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Regionalism can easily be both a successor of nation-state as well as an alternative to globalization. It refers to establishment and expression of a common sense of identity and single-mindedness along with creation and implementation of an institution that would manifest the particular identity building a collective purpose within a confined geographical location.  Joseph Nye defines regionalism as “the formation of interstate associations or groupings on the basis of regions”. Regionalism takes place when a limited number of states are linked by geographical proximity and mutual interdependence. The creation of European community can be seen as the oldest example of regionalism.

Regionalism, a two centuries old phenomenon can be divided into three phases: first occurred by the mid of nineteenth century majorly in Europe, second took place after the World war I with increased economic discrimination, and the third one occurred post World war II. The current wave of regionalism originated in the late 1980s, with the economic agendas resulting in political allying. Here, we need to differentiate between regionalism and regionalization. While the former is an intentional political process, the later involves increasing trade and human transaction within certain regions. Today, the distinction between regionalism and regionalization is getting all the more blur with both acting cause-effect to each other.

Talking about the positive economic implications, Regionalism enhances welfare by shifting ftrade units. The member states transfer trade activities from less efficient partners outside the arrangement to more efficient ones within it. This has resulted in Preferential Trade Arrangements (PTA) within regions.  However, the PTAs are also expanding to regions that are not close by, for e.g. Chile and South Korea, Mexico and japan etc. Hence, PTA is a vital phenomenon within regionalism but not the only determinant. Under regionalism, it essentially leads in economic policy coordination and cooperation. Free Trade Areas (FTA) is another crucial part of regionalism. It works in both the ways, firstly eliminating trade barriers for the member states and secondly imposing a common external tariff on non-members.  Both PTA and FTA are debated on the grounds of multilateral openness. While one school of thought argues that it is a stepping stone to multilateral liberalization, the other says that gradually it will expand to global free trade system, and a third one that has a completely different argument asking the regional blocs to negotiate with each other rather than individual states to ease the negotiation process. PTA and FTA are criticized for not standing with the principles of WTO. Evidently, there is no consensus on the economic welfare of regionalism.

What requires to be studied here is that how beneficial is the kind of internal constrained liberalization that regionalism promotes. Is it advantageous to form separate groups and discriminate against third parties? How long has regionalism sustained and how much flourishment has it led to? Are we moving towards a global village or are we still forming our own regional blocs? Are regional blocs challenge to ‘super powers’?


East Asia and Regionalism

Integration in East Asia has been fueled by shifting of global power from West to East, comparative stable economic conditions in Asia, rise of China, development in countries like India etc. The establishment of Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in south-east Asia and the institutionalization of trade relations of China-Japan-Korea in South East Asia are classic form of regionalism. ASEAN was established in 1967 with the objective of promoting peace, economic, social and cultural cooperation. It has announced its free trade agreements, Investment area, and Agreement on services in the region long back. The association has worked to lessen the disparities between its members.  ASEAN gives importance to National interest, State sovereignty and equality between the states. However, historic and territorial issues act as a hindrance to the integration.  Road to Asian integration appears long and bumpy because of the unwritten “Cold politics, hot economy” of Asian countries. Unlike European Union, Asian regionalism focuses on informal economic cooperation, non-binding talks, and multilateral security cooperation.

The ASEAN way has helped the region to overcome the isolation of less developed states and the economic disproportions. It has been coupled by democratization of the region. East Asian regionalism has been working for long term economic prosperity with regional division of labor. Nevertheless, it has its own kind of challenges when it comes to leadership, visibility, decision making and implementation. 

Despite a long-lived association compared to EU, ASEAN couldn’t match the power of EU. Today, ASEAN is striving to survive in the international realm with China and US increasing their power continuously. With nowhere close to meeting its economic integration, ASEAN Economic Community lacks a common regulatory framework, preventing ASEAN from becoming a huge economic player. The diversity among members with regard to economic development is a barrier here. The regulatory environments, levels of government intervention in the economy, physical infrastructure, and so on are just incredibly diverse. ASEAN has devastatingly failed in tackling Human Rights Crisis, the current example being the Myanmar’s Rohingya catastrophe.

According to Eduardo C Tadem “ASEAN as a community has been a failure so far, as the notion of national sovereignty continues to undermine its integration while the identity of the grouping has get to crystallize”.


The headlong rush towards regionalism has gained new momentum in recent years. As the world witnesses the globe shrinking with the advancement of technology and the increasing interdependence states have upon one another, it is hard not to detect the numerous weaknesses and unaddressed atrocities that lay within the system of ‘globalized’ international relations. In this complex structure, we can’t place regional blocs and the current of regionalism separately. They are quite intermingled and yet distinct. The regional blocs have however fallen weak in opposing globalization. The failure of regional blocs to remain integrated or to economically-politically strengthen themselves has not let them stand against globalization. On the other hand, the number of countries globalizing is ever rising.

There are incidents of strong regionalism against globalization, like North American Free Trade Agreement’s (NAFTA) stabilization and increase of Mexico’s political and economic policies. A major weakness globalization embodies, is its inability to effectively address transnational security and political issues. Globalization is selective and while some gain profit from the implementation of neo-liberalist principles, others are found to suffer at their hands. Hence regional organizations have been created to address more local problems and to prevent foreign intervention. Besides security, globalization has failed in ensuring that multilateral political legislation be implemented throughout the world. For example, the Kyoto Protocol as well as the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen implemented very few binding regulations in a world where globalization has made pollution transnational.

Regionalism has responded to cultural globalization through an increase in cultural identity and the rise of regionalist parties. With the increasing sense of regionalism growing in the world to essentially make up for the weaknesses modern globalization has failed to address, the question remains if the world is moving away from global unity. However, the buildup of regionalism is made only possible by the sheer width of the world that globalization encompasses and thus could not replace the system in which it exists. With multiple multilateral institutions holding regulations over regional bodies, it is very hard for globalization and international multilateral systems to be overturned. In addition, with the rise of interregionalism, or the pursuit of formalized intergovernmental relations with respect to relationships across distinct regions, the world is able to act cohesively on a larger scale.

In the face of weakly tamed globalizing world, it has been argued that states have responded through regionalizing in order to preserve economic, political, and cultural stability. It should be concluded that regionalist blocs have resulted mostly out of the current system’s inability to address ad hoc situations occurring in various fields throughout the world; not to mention, they have also resulted from the unpredictable future the globalizing world offers with its varying economics, political motivations, and cultural migrations. Although it could be argued that regionalism is simply placing the international system on a larger scale, the amount of stability and regulation that comes with regionalism is incomparable. Therefore, it has been properly argued that regionalism is in fact a building bloc of achieving global peace and cohesiveness through its more specified and regulative approach.

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Written By Ranjula Singh

Ranjula, SKV'14, LSR'17

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