The Global Political Economy of Fractured Regions.

Author:Ohanyan, Anna
Position:Essay
 
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Despite ebbs and flows in comparative regional studies over the past few decades, the regional dimension of world politics is gaining sustained attention from scholarly and policymaking communities. Thus far much of the focus has been on regional integration, which is traditionally viewed as a necessary condition for economic development and security provision. This article describes the problem of regional fracture in conflict regions; it delineates the political and economic dimensions of regional fracture; and examines the security implications of each. It examines the problem of fractured regions in Russia's post-Soviet neighborhoods, the Balkans, and sub-Saharan Africa. The article concludes with implications for security policy as exercised by the West in the post-American world. KEYWORDS: regionalism, security, Russia.

DISINTEGRATIVE TRENDS IN CONTEMPORARY WORLD ORDER ARE PRODUCING NEW forms of conflict as well as cooperation. Discussions around this emergent new security environment often focus on the rise of China and resurgent Russia. There is little consensus among analysts, though, as to the basic contours of a future global security architecture, beyond acknowledgment of the strained capacities for security provision by a complex patchwork of multilateral institutions and great powers. (1)

Debates on the future of world order usually imply a false choice between global geopolitical competition among great powers and international, often institutional, cooperation. The limits of this familiar rhetoric on global security is further compounded by the increasingly vociferous calls for unilateral retreat inside the United States, from the liberal order that it created and consolidated since World War II. Between Brexit and the rise of right-wing populism in the United States and the European Union in 2016, the future of the liberal world order looks increasingly uncertain. The possibility of "America First" policies advocated by the Donald Trump administration seems to dictate the United States' withdrawal from the global institutional architecture of security provision in favor of transactional hub-and-spoke arrangements with various countries.

Against this backdrop of "hegemonic abandonment" (2) and strained capacities of global security architecture, the agency of states and regions in the margins of the political system gains a new currency. It remains to be seen whether regional actors, organizations, and states can pull together to fill the void left from a retreating hegemon and effectively respond to the emergent strain on the very liberal institutions it supported. (If such coordinated processes of regional governance do develop, how will they impact the dynamics of ongoing conflicts and crises? To what extent will such measures be hindered by unresolved conflicts? What effects can they have on the prospects of sustainable stability in regions with institutionalized conflict cleavages?)

The regional fabric of global politics is central to these discussions. The benefits of regional integration, in terms of regionalism as well as regionalization, driven from the bottom up by nonstate actors, are well documented, and I have reported on that research elsewhere. (3) Due to space limits, I focus here on the specific security costs derived from the lack of regional ties between states and societies, a topic insufficiently treated by the comparative regionalism literature. Explaining the regional dimension of global security entails recognizing the distinct, still poorly understood, problem of regional fragmentation and regional fracture in the developing world. Understanding causes and drivers of regional fragmentation is requisite for successfully reconfiguring the existing global security management infrastructure in response to new types of conflicts in the post-Cold War context.

As I argue in this article, fractured regions can have integrated political systems in some ways, but fragmented in others. While elites, economic and political, in such regions are able to organize their activities regionwide, thereby ripping the benefits of regionalism, the societies are largely excluded from such opportunities. The capture of regional organizations by the elites often for narrow political goals is one manifestation of regional fracturing to be discussed later. The perpetual chase for external patrons by governmental elites often undermines the stakeholders of bottom-up regional integration. (4) Fractured regions can have integrated albeit illegal flows of people, capital, and arms, often lacking in basic capacities of regional governance. In such regions regional organizations are proliferating, yet regional governance processes fail to materialize. Fractured regions are institutionally thick. They are plural rather than state centric: many actors, state and nonstate, have the capacity to produce and perpetuate regional fracture between states and their societies.

To summarize, states in fragmented regions suffer from weak governance structures and poorly consolidated democratic institutions, rendering their functional ties embryonic and uneven, with cooperation more pronounced in "practical" and nonsecurity areas than in the security environment. (5) In addition to low levels of intraregional trade, regional fragmentation is manifest in (1) poor border management that inhibits trade, but is porous to criminal networks; (2) regional problems ranging from environmental degradation to drug trafficking, with a dearth of regional cooperation to address them; (3) divided economic space and fragmented markets, making it harder for individual states to participate effectively in globalization; and (4) silencing and disempowerment of those who would benefit from regional integration. Importantly, fractured regions impose enormous economic and political costs on even relatively peaceful and stable states in the region: (6) it is hard to be economically prosperous and develop strong and accountable political institutions in fractured regions. A study by the World Economic Forum concludes that "no one part of the region can be stronger than its weakest link, thereby making regional solidarity a matter of rational as well as ethical importance." (7) Paul Collier echoes this by arguing that neighbors matter. (8)

In this article, I seek to develop and describe the concept of fractured regions by delineating its political and economic dimensions and offering a few examples of regional fracture from around the world. These core dimensions of fractured regions are determined in terms of their causal powers on global security. (9) Specifically, the impacts of fractured regions on low-intensity conflicts and great-power dynamics are particularly relevant for the ontology of this concept. While I highlight the core political and economic dimensions of fractured regions in terms of their causal propensity on global security, the objectives of this study are limited to defining fractured regions as distinct categories of international relations and describing specific examples of regional fracture in two postcolonial environs: the postcommunist space and sub-Saharan Africa. I analyze three cases within the framework of regional fracture: the Western Balkans, the south Caucasus, and sub-Saharan Africa.

In brief, I argue in this article that fractured regions are global security threats. They perpetuate poverty and inequality and consolidate ongoing conflict fault lines. They invite geopolitical rivalry by external great powers, contributing to heightened tensions at a regional level. They delay economic and political liberalization in the developing world and, in the process, contribute to democratic declines and promotion of authoritarianism.

The Regional Prism of Global Politics

The regional dimension of world politics has become increasingly pronounced in the post-Cold War period. Whether in the context of rapid rise in regional organizations worldwide or emerging powers taking on greater roles in their regional neighborhoods, (10) the regional prism of world politics is a development that is here to stay. (11) Still, the rise of regions is hardly a new development in world politics. Since the nineteenth century, South America has been leading the trend in developing systematic and enhanced regional neighborhood ties in an effort to contain external hegemonic influences in the region, (12) even though it is the European Union that is often inaccurately considered the leader in the trend.

Worldwide, the drivers and incentives of regionalism are varied and can be different for great powers and smaller states. Constraining an external hegemonic presence remains a major factor behind stronger regional engagement in the developing world. (13) Additional reasons for smaller states in pulling into regional groupings include elevating their voice in regional as well as in global politics, in some cases, to gain access to bigger markets and overcome unfavorable geographic positions, (14) and to enhance their state governance and cooperate with neighboring states on shared problems, among others. (15) For great powers, regional organizations are formed to project power in world politics and to consolidate one's hegemonic position. This is demonstrated by Russia's efforts to prevent NATO expansion and the Eastern Partnership program of the European Union in the post-Soviet space by erecting its own regional organizations (i.e., the Customs Union, which later became the Eurasian Economic Union, and the Collective Security Treaty Organization).

This overwhelming trend toward regional governance in the post-Cold War period is paralleled with regional fracturing. (16) I discussed the basic level of concept definition for fractured regions in the introductory comments of this article. Its secondary level of concept development refers to its political and economic dimensions, (17) which I discuss next. The third level of...

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