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Book release: Regional Organizations in International Society

News: Oct 25, 2018

Kilian Spandler is a guest researcher at the School of Global Studies of the University of Gothenburg and recently published his book Regional Organizations in International Society - ASEAN, the EU and the Politics of Normative Arguing (2018).

Your study aims to revive the history of ASEAN and the EU in an in-depth narrative of the arguments surrounding their institutional development. Why is this an important subject?
"The dominant perception of the EU and other regional organizations today is that they are in crisis mode. There used to be an expectation that regionalism would solve many of the problems caused by globalization and overcome the dangers of narrow nationalism. However, over the last decade many politicians and researchers have become disillusioned over the continual disagreement between member states and frequent institutional failures of regional organizations. I think that this frustration is understandable but to some extent based on a one-sided understanding of how regional organizations work. Theories of regionalism usually focus on the present and look for universal drivers of integration. In this, they tend to forget that these organizations have distinctive regional histories. The book aims to recover these histories and show that they help us put the present state of regionalism around the world in a more nuanced light."

What can we learn from reading Regional Organizations in International Society - ASEAN, the EU and the Politics of Normative Arguing?
"Regional organizations were never just instruments designed on the drawing board to address issues demanding cooperation. They have always been places where different understandings of international order clash. The dynamics of these disputes is what I call the ‘politics of normative arguing’. For example, a defining characteristic of ASEAN’s evolution is a continual debate over how to deal with external actors – first the former colonial powers, later the US, the Soviet Union and China. Should ASEAN establish rules to keep them out of regional politics or does it need a forum to engage them actively? Are member states free to pursue alliances with them or is that a perversion of ASEAN’s anti-colonial purposes? Diplomats and government elites promoted their answers to these questions by tying them to fundamental normative ideas like national sovereignty or non-alignment because they saw Southeast Asia as an international society with common principles and purposes."

"Like all international societies, regions are full of tensions between norms that can never be entirely resolved, which is why regional organizations over time develop institutional features that appear murky, contradictory or outdated. By highlighting these ambiguities, the book shows that what most pundits see as dysfunctionalities are in fact inevitable consequences of the politics of normative arguing. I hope that this insight puts the current crisis-talk into perspective and moderates our expectations about the effectiveness and adaptability of regional organizations."

To whom would you recommend your book?
"I think one of the benefits of the book is that it makes a theoretical argument about regionalism but also offers a collection of condensed narratives of key processes in the history of ASEAN and the EU. Therefore, it is definitely relevant for those interested in the theoretical debates of Comparative Regionalism and International Relations, including students taking courses in regionalism, global governance and international organizations. However, the chapters on the foundation, legal integration and enlargement of ASEAN and the EU are also a worthwhile and, I hope, fascinating read for anyone who wants to gain a historical perspective on the two organizations."

Kilian Spandler is an International Relations guest researcher at the School of Global Studies of the University of Gothenburg.


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