The linkage between regional cooperation and security is quite obvious. However, what seems to be a conspicuous incentive nexus for both individual and collective players does not always work in reality. Frequently, for reasons which I will try to revisit very briefly, regional cooperation remains – deep down -an elusive goal and, thereby, security is impaired.
At the start of my remarks let me underline a series of factors (circumstances) which are presumed to enhance regional cooperation and cooperation in general. The driving power of these factors/circumstances should likely get stronger in a world which, supposedly, is increasingly interconnected under the spell of fast technological progress and economic liberalization. First come economic incentives – trade and overseas investment/production. When these operate according to the logic of a non-zero sum game, losers, should they be numerous, can be compensated one way or another. Less ideological confrontation would also work to the same end. Following diminished confrontation, governments would show more restraint in using economic means (including sanctions) as instruments of foreign policy. The diminution (disappearance) of ethnic and religious enmity, where that exists, would be another favorable factor, as would be the reduction of border conflicts. I would range among these factors, also, a convergence of Weltanschaung outlooks, of values and principles which can foster trust and mutual respect. I should say that this convergence would not necessarily mean the acceptance of a sort of Western cultural supremacy. And finally, I would list the power of “attractors”, of big players who can exert an “ordering” influence on events with international repercussions and on the conduct of smaller actors.
On this line of reasoning and as an intellectual exercise I would suggest to apply the matrix sketched above to world political and economic dynamics as the latter evolved during the last decade, in the wake of the exceptional year of 1989. To this end one can use different perspectives. One perspective, which is imbued with a western thinking of a prevalent flavor, I would describe as “examining the post-1989 period through rosy lenses”. Its main pillars would be:
the expected effects of the collapse of communism, in the vein of what Fukuyama called “The End of History”_, including the spread of democracy (of western values) throughout the world, and the setting up of a “new world order”; relatively easy to undertake market reforms and ensuing economic prosperity could be mentioned among the expected effects;
globalization , driven by information technologies and market forces, which would help disseminate democratic values worldwide_;
the pressure towards a “border-less world”_, with many nation-states under economic siege and relinquishing economic policy prerogatives under the pressure of world financial markets; this would, presumably, help discipline economic policies;
the gravitational power of NATO and the EU at a time when most of European post-communist countries wish to join these two clubs;
the modernizing impact of the Acquis Communautaire for the institutional reforms under way in Central and Eastern Europe;
massive trade reorientation of Central and Eastern European countries, which, currently, carry on more than 60% of their overall trade with the EU.
I would turn now to a less optimistic outlook. Evaluating the post-1989 years from a less sanguine perspective would highlight a series of worrying phenomena. One such is represented by the powerful forces of fragmentation, which intensify “cognitive dissonance” and friction (conflicts) among groups of people (communities/countries). These conflicts can involve land disputes (when borders are contested, or multi-ethnic countries disintegrate), or can take place along ethnic and religious lines; they breed resentment and fuel extremism and fundamentalism, which shows up in the form of domestic and international terrorism. Samuel Huntington_ and Robert Kaplan_, respectively, provide sobering interpretations of possible future dynamics in this respect – quite antithetical to the euphoria of the early 1990s.
Financial and economic crises, which have proliferated during the last decade and confounded the zealots of unrestrained globalisation, have brought about tremendous pains to various countries around the world. Mexico is still licking some of its injuries after the big fall of the peso in the late 1994, and Indonesia, which has gone through huge social and economic dislocation in the last few years, has still to find a way out of the mess in order to avert further economic turmoil and possible disintegration. Financial crises in Brazil, Argentina (which years ago was hailed as a model of reforms following the introduction of the currency board), Turkey, etc, show how tenuous the state of affairs in many emerging countries is and how rapidly economies can fall apart – especially when aid from outside is not readily available. Rising income inequality (in rich countries, too) as well as the growing “digital divide” do not supply grounds for optimism. One can add here the bogged down reforms in many transition countries in Europe and the FSU and the rising poverty and weak institutional structures, which are becoming endemic problems. Last but not least, questionable business ethics_ and the internationally spreading operations of organised crime, together with mounting transnational problems, would make up a gloomy balance sheet…