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Updated: July 7, 2014 23:00 IST

Exploring the emergence of regional blocs

C. P. Bhambhri
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How Neighbours Converge - The Politics and Economics of Regionalism, by I.P. Khosla; Konark Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 206, Peacock Lane, Shahpur Jat, New Delhi-110092. Rs. 795.
How Neighbours Converge - The Politics and Economics of Regionalism, by I.P. Khosla; Konark Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 206, Peacock Lane, Shahpur Jat, New Delhi-110092. Rs. 795.

It is a simplistic truism that relationships between neighbouring countries are always determined by the logic of history and geography and these given factors have to be kept uppermost in mind by every country’s makers of foreign policy while deciding their policy priorities for the neighbourhood. For instance, when India and Pakistan nuclearised their weapon systems in 1998, it completely changed the balance of power between the two neighbours; and its impact was also felt on China because nuclearised India was viewed as its new competitor in Asia. The moral of this is the nuclear adventure by India and Pakistan changed the context of power among South Asian countries.

The author, a former diplomat, while dealing with the political economy of “regional associations and organisations” like SAARC, ASEAN and EU, meticulously describes the intricacies and complexities of origin, formation and actual functioning of these three important trans-national regional formations. The first four chapters are devoted to the description of the historical background, ‘the Economics of regionalism: models and definitions’, regionalisation theories and the socio-political context.

It is surprising that Khosla has willingly or unwillingly fallen in the trap of so called theorists and scholars of advanced capitalist countries to arrive at the conclusion that regionalisation theories do not speak of the “activity of co-operation” because these theorists completely ignore “the wider socio-political context” which is important for situating the meaning and reality of ‘regional associations’. The author himself acknowledges the irrelevance of theories and models of international relations, when he admits that there are powerful “external pressures” to “prevent co-operation” among the Asian, African and Latin American countries.

The American and European “shadow” continues to haunt policy-making processes of these newly developing capitalist countries. Khosla's real problem is that in the absence of taking ideas and concepts from an alternative grand theory, he is unable to draw logical conclusions from his own facts. This becomes clear from his main hypothesis “peace and co-operation” as moving forces of human history, he simply devotes one-sided attention to Modern-European history of “wars and peace” and co-operation and is blind to the fact that Modern-Europeans as colonizers completely robbed and raped all colonies and left them with backwardness, acute poverty and a legacy mutual neighbourly conflicts by following policies of partitions and changing boundaries of countries at their own sweet will.

Adam Smith in ‘The Wealth of Nations’ (1776) says that even after the British had occupied Bengal after the Battle of Plassey (1757), “India in general and particularly Bengal, was one of the most prosperous regions on the globe.” Further, Walter Rodney, an eminent historian, in ‘How Europe Under-developed Africa’ (1970) proved the fact noted by Mikhail Bukharin that Imperialism is a “robber state”. This is the real external context of dominance by advanced industrial imperialist West — with others trying to “catch up” — in which the struggle of regional associations of formerly colonised countries of SAARC, or ASEAN or BRICS needs to be studied.

Jawaharlal Nehru took the initiative as early as in 1947 for organising an Asian Relations Conference, which culminated in Bandung Conference of Asian-African countries in 1955; and the birth of a powerful association for peace and development known as Non-Aligned Countries’ Association was born. The author mentions that the impulses for the formation of the ASEAN in 1967 were “indigenous” but he does not elaborate on the rationale behind newly decolonised developing countries desiring to form their own regional co-operation associations because of an understanding that this is a root not only for “peace and co-operation” (as stated blandly by Khosla) but with a view to overcoming the structures of underdevelopment they had inherited because of colonial plunder.

Chapter 6 to 8 are devoted to SAARC, 8 to 11, ASEAN and 12 to 14 EU which contain lot of information about these “associations”. Further his statement deserves a close clinical analysis when he states that “the existence of a common external threat has, it is said, contributed to the initiation and rapid progress of regional cooperation in Europe (the threat from Soviet Union) and South East Asia (the threat from China). In South Asia, on the contrary, external coercion keeps south Asia apart since the policies of India’s smaller neighbours had been actively abetted and supported by external forces”. The genesis and motivation for the formation of regional associations can be contextually specific or general.

The journey of ASEAN from 1967 to 2014 has gone through many phases but one constant factor has been close American military surveillance over the whole of East Asia including Japan and the birth of the idea of Asia-Pacific is also influenced by American interests in the Pacific. America has always been a benign and malignant factor for the whole of east and south east Asia by providing a military umbrella to these countries. It is not only China that is considered a threat by South and South East Asian countries because America is a protector and defender of these regions and this is specific factor which should be noted in the context of regional cooperation of Asian. Khosla is oblivious of this important context and still mentions “context is important for regional destinies”. The second decade of the 21st century is the age of finance capital and this trans-nationalisation of capital has been willingly accepted by developing capitalist countries and currently these countries are fully “integrated” in a dependent manner with America led trans-financial corporations and all regional associations are just an appendix of American capitalist domination.

The author’s main thesis of “Peace, Co-operation and Regional associationism” collapses like house of cards because the formation or liquidation of regional association in large parts of developing countries depends on the good will of America.

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