Reinventing Regional Security Institutions in Asia and Africa: Power Shifts, Ideas, and Institutional Change

Reinventing Regional Security Institutions in Asia and Africa: Power Shifts, Ideas, and... This book asks the question, ‘Why and how do regional security institutions (RSIs) undertake change?’ which it aims to answer mainly from the perspective of historical institutionalism, while recognizing the problematic paucity of theories that explain institutional change in International Relations. Chapter 1 introduces the problem, after which Chapter 2 presents the theoretical framework. First, institutionalization, the dependent variable, is defined as ‘a change in institutional security norms or functions’ and classified according to the three categories of consolidation, displacement, and layering. ‘Expected/actual changes in regional distribution of power’, the independent variable, is defined as ‘a situation in which the regional strategic landscape alters due to changes in the regional states’ military, economic, and political capabilities’. These two variables are linked by the intervening variable ‘expectation for future RSI’s utility’. As member countries have this expectation, they refer to the reference point institutional security preference (ISP), which is strictly defined as the rank ordering of an institution’s security focus and agenda. The theoretical perspective of this book can be summarized as follows: member countries of regional organizations evaluate their organization’s current status based on the reference point ISP when faced with an exogenous event that amounts to expected/actual changes in regional distribution of power. If member countries make a positive evaluation of the regional organization, they will consolidate the current status; however, if they make a negative evaluation, they will displace it; if uncertainty is high and decision-making difficult, though, they will layer it. Based on the aforementioned theory, the book discusses the three regional organizations of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) (Chapter 3), Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) (Chapter 4), and Organization of African Unity (OAU) (Chapter 5). Specifically, it discusses principal instances of institutionalization in the history of these organizations and demonstrates how the abovementioned mechanisms operated. Chapter 6 presents a combined analysis of the cases, while Chapter 7 provides a conclusion and a discussion of the implications. This book is very ambitious in seeking to analyze the ASEAN, ECOWAS, and OAU, which are regional organizations in different regions, within a single theoretical framework. Even in the field of comparative regionalism, there are virtually no examples of any researcher successfully analyzing different regional organizations because their diversity makes cross-sectional theorization extremely difficult. However, the book analyzes the cases of these three regional organizations very carefully. A key feature is it not treating the member countries of each organization as a monolithic entity, but clarifying the intentions of each country. As a result, it is able to make many interesting points in the form of discrete facts. Nevertheless, this book’s theoretical framework is not easily carried forward by future studies. The problem can be summarized in a single statement: the theory is too comprehensive or too vague. In other words, it cannot be cited by other researchers unless it is more focused and conclusive. First, the independent variable, ‘expected/actual changes in regional distribution of power’, is too broad to be defined as a single variable when it includes ‘alliance formation and reformation, rapid economic and military development, political and military retrenchment, and civil war and state collapse’ (p. 20). For example, both the American and British withdrawals from the region, as well as cases of political anarchy caused by civil war are presented as examples of a ‘power vacuum’ in the analysis, but it seems inappropriate to treat them as the same thing. Furthermore, worsening interstate conflicts, economic globalization, and exogenous shocks in the form of financial crises are also presented as structural variables. Consequently, all exogenous events are subsumed under the heading of ‘regional distribution of power’, which becomes so all-inclusive that it can no longer be managed as a single variable. Second, the intervening variable, ‘expectation for future RSI’s utility’, is also too wide-ranging. The book’s argument that member countries change the regional organization’s institutions to increase their utility in response to external events is self-evident and does not need to be presented as theory. It might have been better, therefore, to present a counterintuitive mechanism after first limiting the range of theorization to a more cogent causal relationship. Third, the dependent variable, ‘institutional change’, is too comprehensive. A basic approach would be to divide it into ‘change of the institution’s objects’ and ‘institutional change as a means to accomplish those objects’ at the very least. The book treats both as ‘change’ without distinction, although they should be theorized separately, as they can exist in a causal relationship. The excessive comprehensiveness of the three abovementioned categories causes the case analysis to become extremely descriptive: it does not seem to be part of a specific theoretical framework; rather, a simple chronological description of the background to institutionalization. This weakness is the direct result of too many elements being included in the book’s variables. Nonetheless, as mentioned previously, many interesting points are made in the case analysis. However, the author does not discuss the study’s originality in the context of ASEAN or ECOWAS research. Designing the study to highlight its contribution to existing research on ASEAN and ECOWAS, bringing the case analysis to the fore without adopting the theoretical research format, might have been the book’s selling point. Descriptiveness is not a bad thing in itself and nothing says that research must be theoretical. © The author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press in association with the Japan Association of International Relations; all rights reserved. For Permissions, please e-mail: journals.permissions@oup.com This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices) http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png International Relations of the Asia-Pacific Oxford University Press

Reinventing Regional Security Institutions in Asia and Africa: Power Shifts, Ideas, and Institutional Change

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Publisher
Oxford University Press
Copyright
© The author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press in association with the Japan Association of International Relations; all rights reserved. For Permissions, please e-mail: journals.permissions@oup.com
ISSN
1470-482X
eISSN
1470-4838
D.O.I.
10.1093/irap/lcx019
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

This book asks the question, ‘Why and how do regional security institutions (RSIs) undertake change?’ which it aims to answer mainly from the perspective of historical institutionalism, while recognizing the problematic paucity of theories that explain institutional change in International Relations. Chapter 1 introduces the problem, after which Chapter 2 presents the theoretical framework. First, institutionalization, the dependent variable, is defined as ‘a change in institutional security norms or functions’ and classified according to the three categories of consolidation, displacement, and layering. ‘Expected/actual changes in regional distribution of power’, the independent variable, is defined as ‘a situation in which the regional strategic landscape alters due to changes in the regional states’ military, economic, and political capabilities’. These two variables are linked by the intervening variable ‘expectation for future RSI’s utility’. As member countries have this expectation, they refer to the reference point institutional security preference (ISP), which is strictly defined as the rank ordering of an institution’s security focus and agenda. The theoretical perspective of this book can be summarized as follows: member countries of regional organizations evaluate their organization’s current status based on the reference point ISP when faced with an exogenous event that amounts to expected/actual changes in regional distribution of power. If member countries make a positive evaluation of the regional organization, they will consolidate the current status; however, if they make a negative evaluation, they will displace it; if uncertainty is high and decision-making difficult, though, they will layer it. Based on the aforementioned theory, the book discusses the three regional organizations of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) (Chapter 3), Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) (Chapter 4), and Organization of African Unity (OAU) (Chapter 5). Specifically, it discusses principal instances of institutionalization in the history of these organizations and demonstrates how the abovementioned mechanisms operated. Chapter 6 presents a combined analysis of the cases, while Chapter 7 provides a conclusion and a discussion of the implications. This book is very ambitious in seeking to analyze the ASEAN, ECOWAS, and OAU, which are regional organizations in different regions, within a single theoretical framework. Even in the field of comparative regionalism, there are virtually no examples of any researcher successfully analyzing different regional organizations because their diversity makes cross-sectional theorization extremely difficult. However, the book analyzes the cases of these three regional organizations very carefully. A key feature is it not treating the member countries of each organization as a monolithic entity, but clarifying the intentions of each country. As a result, it is able to make many interesting points in the form of discrete facts. Nevertheless, this book’s theoretical framework is not easily carried forward by future studies. The problem can be summarized in a single statement: the theory is too comprehensive or too vague. In other words, it cannot be cited by other researchers unless it is more focused and conclusive. First, the independent variable, ‘expected/actual changes in regional distribution of power’, is too broad to be defined as a single variable when it includes ‘alliance formation and reformation, rapid economic and military development, political and military retrenchment, and civil war and state collapse’ (p. 20). For example, both the American and British withdrawals from the region, as well as cases of political anarchy caused by civil war are presented as examples of a ‘power vacuum’ in the analysis, but it seems inappropriate to treat them as the same thing. Furthermore, worsening interstate conflicts, economic globalization, and exogenous shocks in the form of financial crises are also presented as structural variables. Consequently, all exogenous events are subsumed under the heading of ‘regional distribution of power’, which becomes so all-inclusive that it can no longer be managed as a single variable. Second, the intervening variable, ‘expectation for future RSI’s utility’, is also too wide-ranging. The book’s argument that member countries change the regional organization’s institutions to increase their utility in response to external events is self-evident and does not need to be presented as theory. It might have been better, therefore, to present a counterintuitive mechanism after first limiting the range of theorization to a more cogent causal relationship. Third, the dependent variable, ‘institutional change’, is too comprehensive. A basic approach would be to divide it into ‘change of the institution’s objects’ and ‘institutional change as a means to accomplish those objects’ at the very least. The book treats both as ‘change’ without distinction, although they should be theorized separately, as they can exist in a causal relationship. The excessive comprehensiveness of the three abovementioned categories causes the case analysis to become extremely descriptive: it does not seem to be part of a specific theoretical framework; rather, a simple chronological description of the background to institutionalization. This weakness is the direct result of too many elements being included in the book’s variables. Nonetheless, as mentioned previously, many interesting points are made in the case analysis. However, the author does not discuss the study’s originality in the context of ASEAN or ECOWAS research. Designing the study to highlight its contribution to existing research on ASEAN and ECOWAS, bringing the case analysis to the fore without adopting the theoretical research format, might have been the book’s selling point. Descriptiveness is not a bad thing in itself and nothing says that research must be theoretical. © The author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press in association with the Japan Association of International Relations; all rights reserved. For Permissions, please e-mail: journals.permissions@oup.com This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)

Journal

International Relations of the Asia-PacificOxford University Press

Published: Jan 1, 2018

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