Perhaps the most significant trend in regionalism today is its ‘intrusive’ nature. No discussion of the emerging world order at the end of the 20th century can be complete without considering the cooperative and conflict-causing potential of intrusive regionalism. This will be highlighted in the final section of the paper, with particular reference to political and strategic elements of intrusive regionalism.

Sovereignty and Regionalism After World War II

In the early part of the post-World War II period, the role of regionalism in the international system could be best described as a bulwark of sovereignty, the founding principle of the modern state system. This was especially true of the three major regional organisations which primary goal was to control inter-state conflicts, such as the Organization of American States (OAS), the League of Arab States and the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). At the same time, conceptions of regionalism that threatened to dilute the sovereignty and autonomy of state actors found little support in the international society, especially in the Third World.

For example, some of the earliest proposals about regionalism in international relations envisioned a system of geo-strategic blocs existing as the spheres of influence of the world’s leading powers, and contributing toward a global balance of power. Walter Lippmann, for example, identified four such possible regional systems: an Atlantic system managed by the U.S. and the U.S.S.R.; a Russian system, a Chinese system and eventually an Indian system. Within such hegemonic regional systems, “…the preponderance of a great power was to be recognised; each small power was to accept the protection of the great power in whose region it found itself, and was to forego the right to form alliances with any extra-regional power.” Winston Churchill similarly envisaged a number of regional systems as part of the proposed world organization (UN), including in Europe, Asia Minor, Scandinavia, Danubia, the Balkans and the Far East. George Liska, an academic, advised small states to develop regional groupings by “cluster[ing] around the local Great Power” and surrendering to its “stronger hands the chief responsibility for organizing regional security”. These frameworks were precursors to the superpower-led regional military alliances in the Third World.

While the newer entrants to the international system found in regionalism an important foreign policy tool, this was primarily to protect their sovereignty and autonomy from great power meddling. Regionalism was also viewed by the Third World states as a means of collective economic and political self-reliance. At a time when much of Asia, Africa and the Middle East was still under colonial rule, the OAU and the Arab League functioned more as “the instrument of national independence rather than of regional integration”. The concern with sovereignty also ensured the ultimate rejection by the majority of Third World countries of superpower-led regional military alliances. Alliances such as the South East Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) and the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO), were at odds with the political aspirations of a non-aligned Third World community whose members saw in such alliances dangers to their newfound sovereignty.

While the superpower-led regional security organisations faltered in the Third World, the more multipurpose regional groups managed to secure a place within the UN system as legitimate mechanisms for the pacific settlement of disputes between states. This role had been conceded by the so-called “universalists” (proponents of a strong and overarching UN with an exclusive role in peace and security) with some reluctance. While drafting the UN charter at the San Francisco conference, the “regionalists” (led by representatives from Latin America and the Middle East) argued that geographic neighbours would have a better understanding of local disputes and that they would also be better placed to provide prompt assistance to victims of conflict and aggression. Despite concerns that regional organizations might compete with, and dilute the authority of the UN, the “universalists” (led by the great powers invested with a Security Council veto power) agreed to a compromise which gave regional organisations a secondary (point of first contact) role in managing regional conflicts. But as long as regional organisations remained subject to the norms of the UN-based collective security framework, they remained essentially sovereignty-bound. The primary purpose of collective security, after all, was to protect state sovereignty from external encroachment. The charter of all the major regional groupings in the world enshrined the key UN norm of non-interference in the internal affairs of states. In the case of the OAU, it was this norm, complementing an agreement on the non-violability of post-colonial frontiers, ensured a modicum of inter-state peace in a regional system of weak and internally vulnerable states.

As the collective security role of the UN got bogged down in the Cold War, the limitations of the conflict-regulative role of regionalism also became increasingly apparent, thanks largely due to the constraints imposed by the non-interference doctrine. While regional institutions could be credited with limited success in keeping conflicts localised and isolated from superpower intervention, they failed (especially in dealing with intra-state conflicts, the most common form of Third World conflict in which sovereignty issues were more salient.

The second half of the Cold War was marked by the decline of the OAS, the OAU and the Arab League, and the emergence of sub-regional frameworks for security. These included, among others, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the Economic Community of West Asian States (ECOWAS), and the Contadora Group. Like their larger predecessors, these groupings were oriented toward a conflict-control role. Some of them, especially ASEAN, made an important contribution to peacemaking in regional conflicts. But these groupings also remained bound by the principle of sovereignty and non-interference. Indeed, it was the latter norm which ensured the success of both the ASEAN and the GCC in ensuring collective regime security, even as the region which they were part of remained strategically polarised (the GCC Vs Iran, and ASEAN Vs Vietnam).

In the late 1950s, a different framework of regionalism had emerged in Western Europe. Though not strictly with a security function, it had promised to go “beyond the nation-state” and to enable states to overcome the security dilemma associated with it.. This conception of regionalism found its most sophisticated expression in regional integration theory, an intellectual high point of post-war liberal institutionalism. The sovereignty-eroding potential of this form of regionalism (which I call integrative regionalism in this paper), was captured from a neo-functionalist standpoint by Ernst Haas, who defined integration as “…a process whereby political actors in several distinct national settings are persuaded to shift their loyalties, expectations, and political activities towards a new centre, whose institutions possess or demand jurisdiction over the pre-existing national states.” Karl Deutsch, a transactionalist, was more explicit in recognising the potential of integrative regionalism to overcome the sovereignty trap and the security dilemma. He defined regional integration as “the attainment, within a territory, of a “sense of community” and of institutions and practices strong enough and widespread enough to assure, for a “long” time, dependable expectations of “peaceful change” among its population. Deutsch envisaged two such kinds of “security communities”, an “amalgamated” variety, in which the political units transferred their claim to sovereignty to a new centre, and a “pluralistic” variety, in which war would no longer be accepted as a legitimate means of problem solving among nominally sovereign states.

But the fortunes of integration theory rose and fell with the European Economic Community (which later became theEuropean Community and still later the European Union). Integrationists were accused by their critics to have overestimated the durability of West European integration. The taming of sovereignty and nationalism in post-war Western Europe, they argued, was but a temporary phenomenon, explained by the shared experience of a highly destructive war. Even if the EC could turn France and Germany into being part of a pluralistic security community, it failed to offer a collective response to several key external challenges, especially the Middle East oil crisis and the American technological challenge. Even the integration theorists themselves found their hopes for an early demise of the national state to have been premature. The relationship between regional integration and trans-regional economic and technological interdependence, they conceded, was too uncertain and “turbulent” to justify the earlier view of the former as an incremental or linear process. Against this backdrop, regional integration theory was pronounced “obsolescent” and the hitherto academic fascination with the subject was replaced by a similar degree of theoretical enthusiasm about international interdependence (which would still later give way to interest in globalisation). ”

Outside of Europe, integrative models of regionalism fared even less well. While several sub-regional economic groups in the Third World sought to self-consciously emulate the EEC, none succeeded in achieving a comparable level of market centralisation and trade creation. Neither could they realise the “spill-over” effect of economic cooperation in producing agreement on security issues. In general, regional economic integration in the Third World proved to be “much more rudimentary than in Europe, more obscure in purpose and uncertain in content”. Sovereignty, in this case newly achieved, proved to be an even more severe obstacle in the Third World than in the West. Regional economic groups which proliferated in Africa and Latin America in the 1960s and 70s were to ultimately “founder on the reefs of distrust, non cooperation and parochial nationalism”.

The Transition from Sovereignty-Bound Regionalism

The foregoing analysis shows that none of the three main forms of regional organisation in the post-war period (superpower-led regional alliances, regional conflict control organisations, and regional economic groupings) was able to escape the sovereignty trap. The EEC was a limited exception. West Europe accepted, but failed to carry it to its logical conclusion, its sovereignty-eroding form of regionalism. The Third World rejected it much more completely. Yet, a slow and tentative transition from sovereignty-bound regionalism did take hold during the final phase of the Cold War and was considerably accelerated after, but not necessarily by, its end. Several developments contributed to this transition. For the purpose of this paper, four are especially noteworthy, and a brief examination of these developments would show that progress towards sovereignty-freeing regionalism has been neither decisive nor linear.

The first was the incremental success of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe(CSCE, which later became an Organisation, or OSCE). During the 1980s, the CSCE developed and begun to implement an extensive menu of Confidence- and Security- Building Measures (CSBMs), including transparency and constraining measures and verification procedures that crossed the bounds of non-interference in the internal affairs of states. More importantly, the CSCE successfully incorporated human rights issues into the regional confidence-building agenda, thereby setting norms that would regulate the internal as well as external political behaviour of states. This aspect of the CSCE also distinguished it from the other major regional groupings (such as the OAS, OAU and the Arab League) which, as mentioned earlier, had a minimal role in the regulation of internal conflicts within their member states.

As the Cold War came to a close, the CSCE model acquired greater legitimacy and appeal. The CSCE’s contribution to ending the Cold War generated early hopes that balance-of-power approaches to security, the chief rationale for regional alliances, would be replaced by common and cooperative regional security frameworks in the New World Order. Proposals for CSCE-style regional security mechanisms for Asia and the Middle East surfaced, but the implementing these proposals proved to be highly difficult, because of the challenge they posed to sovereignty concerns. Despite renewed expectation that regional organisations in the Third World might now be able to assume a more important role in global peace and security (and thereby help to take some of the burden off the UN) , the former continued to suffer from a host of organizational and political problems. When faced with an explosion of internal conflicts, Third World countries remained reluctant to abandon the non-interference principle to permit collective regional intervention in them.

But the CSCE model did have an impact on the character of regional alliances. With the swift demise of the Warsaw Pact, the remaining Cold War regional alliance, NATO, was seen to be heading towards acute obsolescence. “Permanent alliances of states with on-going common interests, such as NATO”, argued Samuel Huntington, “are likely to give way to ad hoc temporary coalitions assembled for particular purposes, such as…in the Gulf crisis.” This fear of obsolescence would drive NATO to reorient itself in ways that would not only ensure its continued relevance, but also add considerable momentum to the transition from sovereignty-bound regionalism in the international system (to explained in the next section of the paper). A second development contributing to the transformation of regionalism was the revival of the EC’s integrative ambitions. While the CSCE was developing security mechanisms that would encompass the whole of Europe, the EU was making its transition to a single market. To be sure, West European supranationalism faced old difficulties, especially in developing a full-fledged monetary union. Far more daunting were challenges to the development of a common foreign and defense policy framework. Its failure to deal unitedly and effectively with the crisis in the former Yugoslavia highlighted the limits of a spillover from low politics to issues of high politics, as envisaged by the neo-functionalists. Yet, the EC’s progress is a major milestone in the long struggle against sovereignty-freeing regionalism in Europe.

But the West European brand of integrative regionalism was no longer being regarded as a possible universal model for regional economic cooperation. Outside Europe, the most important examples of regional integration resulted not so much through formal bureaucracy-driven trade liberalisation, but from a “market-driven” process of transnational production (and in the case of Africa, not through grand schemes for an African Economic Community, but from transnational linkages along the “informal sector”). The so-called “growth triangles” or “natural economic territories” of Northeast and Southeast Asia, in which factors of production – land, capital, technology and labour – for a single product could be derived from, and located within, several national territories, constituted some of the clearest examples of such regionalisation without regionalism.But they too did not, and could not, bypass state authority and regulation as entirely as initially expected by many observers. On the other hand, the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) grouping, the first formal inter-governmental organization dedicated to trade liberalisation in the Asia Pacific region, remained strictly sovereignty-bound. Espousing the principle of “soft” regionalism, APEC would be kept by its Asian members as a “consultative mechanism”, rather than being developed into an “economic community” (as initially advocated by Australia). In a region where the regionalisation of production and the globalisation of finance (both with inherent sovereignty-defying tendencies) were moving far ahead of regional institution building, the sovereignty-bound nature of APEC would explain its weak response to the Asian economic crisis.

A third factor explaining the erosion of sovereignty in regional organisations has been well captured by the concept of “new regionalism” outlined in a study published by Hettne and Inotai in 1994. The difference between “old” and “new” regionalism lies in three areas: the multipolar context of the latter (as opposed to the bipolar context of old regionalism); the dominant role of hegemonic actors (regionalism from “outside” and “above”) in the creation of old regionalism as opposed to the “autonomous” nature of new regionalism( from “within” and “below”), and the comprehensiveness and multidimensional nature of new regionalism as opposed to the narrow and specific focus of the old. Of these, the last aspect deserves particular notice. In contrast to the early post-Cold War period, regionalism could no longer be associated with a set of relatively narrow security (whether as a dispute-settlement mechanism, or as a framework for defense against a common threat in the inter-state system) and economic (such as a framework of capitalist trade liberalisation) goals. For example, during the 1980s, pressure was mounting on Third World regional groups to deal with an increasingly wider menu of issues, including the challenges posed by their debt burden, the crisis in the world trading regime, and environmental degradation. Serious doubts about the future of the liberal international economic order led to a revival of interest in regional economic integration in the Third World in the late 1980s and the early 1990s. This included ASEAN’s decision in 1992 to create a regional free trade area, and the emergence of two new trade groupings in South America (the Mercosur group including Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, created in 1991, and the Group of Three including Mexico, Venezuela and Colombia, established in 1994). While old problems associated with regional integration in the developing world remained, especially the difficulty of ensuring an equitable distribution of benefits, the advent of these new regional structures required a shift from sovereignty-bound thinking and approach.

Moreover, the expanding scope of regionalist tasks entailed a corresponding broadening of regionalist actors. Inter-governmental policy coordination, the main traditional tool of sovereignty-bound regionalism, was being joined by a rapid proliferation of regionally-based transnational social and cultural networks addressing human rights, democracy, environment and social justice issues. For example, the existence of a regional civil society in the Nordic region could be credited with the security policies of governments in the region during the Cold War which differed markedly from the hardline postures of the NATO alliance. In Southeast Asia, protests organized by Thai NGOs against the illegal logging activities of Thai companies in neighbouring Cambodia and Burma attested to increasing cooperation among regional NGOs. The emergence of nascent regional civil societies around the world was thus a further blow to sovereignty-bound regionalism.

A fourth development affecting the latter was the collapse of bipolarity. For neorealists, this meant a possible return to more traditional forms of regional rivalry, long suppressed by the superpower “overlay” (to use Barry Buzan’s term). But the end of the Cold War also created the need for devising new principles and ways to organise regional interactions. While neorealists focused on how multipolarity might redefine regional power alignments, constructivist thinking set out to explore how new forms of regional identity-building might be emerging on the basis of shared norms and values, a process which might lead to a redefinition of “regionness”.

During the Cold War, the process of building regional identity found its most concrete expression in frameworks for collective defense against external threats, as was the case in the transatlantic world, or in efforts to organise a common political front against superpower meddling, as in the case of much of the Third World. Without the Berlin Wall and the Soviet threat, Western regionalism (transatlantic and the West European) turned to new ways to define regional identity in Europe. Championing the “Western” concepts of market capitalism, human rights and liberal democracy, NATO and the EU offered the post-communist states of Eastern Europe an irresistible chance to join, or “rejoin”, the West by acquiring membership in them. In this process, the aspiring members were made to accept, despite their occasional reluctance perhaps, norms of regional conduct specified by NATO and the EU which had become progressively less sovereignty-bound. Moreover, the process of regional identity building around human rights and liberal democracy could not be meaningful unless the relevant regional groups also developed monitoring and enforcement mechanisms, both political, economic, and military. In so doing, European regionalism assumed an increasingly intrusive character.

Such processes did not, however, occur outside of Europe. The only other regional organisation to have undertaken significant membership expansion after the Cold War was ASEAN. ASEAN undertook the project of constructing ‘One Southeast Asia’ by gradually bringing into its fold Vietnam (its former adversary) as well as Laos, Burma, and Cambodia (the induction of the later in 1999 completed the process). But in contrast to Europe, the expansion of ASEAN did not impose any requirement on the prospective members to respect human rights and democracy (though commitment to market capitalism was asked for). Instead, ASEAN chose to dismiss international protests against its decision to grant membership to Burma’s highly repressive regime under the pretext of its “constructive engagement” policy, which itself reflected ASEAN’s long-standing commitment to non-interference in the domestic affairs of states (Burma’s internal political make-up was of no valid concern to ASEAN). The expansion of ASEAN involved the extension of the so-called “ASEAN Way”. The latter was defined not only in opposition to European-style regionalism featuring formal bureaucratic structures and legalistic decision-making procedures, it also required strict respect for the norm of non-interference (as outlined in ASEAN’s Treaty of Amity and Cooperation). Moreover, the ASEAN Way reflected some of the illiberal underpinning of the “Asian values” construct, which had stressed the importance of a communitarian ethic (“society over the self”) in explaining the region’s economic dynamism. Both the ASEAN Way (explicitly) and Asian values (somewhat more implicitly) constituted the basis a good deal of Asian thinking about regionalism, including the role of the ASEAN Regional Forum and the APEC, which stayed away from any policy initiative that would significantly intrude into the domestic political affairs of their members. Moreover, APEC’s sponsorship by Australia and the fear of its possible domination by the US prompted Malaysia to propose an alternative framework of Eastern Asian regionalism. Known as the East Asian Economic Caucus (EAEC, whose membership would exclude all the Western members of APEC including Australia, Canada and the US), this regional construct sought not only to build on the existing production networks in Eastern Asia, but also to draw upon the “Asianness” of its members, including their shared commitment to Asian values.

Intrusive Regionalism: Possibilities and Limits

After over fifty years, regionalism has come a long way from its initial pro-sovereignty predisposition. The transition may be described as one towards “intrusive regionalism”. To understand the nature of intrusive regionalism, it is useful to compare it with integrative regionalism of the kind envisaged by the regional integration theorists in the context of the EEC. The former, though sovereignty-freeing, was not sovereignty-defying. The original model of integrative regionalism was based on the consent and active participation of member states. Regional integration described how states are persuaded to make voluntary concessions on sovereignty in order to realise collective goals. Today’s intrusive regionalism, on the other hand, is not always based on consent (although it can be). It is also distinguished by a coercive element. While the early development of integrative regionalism in West Europe relied on economic interdependence, political association, and functional transactions, intrusive regionalism relies, ultimately, on the practice of humanitarian intervention, as illustrated in the case of NATO’s action against Serbia. Although intrusive regionalism drew some of its conceptual justification from post-Cold War UN humanitarian intervention missions, especially those in northern Iraq and Somalia, credit must be given, for reasons described earlier, to the CSCE/OSCE as the true inventor of intrusive regionalism. It was then the task of NATO, desperately seeking a way out of obsolescence, to steal the show (and the idea) from the OSCE. With far superior resources and a military command structure, NATO could practice humanitarian intervention much more forcefully than the OSCE. The OSCE’s role as the teacher of norms should not, however, be overlooked at a time of its alleged obsolescence and the transatlantic euphoria over NATO’s “victory” over Serbia.

Outside Europe, intrusive regionalism has made more limited progress, the significance of which should not be dismissed however. Regional confidence-building and preventive diplomacy mechanisms, which are by their very nature sovereignty-eroding, have been advocated and tried by Asia Pacific, Middle Eastern and Latin American regional multilateral institutions. In Asia, the fledgling ASEAN Regional Forum has developed a set of largely non-intrusive CBMs. To be sure, neither the ARF nor any other Third World regional organisation has come even close to the truly intrusive OSCE-style CBMs. But somewhat greater progress has been made on the political front. Through a number of recent initiatives beginning with the “Santiago Commitment to Democracy and the Renewal of the Inter-American System”, the OAS has developed new norms and practices to prevent democratic breakdowns. Even the normally sovereignty-bound OAU has progressively recognised the need for addressing internal conflicts, including those dealing with human rights violations. It recently adopted a policy framework to isolate regimes that come to office through military coups. In Southeast Asia, however, a proposal by the then Malaysian deputy prime minister, Anwar Ibrahim for ‘constructive intervention’ (though wholly non-military means, however) failed to attract broad support in 1996. Asia and the Middle East also remain major exceptions to the establishment of regional human rights monitoring bodies, a key form of intrusive regionalism, although ASEAN is reportedly considering proposals for such a body.

The case of ASEAN deserves special attention here because it is here that the tension between intrusive regionalism and sovereignty has been most pronounced. While sovereignty concerns prevailed over constructive intervention by ASEAN in the political arena, the grouping, facing international criticism of its weak response to the Asian economic crisis, may no longer be able to resist calls for rethinking its doctrine of non-interference in the economic arena.

The Asian crisis brought home to the ASEAN members the dangers of the doctrine when confronting the challenges of economic globalisation. When the crisis broke out, critics of non-interference argued that had ASEAN been not so tightly bound by it, Thailand, the first ASEAN country to go under, could have been issued a more timely warning about its worsening economic condition. In the wake of the crisis, the foreign minister of Thailand argued for a policy of “flexible engagement” (later termed “enhanced interaction”), which would allow a “peer review” of the members’ economic policies (Thailand also claimed a right to criticise Burma’s human rights record under this framework). While the political aspects of this proposal was rejected by ASEAN, the grouping has taken the first tentative steps towards intrusive regionalism by establishing a regional financial and macro-economic surveillance process (“ASEAN Surveillance Process”, as opposed to “ASEAN Surveillance Mechanism”, which had been advocated by the US but was rejected by ASEAN for being too intrusive). Moreover, ASEAN members have faced increasing demands to move beyond the ASEAN Way of informality and addhocism, and to develop more concrete institutional mechanisms and “rule-based transparency in governance” to deal with future economic meltdowns.

Intrusive regionalism could affect global peace and security in several ways. The practice of intrusive regionalism could give rise to new and more robust forms of collective identity, expressed through a deepening and widening of multilateral political and security institutions and approaches. This is happening in Europe and, to a lesser extent, Latin America. The norms of intrusive regionalism could also lead to the development of more mature “security communities” in Southeast Asia and the Southern Cone. In Europe, the norms of intrusive regionalism have created the basis of a wider democratic security community that is already extending beyond the EU. ASEAN remains an illiberal security community, but the advent of intrusive economic regionalism, if backed by incremental democratisation, could make ASEAN stronger and more durable. Caution should, however, be expressed about the pacific effects of intrusive regionalism. In Southeast Asia, the hitherto lack of intrusive regionalism has actually promoted regional order. In the Gulf, however, deviation from the doctrine of non-interference in the post-1990 period (especially in the Qatari case) has led to a weakening of regional order. Intrusive regionalism carried out without a collective purpose and without a set of agreed norms, criteria and modalities of collective action may prove highly destabilising.

Moreover, intrusive regionalism has the potential to fuel inter-regional discord. A case in point is the conflict between ASEAN and the European Union over the former’s policy of “constructive engagement” of Burma. A regional collective identity developed around the norms of intrusive regionalism could also breed exceptionalism and exclusionism. The dangers of this happening in Europe has been highlighted by Tony Smith:

“Where the European project is to achieve its political goals, it would also entail, not just economic exclusion, but also cultural differentiation and with it the possibility of cultural and racial exclusion. The forging of a deep continental cultural identity to support political unification may well require an ideology of European cultural exclusiveness.”


Regionalism has been a defender of sovereignty in the past, especially in the Third World. Today, globalisation and changing international norms concerning humanitarian intervention are turning regionalism from being a bulwark of sovereignty to a building block of an intrusive world order. New forms of regional identity built around intrusive regionalism could become important stepping stones to a post-Westphalian world order in the 21st century.

Around the globe, intrusive regionalism is being practiced through a variety of means. In the economic sphere, macro-economic surveillance and financial monitoring have been added to the classical trade liberalisation agenda and market-driven regional investment coordination. In the political sphere, the instruments of intrusive regionalism include the development and mutual observance of norms against human rights abuses and democratic breakdowns (as in Africa and Latin America, but not in the Middle East and Asia), the development of regional human rights bodies (again, the Middle East and Asia are exceptions here), and mechanisms of humanitarian military intervention (only NATO so far, although whether NATO will develop an out-of-area humanitarian intervention role is by no means certain).

The transition to intrusive regionalism remains far from complete or linear. The paper has highlighted the positive aspects of intrusive regionalism, especially its role in fostering human rights and democracy and promoting the ideal of common and cooperative security. But its dangers and limitations also deserve attention. The international community remains, and will remain for the foreseeable future, ambivalent about it. Such ambivalence will persist if intrusive regionalism involves too much coercion and military intervention. Without appropriate multilateral norms to guide it, intrusive regionalism could lead to both intra-regional polarisation and inter-regional conflict.

Intrusive regionalism also contributes to North-South tensions, with the South seeing in it a new form of Western domination. The Third World recognises the potential of regionalism as a whole to foster a greater decentralisation and democratisation of global institutions and regimes. But it remains largely unwilling and unable to follow European models and practices of intrusive regionalism. In the economic sphere, intrusive regionalism may prove to be an indispensable tool for Third World countries in dealing more effectively with globalisation. In the political sphere, however, sovereignty-bound regionalism will remain more popular in the Third World, as a counter to the intrusive globalism and regionalism of the West (recognising, however, that the Third World countries may not always be able to separate regionalism in the economic arena from the political). Against this backdrop, prospects for world order will be affected by a clash between two forms of regionalism: intrusive and sovereignty-bound, the former shaping the values, identities, and foreign policy behaviour of the West, while the latter characterises much of the rest. Reconciling the norms and practices of the two regionalisms is one of the most serious tasks for the international community in the coming decades.

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