Towards a regional world order.

Author:Van Langenhove, Luk
Position:ESSAY
 
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At the beginning of the twenty-first century, we are witnessing a transition from the classical Westphalian world order (based upon sovereign States) to a world order where world regions and their organizations, such as the European Union, the African Union, Mercosur, the League of Arab States and so on, next to States, are playing a central role in global governance. Processes of regional integration are indeed increasingly affecting and even shaping international relations. Trade and economic cooperation, as well as coping with trans-border issues and problems such as managing water basins or illegal trafficking, are dealt with more and more at a regional supra-national level. The number of regional trade arrangements notified at the World Trade Organization (WTO) is a significant indicator of this trend, and in many cases the economic integration is related to peace and security issues. We are nevertheless not entering some kind of post-Westphalian world order in which nations are disappearing or becoming irrelevant. On the contrary, nation-States remain important for identity and local governance. On top of this, there are many more States now than at the beginning of the twentieth century. But the Westphalian world order has become a very complex system, where States do not necessarily act homogenously, where there are other global actors such as regional organizations, and where complex interdependencies rather than simple linear causality models shape the world. I propose to call this new model the "regional world order". It is a neo-Westphalian world order as it still builds upon nations, but also complements it with a growing role for regions as geopolitical entities with Westphalian statehood properties.

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Meanwhile, multilateralism, one of the founding principles of the United Nations, has its own problems. With the end of the cold war, the functioning of the United Nations, and especially its Security Council, became challenged by the prospect of making decisions in a less stable world order. And since 9/11, we live in what some have called a period of "frustrated multilateralism", with open competition between two models of global governance: the United States-led "unipolar movement" versus the "regionalist movement" led by the European Union. Both within the United Nations and in many nations, this situation has reinforced pleas for a rethinking of multilateralism and for an "aggiornamento" of the United...

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