What Are The Driving Forces Behind Globalisation Politics Essay

From the end of World War Two there has arisen a trend within international relations towards increasing regional cooperation and integration.After the collapse of the Berlin wall this process has rapidly accelerated. Today there are a myriad of Regional Integration Agreements (RIA) that span all continents, regions and conceivably all nations in a complex web of political, economic, social and cultural ties European integration is one of the longest standing and most deeply integrated examples; however Asia, Africa and the America’s have all seen the need for greater cooperation and integration within respective regions. Exactly who, why and how states integrate varies greatly. As time passes and confidence grows between partners there is a trend towards a deepening of interaction and cooperation/integration may very likely extend to areas outside those originally envisaged.

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It can be considered that regional integration/cooperation is globalisation at a regional level, or globalisation is regional integration/cooperation on a global scale. Has increased regional integration and cooperation led to globalisation, or has globalisation led to greater regional integration and cooperation? Regionalisation and Globalisation are difficult to separate. While conceptually it is easy to recognise that regionalisation applies at a regional level there is considerable overlap. You may view the world as a system of international anarchy dominated by the nation state and motivated by national self interest; or you may have a somewhat more optimistic view of international relations and see people striving to work together for mutual benefit under a global system of systems where communities are divided into many varying subsets determined by historical, cultural, geographical and ideological factors. Regardless of viewpoint the, fact that the world is becoming more integrated is impossible to deny. Kofi Annan’s quote at the start of this paper is very apt in highlighting this. Arguing against regionalisation, whatever your view on the relationship between regionalisation and globalisation, is like arguing against the laws of gravity.

The aim of this paper is to determine the driving forces behind processes of regional integration and cooperation. This will be achieved by first defining what regional integration and cooperation is. This will be followed by a discussion of how regions integrate and cooperate and for what reasons using examples from Europe, South East Asia and Africa. The paper will conclude with a discussion of the driving forces behind regional integration and cooperation.


Confucius once said “If names are not right, words are misused. When words are misused, affairs go wrong.” [4] With a myriad of terminology such as regionalism, globalism, regionalisation, globalisation, regional integration, global integration and so on, it is easy to misuse words and become confused by them. The problem with globalisation is that by its very nature it is complex and all encompassing. Regionalisation, which I will define as globalisation at the regional level, is therefore complex and all encompassing at a regional level. Following this logic it is therefore apparent that regional integration as a concept differs from global integration only in the geographic boundaries you place around it. So as to simplify this problem and free us from misunderstanding we need to be very clear about what regional integration is, what regional cooperation is and how these relate to the wider global environment. So that confusion is not introduced the concepts of globalisation, regionalisation, globalism and regionalism need also to be placed firmly in context.

Globalisation is “a term that refers to the acceleration and intensification of mechanisms, and activities that are allegedly promoting global interdependence and perhaps, ultimately, global political and economic integration.” [5] Regionalism is defined as “intensifying political and/or economic processes of cooperation among states and other actors in particular geographic regions.” [6] Therefore regionalisation is a term that refers to the acceleration and intensification of mechanisms, and activities that are allegedly promoting regional interdependence and perhaps, ultimately, regional political and economic integration. Globalism would then be intensifying political and/or economic processes of cooperation among states and other actors throughout the world. To reiterate, globalism and regionalism are political processes consciously undertaken by states whereas globalisation and regionalisation are labels for the overall affect of the external environment, at either a global or regional level, that therefore affects the choices politicians make.

For obvious reasons globalisation is a much more prevalent term than regionalisation and likewise regionalism is much more prevalent than globalism. You may enquiry as to why this is and why this point is being somewhat laboured. The point is that globalisation represents the unknown or the influences outside a nation’s direct control. It is human nature to inflate your fears and concerns and therefore labelling the current environmental effects as a globes worth of issues is more concerning that focussing on your local or regional issues. To confront these issues however it is human nature to focus on what is being done closer to home. Thus the environment (globalisation) has a wider focus than the solution (regionalism).

Integration and cooperation are best conceived as labels for progress along a line of increasing interdependence. Individual nations may start with limited or no interaction, progress to a point where they are cooperating and then reach a point where they can be considered integrated. The exact differentiation between whether a nation is cooperating partially integrated or fully integrated is outside the scope of this paper. Needless to say the example of a more integrated region is that of Europe while I will use South East Asia as an example of region that is best described as closer to cooperation than integration. To reinforce this integration is best thought of as a process. The process of integration can be viewed as comprising of four elements. The first part of the process is a movement towards greater cooperation between integrating states; another element is the transference of authority to an authority above that of the state; homogenisation of values is, whether intended or not, an outcome of increased integration; and finally the emergence of a regional/global civil society can be argued to be both a cause of and result of integration. [7]

So what becomes more integrated during a process of integration? Integration can occur in many areas of political concern. Economic, security and social/cultural are the main areas of integration considered. Integration is a political decision made by nation’s leaders for political purposes. The reasons why and how integration occurs is almost as diverse as the opinions of world leaders and the challenges faced by them. Therefore in order to understand more clearly how integration comes about we need to investigate some examples of regional integration.


Europe is considered by many as the example of the region that has progressed furthest down the road of integration. After World War Two Europe was economically ruined, socially stressed and politically divided by what was to become known as the iron curtain. The United States provided encouragement in the form of the Marshal plan to rebuild and strengthen Western Europe against the spectre of Communism in the east. [8] Europeans also felt a growing need to strengthen themselves against irrelevance in a bipolar world. [9] , [10] These early security fears of Europe led to the establishment of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) in 1949. Economically the first evidence of European integration is in the establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in 1951. The aim of the treaty was to contribute, through a common market for coal and steel, to economic expansion, growth of employment and a rising standard of living. The treaty created a supranational agency to oversee aspects of national coal and steel policy such as levels of production. [11]

The end of the Cold War in 1989-91 has seen a further spur to European integration. With the fall of the Berlin wall and the dismantling of a bipolar world, Europe was able to incorporate further countries within an increasingly diverse framework of integration. While much of the integration was led by economic considerations, there has been increasingly greater integration at the political and social levels also. The Maastricht treaty was signed by twelve European nations in 1991 establishing the European Union (EU). Since then the EU has progressed further down the path of integration with the latest treaty being the Treaty of Lisbon that entered force on 1st December 2009. The EU now consists of twenty seven countries with a number of candidate nations awaiting entry sometime in the future. [12]

As mentioned earlier, it was a desire to strengthen Europe against a competing ideology during the Cold War that was the first step in European integration. As it transpired, democracy proved superior to communism in the long run. Economically, liberal capitalism has enabled Europe to outperform the centrally controlled socialist markets of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact. With the fall of the Berlin wall it became even more apparent that liberal market philosophies provided a basis for greater efficiency and greater competitiveness. Europe in general and the EU in particular serve to highlight this point.


While Europe is the most advanced down the path of integration, other regions have not been idle. South East Asia is an example of a looser cooperation in the form of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN). ASEAN was formed in 1967 between Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Philippines and Indonesia. Since then membership has expanded to include Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam. South East Asian integration is an example of cooperation being used to build confidence amongst developing nations. ASEAN has always been very mindful of being overly legalistic and binding. The ‘ASEAN way’ of doing business has become synonymous with building close personal relationships between leaders, being flexible and non-binding in decisions and adhering to a respect of other nation’s sovereignty including undertaking a non-interference policy with respect to other ASEAN nations internal matters. [13]

Despite criticisms of being all talk and no action and providing legitimacy to the military junta in Myanmar, the ASEAN way has shown a remarkable ability to engender cooperation and trust between its members. When ASEAN was first established most members were newly independent nations and the Cold War was in full swing. Indonesia was perceived by some as a threat and it was therefore felt that the best course of action was greater engagement to build confidence and trust between nations in the region. Therefore ASEAN’s initial aims were for social and cultural interchange. As time has passed and members have grown comfortable with each other aspects of cooperation have become feasible. Economic and military cooperation has increased and the level and diversity of programs conducted within ASEAN has increased. ASEAN now emphasises cooperation within three pillars. These are security, social/cultural and economic. As confidence has grown, ASEAN nations have also reached out further afield to first East Asia; in the form of ASEAN plus three (APT), in which China, Japan and South Korea are members; the East Asia Summit, which adds India, Australia, New Zealand and potentially soon Russia; through to the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in which twenty seven nations are involved. [14]

Like Europe, South East Asian leaders made political decisions that the security and prosperity of their respective nations lay in greater cooperation and collaboration. Given their shared colonial experiences and wary of being used as superpower pawns during the Cold War, ASEAN leaders charted a course where they could find common cause with neighbouring Asian nations and through cooperation achieve stability and then economic prosperity. Social/cultural cooperation served as a confidence building measure; increased confidence lead to greater stability and greater Foreign Direct Investment (FDI); and greater FDI led to economic growth and prosperity.

While Europe is an example of developed nations integrating and South East Asia provides an approach by developing nations, they are by no means the only examples. The North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA), comprising Canada, the United States and Mexico was the North American response to the challenges of a globalising world and provides and example of the trend towards integration across the global North-South divide. [15] MERCOSUR and the Latin American Integration Association (LAIA) are likewise South American moves. Africa has had mixed success in achieving successful integration through the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), although of late as the African Union (AU), there appears to be more success even in this region. [16]

NAFTA started with a free trade agreement between Canada and the United States and was expanded to include Mexico in 1992. NAFTA is an important example of a move towards integration between two developed economies and a developing economy. Integrating economies with such diversity of economic institutions has been challenging but successful. NAFTA has also led to greater integration throughout the Americas overall with the signing of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) in 2001. [17] It is considered by some that NAFTA in particular and other moves towards regional integration were in response to a ‘Fortress Europe’ mentality. [18]


Regional integration is nothing new. Historically however regional integration was achieved through conquest or colonisation. [19] Since the end of World War Two there has been a growing trend of regional Integration via treaty or international agreement. Although currently regional integration is often associated with economic reasons, fundamentally regional integration is a political decision and based on political considerations. Individual nations respond to the global climate to address their needs and move forward as a society. Amongst the most basic of national needs is that of stability and security both from internal and external threats. It has been argued that one means of protecting a nation from external aggression is to become so interdependent that aggression becomes too expensive to consider. [20]

Under the bipolar structure of the Cold War many states were looking for ways to provide additional security from the threat of superpower conflict. While global war or nuclear holocaust was one level of concern, another was the threat of becoming a victim of a proxy war between the superpowers. While Western Europe was focussed on a very real threat from communism behind the iron curtain, other regions such as South East Asia had concerns from communist insurgency or the domino theory. Overall however the Cold War effectively divided the globe into two essentially disconnected parts. So while regionalism could occur in between some nations, others were excluded because they were either on the other side of the iron curtain or determined not to take sides with a superpower.

With the end of the Cold War this brake was suddenly released and a flood of connections were soon to be realised. Figure 1.1below provides a graphical representation of the dramatic increasing occurrence of regional integration agreements after the end of the Cold War.C:UsersAkoDocumentsMTATTerm 1MTAT UM MODULE 2010AUFB 5102AssignmentGraph1.jpgToday the number of Regional Trade Agreements (RTAs) continues to multiply. The WTO notes:

The surge in RTAs has continued unabated since the early 1990s. Some 462 RTAs have been notified to the GATT/WTO up to February 2010. Of these, 345 RTAs were notified under Article XXIV of the GATT 1947 or GATT 1994; 31 under the Enabling Clause; and 86 under Article V of the GATS. At that same date, 271 agreements were in force. [21]

It is apparent from these figures that regionalism is continuing to be desirable for nations.

It is worth pointing out again that economic integration is only part of the overall picture. Security and social/cultural integration also continues. The United States in particular is active in many regional security agreements. Whether they are treaties, agreements or understandings many nations in the world today have sought and continue to seek greater cooperation and integration of military capabilities to meet their regions security needs. NATO is the largest example of this and again the most advanced with regard to the level of standardisation and integration achieved. Within South East Asia the Five Power Defence Arrangement (FPDA) between Malaysia, Singapore, United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand is a smaller example.

Social/Cultural integration can take many forms. From labour laws, immigration policies, education exchanges, tourism and even sporting competitions the world has increasingly become integrated. Often social integration is a first step. Sports in particular offer an easy, non-threatening manner in which people of one nation can learn about another. Regionalism is readily apparent in sport with examples such as the European cup in football, the Super fifteen rugby competition in the southern hemisphere, the National Hockey League (NHL) in Canada and the United States. While the increase in regional integration of sporting competitions is not as significant or prevalent as economic integration it serves as a reminder that integration can take many forms and is not just a single dimensional phenomenon.

Having looked at regional integration in terms of economic, security and social/cultural terms it is apparent that regional integration has been a significant phenomenon, particularly in terms of economic integration since the end of the Cold War. There is no doubt that regional integration is a political decision based on politicians seeking to do what is best for their respective nations and citizens. So what are the driving forces behind regionalism?

It is generally considered that there has been two major phases of regionalism since the end of World War Two. The first phase occurred under the bipolar structure of the Cold War and saw regionalism used as a means to bolster regions abilities to deal with the security challenges of the Cold War. With the end of the Cold War in the early 90s globalisation became the driver for regionalism as regions sought to achieve competitive advantage and economy of scale economically. [22]

There is plenty of academic debate over how globalisation has influenced the trend towards regionalism. Some consider regionalism has been undertaken to protect a region from the effects of globalisation while other argue that regionalism is driving globalisation. This has lead to the terms ‘open’ and ‘closed’ regionalism. ‘Closed’ regionalism is where a region attempts to protect itself from the external world by reducing barriers within the region while maintaining barriers to those external to the region. The trend however has been away from ‘closed’ regionalism and towards ‘open’ regionalism. ‘Open’ regionalism is where a region integrates so that their common market gains in attractiveness to foreign investment and improves in terms of overall economic efficiency. [23] It is worth noting that that it is now against WTO rules to form a regional trade agreement where greater barriers are imposed on external nations. [24]


Looking back to the discussion on definitions earlier in the paper it is now clear that the driving force of regional integration has to be the contemporary environment. Globalisation is dominating the contemporary environment. Globalisation is a label intended to simplify descriptions of an increasing inter-connectedness, interdependency and increasing complexity of human interaction throughout the globe. As much as globalisations knockers wish it to go away, Kofi Annan’s analogy with gravity highlights the futility of fighting globalisation. Globalisation is a logical result of improved communication and transport technology. People are increasingly aware what is going on everywhere in the world. Personal contact with people from other nations and cultures is providing greater insight into the basic humanity of all peoples. With greater visibility however also comes greater fear and concern. Global society has many layers and those layers are increasingly accessible to all. Human societies all have the same basic needs but globalisation can appear to threaten as much as it offers. Regionalism is a graduated response to a scary external world. People cling to those they are more familiar with and feel safer because of this. Politicians are no different to anybody else. Whether it be an authoritarian regime that wants to protect itself from a threatening world or a democratic leader that has to consider the views of the people more directly, all politicians respond in some way to the external environment.

It can be argued that the end of the Cold War was a driver of regionalism. But the end of the Cold War is just a signpost in history. If it were a driver why is regionalism continuing to occur? The significance of the end of the Cold War is just that a line dividing the world from itself was removed. Regionalism occurred before, during and after the Cold War. The reason regionalism is so topical is simply because the rate of occurrence has dramatically increased in this so called ‘second’ phase of regionalism. Cheap instantaneous communication is rapidly engulfing the globe. Accessible and affordable transportation is available to a large proportion of the world’s population. This easy contact with the global community will continue to drive every significant issue for at least the next fifty years.