The ways and extent to which regionalism addresses and resolves contemporary issues.
As with global governance, regionalism is a recognition of the shared interests of states, such as reducing conﬂict and poverty or the protection of human rights and the environment. If global problems require global solutions, regional problems need regional solutions.
At the heart of the global order aﬅer the Second World War (certainly as far as Western liberal- democratic states were concerned) was the view that you cannot isolate yourself from the world’s problems. A neighbour’s problem would soon become your problem. President Roosevelt acknowledged this at the 1944 Bretton Woods Conference: ‘The economic health of every country is a proper matter of concern to all its neighbours, near and distant.’ Economic instability in one country will spread to other countries, a path that helped lead to the Second World War. The European Union is a prime example of the linking of these two points; ASEAN is another. A peaceful and stable region can lead to trade – and trade leads to a peaceful and stable region.
Regional organisations are set up to avoid conﬂict, to improve relations between neighbours, and to facilitate trade, which should be a win-win for both or all parties. Growth of trade should reduce poverty, so trade should of course be encouraged. Regionalism is a system set up in the anarchy of the Westphalian system. There is no compulsion in the international system, but regionalism imposes the rule of law on countries. States have to play by the rules; otherwise no one would play by the rules. Regionalism can generally be seen to promote peace and security. It can be associated with the liberal idea of democratic peace theory, given that where there is political regionalism, there is a tendency towards multilateral cooperation, which goes hand in hand with democracy. As globalisation and regionalism have spread, there has been a simultaneous spread of democracy, leading political scientist Francis Fukuyama to say that liberal democracies are the end of political evolution, as they are the ultimate political system. Democratic peace theory argues that democracies are unlikely to go to war with one another. The EU is an excellent example of this, with countries such as France and Germany — former longstanding rivals with complex histories of conflict — now so unlikely to go to war with one another that we can describe it as unthinkable.
The reduction in conflict is not just down to political regionalism — we could also make the neoliberal argument that economic cooperation is a very effective way to promote peace and stability. If states are economically reliant on one another there is very little incentive for them to go to war with each other. Indeed, this feeds into the arguments of British academic Mary Kaldor, who highlights that increasingly war is not centred on states in the traditional sense (the ‘New War' thesis). Regionalism tends to unite like-minded countries, but it can also create alliances between states that might not otherwise cooperate.
However, regional blocs can lead to increased tension as they are see as a threat. The ASEAN is partly designed to limit China’s dominance in Asia. Furthermore, if regionalism becomes increasingly linked to ideology, there is potential for conflict — the Cold War was essentially a conflict between two ideologically focused regional blocs and Putin clearly sees NATO and the EU as a threat to Russian security and culture.
Human rights can be protected by states agreeing to uphold and protect human rights. A perfect example of this is the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights. Regional cooperation is advantageous to human rights at both the regional and the global level. Regionalism promotes human rights within regional blocs (e.g. the ECHR in the case of the EU). The EU has also encouraged freedom of movement and has had a significant role in taking in asylum seekers from north Africa and the middle east (albeit, controversially). There has also been a benefit to human rights on a global scale, with regionalism helping to promote a more global appreciation of liberal values and freedoms, thereby reinforcing the UN’s Charter of Human Rights. This fits in with ideas of cosmopolitanism and identities that extend beyond nation-states.
Most environmental problems need multilateral approaches. Regional blocs that have agreed on approaches or solutions can drive forward complex and diﬃcult environmental negotiations. Regions can set an example for ambitious targets. If the argument is that states cannot put aside their economic interests to save the planet, then regions that do exactly that are powerful examples to the rest of the world. Climate change is a modern-day concern that has posed a challenge to state-centric politics, given that it cannot be tackled at state level. Action is needed at state, regional and global level, and regionalism has offered a crucial link between the state and the global in that it can help to make global governance more effective (this again forms part of the ‘building blocks’ argument). The EU has led the way in terms of agreeing at regional level what could not be agreed at international level. It has also been highly influential at international summits such as the 2015 Paris Agreement, which was a UN initiative within which the EU played a fundamental role. Arguably, another advantage of a regional approach to environmental issues is that there is potential to better deal with the different needs of regions when developing international environmental policies.
Regionalism has had an impact on poverty in terms of how regional blocs have addressed this concern, both within their own regions and globally. First, there is greater cooperation and both economic and political incentive to tackle the issue of poverty within regional blocs. A good example has been the EU and its attempts to address issues of poverty, particularly in the former Yugoslavian states, to better align those state populations and economies with the rest of Europe. Second, regional blocs dealing with significant levels of poverty (for example, the AU) have a voice in global institutions in regards to their own development. Regionalism can also be seen to promote international cooperation in the areas of aid and development external to regions (demonstrating the ‘building blocks to globalisation’ argument. The EU has a clear identity of promoting liberal values and has therefore invested heavily in funding aid programmes abroad, and is deeply involved in global strategies to reduce poverty. Initiatives such as the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals can be much more effective if regional alliances can help implement them.