Friday, April 15, 2005

Asia and International Institutions

The stability of East Asia is a crucial problem for American (and the world’s) security. Julian’s post highlights what I find to be an ambivalence of many critics of international institutions: on the one hand they note that some country or region has “refused to jump on the internationalist bandwagon” but, on the other hand, they implicitly recognize that the situation might be better if the state or region used international regimes as a tool. The refusal to use international institutions, though, is viewed as “a failure of internationalism” rather than the failure of the state to use the tool it needs. This is like blaming a saw when a carpenter decides to use a screwdriver to try to cut a piece of wood.

I find this argument particularly perplexing given Julian’s recent praise of the work of Eric Posner and Jack Goldsmith, who argue that what we think of as international law and institutions are essentially the self-interested choices of states. If that’s the case, then states choose when to build international institutions and when not to. Asia’s choice not to deepen its international institutions is not some failure of some independent force out there called “internationalism;” it is simply the choice (and I would say the poor choice) of certain sovereign states.

Julian sets up the classic straw man argument that the choice states face is between European Union-styled supranationality or nothing. He ignores the variety of other international institutional models that exist including the Organization of American States, the Economic Community of West African States, and NAFTA, to name a few. He also ignores that it is those intergovernmental models short of EU-styled supranationality that are crucial for security-building

Julian misplaces credit concerning the key guarantors of European security in the supranational human rights tribunals. Although many have argued that these tribunals have helped deepen the respect of human rights in Europe, I have never seen it argued that these institutions were the foundation of European security. Rather, security regimes (NATO but also to a lesser extent the old Western European Union) and economic regimes (the European Coal and Steel Community and later the EC ) are the cornerstones. The EC and NATO in Europe, the OAS in the western hemisphere (and NAFTA in North American and Mercosur in South America) and the Organization of African Unity (supplemented by ECOWAS in West Africa) have historically provided means of intergovernmental discussion, norm setting, information sharing and the resolution of grievances. All the good stuff Posner and Goldsmith praise about the function of international institutions. The lack of similar institutions in Asia is what is troubling.

From an international institutions perspective, the concern is less that there isn’t an Asian Court of Human Rights, than (a) there isn’t a good forum for intergovernmental discussion and settlement of grievances (like the EC or the OAS) and (b) nor are there deep security arrangements (like NATO). APEC was supposed to be the first and ASEAN the latter; neither has evolved quite has hoped and have remained relatively shallow (especially APEC). Note, I am talking about the shallowness of Asian institutions not in relation to the supranational EU as we now see it, but in relation to the largely intergovernmental EC of the 1950’s. That was when institutionalism secured the peace in Europe.

Asia needs similar institutions. The American security umbrella alone can’t do it. Not now, as Yuval Rubinstein argues and not tomorrow, as I have argued (among many others). That is why regime building and deepening in Asia has been a consistent foreign policy goals of American Presidents for decades (from ASEAN to APEC, not to mention the Asian Development Bank).

The construction of international security and economic regimes is the right tool for Asia’s problems. If they choose not to use it, it’s their right. It’s just not a rational choice.


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