The New Promise of Regional Institutions

Through the unfolding inadequacies of the USA and China, smaller countries have an unprecedented ability to have a larger global impact, of which could be most readily achieved through regional organisations. Countries that have gone previously unheard will now have access to the floor, and everybody will be listening.

The output of geopolitics is largely dictated by the global balance of power, which can be loosely observed through how many states simultaneously hold meaningful political and economic influence over the international community. Buying into the framework of Kenneth Waltz’s Structural Realism, the world has seemingly transitioned from a state of relative US hegemony post the Cold War, back into a Bi-Polar system of power through the modern re-emergence of China. Extending upon this, history has portrayed how such global superpowers, be it one, two or multiple, have always maintained disproportionate control over the world’s international institutions, as is the case today with the USA and China. This, of course, affords them with a notable level of international responsibility. With this in mind, as alluded to by pro-Institutionalists like Robert Keohane, the purpose of such bodies are to serve the global community in its bid to achieve stability, order and development, thus presenting them with a very significant role during times of security and human crises, like that of the COVID-19 outbreak. 

However, in this current time where the need for global leadership has been paramount, there would be a strong case to be made for suggesting that both the USA and China have failed to uphold their global responsibilities as superpowers, and leaders of international institutions, rather falling victim to their own preoccupation with domestic struggles. If either player wishes to emerge as a ‘winner’ from the Coronavirus-era, they need to help the global community get back toward some sort of Pre COVID-19 semblance, of which requires a more dedicated approach to its work with, and investment in, international institutions. In doing so, far greater strides could be made at a collective level to enact standardised strategies to survive, navigate around, and prosper beyond the virus.

Alas, this has not happened. Rather, we can take a leaf out of John Mearsheimer’s piece, “The False Promise of International Institutions,” which highlights how superpowers will invariably pursue and project their self-interests upon global bodies and by extension, the international community. By the same token, superpowers will only engage in global bodies if it serves their own agenda, which in turn, can explain why the likes of the USA and China have gone largely missing during the pandemic. As a product of such self-serving however, the USA and China have stunted the ability of international institutions to truly assist in the struggle against the Coronavirus, which has resultantly generated a fragmented and inefficient array of virus management strategies at a global level.

Resultantly, one can quite viably ask the question as to whether this has altered the current dynamics of international power? As such, one could even suggest the world has entered a state of having no obvious poles or superpower. On the one hand, the USA, irrespective of the November election outcome, will long face the negative repercussions of its myriad of domestic public policy calamities, of which have been generated under the guise of the most incompetent President in its history. On the other, China has seemingly U-turned back toward a pathway of conservative nationalism, which has seen it become alienated among a wide array of global peers.

So, are we in a state of relative anarchy? Indeed, the answer to this question does remain to be seen, but what can certainly be deduced is that under the ongoing failings of the world’s supposed superpowers and by extension, international institutions, there is an almost unprecedented scope for someone, or something, to pick up the slack. To this effect, one can empirically reflect upon the geographical implications that the Coronavirus has had on society, such that mobility across the contexts of labour, capital, education and tourism has been, at best, brought back to what is in direct proximity to a city or country. Challenging as this may be, it has in many ways provided a platform for the rebirth, or perhaps better said, coming of age of regional bodies, institutions and cooperation, which very much incorporates the likes of the Aus-ASEAN partnership.

In essence, through the unfolding inadequacies of the US and China, smaller countries now have an unprecedented ability to make larger impacts on the world, of which would be most readily achievable through the framework of regional organisations. Banding together, countries that would have gone previously unheard or not even bothered to speak up, will now be given the floor; and everybody will be listening! As always, political, cultural and religious cleavages between member states stand as an impediment to the success of regional bodies. But now with the very real prospect of genuine global ascendancy and relevance, regional institutions should be uniquely motivated to put these differences aside, in order to offer the world with a brand-new promise of pragmatism, leadership and vision. 

Infographic by Daniel Bloch

More to explore

Latest from Horizons