The Role of Regionalism in post-Cold War Global Order Management:

Major Theories and Perspectives on Regionalism and the New World Order


By Zhikica (Zach) Pagovski


Nowadays, the growth of regional institutions in the number and range of their activities is significant. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is a perfect example that embodies this notion. However, Fawcett claims that the number of regional institutions and activities may not necessarily imply that they have become more critical. It may be a result of the growth in the number of states in the international system, the decline of multilateralism, or other factors, such as the end of the Cold War. In this paper, I will first define the main characteristics of post-Cold War regionalism, or “new regionalism.” Afterward, I will discuss the main momentums (regipolarity, hegemonic regionalism, and globalization) that transformed regionalism to become central to global order management. Additionally, I will examine the main factors (legal, geographical, political, economic, and security) that justify the necessity of regionalism as an essential part of international politics. Ultimately, I will comment on the future of the “new regionalism” and the challenges it may experience.




The term “new regionalism” was coined by Hettne & Inotai in 1994 while trying to explain the difference between “old” and “new” regionalism in three areas: the multipolar context of the “new regionalism”; the dominant role of hegemonic actors, and the more comprehensive and multidimensional nature of “new regionalism” as opposed to the narrow of the old. Fawcett argues that the new regionalism responded to the shifting political, economic, and security imperatives of the post-Cold War environment. She explains that with the end of the Cold War, the parameters of the security domain have drastically changed, making regional security more vulnerable and accessible to local actors. Acharya labels the “new regionalism” as “intrusive” and less sovereignty-bound, referring to the change of norms of non-interference and non-intervention that had undermined the old Westphalian system.


Important Momentums


The “new regionalism” becomes more central to global order management because of the rise of multipolarity, the importance of hegemonic influence in certain regions, and the process of globalization. The end of the Cold War and the demise of the bipolar system created the need for devising new principles and ways to organize regional interactions. Even though the realist campus predicted the return to unipolarity, the relative decline of the U.S. economic and political power prevented unipolarity from sustaining. Acharya explains that no great power in a post-unipolar world will have the potential to decide and strongly influence “distant regions because of the countervailing local influence of the regionally-dominant powers.” Hence, from a regionalist aspect, he explains the current world as a “regiopolar” characterized by polycentrism and multiverse.


The rise of prominence of the regional hegemony after the Cold War was also an essential part of the “new regionalism.” On the one hand, Kupchan stresses the importance of the U.S. in sustaining its regional hegemony by encouraging the development of benign regional unipolarity in North America, Europe, and Asia to counter the fragmentation and rivalry after Pax Americana. Similarly, Fawcett argues that regional hegemons have an essential role in harnessing regional institutions to promote and enhance their vision of regional order, referring to South Africa’s role in the Southern African Development Community. Acharya is more cautious about the importance of regional hegemons, emphasizing the adverse effects of regional hegemony on global world management, such as NATO’s expansion and Russia’s invasion of Georgia and Ukraine. Even though Europe is experiencing growth of regional hegemonic alliances, it is unlikely that this trend may happen in Asia or South America because of some distinct fundamental historical and normative principles. Nevertheless, disregarding the effects on the international system, I believe that regional hegemony positions regionalism as a central part of the global order.


Globalization is an essential element that shapes the development of “new regionalism.” Fawcett believes that globalization devised strong regional alliances and incentives for other countries to foster economic integration projects such as free trade. Falk distinguishes two types of globalization effects, negative (series of adverse effects of globalization) and positive (series of benefits), and promotes regionalism as a tool to contain negative globalization. Acharya classifies the effects of globalization on regionalism as sovereignty eroding and supportive of “human intervention” and calls the emerging world order “intrusive.” This “intrusive” regionalism provided a nuanced ground for regional identity building, especially in Europe and some parts of the Third World. The positive outcome of this “intrusive” globalization is advancing human rights, and democracy and promoting common and cooperative security. The adverse outcomes are the dangers of coercion and military intervention and the increased tension between the North-South divisions. The settlement of the norms and practices of the “intrusive” and “sovereignty-bound” regionalisms is one of the biggest challenges of the international community for the “new regionalism.”


Main Factors of Analysis


1. The role of regionalism will remain solid in the post-Cold War order since it is well grounded in the international legal system. As Schreuder argues, regionalism has a sound incorporation into the multilateral system (i.e., the UN Charter permits regional organizations, when necessary and desirable, to be the first point of contact for states facing aggression and by authorization of the UN Security Council to resolve their conflicts.


2. The geopolitical calculations are important determinants for the strength of the “new regionalism.” Padelford states that states within the same region can better handle local or regional questions of particular interest to themselves without the interference of outside parties. He adds that common racial, cultural, or religious backgrounds and heritage may set the ground for strong regional integration. However, it shall be contested that the geopolitical factors sometimes may provoke issues of contention or may exclude the poor and undeveloped neighbor from the regional arrangement, as Kupchan argues.



3. Political factors of the states, as Padelfod argues, may increase the ambition to create a kind of equilibrium of power within an area. Such ambition has been strengthening the regionalist influence in the global order. Also, Acharya explains that intrusive regionalism contributes to developing and respecting human rights and democratic norms and developing regional human rights bodies. Regional organizations will also continue to play a vital role in implementing the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine in the near future.


4. The economic benefits from the “new regionalism” will continue to be a driving force for the regional institutions. Haas argues that the economic spillover is a crucial motivation for regional integration. Acharya claims that intrusive regionalism is an indispensable tool for Third World countries in dealing more effectively with globalization. He also adds that “macro-economic surveillance and financial monitoring have been added to the classical trade liberalization agenda and market-driven regional investment coordination in the economic sphere.” However, particular economic challenges should be expected and addressed accordingly (e.g., the Southeast Asian financial crisis in 1997 and the current EU crises). Also, Kupchan suggests that inter-regional bodies and organizations (G7, WTO, etc.) should better fit into the global structure and focus more on long-term goals to provide economic stability.


5. The security benefits from regional integration will continue to drive regional integration. Some organizations, such as NATO and AU, provide strong support for the peaceful settlement of disputes. ASEAN, GCC, and ECOWAS also contributed to regional peacemaking. However, they are still bound by the principles of sovereignty and non-intervention – dynamics unlikely to change soon.  




In conclusion, I would reaffirm my argument that the new momentums (regipolarity, hegemonic regionalism, and globalization) and main factors (legal, geographical, political, economic, and security) will continue to place regionalism at the center of global order management. It is essential to mention that I examined the role of the “new regionalism” while the effects of the “new regionalism” are out of the scope of my study. It is also important to look at the current war in Ukraine, and the important role that regional organizations such as NATO and the EU are playing. The unified position of those organization shows further promise the future of regionalism. The abovementioned momentum and factors, together with the notion of the decline of multilateralism, will slowly shift the current international global order into the regional world order.