Regionalism, often viewed as an attempt to optimize the interest of a region’s population through the manipulation of the political process, can be traced back to second half of the nineteenth century, when
England and France signed the Cobden Chevalier Treaty. Research states that regionalism has occurred in several different phases.
However, in the beginning, the regional agreements were conceived more as strategic or political alliances than trade liberalisation. Economic regionalism, institutional arrangements designed to facilitate the free flow of goods and services and to coordinate foreign economic policies between countries in the same geographic region, can be viewed as a conscious attempt to manage the opportunities and constraints created by the dramatic increase in international economic ties since the end of World War II. Examples of economic regionalism include free-trade areas, customs unions, common markets, and economic unions.
Reasons for Growth of Regionalism
- Geographical Unity: Neighbouring countries are geographically co-located and share a number of resources such as rivers, oceans, mountains, etc. This co-location requires cooperation and coordination to avoid unnecessary strains, and thus has led to growth to regionalism.
- Cultural Ties: Countries in neighbourhood often have a history of shared cultural ties, with exchange of people and customs. These cultural ties, when acknowledged in the modern times, have often led to regional alliances.
- Economic Needs: Prosperous neighbourhood is of utmost importance for prosperity of a country, as it is difficult to be an oasis of prosperity in a desert of penury and laggardness. Realisation of such interconnectedness has spurred regionalism.
- Security: Security of the region was the prime reason which brought Britain and France into first regional alliance in the second half of the nineteenth century. Since then, the security of the region, interdependent on security of neighbour(s), against common foe has fostered many regional treaties, promoting the growth of regionalism.
- Failure of Multilateralism: The Multilateralism that grew in the aftermath of the second world war failed to address the grievances of the members. Moreover, the United Nations, one of the major multilateral organisations, has failed the issue of inequity among members and address the concerns of the developing and least developed countries. It is evident in its failure to honour the demands of reform of UNSC membership, to suit the present global geo-political standings.
- Ideological Affinity: Post-French revolution Europe saw a spurt in regional (monarchical) alliances to prevent the spread of republican form of government. Regionalism has prospered due to ideological affinity between countries and their policies. Example: The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and the Warsaw Pact (both had elements of regionalism).
Multilateralism is the process of organizing relations between groups of three or more states on the principles of indivisibility of interests among participants, a commitment to diffuse reciprocity, and a system of dispute settlement intended to enforce a particular mode of behaviour.
The term Multilateralism can be defined as interaction between States in regular pattern guided by generalized principles of conduct – i.e., principles which specify appropriate conduct for a class of actions, without regard to the particularistic interests of the parties or the strategic exigencies at the time. It also denotes consultation and cooperation between states over shared aims without resorting to coercion, bribery and blackmail. In such a system, States do not take unilateral action or exert bilateral pressure.
Multilateralism has a long history, but it is principally associated with the era after World War II, during which there was a proliferation of multilateral agreements, led primarily by the United States.
Reasons for Growth of Multilateralism
- Political: After the sanguinary second war , a realization dawned on the global leaders to workout the mechanism for a multilateral forum, where all the countries could together resolve their issues, find a peaceful resolution to their grievances and also workout the modalities of future growth. Thus was laid the foundation of the first multilateral organization, i.e. United Nations.
- Globalized Economy: In an interdependent and globalized economy where resources from one country are being processed and sold in others. Multilateral forums become a necessity to overcome differences and plan a common uniform strategy. Example: World Trade Organization (WTO).
- Security: Terrorism and its gory menace is lurking as a threat to the human race and has already caused significant damages-physically and economically. Thus, multilateral forums, where a coordinated strategy to deal with terrorism can be evolved have been gaining currency. Example: India’s demand for Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT) under the aegis of the UN.
- Enhanced Cooperation and Coordination: Coordination and cooperation among different international forums like the United Nations, the World Bank, the IMF and the WTO is a must for sustainable and equitable development, and universal access to the benefits of people globally.
- Sustainable Development: Despite several efforts to reduce poverty and ensure sustainable development, overall development has not been at the desired level across the globe. Multilateral forums, thus, are being used to achieve sustainable development.
- Disadvantages of Bilateralism: Difficulties in negotiations in bilateral treaties due to geopolitical reasons have furthered the cause of multilateral forums.
Regionalism vs Multilateralism
- While multilateralism has progressed in some areas like Environmental issues, it has hardly made any progress in world trade in the last decade. This is indicated by a lack of movement on the Doha Development Agenda (DDA) and signs of losing faith in the multilateral trade system. Also, regionalism has emerged as a parallel force while multilateralism receded in the international economic system. The number of bilateral and regional trade agreements notified by the WTO increased steadily from early 2000.
- This constantly raises a debate if the recent the wave of ‘new regionalism’ hindered multilateral trade.
However, analysts generally agree that regional and global liberalisation have proceeded together and that they have tended to reinforce each other.
- With every passing day the human civilisation, in the present times, is getting interconnected and interdependent, with events in one part of the globe affecting people in other parts. A number of threats such as global warming, climate change, terrorism and nuclear warfare, among others are looming large on the human race.
- Moreover, the present state of inequitable access to basic services coupled by large poverty cannot be solved in isolation with each other. Thus, multilateral forums are the way forward for humans to overcome the above mentioned threats and challenges.
- Multilateralism, at the present appears to be the right means to create a better future for the human race.