The Rerun of Hegemonic Regionalism?
One of the more important issues concerning the role of regional security arrangements in the emerging world order is whether they would remain under hegemonic control. In Europe, the principal multilateral security arrangement, NATO, has been the pre-eminent form of “hegemonic regionalism” in the sense that it existed, and continues to exist, within the purview of American hegemony.
Regional security arrangements geared toward collective defense, and operating under the security umbrella of a great power, were never very popular in the developing world, as attested by the experience of the SEATO and CENTO. Even collective security and defense frameworks envisaged under the auspices of large multipurpose regional bodies such as the Arab League and OAS, or the OAU/ AU, were hardly credible for the security of their members.
In the third world, the term “regional security arrangements” invariably meant mechanisms for the peaceful settlement of disputes rather than collective defense. The end of the cold war has diminished the appeal of a NATO-style of hegemonic regionalism. After the quick death of the Warsaw Pact, NATO has survived predictions of its early demise in the post-cold war era. But to ensure its continued relevance, it has had to embrace roles that had more in common with cooperative security organizations than collective defense in its classical sense. If NATO did not exist, it is doubtful that anyone would invent it today. Despite concerns over the growth of Chinese military power, the likelihood of there being an Asian NATO is slim for the foreseeable future.
This leads to another question about the future of regionalism: whether the end of unipolarity will open a space for the emergence of regional hegemonies, such as in East Asia under China, South Asia under India, the Caucasus and Baltics under Russia, southern Africa under South Africa, West Africa under Nigeria, and South America under Brazil. Mearsheimer argues that all aspiring great powers seek to achieve regional hegemony, a goal more necessary and attainable than global hegemony.(38) To Mearsheimer, China is the obvious candidate for such regional hegemony in the post-cold war period.(39) But Mearsheimer, who once warned that the post-cold war multipolar Europe would go “back to the future,” was wrong about Europe, and may yet be so about China.
There is little sign of such regional hegemonies emerging today. Instead, one of the key challenges facing the emerging powers is the gap between their global status aspirations and regional legitimacy. All BRICS and many G-20 members are regional power centers. Some (e.g., India in South Asia, China in East Asia, Russia in the Caucasus) have problematic relations with their neighbors over territorial disputes, unequal economic relations, and suspicions of hegemonism. These regional problems can embroil them or pull them down sufficiently to undermine their quest for global status and influence.
Moreover, a country’s quest for status as an “emerging power” can undermine its regional engagement. There is always the temptation to “leapfrog” their unglamorous neighborhood in order to pursue the global glitz and prestige that membership in BRICS and G-20 brings. Such concerns have been raised in the case of Indonesia (a G-20 member) in ASEAN, and Brazil (which belongs to both BRICS and G-20). The challenge for emerging powers is to ensure that their global power ambitions do not come at the expense of regional restraint and representation.
The roles of the emerging powers when it comes to engaging with their neighbors fall into three broad styles. The first one may be called hegemonic/domineering. Previous and more extreme examples of this style can be found in the US Monroe doctrine in the western hemisphere during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and in Japan’s Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere concept around World War II. Today, this style might apply to Russia in its “Near Abroad” (Eastern Europe, the Baltic states, Caucasus, and Central Asia). A less extreme version, a domineering type if not an outright hegemonic one, may apply to India’s role in South Asia until recently, and China’s in Southeast Asia in the past few years. Nigeria’s role in the ECOWAS is also relevant as a possible example of the domineering approach. A second style may be termed “accommodationist.” This describes the regional relationships of Brazil, South Africa, and Japan today.
Their neighbors still fear dominance by the powers, often because of memories of the past. But the powers have gone some way in reassuring their neighbors by pursuing cooperation through regional groups.
A third regional style may be termed “communitarian.” Two examples of this style are Germany’s place in the EU and Indonesia’s place in ASEAN. In both these relationships, the powers had committed aggression against their neighbors in the past. But now they exercise a high degree of restraint toward them. The neighbors reciprocate this restraint by acknowledging the leadership status of the powers. For example, Indonesia’s role in ASEAN has been likened to that of being in a “golden cage.” Jakarta’s restraint toward its smaller neighbors such as Singapore and Malaysia has led the latter to express a degree of deference to Indonesia as the “first among equals” in ASEAN.
There has been no war between Indonesia and its immediate neighbors since ASEAN was founded in 1967, just after Indonesia’s war against Malaysia had ended.
The nineteenth-century US approach (Monroe doctrine) of seeking global leadership while riding roughshod over one’s immediate neighbors will not work for emerging powers of the twenty-first century. Regional conflicts and complications could stifle their quest for global leadership. Moreover, unlike the cold war period, when the global level dominated the regional level, in today’s world, the regional and the global levels of interaction are highly interdependent. Without support from their own regional groups, the emerging powers might be seriously constrained in playing a global leadership role.
Some emerging powers, aware that their global aspirations require a degree of regional legitimacy, are playing more constructive roles in their neighborhoods. In Africa, South African dominance does have its critics, and the Pretoria-backed initiative NEPAD is viewed in some quarters as an instrument of South African hegemony. But without South Africa, the transition of OAU to AU might not have been possible. Nigeria’s role in the intervention by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in Liberia attracted resentment from other West African states, but it was crucial to the limited success of that and other ECOWAS peace operations since. In South Asia, fear of Indian dominance has stymied the development of SAARC, yet it is hard to see any meaningful progress of SAARC without India’s involvement and support. Also, India’s relationships with its neighbors have become much more positive in recent years. In East Asia, while Chinese attempts to dominate them might spell the doom of regional organizations, these will be meaningless without Chinese involvement. So far, China’s role in Asian regional bodies has been largely responsible and constructive.
Some argue that East Asia is a more hegemony-prone region than Europe, where modern international order had been founded on Westphalian decentralization and balance-of-power politics. Two scenarios of a regional hegemony in Asia have emerged. The first assumes that China, as a great power, is likely to pursue regional hegemony and seek to establish a sphere of influence over its immediate neighbors, which might conceivably include Southeast Asia and Central Asia. As noted, some Western analysts like Mearsheimer already see evidence of China seeking such hegemony, arguing that only a thin line separates China’s charm offensive (now depleted) and a Chinese Monroe doctrine.
The other scenario of hegemonic Asia is a benign one. As noted in chapter 3, such scenarios of a peaceful and prosperous Asia under Chinese hegemony (or a hierarchical order with China as the leading state), have been put forward by both Western and Chinese scholars, and policymakers.
But evidence to support either view is scarce. Instead of developing a geopolitical framework in the style of a Monroe doctrine, which would exclude the US, China is conscious of the limits and dangers of such an approach.(40 ) It accepts US military presence in the region as a fact of life. The benign hegemony scenario is not credible either. Many Asian states, whether larger players like Japan and India or smaller ones such as Vietnam and South Korea, are not bandwagoning with China, but are keeping a wary vigilance.(41) The proliferation of regional institutions, their expanding functions covering both traditional and transnational issues, and the growing incidence of inter-regionalism, may introduce a healthy diversity and leadership into the emerging world order instead of the singular dominance of American power or the EU’s legalistic and centralized model of cooperation. As Weber and Jentlesen argue, “What makes these [non-Western regional] relationships distinctive is that they neither oppose nor accept Western rules – instead they seek to render Western rules less relevant by routing around them.”(42) They do make the world less American-centric, but far from heralding a global fragmentation or the rise of regional hegemonies, these regional worlds could be an essential foundation for sustaining a multiplex world order in the twenty-first century.
38 John J. Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics (W. W. Norton & Company, 2001), p. 402.
39 John J. Mearsheimer, “China’s Unpeaceful Rise,” Current History (April 2006): 160–2.
40 Amitav Acharya, “Beyond the Chinese Monroe Doctrine,” Straits Times (Singapore) (June 20, 2011).
41 Acharya, “Will Asia’s Past Be Its Future?” International Security, 28/3 (winter 2003/04): 149–64.
42 Steven Weber and Bruce W. Jentleson, The End of Arrogance: America in the Global Competition of Ideas (Harvard University Press, 2010); Kindle edition.