Home World Economy and Global Governance Re-Evaluating Regional Organizations: Behind the Smokescreen of Official Mandates

Re-Evaluating Regional Organizations: Behind the Smokescreen of Official Mandates

Vinokurov E., Libman A.

Vinokurov E., Libman A. (2017) Re-Evaluating Regional Organizations: Behind the Smokescreen of Official Mandates. Basingtoke, New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

This book re-evaluates the regional organizations landscape and discusses how organizations with similar mandates can exercise strikingly different goals. Even economic organizations, which do not produce any outcomes in terms of economic cooperation, can be valuable for their members or individual stakeholders. The book's argument is supported by a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods. It employs a novel dataset of 60 regional organizations to establish correlations between members’ goals and their characteristics. More than a dozen of case studies in Latin America, Africa, Middle East, Southeast Asia, and post-Soviet Eurasia illustrate the theoretic arguments of how particular types of regional organizations come into existence and evolve. Finally, the book examines the remarkable resilience of regional organizations and considers the conditions under which the stakeholders are willing to abandon support.

Professor Harley Balzer, Georgetown University: Vinokurov and Libman provide an invaluable comparative analysis of the proliferating jumble of regional economic organizations around the globe. Combining theory with qualitative and quantitative data, the authors offer a thorough guidebook to one of the most important developments in international political economy and regionalism. Not surprisingly, the enormous number of regional organizations means they differ widely in size, purpose, capacity and outcomes. Coming from a country that has experienced repeated difficulties fostering effective regional organizations, Vinokurov and Libman challenge us to rethink assumptions about why nations join these groupings and how they evaluate the returns.

Gaspare Genna, Professor of Political Science at the University of Texas at El Paso: This book represents a highly detailed accounting of regional integration around the world. The authors ask important questions regarding regional organizations' goal setting and persistence. The reader is treated to an excellent review of theory and meticulous testing of hypotheses. The data-driven conclusions strongly add to our understanding of state cooperation.

Motivation for the book. Research plan.

In 1951, six European countries set up the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) – an international organization aimed at creating a common market for coal and steel. The ECSC’s ultimate contribution, however, extended beyond this particular sector. It became a first step toward European integration; its key institutions – the High Authority and the Common Assembly – served as the forerunners of the EU Commission and European Parliament. The European Coal and Steel Community was thus the embodiment of an ‘active’ organization. Some forty years later, in 1993, eleven countries of post-Soviet Eurasia agreed to create the Euro-Asian Association for Coal and Metals, again with the goal of establishing a common market in the area. However, unlike the ECSC, the EAACM did not assume any functions from the outset. Of its eleven members, only three (mainly Russia) provided funding to the regional organization, and on an irregular basis at that. In 2000, the organization’s activities were audited, uncovering serious financial violations. In 2003, member countries decided to disband the organization, and the Russian parliament ratified the decision in December 2005. The Euro-Asian Association for Coal and Metals’ condition during these 12 years is best described as a ‘coma’. The intentions of countries were extremely different from the beginning. While the hopes for the ECSC went beyond the purely economic cooperation – the organization should have functioned as a key tool preserving peace in Europe – the EAACM followed the logic of bureaucratic rent-seeking, and to some extent was created just to imitate the ECSC and thus the ‘legitimate’ European approach to regionalism.

While the ECSC secured a place in history textbooks, EAACM is unknown even to most Eurasian integration experts. These two organizations are located at opposite ends of a spectrum of regional organizations. They demonstrate a striking feature of the contemporary regionalism that has become a profound global phenomenon since World War II – enormous variation in the performance of regional organizations.

We can analyze this diversity of outcomes in two ways. On the one hand, one can try to divide regional economic organizations according to their success. Some achieve significant progress in terms of regional integration. Others set less ambitious goals but manage to implement them. Finally, many ROs fail to implement their declared objectives or even demonstrate some tangible level of the integration. This book, however, pursues a different approach. We argue that organizations that do not produce any tangible outcomes in terms of their declared goals may still be valuable in the eyes of their member countries’ elites and bureaucrats. Thus, the proliferation of regional organizations in different parts of the world serves different purposes: what may appear to be an implementation gap is actually a reflection of the multitude of political and economic goals regional organizations can achieve. In some cases, regional organizations originally created to promote economic integration assume political or even security functions, making significant progress in these areas. Sometimes regional organizations are co-opted by bureaucracies – both the supranational and national civil servants responsible for regionalism – and used to extract rents. Occasionally, regional organizations are set up just as a pretext for high-level political meetings that would be difficult or costly to organize otherwise.

Acknowledging this multiplicity of goals is important for two reasons. First, it forces us to investigate a broader set of possible outcomes for the activities of regional organizations across the world. Generally, outcomes of regionalism remain inadequately analysed in comparative regional integration studies. Much of the literature (originating in the economics research on regionalism) concentrates on identifying regional organizations’ trade creation effects or their ability to influence market integration. However, for many organizations other, non-traditional outcomes could be far more important. These outcomes may be both positive and negative. For example, an ostensibly economic regional organization can promote peace in the region by facilitating communication among leaders during a crisis. At the same time, a regional organization may become a tool for authoritarian regimes to consolidate power, using it as a source of legitimacy. Second, this approach goes far in explaining the prevalence and longevity of regional organizations: similarly-designed economic regional organizations appear in different regions even though their countries face very different problems and challenges.

From this point of view, this book pursues two related research questions: First, what motives explain the continued existence of regional organizations incapable of (or unwilling to) achieve their officially declared goals? Second, what factors determine the prevalence of particular goals among certain regional organizations? How do these factors change over the life of the regional organization?

From these perspectives, our book builds and expands on New Regionalism,[ii] explicitly calling for an abandonment of EU-centrism in regional integration comparative studies and acknowledgement of the diverse approaches to regionalism. However, our analysis is simultaneously narrower and broader than that of New Regionalism. On the one hand, unlike New Regionalism literature, we only look at formal regional organizations (which are but one aspect of regional interconnections, which can also include informal alliances and coalitions and microlevel economic and social ties). On the other hand, we attempt to systematically examine the diverse objectives regional organizations can pursue, which, to our knowledge, has not yet been undertaken in the literature.

Approach and methodology

The investigation in this book follows a two-step approach. We start by identifying the major types of regional organizations that we will study. While the literature contains numerous typologies of regional organizations, they mostly concentrate on the ROs’ design and policy scope. Our study intends to identify politicians’ and bureaucrats’ rationale for the existence of regional organizations. Accordingly, we begin by distinguishing between expressive and instrumental use of regional organizations. The distinction between expressive and instrumental behavior is frequently used in the social sciences: individuals’ actions can be motivated by the desire to achieve certain goals or by the utility they extract from the actions themselves. Comparative regionalism literature, however, has not yet used this distinction. Rational choice literature on regional organizations has almost exclusively focused on instrumental goals, i.e., regional organizations’ ability to affect policy outcomes. In constructivist studies, regional organizations are seen as a means of ‘inventing’ regions and consolidating regional identity. This is different from the concept of expressive behavior, which assumes certain preferences but argues they can be satisfied by implementing an action (in this case, joining or maintaining a regional organization) alone, regardless of whether this action achieves any particular goals. This distinction is useful, because often the only thing regional elites and bureaucrats need from regional organizations is to be able to mention them in the domestic or international political discourse. Thus, even essentially powerless regional organizations have a certain value for them. We also introduce a number of additional objectives, e.g., regional organizations’ communication function and their ability to extract rents for regional bureaucrats.

As a result, we construct a typology of six major types of regional organizations. To make things livelier, we call them ‘Alive and Kicking’, ‘Integration Rhetoric’, ‘Talking Club’, ‘Zombies’, and ‘Coma’. The ‘Alive and Kicking’ type is in subdivided into ‘Straight Path’ and ‘Alternative Path’ regional organizations. We then focus on particular features of the regional political and economic environment that could increase the likelihood that a regional organization will evolve into a particular type.

We highlight the role of four factors: First, history matters. A regional organization’s type can be determined by the existing economic and political connections between its members, and by how the organization has evolved in the past. Second, we consider the state of member countries’ economies, including both long-term economic development and short-term business cycles. In particular, we investigate how a regional organization’s type can be influenced by economic crises: do they make regional organizations focused on instrumental goals more likely to emerge? Or in this case do expressive goals become more important? Third, we consider power asymmetry among member states, as well as differing interests of the region’s dominant state and smaller countries. Fourth, the political regimes of member countries play an important role.

These factors have been highlighted in existing comparative regionalism literature, but it mainly uses them to explain why a particular design was chosen for a regional organization and how large the implementation gap is in terms of its objectives. Our goal is more ambitious: we consider how the variety of different objectives pursued by regional organizations affects them.

We then develop a large set of hypotheses explaining the evolution of the regional organizations and test them empirically. Our study’s empirical methodology combines elements of qualitative and quantitative investigation. We collected a rich dataset from about 50 regional organizations throughout the world and looked at their characteristics. Using a variety of quantitative indicators, we investigated which RO characteristics are correlated with particular types. We also tried to empirically deduce a regional organization’s type by looking at its characteristics. We also investigate numerous qualitative case studies on individual regional organizations, which are particularly appealing examples of specific objectives regional organizations can implement. While our large-N analysis is based on a snapshot of data and is therefore static, we attempted to design the qualitative small-N analysis to be dynamic, to consider how regional organizations evolve over time and what factors drive the change.

The evolution of ROs also means we must consider yet another aspect of the lifecycle of a regional organization – its formal dissolution. Interestingly, regional organizations are dissolved only extremely rarely. Since World War II, only a handful of regional organizations have disappeared entirely. It is much more likely for a regional organization to morph into a different regional entity. Nevertheless, we examine at a number of these rare cases, trying to find common features that lead regional organizations down this evolutionary path.

Structure of the book

The book consists of two parts. In the first part, we present theoretical considerations concerning the types of regional organizations and the factors that influence their behaviour. Chapter 2 develops a typology of regional organizations. Subsequently, Chapters 3-6 look at the main factors influencing RO evolution: historical path, economy, power asymmetry, and political regimes. The second part contains the empirical analysis. In the Chapter 7, we present the results of our large-N analysis. Chapters 8-12 are devoted to individual types of regional organizations and present empirical examples of these types in various parts of the world: Latin America, Africa, Southeast Asia and post-Soviet Eurasia. Chapter 13 covers the dissolution of regional organizations. Chapter 14 concludes the book. 

Figure 1. Types of Regional Organizations. 

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