Regionalism and the Fragmentation of Power

I’ve been thinking a lot about regional approaches the last few days, ever since this sentence from David Axe’s WPR piece on the India-Pakistan rivalry set off some bells and whistles:

The State Department’s approach to Centraland South Asia is still based on what [the RAND Corporation’s Seth Jones] called a “Westphalian” model,with U.S. ambassadors in each country pursuing separate, strictlynational strategies. “State’s responses tend to be more diplomacywithin country, instead of at regional level.”

“Ideally, therewould be a White House position that is much moreregional[ly-focused],” Jones said. “It’s been floated by some in theObama campaign.”

The way in which the regional approach was offered as an alternative to the Westphalian model echoed in a supra-state context the ways in which counterinsurgency advocates in Iraq and Afghanistan have increasingly focused on engaging certain sub-state components (tribal and clan units of governance, for instance) to engage in bottom-up nation-building, as opposed to top-down development of institutional governance.

Now the EU Observer is reporting that Iraq has floated an EU-inspired plan for regional integration in the Middle East. The membership is limited (Iran and Israel have both been left out for the time being), but the idea is to start with a kernel of immediate neighbors an dbuild outward. And while the plan is in the formative stages, there’s something intuitively obvious about the ways in which knitting a fractured Iraq into the fabric of the broader region would provide a stabilizing effect.

But the proliferation of regional multilateral institutions reflects the growing density of power in the middle airspace that lies between between the nation-state and the UN, due to the greater leeway for action and increased leverage they provide compared to the UN. And it really does mirror the ways in which sub-state actors have also aquired influence and power far greater than anyone might have imagined in the heady NGO days of the immediate post-Cold War.

It’s as if there’s increasingly two particle clouds, one above and one below the nation-state, that both offer opportunities for effective action, while at the same time fragmenting, on the one hand, and aggregating, on the other, the basic unit of power in the international system.