The past ten years have seen a staggering rise in what is now being called, rather benignly, regionalism: groups of geographically proximate countries that unite in an organization or agreement to pursue common goals. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? It is in one way, but in another regionalism is exactly what George Orwell warns us of in 1984. He turned out to be quite accurate in his depiction of totalitarian communism, how feasible is it for his nightmare to come true in our waking dreams?
Much more so than not, I would argue. Just weeks ago Asian nations agreed to extend the existing ASEAN organization (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) of ten nations into a much larger powerhouse including China. They are self-consciously taking as their model the European Union (EU) which has been operating on ever larger scales for decades. What these two organizations have in common is that their most basic goals are economic, with foreign policy and internal governance important too, but secondary. Of course, security trumps all at least in name.
In South America, the Organization of American States (OAS) of 35 chartered member-states has as its slogan "democracy for peace, security and development," more than hinting at its origins as a U.S.-instigated group aimed at stemming communist influence in the region during the Cold War. I guess the OAS won, except for Venezuela. Two regional organizations that have not fared so well in being ineffective are the African Union (AU) and the Arab League. The AU, unlike the EU and ASEAN, set out to be a political organization first and an economic and security one second. It hasn't worked. The Arab League's sole purpose was to destroy Israel, and that hasn’t worked either.
The only comparable arrangement in North America is the North American Free Trade Agreement between the U.S., Canada and Mexico, which does form the economic kernel that has lead to success in other cases of regionalism. So far, all these organizations (except the Arab League at first) have been too preoccupied with internal squabbles to think of actively targeting their rivals. As current events, these regional bodies which have taken an ever larger part of the world stage may in the future take it over, and run alongside rather than against the multipolar paradigm we encountered last Thursday.
This decade's closing in three short weeks gives occaision to reflect upon it as well that which is about to open. In honor of this arbitrariness, One World, Many Peaces will run a four-part weekly series on Thursdays, "The Decade in Review," to offer provocative closing and opening. thoughts