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Regions and Powers: The Structure of International Security

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European powers, which in turn eventually became entirely new states
along European lines. In most of Africa, the Middle East, and Asia,
European power eventually dominated and occupied the existing social
and international systems, largely stifling indigenous regional security
dynamics. There was regional security of a kind, but it was defined
much more by global rivalries among the European powers (and to-
wards the end of this period also Japan and the USA) than by security
interdependence among local units. Thus one had a variety of regional
‘great games’ being played out by rival external powers in Central Asia,
the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and Africa. For neorealists, this period
is one of unbroken multipolarity. For globalists, it is, especially from
the nineteenth century, the time during which many of the foundations
were laid for the high-intensity global system that took off after 1945.
One could think of Europe during this period as a regional security
complex but, being composed largely of great powers, and being in
effect the only one, it was of a very special kind. For the European im-
perial powers, the worldwas their region. Under these circumstances of
successful global scale imperialism by great powers, the scope for in-
dependent regional security dynamics was small. The main exceptions
to imperial dominance were in those areas that either never fully lost
their independence to Western overlay, and whose indigenous states
retained some capacity for independent action (Japan and China); or
those which escaped early from European overlay, and formed inde-
pendent states of their own (the Americas). The stories of these regions
are picked up, respectively, in parts II and IV. Elsewhere, the scattered
handful of states that achieved independence during the first half of the
twentieth century were not enough to have much impact on regional
security dynamics.
During the second stage, 1945 to 1989, the Cold War and decoloni-
sation created contradictory effects. On the one hand, the tidal wave of
decolonisation rolled back imperial power, createddozens of new states,
and allowed regional security dynamics to start operating among these
Theories and histories
newly independent actors in most of Africa, theMiddle East, and South
and Southeast Asia. On the other hand, the bipolar rivalry of the United
States and the Soviet Union subordinatedmost of Europe andNortheast
Asia, and penetrated heavily into most of the newly liberated regions.
The two superpowers that dominated world politics after 1945 were
both, for very different ideological reasons, opposed to the European
and Japanese empires. The Soviet Union saw them as extensions of cap-
italismand therefore as targets for socialist revolution. TheUnited States
saw themas extensions of Europeanneomercantilism, andwanted them
opened up to free trade and self-determination. Both superpowers quite
quickly came to see that the third world was an important arena for
their military and ideological rivalry. Decolonisation was inmanyways
closely enough bound up with the Cold War to be considered part of
it. The Cold War assisted the formation of several RSCs in the Middle
East, Africa, and Asia. But it was also the mechanism that organised
and promoted extensive intervention into the operation of these new
RSCs. Neorealists see this period primarily through the lens of the shift
from multipolarity to bipolarity after 1945. We more or less accept that
premise (see chapter 2), but want to raise decolonisation to equal status
in defining the world politics of this era. Globalists rightly focus on the
astounding intensification of the global economy despite the obstruc-
tions of the ColdWar, but for our purposes the territorialising impact of
decolonisation is equally significant.
In Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, decolonisation replaced a world
of empires and unequal political relations with one of national states,
sovereign equality, and at least the legal acceptance of all peoples and
races as possessing equal human rights. Some (left-) globalists correctly
note that formal political and racial equality was conspicuously not ac-
companied by any right to economic equality. In effect, decolonisation
completed the remaking of the global political system into the Euro-
pean (‘Westphalian’) form of sovereign territorial states that had be-
gun with the revolutions in the Americas. This wholesale transplant
of European political structures was often done badly, particularly in
Africa. But in many places it worked well enough to take root, espe-
cially where the colonial boundaries bore some resemblance to indige-
nous patterns of identity, culture, or political history. By the late 1960s,
and whether well or badly done, the whole world was politically pack-
aged in the European manner. Territorial states were put into place that
drew their legitimacy from the (often contradictory) values of the right
to self-determination, and of the ideology of nationalism. They claimed
A brief modern history of regional security
sovereignty and, even if they could not establish it internally in the re-
lationship between citizens and government, they could almost always
get it accepted externally by the other statemembers of international so-
ciety (Jackson 1990). This unprecedented tripling of the membership of
international society was supported by the UN, which not only helped
to legitimise the new members, but also provided the poorer and less
capable of themwith a range of diplomatic services without which their
ability to function in international society would have been seriously
The Cold War decolonisations proceeded in a very uneven manner.
In a few places, most notably South Asia during 1947–8, all of the main
states in one region were decolonised nearly simultaneously, making
the transition from imperial subordination to autonomous RSC in a
single, swift move. Mostly, however, decolonisation happened a few
countries at a time stretched out over a decade ormore, as in theMiddle
East, Africa, and Southeast Asia. This meant that there was a drawn-out
transition period between widespread colonial control, and the arrival
of conditions in which autonomous regional security dynamics could
begin tooperate. Thenew thirdworldRSCs inSouth andSoutheastAsia,
the Middle East, and Southern Africa were without exception based
on interstate rivalry, and many of them were born in war. Thus even
while the Cold War was defining an intense bipolar security structure
at the global level, much of the so-called third world was structuring
itself into equally intense RSCs. The intersection of these two levels of
security dynamics in Southeast Asia, theMiddle East, Afghanistan, and
parts of Africa provided some of the most spectacular, dangerous, and
misunderstood episodes of the Cold War.
The impact of the Cold War on the process of emerging regional se-
curitydynamicswaspervasive, and theendingof theColdWar therefore
marks the opening of a clear third stage, the post-ColdWar period since
1990. The ending of the Cold War had three major impacts on the story
of regional security.
� First, andmost obviously, it lifted the superpower overlay from
Europe, and radically changed the pattern of superpower pen-
etration in Northeast Asia. With the implosion of the Soviet
Union in 1991, it also brought fifteen new states, and a new
RSC, into the game.
� Second, by removing ideological confrontation and Soviet
power from the equation, it greatly changedboth the nature and
Theories and histories
the intensity of global power penetration into thirdworldRSCs.
As we will show in the region chapters, sometimes this was for
the better, and sometimes for the worse. Many regional level
security dynamics appeared to get more operational autonomy
than they had had before because of the increased indifference