A new trend or an old idea in need of better understanding?

Magazine Desk

There are several determinants to the foreign policy of a modern state. Every nation wants to pursue its own short and long-term foreign policy goals and objectives in its way. The fateful incident of 9/11 has forced all the modern states not only to revisit their foreign policy choices but to revisit their allies in a different part of the world. In this state of affairs, regionalism has emerged as a viable option. The success of regionalism in Europe can be an important example for the nations of Asia, who remain hesitant about regional cooperation despite their shared economic, cultural, and geopolitical characteristics, and need for greater internal cohesion.


Regionalism is an ideology and political movement that seeks to advance the causes of regions. As a process, it plays role within the nation as well as at international level. Both types of regionalism have different meaning and have positive as well as negative impact on society, polity, diplomacy, economy, security, culture, development, negotiations, etc.

  1. At international level

At international level, regionalism refers to transnational cooperation to meet a common goal or to resolve a shared problem or it refers to a group of countries such as-Western Europe, or Southeast Asia, linked by geography, history or economic features. Used in this sense, regionalism refers to attempts to reinforce the links between these countries economic features.

  1. At national Level

Since there are regions within country, distinguished in culture, language and other socio-cultural factors, therefore, at national level, regionalism refers to a process in which sub-state actors become increasingly powerful; power devolves from central level to regional governments.

Regionalism in international arena

The use of common cultural identities to define regions grew out of the process of decolonization, which was observed to lead to the construction of ‘culture blocs’. Regionalism in international sense can be with respect to:

  1. physical regions: which refer to territorial, military, and economic spaces controlled primarily by states; and
  2. functional regions: which are defined by non-territorial factors such as culture and the market that are often the purview of non-state actors.

During the Cold War, most regions were either political or mercantile clusters of neighbouring countries that had a place in the larger international system. End of the Cold War has reduced the effects of the global system on regional security dynamics and national decisions. Changes in the international structure and new security challenges were expected to push the development of regionalism.

In the post-Cold War international system, even though there has been an increasing demand for external intervention and crisis management for humanitarian and other political reasons, neither the United States nor any other major power has shown a willingness to shoulder the full responsibility for managing these regional crises. As a solution to this dilemma, countries go for the establishment of regional blocs to replace global hegemony.

European Union (EU), ASEAN, SAARC and the proposed Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) are some examples of regional blocs.

In the economic sphere, however, the situation is quite different. The process of globalization, although partial and variable in nature, is creating an increasingly autonomous economic reality that interacts directly with both national and regional economies. The formation of regions takes place at the interface between global economic and technological forces and national realities. National actors may, in fact, perceive regionalism as a defence mechanism against the competitive pressures arising from the globalization.

Types of Regionalism

With respect to the world, regionalism is often talked in two senses, i.e. – Old Regionalism and New Regionalism, both having different meanings.

  1. Old Regionalism

It was formed in context of a bipolar Cold War. At that time, various regions of the world made an association with the two major power blocs of the world, i.e. USA and USSR. This regionalism was done on the basis of their security and economic concerns. This old pattern of hegemonic regionalism was, of course, most evident in Europe before 1989, but at the height of the Cold War discernible in all world regions.

Old regionalism was created “from above” (often through superpower intervention). It was inward oriented and protectionist in economic terms. It was also specific with regard to its objectives (some organizations being security oriented, others economically oriented).

  1. New Regionalism

The New regionalism is taking shape in a multipolar world order. The new regionalism and multi-polarity are, in fact, two sides of the same coin. The new is a more spontaneous process from within the regions, where the constituent states now experience the need for cooperation in order to tackle new global challenges. Regionalism is thus one way of coping with global transformation, since most states lack the capacity and the means to manage such a task on the “national” level.

It is often described as “open” regionalism that is compatible with an interdependent world economy. It is a more comprehensive, multidimensional process that includes not only trade and economic development, but also environment, social policy and security, just to mention some imperatives pushing countries and communities towards cooperation within new types of regionalist frameworks.

In sum, the new regionalism includes economic, political, social and cultural aspects, and goes far beyond free trade.

Impact of Regionalism on the World

Regionalism is giving strength to the regions which were earlier neglected, e.g. Africa, South Asia, and South-East Asia.

The consequences of regionalization are in terms of security and development. For example, SAARC, Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation (IOR-ARC) and various other regional groups has been formed for the regional security and development with the cooperation of all the member nations.

It may offer solutions to development problems, which in fact could be seen as a form of conflict prevention, since many of the internal conflicts are rooted in development problems of different kinds.

It helps the regions and the countries within in achieving Self-reliance, with respect to their social development, economic needs, technological needs, etc.

With the help of regionalism economic policies may remain more stable and consistent. As it is, in practice in European Union, though Eurozone crisis is learning for the member nation to create an environment for more predictable and stable economic environment.

Regionalism gives collective bargaining on the level of the region could improve the economic position of marginalized countries in the world system. As in the case of WTO Bali meet, developed countries were hell-bent on Trade facilitation agreement and were pressurizing for doing away of subsidies in developing countries.

Regionalism can reinforce societal viability by including social security issues and an element of redistribution. Ecological and political borders rarely coincide. Few serious environmental problems could be solved within the framework of the nation state.

In fact, Regional conflicts could be resolved, with the help of regionalism and it eliminates distorted investment patterns, since the “security fund” (military expenditures ) can be tapped for more productive use and can give peaceful dividend to the nation as well as to the region.

Regional blocs like BRICS, ASEAN are developing more negotiation capabilities for economic needs of the region, for climate change negotiations, etc. The dependency on World Bank, IMF for developmental projects is being complimented by the new commitments of the BRICS Bank, New Developmental Banks, etc.

In future, the further integration of the different regions will give every nation due respect and due importance to their needs. Their exotic and unique things are getting exposure at international level and no one will feel left out. The whole world will be a global village with unique regions within.

-internatRegionalism and Pakistan

Economic cooperation and development through regional organisations have not been a popular stance in our foreign and internal policies. In the past, we had good chances to gain benefits through regional pacts and accords, but we failed. Regional Cooperation for Development (RCD), which was established by Pakistan, Iran and Turkey in 1964, had a great potential for Pakistan’s economic prosperity. Similarly, when Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO) was revived in 1992 and 10 countries became its members; this could have been a game changer in the region. That, too, was a big economic opportunity for us. Central Asian States which were liberated from the Soviet Union were landlocked and rich in natural resources. They along with Afghanistan needed a land route which could connect them to the world through the ports of Gwadar and Karachi. But due to the external pressure and internal deficiencies, we could not stabilise this organisation. Its result is that we could not get away with our economic dependencies on the West. SAARC was established for the cultural, educational and economic cooperation in the South Asia. It could not perform up to the expectations due to the Indian intentions and behaviour.

However, all is not lost yet! With the economically “Rising China” and “Resurgent Russia”, the dynamics of the international political and economic environment and most importantly the regional dynamics of Asia are changing. With the start of trade activities under CPEC, Pakistan has set itself on a road to economic development and also to positive image-building. The smooth completion and execution of this project is not only crucial for Pakistan’s dwindling economy but also serves to be an abstract venus-flytrap foreign policy move without the parasitic aspects: Pakistan cannot utilize the immediate benefits of CPEC in its entirety if it does not attract other regional and neighbouring states.

With Iran showing interest in joining CPEC, Pakistan has a massive opportunity to not only expand the littoral potential of Gwadar but also to gain a long-term ally. The potential of the Arabian Sea as the next major trade route increases exponentially with the Gwadar and Chabahar combined. Pakistan’s relational history with Iran has been on and off but Iran is a proactive state when it comes to national interest, with a vast pool of natural resources and a comparatively much better governance level. In International relations, there is nothing better than a sensible neighbor and even more important is getting her on-board. Furthermore, after lifting of sanctions from Iran and diminishing US presence in the region, Pakistan needs to step up work on the Iran-Pakistan pipeline.

With a US-Taliban agreement on Afghanistan issue in the offing, the political dynamics in the region also shows promise. Pakistan must capitalize on what the environment and circumstances are offering to gain another ally in the region.

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