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Regions and Powers: The Structure of International Security

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can be made that
both of these things are happening – and such arguments are part of the
globalist position. But only if these developments become much more
common and more evenly distributed than they are now would they
begin to question the key element of our theory: that regional security
complexes are a principal expected component of international security.
We see it as a strength of the theory that it establishes the possibility of
its own overturning, i.e., it specifies one of the developments that could
annul it. The relevance of territorial versus non-territorial patterns of
securitisation is an empirical question, which we leave open to be ad-
dressed by the chapters in parts II to V. We have designed our theory
so that it can accommodate nonstate actors, and even allow them to
be dominant. Although our theory features the regional level, it also
incorporates other levels (global, interregional, local), and allows the
particular circumstances of time and place to determine which level(s)
dominate. The security constellation that we map in each case is one
that covers all levels, although to varying degrees as appropriate to the
Many securitisation processes around the world (identity concerns in
Cairo and Copenhagen, excessive supplies of black market weapons in
Albania andAbkhazia, financial fears inMoscow andMalaysia, fears of
terrorism in Uzbekistan and the USA, etc.) are in some essential ways
caused by the bundle of developments captured in the term globalisa-
tion.Both the introversionof the ‘lite’powersand theworryaboutAmer-
ican/Western hegemony are aspects of globalisation, and these can eas-
ily trigger regional responses, where the regional level becomes either
a bastion against global threats, or a way of obtaining greater power
in global level dynamics. Securitisation processes can define threats
as coming from the global level (financial instability, global warming,
Americanisation), but the referent objects to be made secure may be
Three theoretical perspectives
either at the global level (the global economic regime, the planetary
ecosystem, the normof non-proliferation) or at other levels (community,
state, region). Phrases such as ‘glocalisation’ in the globalist discourse
capture the way in which global level causes can trigger consequences
and responses on other levels. Global causes can have very different
effects in different regions, e.g., a financial collapse leading to disinte-
gration and conflict in some regions and to increased cooperation in
others. To understand such outcomes one needs to grasp the regional
If global-triggered concerns and resentments cause reactions defined
in relation to regional actors and issues, the resulting constellations can
easily be regional. The real challenge for a regionalist interpretation is
when globalisation as such is securitised as a threat, as it sometimes now
is. This has to be a part of the total picture. In many places (e.g., India,
Russia, the Islamic world) globalisation is seen as a major threat, and to
varying degrees it is seen and treated as more or less synonymous with
American unipolarity and (especially cultural) imperialism. However,
‘globalisation’ has also been securitised in the North American and Eu-
ropean core by a diverse coalition of oppositional groups demonstrating
against the key institutions of the liberal international economic order,
the WTO, the World Bank, and the IMF. In this case, the issue is to a
larger extent (as it is also to significant groups in, for example, India)
competing visions for the global political economy. To the extent that
actors are seen as behind a threat here, they are either themultinationals
or the global economic IGOs. In the empirical chapters, such securiti-
sations of ‘globalisation’ as well as of other global phenomena will be
analysed to find out to what extent they make for truly global security
dynamics or play a particular local or regional role.
What becomes clear from this consideration of the neorealist, globalist,
and regionalist perspectives is that all of them encompass important
elements that need to be kept in view when trying to understand the
post-ColdWar global security order (or any security order). Underlying
these three perspectives is a central question about levels of analysis:
are the threats that get securitised located primarily at the domestic,
the regional, or the system level? This question can be asked about any
given time and place in the international system, or about the inter-
national system as a whole. In our view, understanding levels is the
key to painting a portrait of the global security structure. To show why
we favour the regionalist approach to security, it helps at this point to
Theories and histories
complement the three theoretical approacheswith a historical overview.
This overview is of course not the only possible reading of the history
concerned, but we hope that it shows how an account that emphasises
the rising salience of the regional level in the structure of international
security can upgrade both neorealist and globalist themes, while also
striking a distinctive chord of its own.
A brief modern history of regional security
The modern world history of regional security complexes (RSCs) falls
easily into three stages: the modern era from 1500 to 1945; the ColdWar
and decolonisation from 1945 to 1989; and the post-Cold War period
since 1990. The main plot of this story is easily told, and the periodisa-
tion is not out of line with most neorealist and globalist accounts. The
seemingprivilegingof thepresent bygiving shortmodernperiods equal
weightwith longer, older ones reflects the acceleration of history (Hodg-
son 1993: 44–71, 207–24). During this half-millennium, the first global
scale international system comes into being, and the European-style
sovereign, territorial state becomes the dominant political form (Bull
andWatson 1984; Buzan and Little 2000). These two developments pro-
vide the essential framework for the emergence of RSCs: states become
theprincipalplayerson the securitygameboardand, as the international
system reaches global scale, room is created in which distinct regional
security subsystems can emerge. A handful of states at the top of the
power league play a truly global game, treating each other as a special
class, and projecting their power into far-flung regions. But for the great
majority of states, the main game of security is defined by their near
neighbours. Key to our approach is keeping the security dynamics at
the global level analytically distinct from those at the regional level. But
a neat pattern of global and regional players does not simply spring into
existence fully formed. The binding theme of the story is the emergence
of durable RSCs against a background of great power domination. This
happens very slowly, and only at the margins, for the first 450 years,
and then dramatically and almost universally, in two clear stages since
Before 1500, premodern security dynamics unfolded inmultiple, rela-
tively separate systems, but these were not ‘regional’ because the global
level was not strong enough to generate a global world system, and
therefore the separate systems were not regions (subsystems) but really
A brief modern history of regional security
During themodern era, from 1500 to 1945, the story is heavily tilted in
favour of the global level. The European international system expanded
until it became global. The new European national states reached out
economically, politically, and militarily, creating both formal and in-
formal empires in all quarters of the globe. Sometimes this projection
of European power crushed and largely obliterated the indigenous
peoples and their political systems, as in the Americas and Australia.
Where this happened, European settlers created overseas extensions